Iceland’s history revolves around water. The sea surrounds the island, it rains all the time, huge chunks of frozen water make up our beloved glaciers, and natural hot springs. Icelanders learned to harness the geothermal energy to create amazing pools and luxury spas.
Geothermal water is one of Iceland’s greatest natural resources. It’s used to heat houses and produce electricity, but most importantly, Icelanders love to swim in it. Pools and spas have been a huge part of the Icelandic lifestyle, ever since the country’s settlement. One of the most famous hot tubs of history belonged to Snorri Sturluson in the 12th century, but bathing in the country’s natural pools is mentioned even earlier, in the Sagas of the Icelanders, set in the 10th century. Since that time, Icelanders have gathered at their neighbourhood pool not only for the health benefits but also to socialise.
Geothermal water is quite common in Iceland due to the country’s unique geology and its location on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Iceland sits on top of a geothermal hotspot, which means that there is a significant amount of geothermal activity in the region. Here are a few key points about the prevalence of geothermal water in Iceland:
Abundance of Geothermal Energy: Iceland’s geothermal resources are abundant and widely utilized for energy production. Geothermal power plants harness the heat from underground to generate electricity and provide heating for homes, businesses, and industries. The country relies heavily on geothermal energy, with approximately 90% of its buildings being heated by geothermal sources.
Natural Hot Springs: Iceland is famous for its numerous natural hot springs, where geothermally heated water emerges to the surface. These hot springs offer a unique bathing experience, allowing visitors to soak in warm and mineral-rich waters surrounded by breathtaking landscapes. The most well-known hot spring in Iceland is the Blue Lagoon, although there are many others scattered throughout the country.
Geothermal Pools and Baths: In addition to natural hot springs, Iceland has a wide range of geothermally heated swimming pools and baths. These facilities are a popular recreational and social gathering spot for locals and tourists alike. Reykjavik, the capital city, has several geothermal swimming pools that are heated using the abundant geothermal resources available in the area.
The facilities at each pool also vary but most swimming complexes include a lap pool, a hot tub or five, and may-be a steam room. Some pools are geared more towards families with children, offering shallow wading pools, twisting slides, and pool toys. Other pools are more relaxed and may have only a large pool and some hot tubs. Laugardalslaug, Reykjavík’s largest pool, also has a hot tub filled with mineral-rich sea water. Check out our guide to the Reykjavík-area pools for more.
The opening times also vary. Outside of the capital area, these times may be shorter, but closer to the city centre, you can usually go around 6:30 – 8:00 in the morning, and they are generally open until around 22:00 at night.
For centuries, Icelanders have been taking advantage of the benefits that the mineral-rich, geothermal pools springs provide. But in 1992, The Blue Lagoon opened to the general public and took the concept of the geothermal hot water to a new level. The popular tourist spot has perfected the luxury spa. Over the years, they have expanded and built an institution that is now advertised as one of the top attractions: soak in the beautiful blue water, wear a mud mask that has all kinds of health benefits, and even drink a beer.
In the past decade, many more luxury spas have opened their doors to the public: Krauma, Sky Lagoon, Fontana, Mývatn Baths, Hvammur, and more. The facilities at these spas offer more than just geothermal hot water. Steam baths, saunas, hot tubs, cold tubs, mud masks, and body scrubs can be found at most them. More importantly, you can usually buy a glass of wine or a beer, as well as a fantastic Icelandic meal onsite, as most spas have a restaurant or café attached to it.
The luxury spa is an amazing way to experience Iceland. It is more than just rest and relaxation. Iceland has very few natural resources; geothermal heat is one of them. So no matter which spa you choose to visit, you are experiencing something truly Icelandic.
Natural Springs and Pools
The original pools in Iceland were naturally occurring and small. The Norse people that settled the island were pleased to discover these pools on their farmsteads or nearby. The characters in Icelandic sagas frequently visit hot pools to bathe or relax. The water the sits below the earth’s crust becomes heated by the high temperatures from within the earth. The water that naturally rises pools inside a depression in the earth and, voila – a hot spring or hot pool is formed!
Icelanders quickly realised that the pools had some healing property, soothing skin conditions and improving the general health of the people who bathed and swam in them. The hot water can lower blood pressure, increase the heart rate, and reducing soft tissue pain. Mixing geothermal hot water with magnesium-rich ground water or with fresh sea-water can also produce minerals like silica, which also have several health benefits, such as lowering cholesterol levels.
Today, most Icelanders prefer going to their modern pools with showers, steam rooms, and hot tubs rather than walking through the wilderness to get to a hole in the ground. Tourists, however, find these natural wonders fascinating and have searched all over the country to find accessible naturally occurring hot pools. Please note: some of these pools are on private property. Check online and look for signs that indicate whether visitors are appreciated or if the land owners would rather not have you in their waters.