Are Hot Springs in Iceland Good For You?
Icelanders have used their hot springs for over a thousand years, since the days of the Viking settlers. We know this because the Icelandic Sagas often references pools made from geothermal springs.
Hot springs are made from geothermally heated groundwater that has emerged onto the surface from the ground. The water is heated by either magma or flowing through faults to hot rocks in the Earth’s crust.
During the times of Vikings, bathing in hot springs was not only a means to get clean and relax, but it was considered beneficial to one’s health. The Vikings were definitely on to something because when the groundwater reaches the surface, it contains large amounts of minerals that are good for your skin. In addition, the heat helps to alleviate the sensation of pain.
Benefits of bathing in a hot spring include:
- Relaxation and rejuvenation
- Helps circulation
- Relieve of musculoskeletal pain
- Treating eczema, psoriasis, and other skin conditions
- Improves sleep
Are Hot Springs in Iceland Safe?
Hot springs in Iceland are safe if you are careful. Dotted around the country are geothermal areas such as Geysir in Haukadalur Valley, Námaskarð near Lake Mývatn in the North, and Seltún on the Reykjanes Peninsula. All of these areas have hot springs that produce boiling water, not safe for bathing.
When visiting a geothermal area, one should stay on the marked paths and not get too close to the hot springs. Take extra precautions if you are travelling with children. You will find warning signs at these geothermal areas, but if you are still unsure, look for the Icelandic word “hver”, which will indicate a geothermal area.
But can’t you bathe in a hot spring? Yes, you can. When geothermally heated water reaches the surface, it is not always boiling hot and thus safe for bathing. It also sometimes mixes with a cold glacial river which helps create the perfect bathing temperature.
Before jumping in a natural hot spring, however, make sure to test the water temperature first. Nature is unpredictable, and the water can change. Not long ago, North Iceland’s Grjótagjá hot spring was ideal for bathing. But after an earthquake, the temperature rose to an uncomfortable degree. Though you can’t bathe there, the place is still worth a visit for its surreal beauty.
Are Hot Springs Free in Iceland?
Visiting some hot springs in Iceland doesn’t cost anything, but others might ask you for a small donation, usually between 500-1000 ISK. Though these are natural hot springs, they need to be maintained, which is why there is a price to visit.
Not everybody is respectful and, unfortunately, many tourists leave behind rubbish or damage the property. Your donation helps keep these sites clean and helps build additions to these sites, such as toilets or showers.
Some landowners have turned natural hot springs on their property into spa resorts. Of course, those will cost you a little more. But in return, you usually get more luxury, including private changing rooms, showers, and drinks.
Are Iceland’s Hot Springs Natural?
Most hot springs in Iceland are natural. The water either comes straight from the ground to the hot spring (hence why you should test it before jumping in), or the water is diverted from a nearby hot spring. In the latter case, the water temperature can be better regulated, providing the perfect bathing conditions.
One notable exception to this is the Blue Lagoon.
The Blue Lagoon, though impressive, is not a completely natural phenomenon; it is a byproduct of a nearby power plant. The plant extracts a superheated mixture of fresh and seawater 1,981 metres (6,500 feet) below the surface. It uses the water to run turbines that generate electricity to nearby towns before feeding it to the Lagoon.
I admit bathing in runoff water from a power plant does sound strange. However, this process creates extremely clean water. During extraction, the water captures salt, silica and other minerals that are not only good for your skin but help keep the Lagoon´s water naturally bacteria-free. So natural or not, it is still worth a visit.
Hot Springs & Northern Lights in Iceland
Iceland is not only known for its geothermal activity but also its Northern Lights. This beautiful natural feature can only be seen in Iceland during the winter months and only when the sky is clear of clouds.
Hot springs provide heat on cold winter nights for those wanting to see the brilliant Northern Lights. Geothermal Spas are often open late into the night in the winter, providing guests with warmth, luxury, and great sky views.
