I just love soaking in a hot tub. To me, the feeling of relaxation that a hot tub creates epitomizes the vacation feeling. At least, it does if the hot tub in question is somewhere other than my own bathroom: somewhere with palm trees, perhaps, or with a pretty view of any sort.
When I planned a three-week road trip around Iceland for my husband and me and learned that hot baths dot the country, warmed naturally by volcanic activity, I made sure to include several in our plans.
We tried out six hot springs and thermal pools in Iceland, all very different from each other. There are probably hundreds more around the island, so we limited ourselves to the most well-known and most recommended. All but one is easy to reach on a road trip in a two-wheel-drive car. I also preferred ones that come with changing rooms and showers, rather than the many we could have visited that are nothing more than small pools or tubs in the wild.
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I should also add that if you want a swim in a naturally-heated swimming pool (a pool, not a thermal bath, spring or spa) in Iceland, you won’t need to travel far. Most towns have one, and they are open to the public. Many have things like water slides to add to the fun.
Thermal pools in Iceland
What follows is a list of the best hot springs in Iceland, with an account of my experience of each. I’ve also added one that sounded good, but that we didn’t have time try out ourselves. At the end of the article is an embedded map, showing where each one is in Iceland.
Reykjadalur hot spring thermal river
The first one that we visited was also the hardest to get to, involving a 3.5-kilometer hike each way. Not that the hike was particularly difficult; it wasn’t. But none of the others involved any kind of hiking, so comparatively-speaking, this was the most effort. This is also the only hot spring in Iceland that I experienced that didn’t have changing rooms or showers, but it’s so exceptional that I wanted to go anyway.
It was definitely worth it. Think about it: a hot river! It’s not something I’d ever experienced before and probably never will again, but I highly recommend it. I’ve written a separate article just about that experience, plus some tips for if you go. You can read it and see more pictures here.
Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River: Take route 1 southeast out of Reykjavik. At the town of Hveragerði, turn left and follow to the parking lot. Walk the 3.5-km. trail from there. Open all the time. No admission charge.
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The Secret Lagoon
The Secret Lagoon certainly isn’t a secret, and it isn’t really a lagoon either, as far as I could tell. It’s just a large pool with a building next to it.
The facilities at the Secret Lagoon
The building has showers and changing rooms, one for men and one for women, but these are gang showers and a large open changing room. Don’t expect any privacy. Lockers are available, with a key that you can wear on your wrist.
Note: Iceland law requires everyone to shower before entering a public pool or thermal bath like this one. And when they say shower, they mean naked and thoroughly. Helpful signs designate what parts of the body you have to wash particularly well: feet, hands, underarms, genitals and hair. For a person raised with American-style prudishness, I found this uncomfortable in a group shower room. It reminded me of those painful days in school, having to shower all together after gym class.
The pool at the Secret Lagoon
After the shower, I dressed in my swimsuit and went outside to the pool. It’s a cold walk from a warm shower out into the cold air, but that makes the warm water of the pool all the more welcome. A simple stairway leads down into the water, which is only perhaps a meter deep.
The water is whitish and opaque, and the bottom is loose rocks and some sort of plant or algae growth. It’s pleasantly warm, and you can adjust the temperature simply by moving around the pool. On one side, opposite the changing rooms building, a stream trickles in, adding very hot water to the brew. Stand closer and the water is hotter.
The man at the reception desk told us when we paid that the area behind the chain-link fence on the far side of the pool was too hot and we could not bathe there. Now in the pool, we realized that the area behind the fence is quite literally boiling hot, steam rising from various holes in the ground.
One of these holes is actually a small geyser. It boils merrily and continuously, as do several other holes behind the fence. Perhaps every five minutes or so, its low bubble becomes a meter-high fountain before subsiding again.
A boardwalk edges the area of boiling water, and it felt good to get out of the hot pool and walk on the boardwalk in the cool air. I saw that many people were doing that: alternating between soaking and cooling off.
As far as I could tell, the Secret Lagoon does not have a sauna or steam room.
The Secret Lagoon: Check website for opening hours, which change seasonally. Admission: Adult ISK 3000 (€18.50/$21.50), children under 15 free with parents. It’s wise to book ahead.
Fontana Hot Baths
Fontana Hot Baths, like the Secret Lagoon, has a long low building providing changing rooms, lockers and showers. It’s a modern design, partly sunken into the earth with grass growing on the roof. In general, Fontana is more upscale than Secret Lagoon and less upscale than Blue Lagoon.
