Photographed all over
There is nothing more soothing for body and soul than a warm bath surrounded by wilderness.
A hot bath is the Icelanders best friend. We would definitely dare to claim so. More than 600 bathing spots are marked on the map of Iceland by now and around 200 of those are natural hot springs or hot streams, most of them not made by men (the leftover 400 are public swimming pools). We made it a sport to pay as many as possible of those 200 a visit – give us a couple of years, and we at least went for a dip in all the natural baths. There is hardly anything that makes us as happy as sitting in the warm water somewhere in the middle of nowhere, all alone and surrounded by nothing but the endless beauty of nature, musing on everything and nothing. Iceland is our home by heart, our favorite place on earth and it has a lot of advantages – the thin Earth’s crust and incredible geothermic being one of them. Even though we have ‘only’ been living here for three years by now (and spent quite a bit of those years in Germany, as well) we still got to test more than just a few springs, streams, ponds and pools. We have found our absolute favorites by now and some we consider overrated. We also have a must-see list of at least five places we want to visit this summer. All of this we want to share with you today – Iceland’s most famous, beautiful and pristine bathing spots. The list is not complete, yet and of course highly subjective. Maybe you will come to a different conclusion when visiting one of the springs we recommended or consider overrated but at least, after reading this, you will know where to find them.
We furthermore would like to equip you with some tips and hacks when it comes to ‘hot-springing’ in Iceland. So without further ado – here comes our hot pot guide:
Rules and Regulations: Before taking a bath clean themselves thoroughly (if possible on location and if there are no showers and changing rooms then before you head out to take a bath). It’s a pity that there are humans out there that don’t want to play by the rules and so lots of those once remote and beautiful springs aren’t just overcrowded these days – they’re also heartbreaking filthy. We should acknowledge such miracles of nature and leave those magical places exactly like we found them. We saw people spraying on the walls and dragging out stones, found tons of trash and had to witness other kinds of vandalism, as well. We feel like it is self-evident that you respect the environment so let’s all bring containers for our trash and leave stones and grass in place. You should also be warned that some natural hot springs are contaminated with e-coli bacteria due to too many people visiting them. It’s not a slight contamination but 200x more than permissible. Please don’t ever jump into hot springs to clean yourself but go in after you’ve cleaned yourself. If you don’t want to take any risks then rather opt for supervised and maintained pools and baths at the moment!
If you want to go to the really pristine and secluded places then definitely rent a 4×4 since you really only can get to the most beautiful locations by Jeep (or hiking). You have to be aware that in some spots there won’t be any signs to point you into the right direction and just small, hardly passable dirt roads so you most likely need coordinates Other than that make sure to bring a towel and bathing suit, of course. A bag is also wise so you can safely store your wet clothes after your bath and until you are back home/at your tent or van and with a possibility to dry them. Bring some sandwiches and cold beverages (we always get so hungry sitting in a hot spring :D) and tadaaa you’re good to go! Now let’s start with our guide – which we divided into cardinal directions. (Btw: a lot of natural pools you will find in the south or west of Iceland which is especially convenient when staying in Reykjavik and wanting to go on a hot spring day trip!)
And now, Let's dive in!
A comprehensive guide to the most beautiful hot springs of Iceland
Kvika (foot bath)
Kvika (foot bath): You don’t even have to drive out to the countryside in order to spend some time in the warmth. Right on the outer rim of Reykjavik and on the peninsula named Grótta (at Seltjarnarnes) lies Kvika, a man-made little hot pool. It’s directly at the ocean and the view is gorgeous. It’s tiny, though and won’t fit more than three to four people’s legs. It’s been created by an Icelandic artist and is mostly used by locals. When the weather is beautiful and you take a stroll up to the lighthouse “Gróttuviti” then you will come across people having picnics there or sun-bathing in the surrounding grass. We love the small pot and so far have always enjoyed it in all peace and quiet. We did indeed see people trying to squeeze in to take a bath but be warned: there isn’t enough space to do so, it will simply be no fun (and look highly ridiculous)!
