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One of the main experiences in Iceland is to bathe in the hot springs and warm waters. The Blue Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Mývatn Nature Baths and Geosea – Geothermal Sea Baths are some of the more well known. However, all across Iceland there are small, discreet wild hot springs that are far more of an experience than any commercial enterprise.
Tips for Visiting a Hot Spring in Iceland
- When travelling around Iceland always have swim wear and towels to hand. You never know when you will find a hot spring
- Follow any instructions for showering or entry into the pools as this varies depending on where you are
- Check the water temperature before entering. Temperatures range from tepid to boiling and they aren’t always marked
- Remove jewelry before getting in the springs. The metallic elements in the water will react with copper and silver leaving them tarnished
- Remember that some hot pools will leave you with the lingering aroma of rotten eggs from the sulphur content!
How are Hot Springs Formed And are they Really Hot?
Iceland is a country of geothermal energy and any water passing through the ground will be heated. This emerges in some areas as boiling fumeroels or geysers, but in others it is more gently heated or combined with piped cold water to cool the temperature to something that can be safely used for bathing. Hot springs go by a range of names: hot tub, spa, swimming pool, warm pool, hot springs, the list is extensive.
Some hot springs are as they leave the ground, a pool or river that has no modifications. Others have a stone surround added to make a proper pool. It is always a bit of a surprise when you arrive as to what will be there.
The hot tubs vary in temperature from decidedly chilly like Seljavallalaug Hot Springs and Askja Víti which can be between 20° and 30°C to Djúpavogskörin and Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River which are much warmer at 34° to 40°C. This is worth thinking about when you visit during the winter months when the air temperature is cold before you get in to water that is below body temperature. Conversely, some hot pots are at about 44°C which may seem fine initially but you will find you need to escape on a regular basis to cool off.
Etiquette for Visiting a Hot Spring in Iceland
Many of the hot springs in Iceland are nothing more than a tub or pool of water that has formed in an area with geothermal activity. There isn’t a plush changing room or showers, it is very much wild swimming in hot water. When you arrive at a hot tub it is useful to scout out what is there before getting changed. See how many people are about and even go for a chat with them. The spring may be reduced in volume leaving a muddy puddle or the temperature may be too high for entering the water.
Most of the springs are unfiltered and many will have a smooth mossy green coating to the base of the pool or pot. This is not because it is dirty or uncared for, it is natural growth that happens in warm damp places. Once you get used to the spongy smooth feeling beneath your feet it is really quite soothing.
The water will tarnish copper and sterling silver jewelry so make sure you take everything off if you don’t want the copper to turn an interesting shade of green. This is just down to a reaction of the metals and the elements dissolved in the water.
Always ensure that you wear clothing of some sort and if there are showers, shower before putting your swimwear on. This is especially the case at public swimming pools where there are clear pictograms showing you how to get ready for your dip. This isn’t just a quick splash, you will need to scrub with soap minus any clothes before entering the pool or pot. Slip on shoes are also a good idea as there may be gravel between the changing and the water. When touring around Iceland make sure you have swimwear, towels and wet shoes to hand. You never know when the chance of a dip will appear.
The hot springs are usually quite small and are more suited to soaking and chatting than swimming. It is a very social place and people will come and go. Others will leave the water for a while to cool off before returning. Don’t be afraid to go in even if there are people there already. Everyone will budge up to make space for one more!
Do remember though that some hot springs have quite an aroma to them. This will cling to your hair and clothes so you will need to shower eventually!!
As with all places in Iceland the environment is delicate and needs to be preserved. Leave no trace of your visit and if you aren’t sure about access then move on to the next adventure. Many of the pools are on private land so make sure you have permission. Some landowners are closing their pools because of the disrespect that a few tourists show towards these beautiful locations. Please don’t be the reason that a pot gets closed.
Best Time of Year to Visit Hot Springs in Iceland
Most hot springs are open year round, but the road conditions may prevent you from getting to them safely. This is especially the case in the Highlands and the Westfjords as well as the far east. The hot springs have a draw throughout the year. In the summer months a soak in warm water under the midnight sun is as magical as a winter night with the northern lights dancing overhead.
In the winter the thrill of walking through snow to sit in a tub of warm water really can’t be beaten. You do however need to check the best pools for the season. Some may cool down with the winter air temperatures and be ‘chilly’ so it is best to check water temperatures before heading to the hot pots.