However, I was not impressed with the women’s facilities. The showers – in a single shared shower room again – were too close together and there weren’t enough of them. Especially when we visited, during the Covid-19 pandemic, when people in Iceland were expected to keep two meters away from each other, it was disturbing to be required to shower so close to other people. Standing and waiting for a space, stark naked, is pretty awkward too.
Pools of water stood here and there on the floor of the changing room and the toilets, and it didn’t seem to be getting cleaned often enough. It was quite busy when we visited – mostly Icelanders on vacation or locals – so that may explain it.
The baths at Fontana
The baths of Fontana are all quite small, but there are a range to choose from, arranged in tiers next to a lake. Each has a sign with its temperature, from 32°C to 40°C, so bathers can move from one to the next based on that. One long, narrow pool is very shallow and seems aimed at children. One hotter, deeper tub looks like a large jacuzzi, and I was disappointed to find that it didn’t have any water jets.
All but one of the baths have treated water: they smell like chlorine and look like pool water. One, though, is left natural: untreated water from the nearby geothermal source. The water is darker and smells of sulphur. Algae-covered river stones line the bottom.
Fontana sits on the shore of a large lake, which is its biggest asset. For one thing, it gives everyone soaking in the baths a pretty view. If they want, they can take a cold plunge in the lake off a small pier to cool off before returning to one of the hot baths. My husband did that several times. On the lake some people in wetsuits were busy learning SUP – stand-up paddleboarding.
Fontana also has a sauna and a couple of steam baths, all heated straight from the underground source of all this hot water. People enjoying a sauna or steam room can still enjoy the lake view, since the rooms have large windows facing the lake.
Fontana Hot Baths: Hverabraut 1, Laugarvatn. Take route 36 from Reykjavik toward Þhingvellir. Leaving Thingvellir it becomes the 365. You will find Fontana right after it joins route 37. Check their website for hours, which change seasonally. Admission: adult ISK 2500 (€15.50/$18), children to 12 years old free with an adult.
Myvatn Nature Baths
The Lake Myvatn area in northern Iceland is a great place for birdwatching and other recreational activities. While we were in the area, we decided to stop into Myvatn Nature Baths, not far from the lake.
The facilities at Myvatn Nature Baths
Myvatn Nature Baths’ building has facilities much like at the Secret Lagoon and Fontana: changing rooms, showers, lockers, etc. This one, however, does have a couple of separate showers, so if you want to, you can shower in private. Mostly it is the usual gang shower. A dispenser provides shampoo, conditioner and body wash. You can wear your locker key around your wrist as you swim.
The pool at Myvatn
Myvatn Nature Baths is a particularly large and enjoyable place for a soak. With a rock wall edge, the water is opaque and bluish, and smells of sulphur. The bottom feels like it’s just sand.
The thermal bath at Myvatn consists of two connected pools. Small walls form partitions around some of the edges with benches inside them, so that groups or families can sit in a semicircle together. Beyond the pools the view is big, overlooking wetlands and lakes and a dramatic sky.
A pleasant addition at Myvatn is that, as you first enter and pay your admission fee, you can order and prepay drinks. Once you’re in the water, you can pick up your order at a poolside bar and drink it while you soak.
Myvatn also has a steam room, with natural steam from the hot spring coming up through the floor and a big window overlooking the pools and the volcanic landscape around Myvatn Lake.
Myvatn Nature Baths: Jarðbaðshólar, Myvatn. Open daily mid-June-end of August 12:00-22:00, September to mid-June: Monday-Friday 16:00-21:00 and Saturday and Sunday 12:00-21:00. 2021 admission fees: Adult ISK 5700 (€35/$41), children 13-15 ISK 2700 (€16.60/$19.50), younger children free. Website.
Hofsós is more of a traditional swimming pool than the other choices on this list. As I mentioned above, many towns and villages in Iceland have a swimming pool, many of which are outside and fed by geothermically-heated water. They often also include one or more hot tubs, not for swimming but for soaking.
On our trip, we mostly visited thermal baths that were more or less natural. In other words, not just that the water was naturally heated but that a spring naturally occurs at that location, with unprocessed water, unfiltered and unchlorinated.
However, we decided to visit Hofsós Pool in northern Iceland mostly because Albert’s sister and her wife insisted that we just had to see it.
