Iceland’s best hot pots and pools

Iceland is a swimmer’s paradise. With volcanically heated water spouting up all over the land, the country is full of hot pots and swimming pools. Here are some of the best.

©Tim Bridges

Wherever you go in Iceland there is water, water everywhere.  Running hot down grassy hillsides, flowing clean and clear between tectonic plates, frozen into glaciers that score the earth into wide valleys, the only lush territory in a remote lunar landscape. It’s not just rock that is constantly being reformed in Iceland, it’s water: as geysers, waterfalls, rain, steam, hot pots, swimming pools, water slides, ice.

The abundance of volcanically heated water in this harsh landscape means that sitting outside, warming yourself through in hot water, is part of Icelandic life. Icelanders are expert at capturing it, whether in small hill side hot pots (little pools of hot water sunk into the ground, made out of anything – stones, concrete, repurposed agricultural tubs) or outdoor pool complexes with water slides. There are over 100 hot pots around the country, and more again of swimming pools.

Choosing a holiday for us and our two water loving boys (Jack, three, and Eddie, two) in 2015 our mission was simple: to travel around Iceland getting into as many pools and pots. Here are the ones we enjoyed, and the ones we’re going back for.

Here are the 24 best hot pots and pools in Iceland – as far as I know. If you know better, please add it to the wildswim.com map and tell us on OSS Facebook. We look forward to reading about them!

Hot pots vary in size and shape – some are bathing spots for one person, others will accommodate a small group. Some hot pots have stone walls and gravel bottoms, surprising but subtle additions to the hillsides where they are added. Others are concrete pools. Some are even refurbished agricultural tubs.  All come with some kind of changing shed. Often temporary and basic, made of corrugated tin and wooden pallets, their architecture is as much part of the hot pot experience as the pools locations around the unforgiving lunar landscape of Iceland.

At around 36-40 degrees (against a British 24.5-27.7 degrees C) most pools feel too hot for laps (depending on the geothermal activity, some are too hot to even get in) but they are often part of outdoor complexes which also boast hot tubs, water slides and an immersion into Icelandic life. They are irresistible for just sitting and warming yourself to the bone – counteracting what the weather is often doing to your body the rest of the time. So grab a towel, and enjoy.

Nautholsvik Geothermal Beach

©Tim Bridges

A manmade sandy beach on the outskirts of Reykjavik where the sea itself is warmed up by geothermal heat in summer months. Has a long thin hot tub at the top of the beach is a fantastic way to chill out among Icelanders, a playground in the sand, and you can buy and cook hot dogs (virtually a national dish) on the beach BBQs.

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Secret Lagoon, Fludir

©Tim Bridges

One of Iceland’s oldest swimming pools, the Secret Lagoon (Gamia Laudin) now had a modern edge – scandi-style facilities with perfectly polished concrete floors, wood walls, exposed galvanised steel beams and birch twigs and old sepia photos of bathers of a bygone era in their bathing caps.

It’s beautifully done. The pool itself is surrounded by grassy hummocky banks, with buttercups on the grass and steam rising across the pool. There’s a wooden walkway that goes all around, a small geyser that erupts with pleasing regularity and bubbling mud.

The pool is scattered with wallowing bathers, floating on bright coloured woggles – although the pool sometimes has cooler (as in trendier) evenings where Sigur Ros is played underwater or a group of bathers float using the very cool, very effective Float caps (http://www.float.is).

Opposite the pool entrance are the crumbling remains of a concrete bathing house.

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Klambragil, near Hveragerdi

Klambragil is a hot river in an active geothermal field north of Hveragerdi (Hveragerði), about 45km southeast of Reykjavik – not far from Selfoss and the Golden Triangle route.

If you lack a 4WD to get to the more famous hot river at Landmannalaugar (heavy with tourists so tread lightly), Hveragerdi may be your hot river of choice.

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Seljavallalaug Pool

©Tim Bridges

A study in water and green when we went in July (Icelandic summer), this is a stunning 28x10m pool in a mountainous valley. It takes 10-40 minutes to walk there from a parking spot at the end of a gravel road, rock hopping all the way along the Laugara river and it’s black sand beaches.

It’s a peaceful, joyful, uncontrolled place, and the water when the sun hits is a green as spring grass. Above are snowcapped mountains and a melt flow river falling down a gully in stages.

