Iceland Hot Springs Travel Guide
Iceland’s Popularity as a Wellness Destination
Iceland, a land of fire and ice, has risen to prominence as a top wellness destination, and it’s clear what the draw is - thermal bathing! The country's transformation into a sought-after spot can be, for better or worse, significantly attributed to social media and geo-tagging of Iceland’s natural beauty. This exposure has brought significant attention and curiosity to the country’s main wellness resources, hot springs, and inspired a wave of travelers eager to experience it first hand. While social media has been instrumental in transforming Iceland into a trendy wellness destination and photo op in the 21st century, its geothermal features have been a draw for people for ages and will endure long after the age of influencers.
As interest in Iceland has increased, so has accessibility to this once remote island. Major cities across Europe and North America have increased the number of direct flights to Iceland, making your Blue Lagoon dreams more attainable than ever. Peep packages from Icelandair and see for yourself.
Why are there so many hot springs in Iceland?
Hot springs are often found in areas with volcanic activity due to the presence of magma beneath the Earth's surface. Magma, which is molten rock, heats the surrounding rocks and groundwater. As the hot water rises to the surface, it can emerge as hot springs. This phenomenon is prevalent in regions along tectonic plate boundaries, where volcanic activity is more likely to occur. Situated on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, Iceland fits that bill.
Iceland's diverse hot springs, characterized by differences in size, temperature, and mineral content, provide a spectrum of experiences—from soothing warm baths to bubbling geysers. Renowned for their mineral-rich waters, these hot springs are associated with various health impacts, from skin health to respiratory benefits, attracting both locals and tourists. The iconic Blue Lagoon, situated in a lava field near Reykjavik, stands out as the most famous among them. Additionally, the geothermal region surrounding Geysir, home to the original geyser that inspired the name for all others, adds to the country's unique and captivating geothermal landscape.
From human wellness to sustainable energy
Apart from their recreational and health benefits, the utilization of hot springs and geothermal energy is a crucial aspect of Iceland's sustainable and eco-friendly practices.
Iceland harnesses the heat from hot springs for both heating and electricity generation. Geothermal power plants utilize the Earth's internal heat to produce electricity, providing a sustainable and renewable energy source, which significantly reduces the country's dependence on non-renewable fossil fuels. Geothermal energy is considered a clean and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional energy sources. Unlike fossil fuels, geothermal power generation produces minimal greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to Iceland's commitment to combating climate change.
For ages, Iceland thrived as a seafaring nation, yet the perilous waters claimed many lives within view of the coast. In the latter half of the 1800s and early 1900s, reports detailed tragic drownings and sunken vessels, prompting the initiation of swimming education in Reykjavik, the capital.
Initially, swimming lessons were conducted in a modest stream downstream from a hot spring used for laundry. Inspired by this natural warmth, the city, in 1928, drilled into the island's geothermal activity, fueled by Iceland's volcanic core. This pioneering effort brought geothermal heat to 70 homes, a school, a hospital, and a swimming pool.
The national energy authority offered no-risk loans to towns and villages across the country to encourage further geothermal drilling. With hot water flowing through the country and a requirement for swimming education in all schools established in 1943, pools soon popped up in every town. In some places, water collects naturally in pools for bathing and swimming, comparable to the hot spring used for laundry in Reykjavik. In other places drilling is used to assist nature in accumulating and pooling the right amounts of water at the right temperatures.
These public pools, or sundlaugs, have come to serve as the communal heart of Iceland. “Because of the weather, we don’t have proper plazas in the Italian or French style,” the writer Magnus Sveinn Helgason explained to New York Times writer, Dan Kois. “Beer was banned in Iceland until 1989, so we don’t have the pub tradition of England or Ireland. The pool is Iceland’s social space: where families meet neighbors, where newcomers first receive welcome, where rivals can’t avoid one another.”
Several sources note that while sundlaugs are social hubs, some people do retreat to the pools for solitude; a universal posture of tilting your head back, closing your eyes, and smiling a soft smile indicates to fellow bathers that you would like to be left alone.
Iceland Hot Springs to Visit
Highlighted by CNN, the newly opened Forest Lagoon overlooks one of Iceland's longest fjords, Eyjafjörður. Cozied up amidst birch and pine trees, this spa, often dubbed the "spa in the trees," has Finnish Dry Saunas, cold pools, and a forest bistro. Crafted by the architects behind the Blue Lagoon, it promises a serene escape into nature.
For an encounter with the wonders of geothermal activity and a deep dive into nature's embrace, a visit to the Secret Lagoon at Gamla Laugin is a must. Surrounded by several geothermal hotspots, the area offers a scenic walking trail, allowing guests to marvel at boiling hot springs. A charming spectacle awaits as a small Geysir erupts every five minutes.
Blue Lagoon Iceland opened as a way to introduce folks to the benefits of geothermal seawater. Since its opening, Blue Lagoon has grown and evolved into a company that offers transformative spa experiences, amazing culinary options, a renowned line of skin care, and the convergence of hospitality and wellness.
In Reykjavik, the capital, stands Sundhöll Reykjavíkur, the oldest public swimming hall in Iceland. Known as the "Swimming Palace," Sundhöll Reykjavíkur offers a historic social space featuring an indoor thermal pool, complete with springboards, hot tubs, a sauna, and sunbathing balconies. Recent additions include an outdoor pool and an invigorating ice bath.
Etiquette and What to Expect
Rules and expectations vary from pool to pool, but here’s the gist:
Prior to entering the pool, there is a strict requirement to thoroughly shower, scrubbing from head to toe with soap and water. Many men’s and women’s locker rooms display posters featuring all the regions you must lather: head, armpits, groin, and feet. This rule is taken very seriously by Icelanders, and is necessary because most geothermal pools use fresh water and are only lightly chlorinated. So don't drink or gargle it!
Engage in conversations. The pool is a social place! However, talk quietly, and don’t make too much noise. Many spas and indoor pools were built in the 1960s and loud noises echo in indoor pools and steam rooms.
Don’t just plunge right in! Take your time and test the water temperature first to check your skin’s sensitivity to the geothermal heat.
Swim in a counter-clockwise direction. No one can really explain why, but Icelanders swim in circles from right to left, so maybe you should too.