Given that it sits on a volcanic hotspot, Iceland is blessed with all the geothermal splendour you could wish for. Boiling hot water is in such abundance, that it even comes out of household taps, fresh from the depths of the earth.
However, despite the number of hot springs in the country, most travellers only head to the Blue Lagoon. And while the unique spa is absolutely worthy of its praise (more on that later) there are so many other (cheaper) places to soak. And what’s more, lots of them are in Reykjavik itself.
We stayed in the Icelandic capital for just one week, but we managed to squeeze in five visits to different geothermal pools. And all of them offered something different. So, below is a brief outline of all of them.
Vesturbæjarlaug has a real local feel. Our friend who’d lived in Reykjavik for a summer recommended it with high praise. And it didn’t disappoint. We visited the neighbourhood pool on our first night in Reykjavik, and what a fantastic introduction to Icelandic culture it was. Since we went on an evening, our visit coincided with the after-work crowd. We found a mix of parents with their children and groups of friends hanging out in the pool, in the hotpots, and in the sauna.
Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach
Among the most unique spots in Reykjavik, Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach sits on a naturally heated lagoon. It may be warmer than the rest of the Atlantic, but when we visited in April the sea water was still utterly freezing. Instead, we spent our Saturday morning chilling in the beach’s long, narrow hot pot using the ocean just for a momentary cold plunge.
It’s important to note that this place isn’t open every day. Make sure you check the beach’s website before planning your visit.
One for the history buffs, Sundhöllin is the oldest public pool in Iceland. The building first opened in 1937 but underwent a modern revamp in 2017. Located just behind Hallgrimskirkja, this facility is probably the closest of its kind to the city center and boasts indoor and outdoor pools as well as a sauna, steam room and a number of hot pots.
Costing $55 for a basic package, the Blue Lagoon is certainly not a budget option. But a visit here is worth every penny. The lagoon’s distinctive milky glow stands out against its stark surrounds. In fact, if it wasn’t for the bathrobe-clad tourists, you’d feel as though you were bathing inside a crater on the moon.
The Blue Lagoon isn’t actually in Reykjavik. It’s somewhere between the capital and Keflavik. That’s why some people do it on their way to or from the airport. We booked our tour through Gray Line and left from the city. But it’s worth doing some shopping around to see what kind of excursion works best for you.
If you like feeling close to nature (in a moss-between-your-toes kind of way) this pool is the one for you. The Secret Lagoon has been kept as pure as possible, so much so that you can walk through boiling hot currents that trickle through the pool from adjacent hot springs.
Despite its name, the lagoon is not quite secret. It is, however, a lot quieter than the Blue Lagoon. And like its more famous counterpart, it also boasts a bar. But here you take tinnies from a fridge rather than swim up to a counter.
The Secret Lagoon is located in farming country. And we visited as part of a Golden Circle Tour, which you can hopefully read about soon.
Bathing is a way of life in Iceland, and as such, it comes with a number of rules. First of all, you should be prepared to shower without clothes before and after your dip. Icelanders have no aversions when it comes to stripping naked in public changing rooms. So you’ll be expected to do the same.
Secondly, photographs and cameras are forbidden at most public pools, for obvious reasons. However, they are permitted at the more touristy spots like the Blue Lagoon and Secret Lagoon. Personally, I found being stripped of my camera quite liberating, enabling me to quite literally soak up the culture without any distractions.
Visiting local pools is a great way to experience Icelandic culture without breaking the bank. Don’t forget to check out my Reykjavik on a budget post for other ideas on how to make your spending money go further.