I recently wrote about places to swim or bathe in Iceland, including the famous Blue Lagoon and a municipal pool in Reykjavík, with tips on swimming pool etiquette. Here I’m going to tell you about the more adventurous swim spots we found including the oldest pool in Iceland, some isolated hot pots by a glacier and a steaming hot river, as well as the fabulous heated beach in Reykjavík. So here are 4 of the best places to swim in Iceland.
Swimming was one of the things we loved most as a family when we visited Iceland in summer 2014, though the word swimming is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration when what we mainly did was wallow and lounge about. Bathing is probably a more accurate description. Not a great deal of sport was involved, but the following four places should give you an idea of the uniqueness and wonder of bathing in geothermal hot water in the wilds of Iceland.
Seljavallalaug Swimming Pool
This pool is still one of Iceland’s best kept open secrets. It’s only a short distance from the Ring Road and yet the majority of visitors miss it. That’s how I’d like it to stay so I won’t give detailed directions on how to find it, however plenty of other bloggers have so just Google it if you want to go! I remembered it from my childhood and was delighted to find it hadn’t changed in 30 years.
Seljavallalaug pool is Iceland’s oldest existing swimming pool built by local scouts in 1923. It’s located in a hauntingly beautiful valley under the infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano, next to a rushing river, surrounded by nothing but nature. To get to it you have to walk for 15-20 minutes from where you can leave you car (which is a few kilometres down a dirt track off the Ring Road). The hike takes you along the river and across it at one point, and when we were there the route was obvious because of the many footprints in the volcanic ash. When we pointed out that this was recent ash from Eyjafjallajökull it just added to the adventure for our 9 year old.
The pool itself is a basic concrete structure of which one of the four walls is simply the mountain side. Hot water trickles down the slope and more is piped in from nearby springs. There is a changing room which saves having to get changed in the rain and serves as somewhere dry to leave your clothes. It too was covered in ash (inside) from the volcanic eruption! The overall temperature of the pool is not hot, but it’s pleasant and feels lovely and warm compared to the air temperature. Bagging a spot where the hot water comes in is heaven. There was another family and several couples using the pool when we were there (perhaps 10 people in total) so we each had to take turns under the hot spouts but no one hogged them for long and it was all very civilised.
The water is dark and only cleaned once a year by local volunteers but it feels wonderful. Its colour only adds to the moody atmosphere. It’s hard to describe how special this place is, it all seems so unlikely, to be swimming in a man-made pool in the middle of nowhere (and in the rain in our case), surrounded by mountains, with only the sounds of the torrent gushing by and the occasional human laugh. It was certainly one of the (many) highlights of our holiday in Iceland.
Hoffell hot pots near Höfn
Hoffell hot pots were just what we needed to warm us up on a truly foul day in the south-east of Iceland. We’d pretty much failed to see the magnificent icebergs at Jökulsárlón owing to driving rain, thick low cloud and howling wind so we needed cheering up. And wallowing in steaming green hot tubs within sight of Hoffelsjökull glacier did just that.
These hot pots are located about 15 kms west of Höfn, once again in the middle of nowhere really. There are 5 round and hexagonal shaped tubs at the base of a rocky outcrop at the edge of a plain. They are fed by piping hot water from a nearby spring and each pot varies in temperature. There weren’t any thermometers so I don’t know the exact temperature but one was too hot for us and we’d been able to get in 42°c in other places, so it was hotter than that! There is a small changing hut and a shower (unlike at Seljavallalaug) which proved to be a challenge to use: not for the temperature which was lovely and warm but because the water was blowing everywhere except on us, it really was revolting weather. Taking an outdoor shower in the howling wind and rain was another unique Icelandic experience.
Hoffell hot pots, despite being in a remote location and unmanned, are not free and as such there is a small fee which you pay on honour into a black pipe by the side of the pools. I have no idea how often anyone comes along and checks/empties the money but we were happy to pay for somebody’s hard work in creating and maintaining these wonderfully isolated and quirky thermal tubs. Whoever had the vision to make them definitely deserves support.
We thoroughly enjoyed spending an hour or so mucking around and relaxing here. For a short while there was one other couple in a separate tub but for most of the time we were the only people for what seemed like miles and miles. Every now and then the cloud lifted enough to see the glacier (seen in the photo of little son’s back turned) but for the most part we were enveloped in deep damp gloom, but heck it really only added to the fun!
Nauthólsvík geothermal beach, Reykjavík
Reykjavík is a northern city, everybody knows that. It is located only 270 km south of the Arctic Circle but what everybody doesn’t know is that it is just about possible to enjoy a dip in the sea. As bizarre as it sounds Reykjavík has a geothermally heated beach! Well that’s how it’s described in the blurb. In reality what it is is a small area of heated water in an artificially created semi-circular bay. Depending how cold the surrounding water and air are makes a difference to how “warm” the water feels. The area where the hot water arrives is marked by a few poles but naturally water without walls disperses and we honestly couldn’t feel any warmth!
However, Nauthólsvík beach is a fabulous place, I found the whole concept of heated seawater totally bonkers – it really is quite mad. During the 2 weeks we spent in Iceland we visited several times, always in fairly awful weather, often at the end of a busy day to wind down and relax. As always, the weather isn’t important in Iceland for if you only ever went out in when it was good, you wouldn’t go out much! What you get at Nauthólsvík is one of the loveliest hot pots around – long and rectangular and full of sand – a sauna, clean proper changing rooms with the obligatory naked showering, a café and a lifeguard…all for free (well, you have to pay at the café but that’s kind of obvious!) What you also get is imported yellow sand, grassy banks and play areas for kids. The beach and hot pot are open all year but I’m not sure about the changing rooms.
The first time we went to the geothermal beach the slightly crazy 14 year old son charged into the sea determined to swim out to the marker buoys. I think it was a case of mind over matter as he ploughed on regardless of the cold. I think he knew he was at a heated beach and just believed the water would be warm-ish. So he swam the 100m or so out to the edge and back again and practically collapsed into the hot pot, writhing in pain. His feet had lost all feeling from the cold. We asked the lifeguard what the temperature of the water was that day, he said 11°c – not exactly tropical! Not even anywhere near the temperatures described in the guidebook. But hey ho, he’s always claimed he’s a Viking ever since he swam in the Atlantic off the west coast of France in March when he was 3! And he survived to tell the tale.
Reykjadalur hot river near Hveragerði
(A slightly cheeky N°4) I feel this post has gone on long enough, so I’m going to leave you on tenterhooks, sorry…You’ll have to wait to hear all about what was possibly our most unusual bathing experience in Iceland. What happened when we hiked to a hot river in the mountains….coming soon!
If you enjoyed this and are thinking about visiting Iceland you might also like tips on how to make a trip to Iceland affordable.
Have you been swimming in Iceland? Do you have a favourite place to bathe?
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