On the trail of Iceland’s hot pools, geothermal baths and spas
Along with the geothermal hot springs that seem to pop up where you least expect, Iceland’s hot pools are one of the best reasons to visit the country. They are also some of the most unmissable landmarks of Iceland. Iceland’s geothermal pools are often just as nature intended; simple, often free of charge and scattered around the country’s villages and towns. When we found there was a hot pool trail of the coast, we couldn’t resist giving over a couple of days to do a road trip of some of the most unique. So which Iceland thermal pools really are ‘hot’ and which are not? Here’s our verdict from a tour of eight in the Western Fjords…
An Iceland Road Trip of Hot Pools
“Does this one smell of horse pee to you?” asks Stuart, wrinkling his nose.
It does. Despite the fact we are in a greenhouse. Yes, an actual greenhouse, with raspberries and conference pears flourishing on the bushes and trees. The smell of horse pee might be coming from the saddles lining the walls of the greenhouse. Or maybe a horse just peed in the pool. There is no sign up anywhere prohibiting that. In fact there are very few signs about anything around hot pools; you bathe at your own risk.
Does Iceland have hot springs? You bet!
Iceland’s natural hot springs are one of their biggest tourist draws. And the hot pool trail in Iceland is an interesting proposition for a themed tour. There are so many of them and they are vastly different; from the really sstinky rocky wild Iceland pools, to Iceland’s extraordinary thermal experiences like the sculpted blue lagoon spa. There’s also a range of unpretentious and unsung heated swimming pools that most villages take for granted. Visiting the geothermal pools in Iceland is possibly one of the cheapest things you can do; it’s a win-win situation for tourist and local alike. Heat is free for the most part in this country, so if you like swimming, why wouldn’t you have a pool?
Iceland thermal pools in and beside the sea
The Icelandic people are an imaginative lot, as we found on our tours of the country by bike, horse, and car. And they are brilliant at thinking up new ways to take a bath. Who would have thought the Blue Lagoon spa would have been so popular? Even the sea isn’t out of bounds. The Geosea geothermal sea water baths in Husavik, North Iceland, offers the newest adventure in cliff side bathing in natural baths and steam rooms. Imagine soaking in geothermal sea water while overlooking the arctic sea and spotting puffins? This Iceland pool complex is in prime whale watching territory and if you are really lucky you might get to see the Northern Lights. Not something your average thermal bath can do.
Meanwhile West Iceland is specializing in luxury spa ‘nature baths.’ Krauma‘s twist on the posh spa is in Reykholt, a short drive from Langjokull Glacier. The hot water originates from the geothermal hot spring Deildartunguhver which has a temperature of 100°C. The spa mixes the hot water with cold water from Rauðsgil, which originates in the glacier Ok, the smallest glacier in Iceland. The water feeds five geothermal baths, a cold tub, saunas and a relaxation room with a real fire.
8 Unique hot pools in the Western Fjords of Iceland
We set out, by bike and car, across the Western Fjords, to try out eight typically Icelandic thermal pools of different shapes and sizes, and give them marks out of ten.
1 Myvatn Nature Baths -the unnatural natural one
This one is technically not in the Western Fjords, but it’s where we start our family hotpool trail. Myvatn is a popular spot; the place is swarming with tourists. The Myvatn Nature Baths are like a cheaper version of the Blue Lagoon; (a man made spa with the sole purpose of providing a ‘natural’ bath tub for tourists.) But while the Blue Lagoon is an extraordinary ring of blue set in miles of barren lava land, here in Myvatn nature has already created geothermal heaven; just down the road. Ten minutes walk from the spa complex there are boiling kettles and bubbling mud pools galore. So our kids give it the thumbs down for nature and for fun and head off in search of the real thing. They also mark it down for having no slides, and too many people from Sheffield bathing in its milky depths.
2 Drangsnes hot tubs – the hidden one
The village of Drangsnes has a secret hidden in its harbour wall. Three little hot tubs overlooking the sea. If you didn’t know they were there you’d drive straight past them. The only clue is the changing rooms on the other side of the road. These white plastic tubs are more romantic than they look. There’s one cool, one hot and one medium to suit whichever little bear you are. We give this one a nine out of ten for the view; only the gulls get in the way of the blue, blue sea. And the best thing about them? They’re free.