The facilities at Hofsós
It has the usual changing rooms with gang showers but only provides soap, not shampoo or conditioner. It has a drying area separate from the showers, which is useful. What I didn’t like about this particular place was that the only lockers were tiny: barely big enough for a small handbag. I ended up using two: one for my phone and watch and fanny pack and the other for my camera. I had to take the lens off the camera to fit it in. If it’s locals who mostly use the pool, I guess they wouldn’t need more space than that.
The pools at Hofsós
Hofsós Pool consists of three pools. The largest one has lanes and just looks like a plain old swimming pool, clearly intended for swimming laps. The smaller one is warmer than the larger one and has a bench around the sides. It’s meant just for sitting and soaking and, judging by the other people there with us, socializing too. Next to it is a very shallow children’s pool too.
The pools smell like chlorine, giving no indication that this is natural geothermically-heated water. On the other hand, the building and the pools blend in with their environment in a visually pleasing way. The placement of the lap pool on the edge of the bay gives it an infinity pool effect at the far end.
Hofsós’ location makes it special
So what makes this pool so special? The view. The pool overlooks a large bay called Skagafjörður, with a snow-capped mountain range across the bay on the other side.
For us, though, it wasn’t that impressive. It was a grey evening with low cloud and we could see very little of the mountains.
After soaking in the hot bath for a while, we changed into our clothes and left, but then decided to take a look at the coast next to the pool. Even if you choose not to go to Hofsós pool, the rock formations on the coast are worth a stop. Like at the much better-known Reynisfara black sand beach or at Giant’s Causeway in Ireland, you’ll see lots basalt column formations here. You can see them from the side but also notice the neat look of tiling at the tops of the columns.
Hofsós Pool: Route 76 in the town of Hofsós on the north coast of Iceland. Open October-May Monday-Friday 7:00-13.00 and 17:00-20:00 and Saturday-Sunday 11:00-16:00. In June-September it is open daily 7:00-21:00. Facebook page.
Reykjafjarðarlaug swimming pool and hot spring
The Westfjords is the peninsula sticking out from the northwest side of Iceland. The landscape is magnificently beautiful in its raw emptiness, and we didn’t have enough days to see it properly. That’s why we didn’t get to Reykjafjarðarlaug swimming pool and hot spring. It’s just what it says: a swimming pool with a natural hot spring next to it. There is a small shed with a changing room and a toilet, but that’s it. And because it’s in such a remote location, you might end up having it all to yourself. It sounds magical to me.
Reykjafjarðarlaug swimming pool and hot spring: Route 63, out near the tip of the bottom-most finger of the Westfjords. Open all year 24 hours, but without a four-wheel drive, it’s best not to attempt it outside of summer. Admission free.
The Blue Lagoon
The Secret Lagoon is often billed as the less-well-known alternative to the Blue Lagoon. We didn’t actually plan to go to the Blue Lagoon, but since we had visited so many others, we figured we should also check out this most famous one.
The Blue Lagoon is by far the most popular of Iceland’s thermal baths. It’s also the most upscale, I’d say, and its relative proximity to Reykjavik makes it easiest to get to. The landscape around it is barren and rocky: covered with black rocks from volcanic eruptions. The water comes in from a source deep underground.
Blue Lagoon is, indeed, blue. Pale blue, but not transparent, it’s a milky sort of blue from the natural minerals in the water. The pool complex covers a large area of several connected pools, surrounded by piles of black rocks. In other words, there’s not much of a view except the pools themselves.
Choosing a package
Of all the baths we visited, the Blue Lagoon has the biggest pools and also the biggest and fanciest building. When we booked online, we had a choice of packages:
- The “comfort” package is the basic one and includes a mud mask, a towel and a drink.
- The “premium” package is what we took, and includes two mud masks, a towel, a drink, slippers and a bathrobe. If we had booked a table at the Lava Restaurant in the building, we would have also received a free glass of sparkling wine. We didn’t choose that once we saw the prices – main dishes for dinner are in the €35-€38 range.
- A third “luxury” package also includes four hours at a separate spa with access to extra amenities, a private changing room and use of a separate “lagoon.” Clearly its exhorbitant price limits it to the biggest spenders.
All packages, by the way, include access to saunas and steam rooms as well.
The facilities at the Blue Lagoon
Anyway, after checking in, we set off to separate changing rooms. The building has more of a “design” feel than the other thermal baths we visited: lots of indirect lighting and dark colors. The women’s changing rooms – there are several – were very busy; a lot of people were getting ready to leave as we arrived so it was not a quiet or restful space. I claimed a locker, which was a good size, and was able to change in a private changing stall, though any thought of privacy went out the window as I moved to the shower section in my bathrobe.
