Beyond the Blue Lagoon: seven incredible geothermal baths in Iceland
While the Blue Lagoon, just outside Reykjavík, is world-famous for its warm, milky waters, you'll find plenty more idyllic swimming spots around the country, from a modern spa with a swim-up bar to remote hot springs reached via a countryside hike.
Good news for anyone not entirely comfortable in their birthday suit: unlike hot spring bathing traditions in Finland and Japan, in Iceland modesty is still cherished. If the extrovert in you feels like this is an imposition, then know that the nation’s high level of volcanic activity and blend of modern and traditional facilities should offer adequate compensation. While the Blue Lagoon has become globally renowned as a hot spring hotspot, elsewhere around the country you’ll find everything from baths with high-tech bars located in the soothing waters to remote lagoons reached after a hike. So, stay hydrated, don’t tarry too long and don’t forget your swimwear.
1. Mývatn Nature Baths
The northern and eastern regions of Iceland don’t have the same level of volcanic activity as the west, making Mývatn something of a rarity. Lying around 50 miles east from Akureyri, the area is best known for its eponymous lake (home to legions of birds and great squadrons of summertime midges), which was created by an eruption more than 2,000 years ago. Today, the facilities make the most of this natural setting. Expect slick Scandinavian design, enormous open pools and a gigantic sky — when you can see it through the steam.
2. Sky Lagoon
The new Sky Lagoon has plenty of competition around Reykjavík, but there’s surely nowhere offering a more polished experience. Completed in spring of 2021, it offers a seven-stage cleansing treatment, as well as incredible views from its elevated position at the end of a peninsula. Expect sailboats and eider ducks to float past in the cold Atlantic while you relax. One of its most frequently enjoyed features is a swim-up bar, from which guests can order beer or Champagne — you’re limited to a maximum of three drinks, though, as the combination of warm water and cold air is already likely to make you a little light-headed.
3. Hellulaug Pool
The little-visited Westfjords area is more famous for its Tolkienesque scenery and sumptuous waterfalls than it is bathing, but in the southern part of this remarkable region, there are various community-maintained options. You’re in the wrong place if you’ve come looking for state-of-the-art facilities or even pretty basic ones — around here it’s altogether more traditional. That often means a fairly rudimentary set-up, but with unspoilt views of the untamed landscape and low footfall in these parts, there’s rarely anyone else with whom to share the water.
Arguably the prettiest and definitely the most colourful hotspot in central Iceland, Hveravellir’s geothermal pools are found in the heart of a nature reserve of the same name. The pools appear like volcanic welts on the skin of an alien planet and while many are cooled and designated for bathing, others are so hot they can be used for cooking. This far into the wilderness, Hveravellir is also a great spot for watching the Northern Lights in autumn.
Built back in 1923, long before Iceland was enjoying its 21st-century tourism boom, the Seljavallalaug pool is most likely the oldest in Iceland. It takes 20 minutes of trekking to get there from the car park (a short detour from South Iceland’s Ring Road) and is maintained by local volunteers, making it also one of the rawest bathing experiences in the country. Nonetheless, over the last decade or so, it has seen increasing interest again, thanks to its volatile neighbour, the mighty ash-spewer Eyjafjallajökull. To help you avoid trying to pronounce the nearby volcano while asking for directions, the website has coordinates.
6. Secret Lagoon
When compared with the indulgences on offer at the Blue Lagoon, Iceland’s oldest natural swimming pool strikes a simpler chord. Offering an authentic, no-frills experience on the cusp of Iceland’s Golden Circle, the Secret Lagoon has been welcoming visitors since 1891. Despite its impressive age, the lagoon’s core offering remains unchanged, with guests invited to relax in a single, modest pool surrounded by a multitude of steaming hot springs. A series of boardwalks snake among geothermal features, offering a perfect post-pool stroll. The star of the show is Litli Geysir, a small geyser that spouts with reassuring regularity every few minutes.
7. Forest Lagoon
A five-hour drive from Reykjavík into Iceland’s wild north, Forest Lagoon is a sleek new addition to the island’s thermal spa scene, with every detail designed to showcase the best of the local area. Perched on gentle slopes at the edge of the extensive Vaglaskógur forest, the spa is home to two infinity pools offering superb views across the waters of the Eyjafjörður, a vast fjord teeming with marine life from gargantuan humpback whales to playful dolphins. A refreshing cold tub and state-of-the-art sauna complete the lineup, and the Forest Lagoon promises to be a favourite spot for visitors seeking a relaxing woodland retreat.
And lastly, if you want to visit the most famous Icelandic geothermal baths...
Attracting thousands of visitors every day, Iceland’s Blue Lagoon is the undisputed champion of the island’s thermal spa scene. Tourists flock here from across the world, lured by the famously vibrant, mineral-rich waters. Its medicinal properties were first discovered in the 1980s when locals began bathing in the reservoir next to the geothermal power plant. From these humble origins, the Blue Lagoon has developed into a world-class wellness destination, offering everything from luxury accommodation and fine dining to health clinics and spa retreats. It even has its own skincare range.
Additional reporting by Matthew Figg
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