One of the main appeals of Iceland for visitors is the landscape that volcanic activity created. Think of the innumerable craters, thrilling mountain ranges, black sand beaches, dramatic coastlines, and extensive lava fields. However, there is another bonus: Iceland’s volcanism is an inexhaustible resource of geothermal water that locals and visitors benefit from all year round.
Hot springs are found naturally throughout the island. Visually, they may be evident as plumes of spouting water rising into the sky or areas of bubbling mud and steaming grounds. However, the ones in which you can soak are simply pools of calm water at a temperature ideal for bathing. These pools, found in all corners of Iceland, come in all shapes and sizes. Whether entirely natural or needing a bit of human regulation, they are a delight.
Bathing in geothermal water has always been part of Icelandic life; enjoying the various benefits of hot springs is a tradition dating back to the settlement. Modern people are keen to celebrate the warm water’s rejuvenating effect on the body and mind; bathing culture is, therefore, an essential part of the everyday life of locals.
A spa as such is very much something of modern times, a taste of luxury. Today’s spas offer a range of facilities and treatments and a chance to be pampered, providing further benefits in addition to what a natural hot spring can provide.
The best geothermal spas in Iceland offer saunas, steam rooms, and hot tubs. Some even feature warm waterfalls, in-water caves, or swim-up bars, and most of them were designed to provide panoramic views of the surrounding natural scenery to pamper the mind and soul.
Iceland scores over many other places offering spa treatment because no chemicals are added to the water; it is totally natural. Nature’s flow replaces the water continuously, so it is always clean and fresh. Moreover, these are probably the most sustainable spas in the world, given that Iceland uses 100% renewable energy to maintain them.
Every visitor should add at least one geothermal spa to their itinerary, but the more you visit, the deeper connection you form with Iceland. You can read below some of the best places to look at before deciding which one, or ones, are for you.
The World-Famous Blue Lagoon
The most popular geothermal spa in Iceland is undoubtedly the Blue Lagoon, one of the most famous spas in the world. It is a major attraction, even for people who do not want to enter its waters. But why wouldn’t you? It is a gorgeous location in the midst black lava field.
National Geographic magazine included the Blue Lagoon as one of 25 Natural Wonders of the World in a special edition. There are few better recommendations than that. Just close your eyes and imagine relaxing in the milky blue water in the rugged setting created by lava, with green moss adding colour to the setting.
The water in the Blue Lagoon comes from way down in the earth; 2000 metres (6500 feet) in fact. Just over half is saltwater, and the remaining is fresh water. They combine under pressure to create geothermal seawater. The hot mixture rises to the surface through different layers of rock, which add bioactive elements to the water, thereby enriching it.
The milky color of the water results from the white mud: the high amount of silicon dioxide. Silica occurs naturally in the soil and many living organisms. You have surely seen photos of a beauty treatment that is a “mask of mud.” Silica reaches into pores and rejuvenates the skin.
Incidentally, other beneficial minerals are also present in the milky blue water, along with a type of microorganism, algae, that was previously undiscovered. Studies have proven that Blue Lagoon algae have very positive effects on the skin, nourishing it while at the same time reducing wrinkles and lines on the face.
No other living organisms occur in the water of the Blue Lagoon, neither bacteria, fungi, or other flora, as none can survive in water with such a high mineral and silica content.
As the water filters back into the ground, new water replaces it, renewing itself completely every two days. There’s no artificial filtration, disinfection, or added chemicals in the water. All these attributes together make the water in the Blue Lagoon miraculous.
There is even a warm waterfall at the Blue Lagoon. You can stand in a small cave behind the cascading water. In addition to the pool, you’ll find geothermal saunas and steam rooms, an in-water buffet, and a gourmet restaurant.
Few experiences can match that of the Blue Lagoon. Can you even think for a second that it should not be on your Icelandic itinerary? This article explains the geology of the Blue Lagoon; you can book your ticket here.
The Sky Lagoon in Reykjavík
Reykjavík’s newest luxury geothermal spa is the beautiful Sky Lagoon. Nestled on a stunning coastline only a stone’s throw from downtown Reykjavík, Sky Lagoon offers its visitors breathtaking views and truly luxurious experiences.
Although the construction is artificial, it looks completely authentic and natural. Upon entering the warm water, you’ll find yourself between towering black cliffs and grassy hills. Follow the way toward the open water of the infinity pool and let the epic view enchant your mind!
While the ocean views are wonderful, you will also see a small harbour and, across the bay Mount Keilir, an impressive volcano in a typical cone shape. Keilir has always been a reference point for navigation over the centuries. The lava fountain that appeared when Fagradalsfjall erupted in the spring of 2022 was visible from the Sky Lagoon.
The Sky Lagoon stands out from other luxury spas on the island because of its epic seven-step ritual, a series of spa experiences you enjoy in a specific order:
- Step 1: You begin by simply relaxing in the lagoon for as long as you want.
- Step 2 is plunging into cold water in a small round pool next to the lagoon. The effect will be an increased blood flow, with your skin tightening.
