Updated: Oct 28, 2020
Iceland is a hot spot for geothermal activity and dedicated water babies will be in their element here. Hot springs, spas, hot pots, geothermal swimming pools, thermal rivers and ocean currents, there are so many places to soak! Visiting a natural hot springs is an essential part of any trip to Iceland. In fact wallowing in warm mineral waters is a big part of life for Icelandic people. Given the artic circle location of Iceland beach days are not really viable. But gloriously warm water spa days are and they are certainly made the most of.
There are innumerable thermal pools and natural hot springs right around the country. Icelandic people will often visit a spa or pool with a group of friends or family as part of a social occasion. They will relax and chat and maybe take a picnic along and spend the day. Swimming is also a very popular form of exercise and every town in Iceland will have its own public swimming pool. Great news if you are on a camping trip in Iceland. In this article we explore some of the very best hot springs in Iceland. We’ll also take a little look at why there are so many of these warm water pools in the country.
Why are there so many thermal hot springs in Iceland?
Iceland is a hotbed of geothermal activity. It has around 18 active volcanoes and many more that are currently lying dormant. This is all down to the country’s position at the meeting of two tectonic plates. The North American and the Eurasian plates come together in Iceland. In fact Iceland is one of the few places on earth where you can actually see this happening. The plates are currently moving away from each other and as they do so they create thermal activity. Magma from deep inside the earth’s crust rushes to fill the space as the plates drift slowly apart. Thus causing volcanic activity and in turn thermal energy. This is what creates Iceland’s deliciously warm hot spring waters.
In fact some of the hot springs in Iceland are super heated making them far too hot to bathe in. Water from these geothermal areas is used to heat many of the houses in Iceland. In many cases the water needs to be mixed with cold water before it is used as hot running water in people’s houses. So powerful is the thermal activity. Geothermal energy is also used to grow vegetables in the winter months and it is a prominent source of renewable energy in Iceland.
What are the benefits of bathing in hot springs?
Although the first that comes to your mind is the relaxation purpose, soaking in the hot springs has many more benefits. It does work perfectly for the tense muscles and stressed body to relax and chill. At the same time, it is also a great experience especially in Iceland. You can lay down in a hot tube, soaking in the warm water and admire all at once the surrounding landscapes, peaks covered in snow or the colourful mountains of Landmannalaugar. Having a dip in warm water, alter your blood pressure which is great for your circulation.
It is well known that it offers soothing to people who suffer from eczema and other skin disorders. It gives a huge relief. The hot springs in Iceland are filled with water rich in minerals which also benefit your body. The most common is sulphur which gives relief to people with respiratory problems. The other most common ones are also calcium, potassium, magnesium and sodium. They have healing properties and bring relief to many ailments.
The Bright and the Beautiful: Iceland’s most inviting Hot Springs
The Blue Lagoon
It might be obvious but this is indeed essential bathing. The Blue Lagoon is without a doubt the most famous hot spring in Iceland. This large and beautifully blue lagoon is naturally heated to a balmy 38 degrees Celsius year round. It has excellent facilities and has been tastefully designed to make the most of its dramatic black lava field setting. The contrast of the milky turquoise blue waters, black volcanic rock and billowing steam make the whole experience quite magical.
It is a very popular place though. If you visit Iceland you are pretty much obliged to take a dip in these famous mineral waters. For some it can be a little too commercial with timed visits and lots of other bathing visitors to share it with. A visit to the Blue Lagoon is often combined with a day tour of the Golden Circle. So sometimes tour buses will descend it can get quite packed.
But none the less bathing here is a must-do on any trip to Iceland if you possibly can. Our favourite time to visit is either upon arrival in the country or just before your flight home. The lagoon is just a twenty-minute ride from Keflavik International Airport so it the perfect place for a wind down before or after your flight.