Which Hot Springs are the Best?
If you are looking to relax, rejuvenate, and take in Iceland’s spectacular scenery, then a visit to a hot spring will do the trick. Below are some of my favourite hot springs and spas in Iceland for bathing.
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1. Blue Lagoon – The Most Famous Hot Spring in Iceland
Yes, I’m starting this list off with the Blue Lagoon. Of course, I am; it is one of Iceland’s most popular attractions, with over 700,000 visits a year.
Despite this many visitors, it is surprisingly not too crowded. There might be a long queue in the reception area, but, once inside, you’ll see that the Lagoon is huge with plenty of room for everybody.
The spa was named one of the “25 Wonders of the World” by National Geographic, and it is easy to see why. Its geothermal blue waters are not only great for relaxation, but the minerals in them will do wonders for your skin. So much so that the active ingredients in the water are patented and used in a line of skincare products.
The Blue Lagoon is located midway between Keflavík International Airport and Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík. It is a fantastic place to visit after a flight to get rid of any jet lag you may have, or before a flight if you want to arrive at the airport relaxed and refreshed.
The Blue Lagoon is open year-round and tickets need to be purchased in advance.
2. Landmannalaugar Hot Springs – Remote Relaxation in the Highlands
Landmannalaugar is a geothermal valley in the remote Icelandic Highlands. It is famous for its colourful mountains made from rhyolite rock and its natural hot springs.
The name translates roughly to “People’s Pools” and was given to this area by this country´s Viking settlers. In the past, it provided a much-welcomed relief for weary travellers, and, I guess, it still does. However, we have now exchanged horses for 4×4 vehicles.
Landmannalaugar serves as the northern end of the famous 4-Day Laugavegur Hiking Trail, which leads between there and Þórsmörk Valley. Within the area are also shorter hikes, such as through the Laugahraun Lava Field or to Lake Ljótipollur.
The Icelandic Highlands are only accessible in the summer months by a 4×4 vehicle. However, visiting in the winter is not entirely out of the question; a select few tour providers have permission to visit the Highlands on specialised vehicles.
3. Secret Lagoon – One of Iceland´s Oldest Pool
Located close to the Golden Circle sightseeing route is the little village of Flúðir. Here, you´ll find a man-made pool fed by a naturally occurring hot spring.
The place is known as the Secret Lagoon and it is one of the oldest swimming pools in Iceland. It is therefore often nicknamed “Gamla Laugin” or “Old Pool”. The area around it, including changing rooms and showers, has been kept natural and simple in line with its historical setting.
Surrounding the pool are smaller hot springs, including a tiny geyser. The temperature is at a constant 38/40 °C (100/104 °F) throughout the year. This means that you can lie there on a cold winter night for hours while gazing up at the sky and searching for a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
The Secret Lagoon is a fantastic spot for those who want to unwind after a long day exploring the attractions of the Golden Circle, but it is also great for a day tour from Reykjavík City.
4. Húsafell Canyon Baths – A Picturesque Oasis
A relatively recent addition to the Icelandic geothermal spa flora is the Húsafell Canyon Baths, two hot spring-fed pools nestled in a canyon in the Icelandic Highlands. Fortunately, this secluded spot has not yet caught the attention of many, so the Húsafell Canyon Baths can still be considered a hidden gem.
To get to the Baths, you need to make your way to the tiny settlement of Húsafell in West-Iceland. Closeby are the stunning waterfalls Hraunfossar and Barnafoss, as well as Deildartunguhver Hot Spring (It´s not the kind you can bathe in).
At Húsafell, you need to find a guide to drive you to the Highlands and lead you to these private baths. If you book your tickets in advance, your guide will be waiting for you, ready to take you on this fantastic adventure.
The route to the baths is stunning. Along the way, you´ll pass a two-tiered waterfall, canyons, and the glacier Okjökull. The hot tubs are modelled after a historic pool mentioned in the Sagas and blend seamlessly with the surrounding environment.
