One of the nicest things to do in Iceland is relaxing in one of the geothermal pools in Iceland, especially in the winter. The small tubs or pool are known as hot pots (which, confusingly for people from the British Isles, has nothing to do with stew). And there’s honestly nothing better than soaking in hot water with snow all around. Even the swimming pools are heated. But Icelandic pools are just a little different to your regular ones so here three tips to using a natural hot spring, geothermal pool or heitur pottur.
3 Tips for using geothermal pools in Iceland
1 Natural spa or municipal pool?
Yes, the Blue Lagoon is the most famous of the geothermal pools in Iceland, but it gets really busy and it’s quite expensive. The days of locals going through the gap in the fence to the geothermal pools are gone and you will rarely see Icelanders here. The water contains silica and is supposed to be good for psoriasis but it’s actually man-made. Anyway the water in city pools and natural spas are largely the same it’s more a question is you want a managed one in a nice location but which are more expensive, one where you will meet what my family call ‘the true Galician’ ie locals, or an actual hot spring which will probably involve a hike and are better to do in the daytime unless you know your way. Otherwise, the paid options are often open late and are great for the shorter winter days.
Laugarvatn Fontana 3.800ISK
This is a collection of hot tubs of varying temperatures by a lake rather than a lagoon and is between Þingvellir and Geysir in the Golden Circle. There’s also a few saunas and one of the nicest things to do is go from the sauna to the freezing cold lake (the lake is geothermal but just by the jetty it’s cold, be careful not to stray too far or you may find a too hot pocket and burn yourself), to the hot pot for a skin-tingling experience. They also sell Soley skin care products, which are quite nice and made from local herbs and the restaurant uses local ingredients.
The Secret Lagoon 2.800ISK
Not that secret because it has a website but this is one of the oldest bathing pools in Iceland. Again in the Golden Circle, it’s much smaller than the Blue Lagoon and quite pretty. Plus it gets very hot. Which I like. Avoid 3-5pm when the bus tours arrive if you want a quieter experience.
Myvatn Nature Baths 3.800ISK
A sort of less crowded Blue Lagoon of the North geothermal pool. Maybe I was especially cold and tired the last time I went but it’s not that hot (see above). The bottom is sandy and it’s quite pretty with milky water. There’s a nice restaurant area also, and lovely views.
The Blue Lagoon from 5.400ISK
So popular you need to book ahead – sometimes a week in advance. This one is pricy but handy for the airport. There’s a range of packages depending on if you want extras like masks, drinks or food too. Early or late visiting is preferable to avoid the crowds. For the ladies and long-haired gentlemen, tie up your hair if you don’t want it to end up like straw. Top tip: the skincare products are much cheaper in duty-free at Keflavík so if you want anything, get it on the way home. Read more about my experience in the Blue Lagoon here.
Municipal swimming pools
Pretty much every town in Iceland has a local pool where the locals go for a dip. Much cheaper than the above options they do get a bit busy after work but this is one place where Icelanders get pretty chatty and are perfect to get to know people. And the slides aren’t only for kids! Here’s a list to help you find one near you.
Natural and traditional hot springs
There are a lot of natural hot springs and old local pools in Iceland, some are private and shouldn’t be used without permission (even if you are Jason Momoa) and some require a hike. Check out this handy map to find some and some recommendations (this also includes some spas) or see my favourites. Be warned, some are not that hot and some are so hot you can scald yourself so be careful.
2 Bring your own towel and swimsuit
While it is possible to rent these at almost any of the paid geothermal pools in Iceland it’s a bit of a rip-off. Bring your own and save your krona for a cold beer instead.
3 Yes, you must shower naked before entering. No, it’s not optional.
A few weeks ago I went to a local natural geothermal pool and overheard a group of tourists talking about how they were going to shower afterwards. All I could think was, “Oh god! I’m in the human soup!” There’s no chlorine in Icelandic pools. Or at least very little. The water is changed and tested for bacteria often every day but it still means you have to wash thoroughly and naked – ie without your swimsuit before entering. Think about it – chlorine kills germs but if you’re already clean there’s no need for it. This means that you don’t bring sweat, oil, makeup etc into the pool. You might think it’s weird to get naked in front of a load of strangers but really, no one is looking at you. And the really nice thing is you will see young people with a lot less body image hangups which can only be a good thing. Also some pools have a shower room warden. Be warned. And to the person I saw dunking his empty tin of beer in the water… “Ewwwwww!!”
Here’s a handy video with some Icelandic humour to illustrate. The song is particularly catchy.
What’s your favourite hot spring or pool?