Iceland is dotted with hot springs throughout the country. The Icelandic often refer to them as lagoons. Virtually every village has its own pool, heated by the geothermal energy. Many are simple (and free) and some are larger and more impressive.
Our visit to Iceland was short; four and half days. As part of our experience, each day we ventured to different hot springs with our kids to enjoy one of things that makes Iceland unique. We found each hot spring unique and memorable. These visits also shaped our experience in Iceland. We bonded together, relaxing in hot water, cold air, and beautiful scenery.
The most well-known hot spring in Iceland is–of course–the iconic Blue Lagoon. Go beyond this location and you will learn of how each hot spring is unique in design, nature and visit.
We arrived in Keflavik airport at 5 AM, rented a car and headed straight to the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is located about 20 minutes from the airport. Both are west of Reykjavik. By going straight to the Lagoon, we simplified the transfer by driving our rental car. Prior to our trip, I pre-booked our reservation for the first available time, 8 AM. I strongly recommend reserving before you go, especially during high-season, as the Lagoon books up.
It was still dark out when we arrived and we were a bit early. The area is surrounded by otherworldly lava fields of black-pocked rocks. Since we were early, our kids wandered around the rocks, touching them, trying to climb them and marveling at the enormity of the surroundings.
As our reservation drew closer, we headed towards the check-in. The sun was starting to rise, giving us our first glance of the blue, milky water. The smell of sulfur, of rotten eggs, immediately hit us, taking over our sense of smell, not allowing anything else to penetrate. Our kids, shocked by the smell, walked along the lagoon holding their noses while poking fun at each other.
Entrance to spa consists of a check in, receiving a wrist band that is connected to your credit card, and towels. It’s the same system as if we were going into Disney World receiving “Magic Bands. The wrist band allow you to purchase as many drinks as you want and you are charged at the end. We split up into the women’s and mens’ locker rooms, changed (they do have curtained changing rooms in the locker rooms for those a bit more modest), threw our stuff in a locker that locks, showered (it’s required), and headed to the cold outdoors.
It is strongly recommended that women wear their hair up and load it up with lots of conditioner. The water is pumped in from the sea, and heated by geothermal plant located next to it. The water content is high in silica and calcium. Getting the silica in your hair will result in stiff, tangled mess–one of your worst hair days ever.
Hitting the cold was a complete shock, and shook us out of the sleep-deprived state we were in. It was a mere 38 degrees Fahrenheit, 3 degrees celsius. We scurried outside, hoping to spend as little time in the frigid as possible, hung our towels on numbered racks, and shot straight into the Blue Lagoon. The water was warm, 100 degrees F or more and steam rose as we waded into the pool. We explored the lagoon, enjoying as a family, our first visit to a hot spring in Iceland. Our kids loved the water and the experience as they swam exploring the entire lagoon.
It was somewhat empty, as summer season had ended over a month previous. So the lagoon was a bit empty. We ventured over to the mud bar and received our handful of silica white mud to smear all over our faces. As we let it dry we headed to the bar. A drink is included in the price. A Gull beer was an especially delicious breakfast beverage.
We rinsed our faces, relaxed a while longer before heading back out into the cold. Our bodies were so warmed from the hot water that getting out wasn’t as bad as getting in.
There are two options when pre-booking. The Comfort package includes a towel, drink and mud mask. The Premium package also gives you a second mask, slippers, robe, a reservation at the Lava restaurant (food not included) and a bottle of sparkling wine with your meal. The Blue Lagoon is already a pricy destination (Comfort is $84 at prime times), and the Premium tacks on another $16.
Truthfully, it’s unlikely you’ll visit Iceland and not visit the Blue Lagoon. While it may not meet the experience/price ratio we desired, it’s still a unique and comforting visit. I strongly recommend going right after your arrival as it is a good start to a visit in Iceland.
Kids 2 and older are welcome into the lagoon. Those between 2 and 13 are free. Know your kids: some kids will get bored quickly, as it’s not a place to swim or float, while others will want to spend an eternity in the world’s largest hot bath.
Our journey to this off the beaten path lagoon took well over two hours from Vik. Landmannalaugar is located in the highlands of south Iceland, nestled among snow capped mountains and lava fields. For this visit, we hired a guide with a a highly capable four wheel drive vehicle. It was jacked-up Sprinter van, mounted on massive tires that could deflate and inflate depending on terrain while driving.
The drive was entirely off-road, on dirt jeep paths, winding through moonscaped land. We crossed rivers, and drove over and between mountains capped in snow. We bounced around, went up steep hills, where I was convinced the car would not make it and roll backwards and stopped to see a couple of natural attractions on the way.
Upon arrival to Landmannalaugar’s park facilities, we parked next to only one other car. It was empty; just a couple of other visitors and some people who lived and worked in the area. There is a bathroom. There are showers, but they didn’t work. The building housing these amenities was as cold as the outside, 32 degrees fahrenheit, 0 degrees celsius.
We could see the lagoon, a natural and steaming pool, with a river of steam cutting through the valley’s field. Steam rose from the water and it was a bit marshy. A long, wooden boardwalk led out to the pool, where a small, wooden dock a place for clothes and towels. Wooden stairs lead down into the lagoon for easy access into the water.