Tours to the Húsafell Canyon Baths are available year-round. The Baths are of varying temperatures between 30-41°C (86-105°F), and for the adventurous, there is a cold-water spring nearby at 10°C (50°F).
5. Sky Lagoon – The Geothermal Bath in Reykjavík
Another new addition to the many spas found in Iceland is the Sky Lagoon.
You can find the Sky Lagoon in my hometown of Kópavogur, which is just a few minutes drive from Reykjavík´s city centre. When I first heard about the spa, I was surprised at its location in the town´s industrial district. However, the Lagoon is located on the waterfront and, thankfully, faces out onto the ocean, serving as an oasis within the town.
The Sky Lagoon´s 70-metre (230 ft) infinity-edge blends into the sea and provides you with a fantastic view of the North Atlantic Ocean. When I visited, I could also see the Presidential Residence at Bessastaðir as well as tufts of smoke from the erupting volcano on the Reykjanes Peninsula.
Included in a ticket is the 7-step Ritual, a series of hot and cold treatments based on the traditions of Icelandic bathing culture. It combines saunas and steam rooms with cold mists and reinvigorating scrubs, all designed to leave you refreshed and rejuvenated. After the treatment, you can continue to unwind in the Lagoon, perhaps with a drink from the swim-up bar.
The Sky Lagoon is fast becoming a popular attraction for both summer and winter visitors to Iceland.
6. Reykjadalur Hot Springs – A Completely Natural Experience
Hveragerði is a small town about a 30-40 minutes drive from Reykjavík City. When approaching the settlement from the city, you´ll notice first puffs of white smoke coming from the mountains surrounding this tiny settlement. The smoke is actually steam from the geothermal region of Reykjadalur Valley.
To get to the valley, you need to drive through Hveragerði to the parking lot of Reykjadalur. There, you´ll find a path that leads you 3.5 km (2.1 mi) uphill to a hot spring river that is perfect for a dip.
En route to the river, you´ll pass steam vents, bubbling springs and beautiful mountain scenery. But make sure you stay on the path; the ground here can be scorching.
Once at the river, there is a small wall which you can change behind, and then there is nothing left but to find a suitable spot in the river. Keep in mind that the higher up the mountain, the warmer the river gets.
Reykjadalur offers the best of both worlds. Here, you´ll get a great natural hot spring without any human interference (save for a wooden safety path). But it is close to Hveragerði, which provides you with amenities such as a supermarket, restaurants, and petrol stations.
7. Mývatn Nature Baths – The Blue Lagoon of the North
Visitors to Lake Mývatn and its surroundings have often described the area as “otherworldly”. You can spend an entire day here exploring labyrinths of lava rocks, steam vents, bubbling mud pools, and pseudocraters. After a day in lunar-like landscapes, what better way is there to unwind than with a dip in geothermal waters?
The Mývatn Nature Baths will provide you with such relief. With fantastic views, warm waters, and the option to purchase drinks, the Mývatn Nature Baths are the perfect place to relax and recharge when exploring the Mývatn Region.
It is often compared to the Blue Lagoon and not without reason. It is a luxurious spa with mineral-rich waters that are good for your skin. However, the main difference is that the Mývatn Nature Baths is generally less crowded and thus feels calmer and quieter. It is also not as expensive as the Blue Lagoon.
8. Pollurinn Hot Tub – The Secret Gem of the Westfjords
The Westfjords are among the most beautiful but least visited places in Iceland due mainly to the distance from the capital Reykjavík. Another reason this region is so remote is heavy snow in the winter that often makes navigating the roads a bit of a challenge. Thankfully, a new tunnel has made winter travel a lot easier.
There are many natural hot springs, hot tubs, and geothermal pools in the Westfjords. Too many to include all of them on this list. I have, however, put my favourite ones on here. The first one to mention is Pollurinn Hot Tub.
