In otherworldly Iceland, hot bathing in geothermal springs offers an opportunity to unwind and do as the locals do. Here are some of the best spots to visit.
Iceland is seething with geothermal energy in the form of ancient volcanoes, erupting geysers, and steamy pools. Unsurprisingly, the subculture of hot bathing is a big part of travelling here, and it offers a wonderful way to immerse oneself in a local pastime. From Instagram-worthy soaks to indulgent rituals to multi-day escapades, there’s something for everyone.
The one you can’t miss
Iceland’s famed Blue Lagoon is as awe-inspiring as its photos suggest. The iridescent blue milky waters are a warm 38 to 39°C — perfect for gentle swims and drifting through the water wonderland. Although relaxing in the water is a highlight, the man-made lagoon is also a destination spa with plenty to experience. In the water, you’ll find a drinks bar and a face mask bar, while out of the water, there are restaurants, massage facilities, and a gift shop. We spent most of our time submerged in the blue, especially enjoying smothering masks onto our faces and then swimming over to the drinks bar. For those who want to stretch the experience out, there are two hotels located right at the lagoon. The Retreat luxury resort is the more lavish of the two and also houses a Michelin-recommended restaurant. Book ahead.
The not-so-secret secret
Iceland’s oldest swimming pool has an earthy feel to it and its no-fuss aesthetics are a big part of the attraction. Purposely kept looking natural, the emphasis at the Secret Lagoon is on the one big pool, with water that flows continually from the nearby hot springs. There are three active geysers nearby, and guests can wander from the swimming pool along the walking paths built around the geysers to admire the bubbling waters, although are advised to take great caution as the water is exceedingly hot. The temperature of the pool stays at 38 to 40°C, and I found it fluctuated significantly from spot to spot (expectedly, the closer you swam to the geysers, the warmer the water became). There’s also a light-filled café serving simple meals.
The special find
Everyone is talking about Hvammsvik, the newest geothermal pool to open in Iceland, and it’s easy to see why. Comprised of eight hot springs peppered along a black-sand beach, the site is surrounded by mountains and feels a world away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. You could spend all day hopping from pool to pool, and there’s also a steam bath on site. Adventure-seekers are welcome to grab a paddleboard and jump into the ocean for a change of pace or go off on a hike to soak up the surrounding scenery. For those who want to linger longer, there are four well-appointed houses located nearby. All have unsurpassed views of the surroundings and, of course, daily spa use is included with a stay.
The real deal
Husafell Canyon Baths
For the ultimate wilderness soak, Husafell Canyon Baths can’t be missed. The geothermal pools, nestled in a canyon, were built by locals using sustainable locally-sourced materials (including stone from the canyon floors). To protect the environment, guests can only visit as part of a Husafell Canyon Bath tour, organised for us through 50 Degrees North. The tour starts with a short bus ride from Husafell Activity Centre, followed by a hike down a set of 64 stairs before it’s time to jump into the water. Temperatures of the two pools can vary between 30 and 41°C, and a swim is especially pleasant after the dash from the timber change room to the water. There are no restaurants or cafes here and all refreshments are BYO, but that’s part of the magic. Here, you’re really soaking nature up.
Into the woods
Located in the northern woodlands of Iceland, the aptly named Forest Lagoon stands out because it very much feels like a part of the surrounding forest (and forest in Iceland is not commonplace). Designed by the same architects who worked on the Blue Lagoon, the geothermal pools have been elegantly integrated into the surrounding rockface, with two infinity pools extending out into the luscious green. The complex also houses two swim-up bars, a cold pool, a sauna, and a bistro, so a visit can easily turn into an all-day indulgence.
Over the edge
A recent newcomer to the hot bathing scene, the Sky Lagoon is located on the edge of the peninsula in Kopavogur, a town 15 minutes’ drive out of Reykjavik. Although the city is nearby, it feels as if we are in the wilderness. The oceanside lagoon is cushioned by mossy cliffs of lava rock, and the infinity pool overlooking the North Atlantic Ocean is, predictably, a most wonderful space to kick back. To seal the deal, book the seven-step ritual — an Icelandic bathing practice that includes a cold-water plunge, time in the sauna, a cold mist experience, and an invigorating body scrub.
The writer was a guest of 50 Degrees North.