Wild Hot Springs in Iceland
Hot springs are all over Iceland but the sample below are ideas for pool that are easy to find when touring Iceland.
Landmannalaugar – The People’s Pools
Landmannalaugar is a legendary place in the mythical highlands of Iceland. Nestled in between colorful mountains, next to the Laugahraun lava field, it offers an otherworldly landscape that can be found nowhere else. It’s extremely popular with trekkers, mainly because the 4-day Laugavegur hike starts from there but also thanks to an abundance of day hikes in the area. However, what few people know is that Landmannalaugar boasts a beautiful, natural and free hot springs as well. If you are familiar with the Icelandic language it won’t come as a surprise, because Landmannalaugar translates to “The People’s Pools”
Facilities at Landmannalaugar Pool
You can soak in the hot springs as a day visitor, but due to its remote location, it may be advisable to book a night in the nearby hut or campsite. There are hot showers in connection with the hut, but you should expect very basic facilities.
Getting to Landmannalaugar
There’s ample parking within a few hundred meters of the spring, but driving to Landmannalaugar is possible by F-road only. The easiest approach is by F208 either from Road 26 near Hekla or by joining the 208/F208 from ring Road 1 to the east of Vík in the south, but if you don’t have a 4WD, consider taking one of the daily shuttle buses from Reykjavik or a tour to the region.
Seljavallalaug Hot Spring
Tucked within the mountains along the southern coast of Iceland is Seljavallalaug Hot Spring. This picturesque pool was built in 1923, making it one of Iceland’s oldest swimming pools. It was originally used to teach local children how to swim. Today, it’s maintained by locals and is a must for anyone exploring the southern coast of Iceland.
Facilities at the pool
Once you arrive, you will see a couple of dressing rooms. Here you can have some privacy to slip into your bathing suit before you soak in the beauty, both figuratively and literally. The pool is 25 metres long and 10 metres wide with one of the walls being built into the hillside. There is no entry fee but there is a box for donations to help keep the pool running.
Getting to Seljavallalaug
To get to Seljavallalaug you need to take Road 242 signposted to Raufarfell just past the Eyjafjallajökull Erupts Exhibition at Þorvaldseyri. Follow this road until the Seljavellir sign. You will need to park your car at the parking area for the new pool and take a short and easy hike to the pool following the valley where the pool is tucked away right at the end. It only took us about twenty minutes to get there and another twenty minutes to get back.
Djúpavogskörin Geothermal Pool
In the far east of Iceland just before the historic town of Djúpivogur is a small geothermal spring. It has far reaching views from the pool across the coast, which are perfect on a clear day and magical in the snow. Just before the tub you will see a number of small springs with a coating of vivid green mosses and algae.
The Tub at Djúpavogskörin
If you want the full spa treatment the this is not the place to come. At Djúpavogskörin there is a large metal tub that will seat about 6 people comfortably. It is surrounded by wooden decking so you can remove shoes and change without getting muddy. To add to the comfort, there is a clothes stand to hang your belonging on while you wallow in the warmth.
Getting to Djúpavogskörin Geothermal Pool
This pool is very easy to get to off Ring Road 1. It is located a few miles outside of Djúpivogur. If you are driving from Höfn there is a sharp right turn down to a large turning area where you can park. It is sign posted but is easy to miss. From the road all that you will see is the steaming springs.
Follow the small path around the hill and use the boards to cross the stream and the hot tub should be on your left.
Askja Víti is a geothermal blast crater within the Askja caldera in the north east Highlands of Iceland. It was formed in 1875 during a series of eruptions and is now a warm geothermal lake. Surrounding the edge of the lake are a number of steaming geothermal areas that are signed and should be avoided. The rocks surrounding the water are every colour of orange, cream and brown imaginable as the sulphur collects and deposits on the rocks.
Facilities at Askja Víti
At this small swimming area there is nothing! The nearest facilities of any kind are located at Dreki which is about 10km away. In Dreki there is a basic campsite and the rangers who look after the area. You can stay at Dreki which makes visiting the crater much easier or book a tour which includes the crater.
Getting to Askja Víti
Getting to this area requires a 4WD vehicle and can only be completed when the roads are open in the summer months. The crater is reached by following the F905, F910 and then the F894 to a parking area at Vikraborgir. It is then a 2.5km walk across the lava field within the caldera. You will not see Askja Víti until you are at the rim of the crater.