The little village of Tálknafjörður lies on the West side of the peninsula, not far from Látrabjarg Bird Cliffs. Here, you´ll find a geothermal hot tub called Pollurinn. The name directly translates to “The Puddle”, but it is more than just a puddle.
It is one large(-ish) hot tub and another cold one. But what makes The Puddle so special is the amazing view over Táknafjörður fjord and the surrounding mountains. It is a fantastic spot to lie while sunbathing in the summer or unwinding under the Northern Lights in the winter.
9. Krauma Thermal Baths – Where Fire Meets Ice
Deildartunguhver in West Iceland is Europe’s most powerful hot spring. On a visit, you’ll see a thermal river of bubbling 97°C (206.6°F) water that creates a vast amount of steam that can be seen miles away.
Obviously, Deildartunguhver is far too hot for bathing. However, on a hill nearby is the luxurious Krauma Spa which utilises the water from Deildartunguhver in its hot tubs. To cool down the boiling water and create the perfect bathing temperature, Krauma gets water from a nearby glacier, Okjökull.
At Krauma, you’ll find several hot tubs of varying degrees as well as a cold tub. There is also a steam room and a relaxation room that is so relaxing that I fell asleep in their comfy chairs the last time I was there.
You can order drinks at the reception to enjoy in the tubs, and there is a restaurant on site if you are feeling peckish after your soak.
10. Laugarvatn Fontana – Geothermal Baths & Hot Spring Bread
Laugarvatn Fontana is located between Reykjavík City and Þingvellir National Park, making it an excellent place for a quick city break or to unwind after a tour of the Golden Circle. The gorgeous spa sits on the banks of Lake Laugarvatn, in a town of the same name.
The three outdoor mineral baths all vary in size, depth, and temperature, so each visitor is sure to find a pool suited for them. Here, you´ll also find a Finnish-style sauna and three steam baths that utilise geothermal heat straight from the ground (you can hear it simmer through grids in the cabin floors).
Those looking to cool off can take a dip in the cool lake, either by following a wooden pier or by walking on a black sand beach. Cold baths are believed to have good health benefits for those who brave them, like improving blood circulation.
Here you can also partake in a rye bread baking tour where locals show you how they bake bread by burying it in the geothermally heated sand. Yes, you get to taste the bread afterwards.
11. Laugarvellir Hot Waterfall – East Iceland Gem
Laugarvellir (also known as Laugavallalaug) is quite a hidden attraction. So hidden that you won´t find it in most tour guides. Located in the Eastern Highlands, this natural hot spring not only consists of a warm pool but a hot waterfall as well.
You can find Laugarvellir about 100 km (65 mi) Southwest of Egilsstaðir, the largest settlement in East Iceland. Accessibility depends on what time of year you visit and what kind of vehicle you are driving.
If you have a 2WD or are visiting in the winter (when a 4WD is necessary), make your way to Kárahnjúkar dam and walk roughly 10 km to the waterfall. With a 4WD in the summer, you can continue on an F-road to a small parking lot approximately 3 km from the pool.
Though Laugarvellir might be hard to visit, it is well worth it. Its surroundings are bright green in the summer, a stark contrast to the dark lava fields associated with the Highlands. It is a great place if you are looking to immerse yourself in the wild Icelandic nature, far away from any crowds.
12. GeoSea – Geothermal Waters & Whale Watching
Imagine yourself immersed in warm waters, surrounded by snowy mountains while looking at whales breaching the blue waves of the North Atlantic Ocean. Sounds good? Then you should check out the GeoSea Spa in the northern town of Húsavík.
Húsavík is known as the Whale Watching Capital of Iceland. This is because it sits by Skjálfandi Bay, home to over 20 species of whales and dolphins. And the sighting rate on whale-watching tours from Húsavík Harbour is around 98% in the summers and 90% in the winter.
The GeoSea Baths have an infinity-edge pool that overlooks Skjálfandi Bay, and it is not uncommon for guests to spot a whale or two while unwinding in the geothermally heated waters.
