You don't need sunshine to visit the beach. These cold weather stretches of sand are just as majestic.
Although they are usually packaged as sun, sea and sand, beaches do just fine without the sun part.
There’s no need to let the cold keep you indoors and away from the coastline. Throw caution to the wind – quite literally – by embracing the dramatic dunes, impressive surf and rugged shores of these spectacular beaches that shine – even when the clouds come out. Here are nine beaches from around the world that are perfect in winter and cold weather.
1. Charmouth Beach, Dorset, United Kingdom
While it may not be the warmest beach to visit in winter, fossil finders will be happy to forget about taking a dip and stay on shore. Located on England’s Jurassic Coast, Charmouth Beach is famous for its abundance of fossils. If you want to get in on the action, the side west of the river is the best spot to search for prehistoric relics. But remember to keep your fossicking to the stones and rocks on the foreshore – no digging into the cliff face.
2. Reynisfjara Beach, Vik, Iceland
White sand beaches are old news; when it comes to dramatic coastlines, the black basalt landscape at Reynisfjara wins hands down, any day. The beach can be accessed by foot from Iceland’s southernmost town, Vik, a 2½-hour drive from Reykjavík. Once there you can wander among some of the world’s most majestic and astonishing natural rock formations on jet-black sand.
Adding to the already ghostly atmosphere, Reynisfjara Beach comes with its own folk tale. Legend has it that trolls pulled a ship to land here but, in a stroke of bad luck, daylight turned them to stone in the form of imposing sea stacks.
On a happier note, the beach is also home to a puffin colony. There are viewing platforms, but you’re equally as likely to spot the birds nesting, flying or bobbing on the waves.
3. Plage de la Conche des Baleines, Île de Ré, France
This gorgeous and tiny island off France’s Atlantic coast is a picture-perfect vision of southern France, complete with whitewashed buildings, terracotta roofs and a relaxed atmosphere. In July and August, the place is packed and it’s hard to find somewhere to stay.
Luckily, combing the coastline for seashells is just as beautiful in winter as it is in summer – and far less busy. There are bikes for hire in the villages, which can see you winding along quiet cycle paths through pine groves on the edge of the sand. And, most importantly, the legendary sunsets are a spectacular sight all year round.
4. Inchydoney Beach, West Cork, Ireland
Ireland’s coastline is all about rugged rock formations – relentless waves crashing upon jagged boulders and rocky outcrops provide the dramatic setting for world-renowned wonders like Skellig Michael and the Giant’s Causeway. But why not go against the grain, and discover the country’s equally breathtaking, and arguably more scenic, sandy stretches?
Looking out bravely toward the Atlantic, Inchydoney is a beach that Cork is proud of. The smooth, vast curve of sand on Inchydoney Island is connected to the land by two grassy causeways. Come here in autumn or winter for an umbrella-in-hand day out to explore rock pools with the family or, if you’re feeling brave, to surf.
Before you get completely soaked, you’ve got a well-stocked selection of pubs to take shelter in over at neighboring Clonakilty, including famed De Barra’s Folk Club, with hearty pints and local trad sessions (traditional music sessions) to warm the cockles.
5. Kvalvika Beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway
Arrive at Kvalvika Beach in the Lofoten Islands and you’ll feel like you’ve reached the end of the earth. But you’ll certainly have to put the work in to relish the feeling – this remote spot is only accessible via a 2.5-mile (4km) hike over 543m-high Ryten Mountain. Most astounding is the contrast of the sheer sea cliffs against the turquoise waters. You’ve walked miles, whipped by the elements, but after that first glimpse of ocean, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in the tropics.
Several hikes circle the mountain and its peak, and it’s worth climbing for the view alone. You’ll pass occasional sheep grazing against a panoramic backdrop of cliffs that appear to slide into the icy Norwegian Sea. The trail can be wet and slippery, so make sure you’re kitted out correctly. Set up camp anywhere you fancy along the green grassy ridges, wait for the sun to go down and, if luck is on your side, catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis (northern lights) streaking across the night sky.
6. Hot Water Beach, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand
Okay, this one might be a sly addition. But Hot Water Beach, located on the far reaches of New Zealand’s paradisiacal Coromandel Peninsula, is one of the very few places where you can sink into natural hot pools in the sand even when it’s chilly. Geothermal activity means the water underneath is still warm even when it’s below 59ºF (15ºC) outside. While a free, homemade hot tub on the beach isn’t likely to be your little secret, the best part about this spot for cold-weather enthusiasts is that chillier days usually mean fewer crowds.
Don a swimsuit, bring a spade and dig yourself a personal hot pool in the sand. The water can reach around 140ºF (60ºC), so bear in mind that if you visit in winter your surrounding environs will seem much colder. Make sure you check the tide charts too – you won’t want the sea rushing in mid-spa, although it can be refreshing to feel the whip of cold air and ocean spray at a safe distance. Sink into your steaming hot tub and watch the powerful surf from afar.
7. Cannon Beach, Oregon, USA
If you want moody and atmospheric, this is it. For a beach that sits on the US’s Pacific Coast, it sure does buck sun-kissed, palm-fringed expectations. The Beaver State’s Cannon Beach is home to Haystack Rock, a giant formation that sticks out like a sore thumb along a distinctly misty coastline. It’s an optimal choice for dog walking and reflective strolls as it does get chilly, even in the summer, so you’ll want to keep moving.
Want a dash of the Wild West with your waterfront wanderings? Throw in some adventure and saddle up. There’s no better way to experience the Oregon coastline than on horseback, and nearby riding schools offer both daytime and sunset rides. The town of Cannon Beach itself is as charming as can be, and large chains have been prevented from opening here to preserve its quaintness.
8. Cox Bay Beach, Tofino, Canada
You won’t have to look far to find the ideal cold-weather beach in Tofino, a small westerly town on Vancouver Island. The stormy weather here is a genuine tourist attraction – a favorite pastime in Tofino is storm watching. So which beach is best for the thunder-hungry visitor? Chesterman might be Tofino’s most popular, but Cox Bay will cater to your windy and wild beach needs.
With panoramic views of the stormy Pacific Ocean and driftwood dotting the white sands, a stroll down Cox Bay takes you along a picturesque, forest-adjacent boardwalk. It’s also a great spot for fairly experienced surfers – when the waves surrounding Tofino are big, you’ll find them even bigger at Cox Bay.
During a “storm watch period,” hole up in one of the storm-proof hotels and restaurants, such as Long Beach Lodge or Cox Bay Beach Resort, that line the shorefront. Keep warm and catch lightning shows from your window, or witness those surfing the huge swells from a hot tub overlooking the beach.
9. Haeundae Beach, Busan, South Korea
Busan’s Haeundae Beach is a hotspot on humid summer days, and still a huge draw in the cooler winter months. There’s also plenty to see nearby. In winter a good selection of eateries remain open, serving up everything from sashimi to Korean fried chicken.
Don’t forget to swing by the food markets, too – at Haeundae Market you can eat your fill of delicious mandu (Korean dumplings) and gimbap (nori-wrapped sushi), or a warming spicy red chili soup.