On our family Roadtrip Around Iceland in 7 days we visited geothermal spas and pools every day. Geothermal (rich in minerals) pools and spas are Iceland’s well known natural (and cultural) attraction and are a great way to recharge at the end of a busy day of sightseeing. There are close to 200 spas and public pools with geothermal waters all over Iceland- I I have broken these geothermal waters by geographical areas to roughly correspond with our travel itinerary as we moved around Iceland along the Ring road. I am noting pros and cons of each one and pointing our favorites.
Reykjavik and South West
Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s most well-known tourist attractions, but while it is certainly touristy (for a good reason!) I would still include it in your Iceland spas itinerary. Our family spent 24 hours floating in the thermal pools here as we celebrated my milestone birthday. In fact, there are three lagoons at this location: Blue Lagoon proper, Silica Lagoon (part of nearby Silica Hotel), and Retreat Lagoon, Blue Lagoon’s luxury new addition.
While the lagoons themselves are man-made, the 38C water is geothermal – rich in minerals (70% sea water) and is being strictly monitored by a nearby plant facility.
Did you know that iconic color of Blue Lagoon’s water is the result of the silica’s reflection in the sun?
What we Loved: The sheer size of the Blue Lagoon is impressive, so despite the number of visitors, you can always find a spot to float by yourself. The water color is beautiful and we enjoyed the “cosmic” like surroundings of the lava field. The water temperature (38c) is very comfortable too- not too hot, so you can swim for hours. If you can splurge and spend the night at one of the hotels on site – the relaxation cycle will be complete. We stayed at the more “affordable” one- Silica Hotel where we took advantage of the walking and hiking trails of various intensity right out of the hotel’s front door. As hotel guests, we enjoyed the upgrade to Retreat Spa experience with access to (in addition to Blue Lagoon) a private lagoon (enhanced with a 7-step body ritual of masks, scrubs and the like and a private changing room).
There are several meal options at the Blue Lagoon. We had a decent if not spectacular birthday dinner at Lava Restaurant (There is also a Tasting menu at a higher end Moss restaurant).
Cons: Blue Lagoon is a massive marketing machine which results in crowded check-in experience and having to reserve your entry time in advance, especially for mid-day visits; you could still end up waiting in line for 30-40 mins to check in for your pre-booked experience. No other spa we visited in Iceland had the same level of entry “craziness”.
Completed in 2021, Sky Lagoon on the ocean edge in Reykjavik suburb (10 min drive from the city center) is one of the newest addition to Icelandic spas.
What we loved: the changing facilities at Sky Lagoon are stylish and comfortable with ALL showers hidden behind private cabins (not a given in Icelandic pools and spas). You can also upgrade to a fully private changing room. There is also a stylish self service café in the lobby with a relaxing ambiance. Being ocean front offers unparalleled views; there are comfortable siting benches throughout the pool with nice water jets for your feet. When we were there it did not feel crowded at all. You could swim out from the inside area and never be exposed to the cold air (unless you upgrade to a “7 step ritual” and have to momentarily leave the lagoon to enter a neighboring building for the “ritual” itself).
Cons: I found the water temperature at this lagoon just a tad too warm to spend more than 45-60 minutes comfortably here (My young adult son loved it more than Blue Lagoon though). The “7 step ritual” here (multi steps of scrubs and creams) is extra and so is the use of the ocean-front glass walled sauna . Note that kids younger than 12 are not allowed; kids 12-15 are offered discounted admission.
Laudardalslaug Public Pool in Reykjavik
Reykjavik has close to 20 public swimming pools which offer a natural geothermal waters swim experience for a fraction of a cost of a private lagoons(I am pretty sure some chlorine is used though). For our visit we chose the biggest one- Laudardalslaug. Its facilities include a 50m outdoor lap pool, outdoor children’s pool and paddling pool, two water-slides, numerous hot tubs, steam bath, and even a mini golf course. Despite our expectations, we did not love it. It was the least favorite pool on our trip but it was still pretty good as far as the public pools go- especially the ones we typically experience where we live in the US.
What we liked: Laudardalslaug has Olympic size outdoor lap pool for proper swimming and a warmer “play” pool with water slide and other water games, in addition to steam room and 6 different outdoors hot tubs with varied temperature. There are also inside pools. The entry fee was quite economical compared to private lagoons.
Cons: it was very crowded when we arrived so that we had to look carefully to find room for a single spot in the many hot tubs. The territory is large and the walk in a swimsuit from changing rooms to the outside pools is long and could be uncomfortably cold in Icelandic weather (scroll down for my General Tips at the end of the post to improve your own Icelandic spa and pool experience).