Prior to our swim, we had hiked two hours with the kids through the area. We walked through meadows, snow capped mountains, lava fields, and right next to a fast running stream in a deep valley. Some of the mountains had small pockets of steam coming out through the sides. They stunk of sulfur and were hot to the feel. Some of the surrounding mountains had magnificent colors due to the rhyolite rock that naturally creates different hues, blues, greens, pink.
Arriving back to the area of the lagoon, we went into the bathrooms and changed into our suits. The kids and my husband ran out the door, dressed only in their bathing suits, straight down the boardwalk and right into the pool. I, however, put my clothes back on and brought my pack and towel as I sauntered down the boardwalk slowly. The boardwalk seemed long in the freezing cold and I was not about to run down in a swimsuit and no shoes. I shed my clothing, left the bag and towel on the dock, and stepped into the water.
I swam out the main pool area and sat in the hot, steaming water with the rest of my family. We were five and there were three other people in the lagoon with us. We dug our hands down into the pebbles and instantly we felt the ground get hotter. The lagoon is shallow and the floor is all pebbles, but it is inviting and soothing.
Sitting in the lagoon, we took in the beautiful landscape surrounding you. Snow-capped mountains on one side, moss covered lava rocks and meadows on the other. The lagoon is magical with its beauty. We moved around the pond, feeling the different temperatures. A stream brought glacial run-off from the mountains, where it met the scalding water of the springs. Moving around, we experienced all the different temperatures. Being in the water was being part of nature. We sat together gazing at our surroundings while taking in the warmth of the water.
The lagoon itself is free, but you will need a guide to bring you there. Even renting your own 4×4, you won’t be covered (or equipped) for the river crossings on your own. While the price of the day may be steep, you won’t regret it. The lagoon is the icing on the cap.
The Secret Lagoon
The Secret Lagoon is not so secret anymore. Technically, its not really a lagoon either (none of these could be considered a lagoon except for the Blue Lagoon, which pumps in sea water). Located on the Golden Circle, the lagoon is a man-made pool, once used for swimming lessons. However, the pool’s bottom is made of pebbles, and you can see the adjacent springs that feed the lagoon, including a small geyser (geysir in Icelandic).
We did make advanced reservations for our visit. When I say advanced, we booked about an hour upon arrival. Towels are not included and are an additional cost–and a steep one at around $5 each.
After checking in, the man working at the desk gave us explicit instructions of what to do before entering the lagoon. You must remove shoes before entering the locker rooms, shower naked before putting on your suit, and use the lockers with keys in them. You may not enter any water outside of the pool, as the natural small hot springs’ water is boiling and you will get burned. Oh, and no running.
If you are modest, this is not the place for you. There are no private showers and no private areas to change. After going through these procedures, you again exit into the cold and walk straight into the pool. There are small waterfalls of boiling water flowing into the pool and the pool itself is warm. They do have foam noodles, the long floating devices you see at your local pool, for patrons to use. Some people had four or five and used them to lay back and relax as they floated through the hot pool.
Our kids ventured around the pool, enjoying their visit. I stayed with my husband luxuriating in a naturally heated pool of water in a distant land. We hung out near the small flows of water delivering boiling water and sought out pockets of hot water. Some pockets were too hot for me.
It wasn’t crowded, and every 5 minutes, a small geysir would erupt behind the pool. Surprisingly, I got hot rather quickly, so my visit wasn’t as long as the rest of my family. However, the walk around the pool on a boardwalk to view the natural, boiling springs was fun and interesting.
The Secret Lagoon is rustic, and the facilities are basic. It’s not going to be a full day, but it’s a nice way to break up the sights (and crowds) of the Golden Circle.
This hot spring was a bit more upscale than the Secret Lagoon, reflected in the cost, and well worth it. We did not pre-book and went during the evening.
The location is wonderful; the pools are nestled next to a vast lake (Laugarvatn) surrounded surrounded by hills. As we arrived, the sun was just setting which gave us a beautiful view of the surrounding area.
Like the Secret Lagoon, towels are not included in the price. We got two towels for 5 of us as they are expensive to rent. You must also shower without your swim suit before entering the area. The showers are communal. Good soap and shower gel are provided.
We made a mad dash once again in the freezing cold and as we did we were surprised to see many different pools. All of these manmade. One shallow pool has sculptures designed to sit in or to cradle your head while you lie in the pool. Another is warmer and deeper, carved out of lava rock, while another also has jacuzzi jets. The lava pool’s water is nice and hot, and even too hot for me in spots. A super-hot sauna is in the middle. Next to it are several steam rooms. These are unique, as their steam comes directly from the geothermal springs. This means that they are full of the (sulfurous) mineral smells of the earth, and their temperature varies with the amount of steam naturally emitted from the earth.
A dock has stairs leading down into it Laugvartn, giving visitors the option of taking a dip in the lake. While hot springs warm parts of the lake, most of it is fed by mountain streams. It’s Iceland, and that lake is cold. My husband and two boys left the hot pool, ventured over to the sauna, sat for a bit, then ran down to the lake and jumped in. They did this a couple of times. I was either too smart or too chicken, and decided not to subject my body to alternating bouts of 200 degree and 35 degree temperatures . I’m going to go with the former.
We sat together, kids floating around the hot pot, taking in the night sky and the shimmering lake behind us. This was our last night in Iceland, and our last chance to sit together in natural hot springs. We were quiet as we soaked in our last moments all the while creating wonderful memories.
Going to Iceland for the first time? Here are 25 tips for a first time visit to Iceland , from Casual Travelistthat will help make your visit the ultimate visit.
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