The water is warm and you are likely to be seduced enough by it to stay in until you are wrinkled. We started off saying ‘no jumping’ because of the concentration of algae in the pool, and then gave in and a full hour of jumping commenced… the boys were joined by adults doing somersaults, and all the while one bather read her book as she wallowed, propped up on the pool edge.

No lifeguards, no rules – except, perhaps, be friendly to other bathers and take away all of your own litter (and perhaps anyone else’s if it exists).

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Borgarnes Public Pool

©Tim Bridges

Icelanders really know how to do family-friendly swimming pools, and going to Borgarnes is like being welcomed into a particularly nice house. Guests take off their shoes before entering the changing rooms, and courteously wash smelly body parts without a costume on (feet, bottom, armpits, head- the later might not be smelly, but may have products and loose hairs), and then enter the pool.

There are three hot tubs here with different temperature water, a shallow wallowing pool, a lengths pool and then the slides! This is there all the action is for our family – the boys absolutely love it despite the 13 degree air temperature and a colder wind, and go around again and again and again.

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Heydalur Hotel Hot Pot & Pool

These swims spots are at a hotel in a remote part of the Western Fjords. The hotel is all about the people – the bones of the place are just a few degrees away from looking like a madman’s slaughter house, all random outbuildings and tin sheds. But it was one of the favourite places for us by the end of the trip and is well worth a visit for lunch or supper as well as a swim; the homecooked food is an absolute delight and atypical in Iceland’s rural hotels.

Heydalur has a pool in an old barn, that also houses cherry trees and rose bushes, and the tin walls are painted green with a line of saddles and bridles from the hotel’s ponies tacked on. The pool is a lovely, fresh, clear blue affair, with geothermally heated warm water literally pouring in one side via a pipe (tapping into something on the hillside somewhere) and pouring out the other side.

Outside of the pool building are a couple of hot pots, with changing rooms, gravel bottoms and rock tors in the middle. These are probably to give guests privacy from one another, and are striking when you’re in the pool and your view is framed by rocks. But if you enter with two small children they also provide ideal objects to race around like crocodiles or friendly hippos.

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Heydalur Hillside Hot Pot

This hillside hot pot is the wilder alternative to Heydalur Hotel Hot Pot, on the opposite side of the river from the hotel.

Sat in a glacial valley and surrounded by boulders, dandelion clocks and clover. I visit it early one morning. There is snow on the ravines and voo-voo-voo birds singing. The pot is next to a changing hut tacked together from corrugated tin and wood, with a crate-for-a-porch. It has slumped and boughed, perhaps from the weight of recently melted winter snows, but the hangers inside and privacy it affords still make it a good if precarious place to change.

Found rocks circle the pool, delineating it from the hillside, and gravel has been put in the bottom. Other than that it feels wilder and more natural than most. Mosses drip on the poolside edge, and every now and then the gravel bubbles (sulphur?). Midges hover over the pool but do not bite, and in the morning quiet the only sound except for the voo-voo birds is water running all over the hills.

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Mjoifjordur Roadside Hot Pot

©Tim Bridges

One of my favourite hot pots so far in Iceland. In a staggeringly beautiful part of the Strandir region surrounded by mountains, rock and sweeping rocky beaches at once colonised by piles of huge sun and sea bleached driftwood (trees from Siberia, stripped of their branches and colour by the elements and turned into huge identikit logs) and then by stripes of seaweed the colour of lilac, iron ore and gold.

To use this pool you need to ask at the nearby farm house first.

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Reykjanes Public Pool

©Tim Bridges

50m pool (maybe a bit less as one end now has decking over it) with a stark loneliness and beauty. Heated by self-running geothermal water a sign warns bathers it might be too hot. It’s surrounded by a wooden fence with a sun-platform and benches to sit on underneath the water.

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Gvenderlaug Hot Pot & Laugarholl Hotel Pool

Has a swimming pool and hot pot but was the only place we submerged ourselves Iceland where we didn’t experience any magic at all – perhaps it was all used up in medieval times, when the natural spring here was said to have healing powers.

That hot pot is now closed, a protected archeological site said to have been blessed by bishop Gudmundor the Good (1160-1237), but there is another one, a small natural spring tucked into the side of the swimming pool.

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Drangsnes Hot Pots

Perfect Icelandic hot tubbing location – free, with a few ships in the harbour, huge boulders in the foreshore and that vast Icelandic view of fjord and sky. Comfort in a wild and unforgiving place. The wind may slice through your wet skin but it’s not far to the heated changing rooms the opposite side of the road.