- Step 3 is the sauna inside the turf house by the lagoon. Looking through the sauna’s windows – the largest piece of windows in all of Iceland – you can enjoy the terrific views of the cold ocean under your feet while relaxing in the hot sauna.
- Step 4 is standing under a fine cold mist mixed with snow.
- Step 5 is the body scrub containing salt, oils, and local herbs.
- Step 6 is entering the steam room with the body scrub on your skin and letting the oils soak into your skin before enjoying a shower as the seventh step.
You can then go back into the lagoon, with no time limit, with beverages available at the swim-up bar.
The Sky Lagoon beats the Blue Lagoon in many ways, although they both deserve a visit as their characteristics make them unique and unmatchable. Book your Sky Lagoon ticket here
Hvammsvik’s Natural Hot Spring Resort
Out of the many Geothermal Spas in Iceland, Hvammsvík Natural Hot Springs Resort provides an experience closest to how locals have enjoyed wilderness hot springs. This is, therefore, the ultimate choice for those who want to try the most authentic Icelandic nature experience while having the opportunity to reserve your spot and shower, change and dine in comfort – things that aren’t possible in the wild.
The resort is located in the middle of nowhere, in a remote fjord called the Whaled fjord, yet easily accessible, being only 45 minutes drive from the capital.
Eight natural hot spring pools in various sizes and temperatures are scattered on the seashore – some of them so close to the sea that they get filled up with seawater during high tide, providing an ever-changing and all-natural experience. Additionally, a steam cave awaits you in a turf house near the pools.
Over 30 different bird species live in this area, with a nature reserve being very close by. Lamb roams the hills freely, and the arctic fox is the highlight of the mammals. The fjord is enclosed by snowy mountains, and the flora and fauna combine to create a scene that can be admired all year round, offering varied experiences with its natural seasonal changes.
Brand-new facilities add to what nature has provided. The designers were inspired by local history that began in the 12th Century. That is reflected in the design of the building itself and the changing rooms. In addition, there is the option to use outdoor changing facilities and showers beneath the sky.
The geothermal water originates from 1400 metres (4,600 feet) below ground, mixing fresh water with seawater from the Atlantic. This steady stream of water flows between the pools, over their edges, and then returns to the sea. The constant flow means the water is always clean.
You can enjoy light food in the lounge at the end of your treatment. If you want a tip, try the seafood soup with a shot of algae/ginger!
There is no permanent population in this area, meaning lack of light pollution in the whale fjord – therefore, Hvammsvík is also an excellent place to see the Northern Lights in season.
East Iceland: Vök Baths
Vök Baths is a geothermal spa featuring two stunning infinity pools floating on Lake Urriðavatn of East Iceland. East Iceland has limited options for hot springs, so Vök Baths is an attraction not to be missed.
Its hot water has a level of purity that is unique in being the only certified hot spring water in the country for drinking. The water flows up from deep under the lake- Its discovery came about as locals saw that the first signs of ice melting after a long winter was always in the same place. Vök is the Icelandic word for melted ice holes. These days, Vök supplies the surrounding area with hot water.
Floating geothermal pools with infinity views, a sauna, two on-shore pools, a cold water spray tunnel, an in-water pool bar, a tea bar, and an on-site restaurant, Vök Bistro, are features you will find here.
Vök offers a unique way to experience the age-old Icelandic tradition of bathing in a natural geothermal pool. A perfect place to enjoy your wellness, reconnect with nature by taking a dip, or even swim in the cold lake around the floating infinity pools.
North Iceland: GeoSea Baths
If you head to the north of Iceland to a cliff top looking out on a bay and the North Atlantic, that is the setting where you will find GeoSea Baths. Across snow-capped mountains with the Arctic Circle far in the distance, it is an epic place where there is a good chance of seeing whales from dry land, and the Northern Lights in the sky. So it came as no surprise when these baths were included in Time Magazine’s 100 “destinations to experience right now”.
“Overtourism is a tremendous problem for Iceland, its iconic Blue Lagoon packs in visitors by the busload. But roughly 300 miles north in Húsavík…a lesser-known geothermal spa gives its guests plenty of room to breathe.” Times concludes, “a spectacular way to catch the Northern Lights when swimming after dark.”
There are two seawater boreholes providing hot water for the spa. Originally meant to be a source for collecting sea salt, they now produce a steady flow of mineral-rich saltwater for its pools for visitors to enjoy. The baths are 49 metres (160 feet) above sea level on the cliffs’ edge. The ever-present sea birds who nest on the cliffs add to the views you will get.
From the balcony, visitors regularly spot whales, as Húsacík is often called ‘The whale capital of Iceland” Humpbacks are common sights, but from time to time, the mammal, the Blue Whale, is seen in these waters. The chance of seeing Blue Whales in Europe from a coastline is virtually nonexistent elsewhere.
