Blue Lagoon Alternatives: Iceland's Other Hot Springs

by  Katie Hammel | Aug 21, 2015
Landmannalaugar, Iceland
Landmannalaugar, Iceland / R Scapinello/iStock

The Blue Lagoon is the most famous of Iceland’s hot springs. But it’s also the most visited tourist attraction in Iceland, and at certain times, you can tell -- the spring-fed, man-made lagoon has even recently turned people away during peak hours due to crowding. On your next Iceland trip, we suggest heading to a less-visited hot spring instead. From locals' favorite public pools in Reykjavik to hidden springs miles from civilization, here are some of the best places to soak without the crowds.

1. Reykjadalur: Reykjadalur means “Steam Valley,” which is an appropriate name, as the area is dotted with so many hot springs that you can see the steam rising from miles away. Many of the springs are scalding hot, but where one spring meets a cold river, the perfect bathing area is born. To reach this particular spring, you’ll need to drive about 45 minutes from Reykjavik to the town Hveragerði and then hike nearly two miles to the springs, which are accessible via a wooden walkway. As it’s a “wild” spring, there are no changing rooms or other services, and no admission fee. If you’re not up for finding the springs on your own, you can join a guided tour.

2. Seljavallalaug: Iceland’s oldest man-made pool (built in 1923), Seljavallalaug is fed by a natural spring and tucked into a picturesque, waterfall-filled valley at the base of a mountain. There is a small, rudimentary changing room, but no other services. Visiting requires driving about two hours from Reykjavik along the south coast, a detour down a dirt road, and a 20-minute hike that includes crossing a small river -- but the effort is worth it to swim in one of the country’s most spectacular settings.

3. Grjótagjá: Made famous as the site of Jon Snow’s tryst with Ygritte in Game of Thrones, Grjótagjá is a hot spring in small cave in northern Iceland, about 90 minutes from the town of Akureyri. In the late 1970s, the waters became too hot to bathe in (at around 50°C, 150°F) but have since cooled. In winter, the temperatures can be tolerable, but visitors should always exercise extreme caution when visiting. The spring is found six miles east of the town Reykjahlíð; be prepared for a short walk to the cave and bring a headlamp for light once inside.

4. Landmannalaugar: Known as the “People’s Pools,” the hot spring at Landmannalaugar can get pretty crowded -- and not just with hikers who come to explore the multi-colored mountains of the interior highlands. Several sheep also graze in the area and often rest near the steaming spring, which is made up of one small pool near a campsite and mountain hut. The water temperature is about 96-104°F (36-40°C), and there are bathrooms and changing facilities onsite. Landmannalauger is 3.5 hours from Reykjavik, down roads that be quite rough (and at times, crossed by small rivers), so go via guided tour, or be sure to rent a car rated for F roads.

5. Laugardalslaug: Nearly every Icelandic town has a public swimming pool, and the pools are more than just recreation spaces; pools are social centers where locals meet with friends, catch up on gossip, and even make business deals. There are several geothermal pools in Reykjavik but Laugardalslaug is the largest with indoor and outdoor pools, hot tubs, saunas, and water slides. Adult admission costs 950 ISK (around $7) with swimsuit and towel rental available.

6. Mývatn Nature Baths: Northern Iceland’s version of the Blue Lagoon, the Mývatn Nature Baths are fed by the run-off from a nearby geothermal power plant. The milky blue water comes from deep underground and contains minerals thought to be therapeutic. There are changing rooms onsite, swimsuit and towel rentals available, and there’s a cafeteria where you can enjoy a snack, like some Icelandic beer and a bowl of lamb soup, after a soak. Admission starts at 3700 ISK (about $27) in summer. The complex is located about 90 minutes from Akureyri by car.

7. Laugarvatn Fontana: Built in 2010, the Laugarvatn Fontana Spa contains four man-made baths of varying depths, size and temperature, plus several steam rooms, all set on the edge of Laugarvatn lake. It's located about an hour from Reykjavik, along the popular Golden Circle day trip route that includes Thingvellir National Park, Geysir, and Gullfoss waterfall. Of all the springs on this list, the Fontana Spa most closely resembles an actual spa. There’s an onsite café and changing rooms. Admission starts at 3400 ISK (about $25) with towel, swimsuits, and robe available for rent. Book the “Rye Bread Experience” to see (and taste) bread that’s baked using geothermal heat.

8. Secret Lagoon: Located in Fludir, not far from the Golden Circle route, the Secret Lagoon is a man-made pool fed by a natural spring. Though it’s similar in concept to the Blue Lagoon, it lacks the opaque powder blue water -- and the crowds. With a sand floor and natural rocks forming the walls, it also has a much more wild feel, as though it was created purely by nature. The price is 2500 ISK (about $18; towel rental available) and services are limited to changing rooms and a cooler with beverages available for purchase. In winter, the lagoon hosts nightly Aurora Borealis soaks so guests can float in the lagoon with a view of the Northern Lights.

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