Everyone can appreciate the sensation of a steamy, warm, bubbling hot tub. But at Outdoor Project, we like to celebrate this form of recreation a little differently. For instance, take those harsh chlorinated waters and loud motor pumps and trade them up for some algae-rich pools and soothing thermal vents. In terms of opportunities for a natural soak, Iceland offers some of the best in the world.
Not all hot springs are created equal, but each maintains it's own special mix of healing properties and essential relaxation. That's why we've put together a guide to the country's most serene and warm bathing areas to help you dive right in. We'll start out with the high-end spa treatments and work our way out to the raw and untouched landscapes. Pick a few, or experience them all! Either way, prepare to enjoy some of Iceland's truly unique gems of the landscape:
Set atop an 800-year-old lava field in a UNESCO Geopark, the Blue Lagoon (Bláa lónið) is Iceland’s most luxurious geothermal spa. Come here to enjoy milky-blue waters that are rich in blue-green algae, mineral salts, and fine silica mud, ingredients that form a natural blend that softens skin and soothes the body in an unforgettable and enchanting experience. It is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland, and in 2012 it was named one of National Geographic’s “25 Wonders of the World." Reykjavik Excursions offers hourly bus transfers here from Keflavík Airport to the spa throughout the year. This is one of the most luxurious places to enjoy these naturally hot waters. It is open every day of the year, and due to its extreme popularity, pre-booking is essential.
The Mývatn Nature Bath, also known as Jarðböðin, is a beautiful alkaline lagoon heated by the natural geothermal activity of the region and surrounded by a colorful landscape. The water is cloudy due to various minerals that are claimed to exhibit healing properties, and it is built up with a sand and gravel bottom. There are two steam baths, a natural sauna, and an enclosed restaurant. These murky spa waters, sometimes preferred over the more popular Blue Lagoon, offer a special experience in the heart of the Námafjall Geothermal region with views overlooking Lake Mývatn. Staying a week in the winter will almost guarantee you an opportunity to experience the Northern Lights!
Laugarvatn is located in the Golden Circle and has a long tradition as a community resource for religious practice and restoration of the body and soul. According to legend, when Iceland converted to Christianity in the year 1000 A.D., some chieftains did not want to be baptized in the ice-cold water of Lake Þingvellir (about 20 kilometers away) and instead chose these warm spring waters. In addition to the spa treatment there are steam room cabins, a Finnish-style sauna, and three mineral baths that vary in depth and size. You can also get a quick cool down by taking a dip in the refreshing Lake Laugarvatn!
Out on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Lýsuhólslaug is a constructed pool naturally heated the geothermal activity of the area. The water is mineral rich and murky green with algae considered to be healthy and healing for the body. Micronized chlorella has the extraordinary ability to stimulate the body’s own healing and detox powers. It may also help improve skin problems including psoriasis, rosacea, and general redness. There are also a high number of antioxidants, which may protect the skin from accelerated aging brought on by skin-damaging free radicals and sun exposure.
This local swimming area is a coastal bathing paradise right on the coast of Reykjavik. Water heated by the natural volcanic activity of the land is fed into the bay, making it an extremely popular spot to enjoy all year long. Admission to the beach and hot tub is free during the summertime, but there is a small access fee in the winter. During World War II, this area was used as a landing spot for amphibious aircraft due to its warm water runoff!
If you’re looking for a more secluded hot spring experience, Seljavallalaug is a built-up pool set on the side of a valley surrounded by mountains. The 1-kilometer walk to the pool from the car lot is completely worth the short trek as you settle into the naturally heated water amid the beautiful scenery. The water is dark green and deep at one end and shallow on the other. This is an excellent stop along the Ring Road in the southern region of Iceland to stop and refresh.
This natural hot spring is located right on the edge of a 500-year-old hardened lava field called Laugarhaun and at the center of the Torfajökull caldera, a huge circular crater that stretches over 15 kilometers in diameter. Located in the heart of the Fjallabak Nature Reserve, it’s one of the more secluded and untouched hot springs in Iceland. The name "Brennisteinsalda" means "Sulphur Wave" and echoes the natural fragrance of the region. While the warmth is pleasant, expect the water temperature to fluctuate with currents. An adventure to this part of the country requires a four-wheel-drive vehicle. You can also book a trip from the BSÍ Terminal in Reykjavík with Reykjavík Excursions Hikers’ Pass. Spend several days camping out at Landmannalaugar and exploring the incredibly colorful rhyolite mountains like Bláhnúkur. This is also the starting point for the world renowned Laugavegur Hiking Trail!
You would have to be creative with your travel itinerary to hit all of these spots in a single trip, but a good place to start your planning is our Guide to Iceland's Ring Road. While it's tempting to wade in the warm waters until your fingers and toes are beyond shriveled, you can find some great outdoor balance with Iceland's Best Hikes. There are so many geothermal areas and hot spots throughout the country that are begging for your exploration! For instance, add some variety to your adventure and check out Grjótagjá, a small, secluded lava pool in a cave near Lake Mývatn. Wherever your travels bring you, please respect the signs and postings at each location, and adventure like you give a damn!