At the end of the very busy Golden Circle Day, before retiring to our South Coast Hotel Selfoss for the night we stopped at Fontana Laugarvatn (fed by the underwater source under the Lake) on the shores of Lake Laugarvatn. This spa is situated en route from Thingvellir National Park to the Geysers Park but we backtracked a tiny bit to time our visit with the end of the day of sightseeing.
What we loved. Fontana is a truly natural spa, with thermal water feeding its pools supplied directly from underneath it. Its location right on the shore of Lake Laugarvatn makes for nice views (and you could use the lake as part of your hot-cold relaxation cycle). There are four small pools of various temperatures, steam and sauna rooms, all accessed from a (short walk) outside. Food options were very limited during our visit in 2021 (their website suggests that they have restored the lava bread making experience).
Cons Facilities at Fontana are a bit older, although there is a private shower stall available. You cannot really swim in any of the pools (due to size) but you could potentially brave the cold water and swim in the lake.
Vok Bath on Lake Urridavatn in East Iceland was one of our favorite thermal spas in Iceland- partly because it is very stylish and partly because we happened to visit on a gloriously sunny early September day. It was quite busy with extended local families’ gathering on a Sunday afternoon.
What we Loved: The setting right on the lake is spectacular. In fact, two pools with different (hot) water temperatures are literally floating right in the middle of the lake (locals were jumping to cool off in the lake right out of the pools). There are no lap size pools but you could still swim a bit in the floating pools especially if it is not a weekend day when many locals families visit. The Spa is new and stylish (completed in 2019), so the changing/showering facilities look modern (with options for private changing) and you can swim out from the inside of the building into one of the pools and not experience the cold air discomfort. (You have to walk for about 30 meters to reach the floating pools.) There is a sauna on site as well (it was closed on the day of our visit and a generous admission discount offered).
The cafe menu was varied and beautifully presented. We sat on the outside tables overlooking the lake.
Cons: it is really hard to find any, maybe the fact that there are only 3 mid-size pools at this spa and it could get crowded on a weekend.
Considered Blue Lagoon of the North, Myvatn Bath near the shores of Lake Myvatn resemble it’s more famous “sister” lagoon (the lagoon itself is also a man-made construction but the geothermal water is from the natural local sources). There are two lagoons of similar size here (with a smaller/colder one closer to the lake) and one small hot tub; There is also a steam room in the complex.
What I liked: the temperature in the bigger lagoon was just right, so you could comfortably float in it for hours, just like in the Blue Lagoon. (The list of cons is longer here unfortunately)
Cons: Spa Myvatn is smaller than the Blue Lagoon and with many tourist groups visiting in the evening hours, it felt more rowdy (definitely less relaxing) than the Blue Lagoon. There is a strong sulphur smell as you enter the area (you are getting used to it once you are floating in the lagoon). The water entrance area is very crowded and there isn’t much space where to put your belongings while you float. Some changing “pavilions” are small wooden stand-alone houses with “natural” ventilation from the openings in the ceiling. I was unluckily assigned a locker in one of these. These locker areas feel and look old and crowded with only one private shower stall available (the rest being communal showers). It was windy and uncomfortable to get out of the lagoon and into the changing room (some of it is due to the set up, and some due to generally colder/windier weather in the North).
Akureyri Public Pools
Recently updated, this public pool is a center of local activity in Iceland’s Northern capital with a nice clean enjoyable feel to it. There are two lap pools, one children’s pool and 5 large hot tubs with varied water temperatures.
What we Loved: In this public pool you can swim out from the inside and into the main pool and avoid the cold air discomfort (you do have to move between the pools outdoors but you can “control” your ritual: we were moving from pool to a warmer pool several times during our stay using the outdoors to cool off in between.) The lap pool was also comfortably warm. We did not want to leave.
Cons: there is only one private shower stall (its use is limited to the disabled visitors) – so you have to leave your shame behind and use communal shower facilities. While fun, the overall experience at this public pool is not entirely relaxing, as there were large groups of young unsupervised kids running around with no one stopping them, some literally jumping on top of you into the swimming pools.
General Tips for Visiting Geothermal spas and pools in Iceland
- Because of the lack of chemicals in the water it is critical to wash yourself thoroughly (without a swimming suit) before entering the pools. Think of it as a karma- if you follow it, other tourists will do too. Newer spas have private shower stalls but older ones do not. Just go with it.
- Public pools cost a fraction of the Private Lagoon cost but usually offer no private changing and shower stalls. Some public swimming centers offer more “water fun for your buck” (and lap pools!) than private lagoons. They also generally have a less relaxing feel because of the number of visiting school groups. If you travel with kids, definitely visit one of these pools during your trip, but if there are no kids in your party and you are seeking relaxation rather than a place for your daily laps- go for one of the private thermal lagoons.
- Many spas and all public pools charge extra ($6-8) for towel rental, so consider bringing your own. And if you are not used to bathing outside during the colder months – consider renting or (bringing) handy a robe.