*Voted the top thermal pool on the trail by Hannah and Kirstie
3 Laugarholl Sorcerers Cottage pool -the magic one
At Laugarholl you can have a swim and visit a sorcerer’s cottage and there aren’t many places in the world you can do this eclectic mix of things. After the darkness of the tiny turf home of the poor tenant farmer who dabbled in dark mischief in the hope of making life more comfortable, it’s great to throw yourself into the large heated swimming pool that overlooks the hillside. Then, it’s just a stroll down a stone path to the natural pools beneath it. The first is hot hot hot, but a bit murky too and it’s hard to balance on the slimy rock. But if you stick it out, you’ll notice it’s a natural jacuzzi, with bubbles floating up from the hole in the earth below you. If you like your hot pool on the cooler side, just a hop step or jump away, you’ll find what you were looking for in a second all-natural tub. These get top marks for view, fun and black magic. (The witch stuff not the chocolates.)
*Voted Cameron’s favourite
4 Reykjanes campsite hot pool -the bath tub one
This is a very strange place indeed. An old school, converted with every expense spared, into a hotel in the middle of nowhere. But it has two things going for it. Its own petrol pump (always a nice surprise in countryside as remote as this.) and a 50 metre swimming pool. No, no, no, not a swimming pool. A hot tub. It’s a very weird experience, jumping into a giant hot tub and trying to take a swim. It’s like crawling through your bathtub at home. I can’t really see it catching on, but it’s a novel and very pleasant way to spend a morning. We mark it down for the amount of sweating it makes us do, but give it high marks for the view of the mountains, the fact we have it to ourselves, and because it’s included in the campsite fee.
*Voted Matthew’s favourite
5 Horgshildar pool – the sluggy one
We leave the car behind and jump on the bikes for this loop that goes around Mjóifjördur. The hot pools on the way are by permission of the local houses or farms. And they’re very natural to the point of being almost derelict, mould-covered pans of cloudy sulphur infused, sea slug and moss filled lagoon. Still, they’re healthy right? It’s fun anyway to strip down and skinny dip in one for a few minutes before nipping out to get your clothes back on pronto in the nippy air. This one gets top marks for wildness and scenery. No slides, but then that’s probably a good thing as they’d all be covered in slime.
6 Heydalur pool – the horsey one
Heydalur looks very inviting in the brochures. The restaurant is a beautifully converted cattle shed, with a huge chandelier made from old glass sea buoys, and the food is fantastic. The hot pools are a little more ‘natural’; they’re the ones I mentioned up front that whiff of horse pee. But then the greenhouse that hosts the large ‘indoor pool’ used to be a sheep shed so perhaps it’s a throwback. The changing rooms are basic to say the least and Hannah is annoyed when she comes out of the pool with green slime on her costume but the boys enjoy throwing the wet moss around and stirring up the silt. I retire to the restaurant for a coffee, while Stuart and Hannah head off to a tiny pool set into the mountain. They give it top marks for being heart shaped, wonderfully natural and smelling of nothing but fresh air. And my coffee is perfect.
7 Sudereryi swimming pool – the party one
The locals in Sudereyri are very proud of their outdoor swimming pool. Just about everyone you meet asks you if you have visited. And they should be proud; it’s the only geothermally heated one in surrounding villages and towns, and it’s a welcome blast of heat on a rainy day in this tiny fishing village of just 300 people. The day we arrived it was celebrating it’s 20th birthday with free cakes, coffee and ice cream. Top marks for that.
8 On the road to Bildudalur pool – the rainy one
We stumble across this one, on a cold, wet Sunday morning. We had no intention of swimming in the rain, but the steam drew us in. It’s old and chipped and not as hot as some of the others, but there’s something life affirming about the rain pelting onto your head while you paddle about in a naturally heated pool. And if you want something a bit warmer, then a few hundred yards way there’s the wild version; two little rock pools filled with the kind of water that makes a good cup of tea (hot and vaguely brown). While Stuart gives this thermal pool ten out of ten, and votes it his top choice, Hannah can’t even be convinced to come out of the car and try it. Proof that this family can’t even agree on what makes a decent swim.
This post is part of our 2012 Adventure Islands Season. We spent a summer exploring Iceland expedition style by car and bike, researching and reporting on activities on offer to adventure seeking families. We’re grateful to DFDS Seaways and Smyril Line for support in getting our vehicle to Europe and onto Iceland and The Faroes, enabling us to bring you this season of posts. And to Berghaus and Thule who helped equip us for the journey.
You can see our journey on The Family Adventure Iceland Project Punkt and get some exclusive behind the scenes photos and video of our journey.