To get down to the water you need to follow the river bed. This can be slippery and should not be attempted in bad weather.
Reykjafjarðarlaug Hot Pool
Reykjafjarðarlaug Hot Pool is a busy little pool on one of the main roads around the Westfjords. This geothermal area gives two options. There is a beautiful blue swimming pool which is warm enough to swim in during the summer months. Behind the pool is a small stream with some shallow sitting pots that are perfect year round with stunning views across Reykjafjörður, a small fjord located in a larger fjord called Arnarfjörður.
Facilities at Reykjafjarðarlaug Hot Pool
This pool and sitting pot has a small shed just off the main road. In here you will find a basic changing room and toilets. It isn’t anything fancy but it is somewhere to change in the dry and out of the wind. There is nothing else here other than an abandoned turf roofed sheep hut and a couple of summer houses.
Getting to Reykjafjarðarlaug Hot Pool
Driving north towards Þingeyri and Ísafjörður from the town of Bíldudalur on Road 63 you will find Reykjafjarðarlaug at the end of the fjord.
The road between Bíldudalur and Þingeyri is only open during the summer months. Getting to Reykjaförður does not require 4WD (although it is more comfortable) but a large part of the drive is on gravel roads which are not plowed in the winter.
Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River
If you are looking for cheaper and wilder options to the Blue Lagoon, the Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River – also known as the Hot River – is the place to go.
The Hot River is located in Southwest Iceland, in the beautiful Reykjadalur Valley, and it can be visited on a day trip from Reykjavik if you have your own car. The access to the Hot River is free and it is at the end of an easy and beautiful 3 km hike (one way).
Facilities at Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River
This is a very active geothermal area, with hot springs and mud pools, so don’t leave the marked path! Once you reach the Hot River there are a couple of cabins where you can change clothes to get a bath. The water is warm, around 37C, and it is a nice feeling to chill out outdoors in this running water. On the way back you can stop at the restaurant named Dalakaffi, the start and finish point of the hike, for a hot coffee and chocolate.
Getting to the Hot River
The hot River can be reached from Ring Road 1 on the Golden Circle. Take the road through Hveragerði past the Geothermal park and continue up the valley to a small parking area at the end of the road by the Dalakaffi restaurant. From here it is easy to pick up the trail to the bathing area.
Of all these hot springs and pools this is probably the busiest of all the free and wild hot spring areas.
Map of Hot Springs and Swimming Pools in Iceland
There are so many places to swim in Iceland that this map shows the edited highlights. Almost every town and village will have its own public swimming pool. These are a great way to relax after a day of travelling, especially if you are camping. We chose to pay for swimming each day rather than pay for campsite showers. Lots of the hot tubs are not signposted and are hidden little secrets and will remain that way. Shared below are the known hot tubs that we came across and can be seen on a map here.
Other Hot Springs and Pools in Iceland
There are so many hot springs dotted around Iceland that it is impossible to list them all. Some are hidden secrets that should remain that way if you find them while others are commercial and draw in thousands of visitors each day.
Biggest Hot Pools
Blue Lagoon – located near the airport on the Reykjanes Peninsula. This is a large complex of geothermal pools.
Mývatn Nature Baths – the Blue Lagoon of the north near to Reykjahlíð
Geosea – Geothermal Sea Baths – near Húsavík this series of baths overlook the sea with amazing views
Vök Baths – unique floating hot tubs on Lake Urriðavatn near Egilsstaðir
Secret Lagoon – the not so secret lagoon on the Golden Circle
Favourite Swimming Pools In Iceland
Every town in Iceland has its own swimming pool. They have pools and hot tubs and many are outdoors making swimming a year round experience.
Sundhöllin – the oldest public swimming pool in Reykjavík with salt water swimming pool and some really hot hot tubs
Sundlaugin Selárdal – this is an outside swimming pool in a valley in the north east of Iceland
Sundlaugin Þórshöfn – a beautiful swimming pool with hot tubs in the fishing village of Þórshöfn
Hótel Reykjanes – a very strange feeling hotel and campsite with an amazing outdoor geothermal swimming pool and hot tubs
Hot springs in Iceland that are beautiful but you can’t enter
Geysir – the hot springs around Geysir are beautiful but far too hot for a dip
Grjótagjá cave – this cave has a deep blue geothermal pool but again the temperatures are too high for bathing
Leirhnjukur and Hverir – close to Krafla this series of hot pools are boiling and bubbling and far too hot to enter