Close your eyes and imagine these breathtaking scenes: soaking in the mineral-rich hot seawater with some wonderful views in front of you, fishing boats sailing through the bay with snowy mountains across and the open North Atlantic stretching towards the Arctic Circle.
North Iceland: The Forest Lagoon in Akureyri
Built close to Akureyri – Iceland’s ‘Capital of the North – Forest Lagoon is a natural hot spring spa resort in the wilderness. Nestled in a birch and pine forest at the foot of a mountain, the geothermal spa resort is surrounded by matchless natural beauty.
Trees and forests hold extraordinary value in Iceland, as there aren’t many of them. The Vikings cut down the vast majority of Iceland’s trees, so it is rare to find a natural forest on the island. Wide-open spaces and spectacular views are easy to find in Iceland, but the intimacy of a thick forest, closely enveloped with trees, is an exotic experience for locals.
Forest Lagoon’s 1.300-square-meter complex covers 1,300 square metres (14,000 square feet) and comprises a sauna, cold tub, a bistro, and two infinity pools with two swim-up bars. The pool connects to walking trails, which is ideal for a dip after a hike.
North-East Iceland: Myvatn Nature Baths
Lake Mývatn is in a region famous for its natural environment and abundance of birdlife. It is one of the continent’s best natural treasures, located in the northeast of the island. The Diamond Circle is one of the best routes in Iceland, and it travels through the Myvatn region, where many of Iceland’s natural attractions are found. One of the highlights of the area is the Myvatn Nature Baths.
Drawing on a centuries-old tradition, the tastefully designed complex offers bathers a completely natural experience. Take a relaxing dip amidst clouds of steam rising from a fissure deep in the Earth´s surface and enjoy a luxurious swim in a pool of geothermal water drawn from depths up to 2.500 metres.
The National Power Company’s bore hole provides water at 130C, arriving in the basin next to the lagoon, effectively a man-made hot spring. When mixed with the cold spring water, the water in the baths maintains a constant 36 – 40°C throughout the year.
The water is similar to that at the Blue Lagoon, with high content of silica and other minerals. It is alkaline and perfect for bathing. The chemical composition and the fact that no unwanted bacteria or vegetation will survive in the lagoon means there is no need for additives, chloride, or other disinfectants.
The steam in the natural steam bath rises directly through the floor and is entirely controlled by the weather. Typically the temperature is around 45°C, and the humidity is close to 100%.
Krauma Geothermal Bath and Spa
Another geothermal bath experience is Krauma, located just a convenient drive away from Reykjavik, about an hour or so. Krauma is a small complex with plenty worth recommending to visitors. To start with: Deildartunguhver, Europe’s most powerful spring is just outside the building; moreover, it provides continuous hot water replacement for the spa.
To achieve the perfect bathing temperature, hot water is mixed with cold water from Ok, which was the most miniature glacier in Iceland until it lost its volume and is now just an icy peak. No chemicals are required to keep everything clean, with the water being constantly replaced by the rapid natural flow of the springs.
There are six hot tubs at varying temperatures- all but one warm. In addition, guests can enjoy two saunas and a relaxation room where a hanging fireplace and calming music add to the relaxing environment.
The restaurant serves local cuisine, everything fresh from the surrounding farms. Snacks and drinks from the bar are a good way to end your visit.
Laugarvatn Fontana Spa
Laugarvatn Fontana is a popular spa for locals and visitors alike. It is conveniently located on the every-famous Golden Circle route, in beautiful natural settings, directly on the shore of lake Laugarvatn.
Fontana has interconnected baths and steam rooms that nicely complement each other, creating a great natural, healthy, and dare we say, unique spa experience.
The soul of this place is the three natural steam rooms. Initially built in the 1920s, Fontana was no more than a shack with two compartments built above the hot spring that bubbles and gurgles below the ground. The temperature in the steam rooms varies depending on the season and geothermal activity but is generally between 40°C (104°F) and 50°C (122°F). In the steam room cabins, humidity is high, with the grids on the floor allowing guests to hear and smell the activity of nature below.
Today’s modern complex is far more sophisticated, an invitation to relax in tubs and baths that nature heats. The Finnish-style sauna has a giant window that faces Laugarvatn Lake, with fantastic views for everyone to see. Each of the three interconnected outdoor mineral baths varies in depth, size, and even temperature. You can relax in some areas while others provide space for movement and play. Look at the stone artwork of an Icelandic artist at the entrance.
The hot tub is intentionally at a slightly higher level to give visitors good panoramic views of the beautiful surrounding area.
A small beach here features warm black sand due to geothermal activity in the ground. Relax in the steam baths and the sauna before cooling down in the cold, and return again to the warmth of the geothermal water, and repeat!
Book your guided Golden Circle tour with admission to Laugarvatn Fontana
Our list features the very best examples of Icelandic geothermal spas – but there are so many more places to try! Reykjavík has more than 18 geothermal pools that locals use daily; however, these aren’t luxury pools and don’t have such distinctive features. There’s a new spa or pool almost every year in Iceland, so make sure to revisit this article in 2024 for any updates!