Almost everyone paying Iceland a visit has heard of magical Blue Lagoon. 70% of all tourists have it on top of their must-see list. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it, again: it’s not worth the massive hype! No matter how beautiful the water color (and it is indeed magnificent) – it’s way too much money and won’t give you an authentic Icelandic experience. By now, the world-famous bath is heavily overrun and constantly being expanded (it’s already been super crowded back in 2012 when tourism wasn’t even a third of what it is now) and a visit will not give you what you most likely want to find in Iceland: peace and quiet, serenity and pristine nature. By now the size of the Lagoon increased by 70(!)% and still you have to book your slot in advance, which means date and time of arrival. Add a price of €50 – €80 per person and hundreds of other visitors next to you and you get the idea. Bláa Lónið used to be a quiet bath and a small bistro, today it’s a gigantic bath and a bistro PLUS a huge shop, an expensive restaurant, hotels and lots of extra stuff that you can book for lots of money. It is beautiful, the color is unique, and we’ll be honest here: the face masks and beauty products (incredibly pricey) are freaking awesome, too. And yet, we do not recommend it unless it’s one of your biggest dreams and you don’t care what it costs and with how many people you have to share it. We would rather invest the money in a car that takes you to the really magical places where you might even find yourself to be completely alone. If you don’t want to pay the entrance fee but still check it out then we recommend taking a walk around the parameter since you can walk through the lava fields and admire the blue water from the outside.
It’s a little different with Fontana Spa. It’s not a hot spring, per se but man-made pools fed by naturally warm water. It’s located directly at Laugarvatn (and therefore a part of the Golden Circle drive), a beautiful lake where you can witness the most beautiful sunsets. If you dare to then you can mix up the warmth with a little ice-cold water in between and jump into the lake. A few years back, when we visited Fontana, it was really quiet and relaxed. We honestly are not sure about how crowded it is today, especially with being part of the most famous sightseeing route of the country. But it’s an amazing location, accompanied by a cute café with delicious food and steam saunas. It is expensive, as well but still cheaper than Blue Lagoon. We don’t feel it is necessary to pay an entrance fee in order to have a real Icelandic hot spring experience but that, of course, is just our opinion. If you feel like indulging in a little luxury like showers, toilets and a really good (and authentic Icelandic, they even still bake the traditional Rúgbrauð in the ground) dinner buffet then we highly recommend Fontana Spa! If you are planning a trip around the island then you might wanna save your money for the north, though – more about that later.
The oldest swimming pool in Iceland. Due to that fact and it’s location (hidden in a valley on the southern coast) the old and rather bedraggled pool does have its charms but to be blunt, that’s about it. The landscape is dreamy, perfect for a walk, but we don’t necessarily recommend Seljavallalaug for bathing. The water is noticeably colder than in most other hot springs, it can get super crowded since the times that it’s been considered a hidden gem are long gone and the shed to change in, is more than sordid. So before you jump in – dip a toe into the water and decide for yourself if that is what bath-tub temperature means to you. It might be fun during summer but it definitely is not warm enough for the snowy and ice-cold winter days. During the darker times of the year, you will quickly start to freeze if the water doesn’t at least have around 37°C (and most of the time the temperature in Seljavallalaug is around 25°C). But if you are in the area then stop by and see for yourself – the surroundings are beautiful and who knows? Maybe you find it to be the absolute perfect bathing conditions!
Here we finally come to one of our personal favorites (even though it’s slowly getting REALLY crowded up there). We’ve bathed in the hot river up in the mountains close to Hveragerði countless times by now, and we always loved it. The last time, though we were shocked about how many people hiked their way into the mountains and how much trash they left behind. Used towels, women’s hygiene products and lots and lots of cans, bottles and wrapping paper. It was heartbreaking. The fact that two guys had a drone in the air that they flew up and down the river and really close to people’s heads (and women’s bikinis) turned our stay into a VERY short one since we almost left immediately after arriving. If you drive through the town of Hveragerði (which is an approx. 40min drive from Reykjavik) you will come out on a parking space filled with loads of cars, buses, and people. Here the hike into the mountain begins. You have to calculate around an hour for your way up and it partly is steep and a little slippery. The river is not wide but since it’s quite long everyone can find a place to bathe in no matter how many people are up there. The higher you go up the stream the warmer it gets so you can decide for yourself which spot has the perfect temperature. If you are lucky one of the tiny natural pools or even ‘waterfalls’ is free – we’ve always had the pleasure, so far. The view is amazing with the mountain tops and steaming earth surrounding the stream. In summer countless flowers bloom next to the water and sheep roam the area. It’s free, doesn’t have changing facilities and bathrooms but you also can’t get any closer to nature so it’s an absolute recommendation. If you are looking for some peace and quiet then go early in the morning or late at night (even midnight in summer since it’s still gonna be light outside).
Update June '18: Just recently the area around the river got shut down due to the masses destroying the delicate nature and leaving the place completely trashed. There is a guard to secure the area, and we can only advise you not to try to get around it. It's closed down for a reason, and we utterly hope for everyone to respect that very necessary decision!