And speaking of water, unlike the other entries on this list, GeoSea uses naturally heated seawater rather than freshwater. Nevertheless, the waters at GeoSea are rich in minerals that are great for the skin, especially for people with skin problems such as psoriasis.
If you are on the road, you can store your luggage at GeoSea before entering the baths. Once there, you will find a built-in waterfall, swim-up bar, sauna, and organic, environmentally-friendly skin-care products in the showers. There is also a restaurant on site where you can have a snack after your soak.
13. Vök Baths – Lakeside Relaxation
Centuries ago, people living near Lake Urriðavatn in East Iceland noticed that certain spots on the lake would not freeze in the winter. The reason for that is underwater hot springs and not a lake monster… which is what the people initially believed.
The Vök Baths utilise these underwater hot springs and have created a series of floating pools on the lake. Here, you can unwind in the hot spring water surrounded by the cold lake. You even have the option to go into the lake itself as ladders lead down to the water. But be warned, it is very cold!
On-shore are two hot pools and a pool par. There is also a sauna and a cold tunnel with a mist shower. Once you are out of the water, you can enjoy refreshments at the Vök Bistro or Tea Bar.
Hot springs are pretty rare in East Iceland (which might be the reason why the underwater hot springs in Lake Urriðavatn were mistaken for monsters). This fact makes the Vök Baths a unique experience for anybody travelling to this beautiful region.
14. Seljavallalaug – Hidden Away in South Iceland
Seljavallalaug is one of the most Instagrammable spots in the country. However, though you might have seen countless photos of the pool, it is still quite secluded as mighty mountains hide it away. And people often miss it when they rush between South Iceland’s attractions such as the waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss.
Fed by naturally hot water, Seljavallalaug was built in 1923, making it the oldest swimming pool in Iceland. Not much has changed since the 1920s, so visiting this remote pool is like stepping back in time. On-site are changing facilities but not much else.
Entry is free! But that also means that the facilities are quite basic. There are no showers nor a bathroom. Volunteers clean the pool, but unfortunately, that means it is not always in tip-top condition. And bad tourists often leave behind rubbish in the changing rooms. The pool also isn’t very hot, with temperatures at around 20° to 30°C (68 to 86°F)
So why is it on this list? Because of the setting. Mountains and waterfalls around this pool are breathtaking, and the 20 minute, easy hike from the parking lot to the pool is fantastic. Any photo you take here is sure to get a lot of attention on social media. Just wear your swimsuit underneath your clothes, put your regular clothes in a bag, and you don’t have to worry about the changing facilities.
15. Beer Spa – Combining Two Great Hobbies
Okay, this technically isn’t a hot spring, but it is a spa, a Beer Spa! And it is a fantastic place for adventurous people looking for a fun and quirky experience.
At the Beer Spa in North Iceland, you’ll unwind in a tub filled with beer, allowing yeast, hops, water, beer oil, and beer salt to caress your skin. To make this experience even more pleasurable, you can enjoy it with a cool beer in your hand (if you are of legal age, that is).
The beer in the spa is at the early stages of fermentation and has a low pH value. That means that it can tighten and soften your hair follicles, leaving your hair silky smooth. In addition, the yeast during this stage is an excellent source of Vitamin B, which has a revitalising effect on hair and skin. And it is also a great source of protein, potassium, iron, zink, and magnesium.
The hops are rich in antioxidants and alpha acids and can soothe and relax your muscles. On top of that, the oils and minerals in the beer water are considered to have anti-inflammatory effects. Who knew beer could be this good for you?
Aside from the inside beer tubs, you can find a sauna, an on-site restaurant and a big outside area with two hot tubs containing regular water.
Map of Hot Springs & Spas in Iceland
Below is a map of the hot spring mentioned above as well as a few others that didn’t quite make the list but are still worth a visit.