While the showers are individual here, not open gang showers like in most thermal baths, the doors don’t actually shut, or rather, they can, but with big spaces around them. There was nowhere to put my bathrobe and towel but a rack several steps away from the shower stall, so I had no chance of maintaining any kind of bodily privacy.
The Blue Lagoon pool complex
The pool, though, or rather, the large network of pools, felt great: the milky blue water was a good temperature and smelled reassuringly sulphurous. After I’d gotten accustomed to the water, though, I would have enjoyed a section that was a bit hotter.
Albert and I moved to a little building that looked like a pool-side bar, but it wasn’t. It was the place that dispenses the mud masks. We could choose from a range of masks: white silica, greenish-white algae or other combinations. The “comfort” and “premium” packages both include a silica mask, the premium package that we had adds a second mask.
The young woman at the mask bar scooped up a glob of the stuff with a stick, wiping it off onto my hand. She instructed me to smear it on my face and wait ten minutes before washing it off. Where should I wash it off? Right in the pool.
So that’s what we did. Twice. Did it do anything for my skin? I doubt it. Or nothing more than the hot sulphurous water followed by a good scrub in the shower wouldn’t do. Nevertheless, it was fun to see my husband doing it too: it’s not exactly his style to be at all concerned with his appearance.
Another pool-side building offers drinks, one of which is included free in both packages. I got a smoothie and Albert got a beer, both served in a clear plastic cup.
The Blue Lagoon seemed crowded to me, especially in the changing rooms, but the middle of the pool was less densely-populated than the edges. I asked, on our way out, how this compared to a normal summer day pre-pandemic, and the woman at the reception guessed that it was a bit above 50 percent of normal. I can’t imagine how crowded those changing rooms must get when they’re at capacity!
The Blue Lagoon: Near the tip of the peninsula where Reykjavik is sited, the Blue Lagoon is about 50 minutes from Reykjavik, but only 15 minutes from the airport. From Reykjavik, take route 41 to 43 and follow the signs.
A bus runs from BSI Bus Terminal in Reykjavik to the Blue Lagoon frequently all day.
Open January-mid-June 8:00-21:00; mid-June-August Monday-Friday 15:00-22:00 and Saturday-Sunday 10:00-22:00; September-December Monday-Thursday 15:00-22:00 and Friday-Sunday 11:00-22:00.
Admission: Comfort level starts at €36, Premium at €54 and Luxury at €295. Children 2-13 free. The Blue Lagoon books up, so reserve your date and time in advance! Website.
Most of these full-day tours include admission to the Blue Lagoon at the “comfort” level, and package the thermal pool visit with some combination of other nearby sights.
Things to consider when you choose a thermal pool in Iceland
I can certainly see why the Blue Lagoon is the most popular, but its popularity might not make it the best option, if you are uncomfortable with crowds and can’t afford a pricey experience. If you get to northern Iceland, Myvatn is most similar to it, without the overwhelming crowds, though it costs about the same as the “comfort” level at the Blue Lagoon.
The Secret Lagoon is often billed as an alternative to the Blue Lagoon, but it is much smaller and simpler. That’s not bad, but it is less of a spa than the Blue Lagoon. Its advantage is that you can position yourself where the temperature is just right for you. It’s also distinctly cheaper. And I liked the geyser as an added bonus.
Day trips from Reykjavik
Reykjadalur, the Blue Lagoon, the Secret Lagoon and Fontana are all within day-trip distance from Reykjavik. Of these four, Reykjadalur was definitely my favorite. At the same time, it’s far more work to get to and offers even less privacy than any of the others, and no showers. On the other hand, it’s free.
My second choice would be the Blue Lagoon, assuming that money is no object. However, if I was planning to drive the ring road around all of Iceland, I’d take Myvatn over the Blue Lagoon, just to avoid the crowds.
If money is tight…
I’d suggest the Secret Lagoon, if the price of the Blue Lagoon is too high for you.
If money is a big issue for you, and you can dispense with all the frills – showers, toilets, changing rooms, towels, etc. – there are lots more options for free hot springs in Iceland. Ask wherever you’re staying about where the nearest “hot pot” is. These are usually very small pools in the wilderness, used mostly by locals and with few, if any, facilities. Shower before you leave your accommodation, and make sure not to leave any trash behind.
Alternatively, read about some of these “wild” pools in this article at Meandering Wild.
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