A very old swimming pool that has been renovated a few years ago and therefore changed its name from ‘Gamla Laugin’ (the old pool) to ‘Secret Lagoon’. Just that the bath is no secret anymore, like almost every single natural hot spring in Iceland. It’s a nice place though, comes with a café and all necessary facilities and is not completely man-made but a geothermal hot spring with therefore naturally warm water and surrounded by wild nature. It’s a great alternative to the usual suspects and perfect for a day trip from Reykjavik (it’s only a one-hour drive). In that area there is another gem hidden away between the mountains – a very old natural bath that belongs to one of the farms and is incredibly idyllic. When we paid it a visit we found ourselves to be all alone but when we left a few tourists arrived and started vandalizing which left a really bad taste in our mouths. We heard that it has been overrun last year and that the farmer had to drain the pool and close the access. Such a pity. We are not sure if they re-opened it by now but it is a beautiful little spot with a tiny shed to change in. We don’t want to contribute to the destruction even more by writing down name and coordinates in this guide. Thanks for understanding.
The most beautiful stream we have ever bathed in is the hot waterfall in the eastern highlands. There hardly ever are other people since it’s so difficult to reach (you have to have a 4×4, cross a river and the roads are ridiculously bad) but we met sheep, ducks and other birds which were playing next to us in the water or roamed the nearby grass. It’s about an hour away from Egilsstaðir and difficult to reach but the struggle is absolutely worth it. A magical, beautiful, incredible spot that reflects pristine Iceland perfectly. If you plan a trip around the island, are equipped with a Jeep and enough time for an additional day trip then you might want to do some research on the coordinates. It is one of the last hidden gems, and we want to make sure it stays that way – trash free and with intact nature. – 4×4 only and coordinates necessary
Mývatn Nature Bath
The ‘Blue Lagoon 2.0’ is located in northern Iceland and really similar to the famous Lagoon down south. The turquoise water, the dark lava surroundings, comfortable showers and locker rooms, a restaurant and even service while bathing. In winter, you have to check which part of the pool you want to bathe in since the temperature varies and the colder it is outside the more you will search for those comfy 40°C. We personally prefer the Nature Bath over the Blue Lagoon since it’s not as crowded, not as expensive and not as huge as the big brother on Reykjanes peninsula. The view is amazing and it feels a little more intimate and cozy since not everyone is going on a road trip up north and it is so convenient to pay the southern baths a visit due to how close they are to the airport. For those reasons it’s likely that you will have some space and privacy in Mývatn, especially during winter. Both times we visited we didn’t take any pictures since it was a rather spontaneous visit the first time and night-time the second. If you google you will see how similar it is to Bláa Lónið, though so if you make your way north during your stay in Iceland then rather opt for the Nature Bath! // It’s another plus that nowhere in the country you can see the Northern Lights as often and clear as in the Mývatn area.
The famous grotto close to the previously mentioned Mývatn Nature Bath is a unique hot spring of the country. A warm river flows underground in a fissure and builds natural pools in several caves. Those caves are world-famous due to being a Game of Thrones filming location (Jon Snow and Ygritte – you know what we’re talking about… :D) which leaves them completely overrun day in and out. It is not permitted to bathe in there for several reasons but you also most likely wouldn’t even want to since the water is extremely hot (up to 60°C). We dipped in a finger and gave up after only a few seconds. Of course, there is no hot spring police and nobody will arrest you if you have the skin of a dragon and find boiling hot water just to be the right temperature but out of respect for nature, we would suggest you don’t. Plus, Stóragjá, the lesser known of the caves, which would be the better choice for a bath with a temperature of only 29°C is one of the places contaminated with e-coli. So we would highly recommend to simply have a little picnic in one of the caves and enjoy the incredibly beautiful miracle of nature from the outside (don’t leave any trash behind, of course). Since you will hardly get to climb in there or find a nice spot to sit on during the day we suggest coming late at night. It might be pitch black down there so make sure to bring some candles or a flashlight(s).
Pollurinn in Tálknafjörður
Even though the small little basins don’t look like much on the following pictures – we simply used the wrong lens back then, shame on us – we consider Pollurin one of the nicest places to relax and rewind. Deep within the western fjords lies the little town of Tálknafjörður and only a few minute drive away the three tiny basins of Pollurin are situated. There is a small cabin to change in when the wind is getting too strong and the hot pots are warm and deep enough to lie down and enjoy the view. Surrounded by mountains you are looking directly onto the ocean – it’s an incredible scenery and especially unforgettable during sunset. We only met locals there and had a nice chat and calm night. The west fjords are still very remote and therefore chances are high you will be alone or share the water with the people of Tálknafjörður, only. If you are incredibly lucky (we heard stories) you might even see whales play in the fjord.
