Rauðisandur red shell beach in the West Fjords
Updated: Jan 6, 2022
Rauðisandur (Red Sand Beach) is a ten-kilometer stretch of a shell beach on Iceland's south coast of the West Fjords (Vestfirðir). The color of the beach, derived from scallops, is indeed red—at least in certain conditions. When the living organ in a scallop dies, the shells are broken down to bits and pieces by the ocean's strong current and thrown to the shore. It is quite a sight to see on sunny days, as it glitters like a coast covered in diamonds. Sunny days are by no means the ruling weather in this part of Iceland, but don't let that stop you from going to Rauðisandur. This fantastic beach is like an instrument being played by high and low tides and lights and shadows. The sands are equally impressive on rainy days, constantly changing colors from red to yellow to white to red to black—with striking hues ranging throughout this magnificent display. Rauðisandur has many qualities that we love to experience on our travel. It is also a peaceful and photogenic place: Photographers, don't hesitate to bring your gear. Although it takes only a few hours to drive from Reykjavík today, it was a very isolated place a few decades ago.
First settlers were on a Christian mission in a land of paganism
Rauðisandur, like many lowland stripes by the shore, fjords, and valleys in the West Fjords, is mentioned in the famous Book of Settlement (Landnámabók, written in the 13th century in Icelandic). Many of the settlers in the region came from the Hebrides in Scotland and were on a Christian mission with Örlygur Hrappsson, who first arrived at and named the Patreksfjörður Fjord. For centuries, people have farmed this land and provided their families with food from rich fishing grounds in the Breiðafjörður Bay. At the time of settlement, walruses lived at Rauðisandur, and one could produce valuable commodities from hunting them. Although isolated, it was a good place for survival in Iceland and always far away from the difficulties caused by volcanos.
Take care on the steep road down the slope to Rauðisandur
You need to take extra care when you drive the road from the Patreksfjörður Fjord. On the south side, the gravel road leading to the beach goes through a steep and narrow mountain pass, with 180° turns and no rails. Take your time to drive down the slope and even stop to enjoy the spectacular view. On reaching the lowland, you will find one of the most wonderful cafés on the beach when you turn west. Rauðisandur is also a place of inflammatory folklore and stories. Apart from tales of trolls and ghostly figures, Rauðisandur is the area where Iceland's most legendary act of crime, The Murders at Sjöundá, happened. It is a true story of brutal murders, darkness, intrigue, betrayal, adultery, and passion. The whole tragedy was described in one of the best novels written by an Icelandic writer: Svartfugl, by Gunnar Gunnarsson. A literary masterpiece, it was first published in Denmark in 1929 and was a best seller for months all over Europe at that time. It is probably one of the first Icelandic crime novels that became a hit.
Take a stroll on the beach to enjoy the magnificent Rauðisandur beach
Taking a stroll along Rauðisandur is an experience. You can walk to the sand from the café and the Melanes farm, which is probably better. The soft sand and coarse seashell fragments often veil precious objects washed ashore by the sea, even Whalebones or a bottled message! But remember to follow the flow of the tide, as there is a significant difference between low and high tides. Rauðisandur is part of the West Fjords drive and road trip, if you want information about getting there and when to travel to Rauðisandur.