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Hofsos Sundlaug

One of Iceland’s most perfect swimming pools – Krossness, which we didn’t get to, being another.

Hofsos is a beautiful infinity style pool with a children’s play area and hot tub beside. The hot tub and children’s play pool are juxtaposed, so old and young sit together while the more athletic swim in the main pool. That siting is indicative of a general friendliness towards children, and also means also parents can cook themselves while their children go up and down a tiny play slide that has been put by the pool, and play with watering cans and toys.

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Oskatar (the Cheese Tub), Husavik

©Tim Bridges

Just outside Husavik we visited this hot tub with low expectations and partly for it’s comic potential – it’s hard to imagine that wallowing in an old cheese tub could be dreamy. How wrong we were! It was one of our favourites.

The long silver tank is placed on top of a hill above Husavik, Iceland’s pretty premier whale watching town, and if you’ve been out on a cold boat, is surely the ideal place to put the warmth back inside.

The tank has panels that can be slid into position as protection from the headwinds, and a container has been converted to provide heated changing rooms. The pool itself is divided into two, so one end can be kept hotter than the other, and there’s a cold hose pipe so you can adjust the water temperature locally to where you are sat. A shower is also present, permanently on – the result of freeflow, geothermally heated water.

The tub was opened in 1992 and posters in the changing room relay it’s pride that it might be helping locals with skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. They also admit to a ‘certain rawness’ of the site – exactly, for some of us, what we like. There are views out to sea, past rock stacks and islands to whale country.

It’s free but funded by a donation box on site. Give generously, I’d encourage, treat with respect and tidy up after people if need be. It’s that close to the tourist route that not all visitors might.

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Myvatn Nature Baths

Myvatn Nature Baths are the Blue Lagoon of Northern Iceland but on a smaller scale. The car park has recently been extended and coach loads choke reception at times, but popularity comes for a reason and it is charming, if eggy. It is also the closest you will get to swimming in a volcano around these parts.

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Laugar Hot Pot

A perfect little pot of hot potting heaven, close to route 60 – an ideal place to break a journey up to the West Fjordlands or Holmavik.

The hot pot is a well made stone circular pool that could sit 10 or more. Above it is a stone changing hut with carved wooden doors – they may be dragons there crossing fire – and a turf roof. I stirred up a volume of algae in the pot itself, best take your eye off that an onto the stunning view of the mountains around.

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Akureyri Pool

Sundlaug Akureyri is the swimming pool in Akureyri, Iceland’s second city. My two loved every inch of Iceland but more than the tractors, the snowploughs, the  volcanoes, the friendly artic fox cub, the humpback whale tales, the trolls or the  hot rivers, it was the waterslides at Akureyri that really blew their minds.

The complex has a large range of pools and bathers can get in the water inside, and swim out through plastic flaps to the outdoors… where there is a splash-pool, four hot-tubs, steam, sauna. And the water slides. Fun for all the family.

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GREAT SWIMS WE MISSED

The 17 swims alluded to above are the ones I swam. These are the ones I’m going back for. Please add them to wildswim.com if you’ve been:

  • Krossness Swimming Pool – dramatically situated above the icy Atlantic in the West Fjords.
  • Viti (Oskjuvatn) – one of two explosion craters that has a stunning milky blue pool at the heart of lunar red landscape. Swim with caution – temperature varies.
  • Lanbrotaglaug – so small it could be a footbath. On the southern side of Snaefellsness, a perfect 1m by 1m one person dipping pot on a farm.
  • Landmannalaugar – a large pool in a hot river in a highland area famous for it’s hiking trails – otherwise requires a 4WD to access. Almost too popular – over 100,000 visitors a year.
  • Laugarfell – 4WD access only to this large pool built of turf and stones rather than pool liner. Below a glacial ridge.
  • Pollurinn, Talknafjordur – ‘The Puddle’ (as Pollurinn translates) provides breathtaking views. In fact three small shallow pools, popular with locals.
  • Hrunalaug – a spa and dilapidation experience in one. This hot pot and rusty roofed building in a grassy dell just a few kilometres out of Fludir may be an ex sheep bath.

USEFUL CONTACTS

  • Promote Iceland: www.inspired.visiticeland.com
  • Icelandic Farm Holidays: www.farmholidays.is
  • WOW air: www.wowair.co.uk or call 0118 321 8384.
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