The Secret Lagoon
The Secret Lagoon or Gamla Laugin is a short distance from the small town of Flúðir not far from Iceland’s South Coast. The secret is most definitely out but the lagoon does still have a lovely quiet and uncluttered charm to it. Especially if you have already visited the Blue Lagoon you will find it beautifully tranquil and unspoilt. Gamla Laugin literally means ‘Old Swimming Pool’. It is one of the oldest hot springs in Iceland and it first opened in 1891. It was later abandoned for well over seventy years! Following a full and sympathetic renovation in 2014 it was reopened to the public and is very much appreciated.
The steamy waters here are usually around 38 degrees Celsius but are sometimes a shade warmer. If you are visiting you will find smart changing rooms and an entrance fee of around 2800 ISK. This is about a third of that of the Blue Lagoon. The Secret Lagoon makes a great Blue Lagoon alternative if you are driving the Golden Circle and feel like a dip. It’s a short detour and there’s no need to book in advance. It's also fantastic if you are visiting Iceland on a budget.
There is even a geyser to enjoy with regular watery eruptions heading skyward. We also love the nearby tomato farm café and restaurant Friðheimar where they use geothermal energy to heat the greenhouses. Diners enjoy tomato-based delights seated amongst the vines.
Laugardalur Swimming Pool
This is the biggest swimming pool in Iceland and is located in the capital city Reykjavik. The Olympic size pool is geothermally heated and there are paddling pools, shoots and slides for kids to enjoy. Adults can enjoy hot tubs and steam baths and it makes for a great family day out in the city.
Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach
Also in the capital you will find a unique geothermal beach! It is free to enter in the summer months and gets busy with a fun-filled crowd of city families and groups of friends. The sandy beach and the pools are man-made but the waters are naturally heated. There are BBQ facilities and it is a lively and fun place to be.
Landmannalaugar Hot Pot
Located in Iceland’s incredible Southern Highlands the Landmannalaugar Hot Pot pool was created by stemming the flow of a geothermal river. The pool lies in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve, a truly stunning area of multi-coloured hills and valleys. The area draws a steady stream of hikers in the summer months. The hot waters of the pool make for the perfect place to soak tired muscles after a hike.
Again there are no facilities here and no charge to soak in the balmy hot water. The area is remote and is only accessible during the summer months by rental camper or car. The name translates as the ‘People’s Pool’ and the hot spring waters have been soothing weary bodies for years. Landmannalaugar lies at the end of a multi-day hike known as the Laugavegur hiking trail. This is a wild, remote and beautiful place. Well worth a visit if you are on a self-drive tour of Iceland.
Landbrotalaug Hot Pot
Heading west now to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula we come to one of Iceland’s hidden gems. The Landbrotalaug Hot Pot is a small but perfectly formed hot pool deep in the countryside. There are no changing rooms, no entry fee and not much room! In this intimate hot pot there is enough space for just one or two cosy bathers. It is great if you get there first so in high season arrive early (or late) to avoid disappointment.
The pool is a short drive on from the dormant volcanic Eldborg crater. It is a beautiful place to hike and easy to find on google maps. This is a favourite place to see the Northern Lights in season as it is far away from any light pollution.
Mývatn Nature Baths
Heading north now we visit the Lake Mývatn region on Iceland’s Ring Road. This is the much quieter and less frequented side of Iceland. If you are on a Route One road trip then you will most certainly want to spend a few days in the area. There are so many of sights to enjoy including a bubbling geothermal area with mud pools and hot bubbling craters.
Then there are the beautiful Mývatn Nature Baths. Known as the little sister to the Blue Lagoon these waters are just as tempting but far less busy. The temperature of the water up here in North Iceland is between 37-40 degrees Celcius and they are said to be packed full of minerals. The surrounding landscapes are stunningly beautiful and the entry price is about half that of the Blue Lagoon. There is no need to book in advance either! Definitely pay these baths a visit if you are driving the Ring Road or visiting North Iceland.