The World’s Most Unusual Beaches

Nick Nomi

Senior Contributor

For the most part, beaches aren’t designed. They are born from the lava of volcanoes or made from the bleached skeletons of long-dead coral. They are sculpted by wind and water, some perfectly white and made from billion-year-old fossils, while others are dressed in the most captivating flora, and occasionally, though rather less joyously spoiled (and later saved) by man and nature. These are some of those beaches. Unusual places that stick with us for the rest of our lives. Where stunning lengths of black sands are adorned with huge cubes of ice, where man’s mistakes are rectified by decades of nature’s sublime intervention. 

Diamond Beach, Iceland

Like a bed of dense black gold punctuated by the most dazzling diamonds, Iceland’s Breiðamerkursandur or Diamond Beach is as surreal as it is hypnotic. But those glittering “diamonds” are actually large chunks of perfectly clear, glassy icebergs (sometimes tinged by a striking neon blue), sculpted and cleaned as they float to shore, having broken off from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. And the sand’s sultry, deep black tones are the result of intense volcanic activity around the Vatnajokull National Park area. The beach looks its best just before sunset when the contrast between the raven-like black of the sand and the sparkle of the ice is most prominent. But with so little sun in winter, it’s best to stay in the area for a night or two, as Diamond Beach is a five-hour drive from Reykjavíc,

Navagio Beach, Greece

This exposed cove perched on the northwestern coast of Zakynthos is the stuff of nautical legend, and idyllic in every sense. It is a simple, crescent-shaped white pebbly beach, framed by towering white cliffs with mossy tops, and fringed by the most disarmingly attractive azures. But to add to its charm, the beach is only reachable by water and is home to the wrecked remains of a smugglers ship that was forced ashore by a storm in the 1980’s. There’s a viewing platform above the cove perfect for photographers and those in search of views of the cove and the surrounding area, but the best way to view Navagio Beach is to charter a yacht or a speedboat and see it as part of a wider tour of Zakynthos and the rest of those gorgeous Ionian Islands.

Glass Beach, USA

Before the site was closed in the 1960’s, residents of Fort Bragg once used these cliffs as a dumpsite for all kinds of junk and rubbish. But now after decades of cleanups and nature’s intervention — waves shaping and reforming tonnes of glass — the beach has become a surreal kaleidoscopic landscape of smooth glass pebbles all shimmering in brilliant prismatic shades of blue, green, yellow, white, red and orange. Intriguingly, much of what was left at the site wasn’t actually glass, so while the glass pebbles are perhaps the highlight, it’s not uncommon for automotive parts, screws and broken pieces from all kinds of appliances to lay partially uncovered below the top layers of pebbly sand and water, resulting in a whimsical, sometimes stark, sometimes beautiful, but always sobering reminder of man’s impact on our beautiful planet. 

Red Beach, China

This striking beach is the world’s largest wetland, and it’s covered in a relatively common alkali-tolerant Seepweed called Sueda Salsa, that, as summer ends and autumn begins, transforms from a more typical emerald green colour, into the most incredibly deep gradients of crimson red. But what sets the Red Beach apart from other places in the world where one might see Sueda Salsa, is the vast 51-square mile expanse of the area it covers, that creates a captivating deeply romantic red vista, occasionally accentuated by thick tufts of green and languid waterways winding towards a hazy horizon of sea and ships. Nature-lovers should take a pair of binoculars as the Red Beach is home to a couple of hundred bird species, including rare red-crowned cranes, oriental white storks and the Saunder’s Gull. It’s best to visit at the beginning of October when the shade of red is at its most striking and before it begins to tame into a more subdued purpler hue. Getting there on the quick train from Beijing South to Panjin takes approximately 4 hours but it’s more than worth the effort. 

Become a member to join the conversation!

Become part of the world's leading travel & lifestyle community!