When we heard about Englandshverir we just couldn’t wait to go. A hidden gem in the west, deep in the lands behind Hvalfjörður? We already had a feeling we would find ourselves to be all alone there. The area is amazing, a wide river with a beautiful waterfall, the hot water steaming on the other side and … no bridge. In order to get over the river and to the hot stream you have to climb over a hot water pipe which most definitely is an adventure itself. With the mountains surrounding the scene, it is such a great place to enjoy Iceland by yourself, having a picnic and enjoying some coffee in the sun. There are various little natural pools you can bathe in but no changing facilities or bathrooms. In our opinion, the water is not warm enough and the ground very muddy, so especially in winter, we would rather not go for a dip. But on a bright and warm summer day, we recommend driving out there. A lot of blueberries grow in the area and like we said – it’s such a beautiful and unique place for an afternoon spent lying in the grass, dreaming the day away.
Rent a summer house with a hot pot
There is always an alternative to sharing a bath (most likely even an expensive one) with loads of tourists (and bacteria, in the worst case) – to book a summer house with a private hot pot. Of course, that’s not really a natural hot stream and ‘just’ a basin with heated up water but that does not harm the authentic Icelandic experience. Some of the most beautiful hours in the land of fire and ice we spent in such houses with associated “outdoor bathtubs”. Especially at night, in complete darkness, sitting in warm water, drinking mulled wine and above you, nothing but shooting stars and dancing Northern Lights is something you will never ever forget. We will soon publish an article on how to best rent such cabins, what you should be looking for and what to keep in mind when spending a week off-grid in Iceland, living the #cabinlife – so stay tuned.
Our top 5 ‘yet-to-see’ list
(once we tested them we will of course update this guide with some impressions and our opinion)
Laugafell – Located in the northeastern Highlands are the supposedly incredibly beautiful hot springs Laugafell. You can only reach the pools and warm river by Jeep but once you made your way out there you can even spend the night (in summer). Three cabins are arranged around the springs using the geothermal energy for heating. You can also hike to Laugafell from some closer by villages.
Hákarlavogur or “Shark-bay” – is where you are supposed to find a hot tub that truly is one of the last hidden gems hot spring wise, completely remote and isolated. The source of the hot water seems to be coming from somewhere in the ocean which is extremely unique. The surroundings must be breathtaking and the water temperature perfect, so they say. The pool does belong to a farm and it is highly recommended asking for permission to use it. The pool is located in the west fjords.
Drangsnes hot pools – They’ve been on our list for so long now but since they as well are located in the west fjords it is an immense drive. We really want to go, though since it’s only a 10min boat ride to Grímsey from there where you find puffins and arctic foxes. The three hot pools of Drangsnes are situated directly at the ocean which makes for the most beautiful view, and they have such a ‘Caribbean’ vibe about them in summer.
Fosslaug – a hot spring close to the river Svartá and a few steps away from the beautiful Reykjafoss waterfall. The view is incredible (even though you can’t really see the waterfall when sitting in the pool), there are no changing facilities and it isn’t really an insider tip anymore, as well. But the area is amazing and there is so much to see and do around there that after a day spent exploring all those incredible sights and nature it must be perfect to end the day with a warm and relaxing bath. (The public pool of Hofsós is up north, too and somehow ‘close by’. It also has an almost tropical feeling to it – like the Drangsnes pools – so we really want to go for a swim there, as well.)
Snorralaug hot spring – A scenic bath in the area of Reykholt and one of the oldest baths in Iceland – stories say it’s been used and known since the 12th century. It’s a small pool (tiny even) surrounded by some kind of patio where you can lay in the sun. It reminds us of Hobbiton since there is a door in the hill behind the hot pot (which apparently even is open now and then so you can have a look into the tunnel which is said to once have connected the pool to the house of Snorri Sturluson – a famous Icelandic poet of the Middle Ages.) The water temperature varies so it can get way too hot in there.
Enjoy your Bath!
We will try to continuously increase this list and add new spots, tips and of course updates on the e-coli problem. For now, we hope you had a lot of fun scrolling through and that this guide will help you find your personal hot stream favorite. ♥
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