An outdoor soak is an essential part of the Icelandic experience – a surreal way to spend a dark winter's day or to unkink those muscles after a long day's hiking. In fact, the Icelandic tradition of bathing outdoors in volcanically heated pools dates right back to Viking times. From the Blue Lagoon to those in its stark interior, here are 14 of the best natural hot springs in Iceland.
The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to Iceland, your essential guide for visiting Iceland.
1. Nauthólsvík geothermal beach, Reykjavík
Not what you'd expect to find in the world's northernmost capital: a small white-sand beach, packed to capacity with locals on particularly sunny days.
Don't be fooled by their avid enthusiasm, though – the air temperature here rarely rises above 15ºC, though this is considered warm enough to strip off a shirt in Iceland. But two hot tubs steaming away at 38ºC, and a long, shallow pool full of geothermally heated seawater right on the sand, make Nauthólsvík pretty enjoyable whatever the season.
Make sure to spare some time to explore the capital on a walking tour.
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Located on the gravel plains at the edge of a shockingly stark wasteland of vivid orange rhyolite mountains, Landmannalaugar – the "Farmer's Hot Bathing Pool" – is one of the best hot springs in Iceland that seeps out from under the edge of a 15th-century lava flow, where it mingles with a separate cold spring.
Edge into the cold water, walk upstream to where the two flows mix, find a spot where the temperature is perfect and settle back to admire the dramatic scenery.
You can visit Landmannalaugar as a day trip from Reykjavik or spend a night in the area.
3. Laugardalslaug, Reykjavík
Hot springs in Iceland have the convivial atmosphere of a bar or pub. Many people enjoy a daily dip on their way to or from work, where they typically spend at least as much time gossiping with their friends as they do splashing about in the water.
This, the country's largest and best-equipped swimming complex, makes a great place to join in, with indoor and outdoor pools, hot tubs, saunas and water slides for children.
Planning a summer trip? You won't want to miss our guide to the best places to visit in Iceland in the summer.
4. Snorralaug, Reykholt
Iceland's early history is a mixture of Viking violence and cultured literary output. In no way is this better illustrated than through the life of Snorri Sturluson, a wily 13th-century politician believed to have authored the Eddas – works containing much of what is known about Nordic mythology – and several Icelandic sagas.
Snorri's scheming eventually led to his assassination; he was cut down in an underground tunnel here at Reykholt, northwest of Reykjavík, where you can still bathe in the hot pool he once used, temperatures allowing.
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Another circular lava-block hot spring in Iceland with Viking connections, this one was used by the outlaw Grettir to revive himself after he had swum the 4-mile-wide, ice-cold strait separating the mainland from the sheer cliffs of Drangey, his island of exile. The next morning found Grettir sheltering naked and painfully shrivelled in a nearby hall, where a bawdy servant girl taunted him mercilessly.
The pool is splendidly set on a remote stretch of Iceland's north coast, where you can ponder Grettir's achievements without, fortunately, having to replicate his swim.
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6. Leirubakki, Hekla
Leirubakki is one of the few farms dotting the foothills of Hekla, a 1500m-high volcano whose regular eruptions have wreaked devastation since the Vikings settled in Iceland during the ninth century. Its steaming slash of a crater was once believed to be the gateway to hell.
Leirubakki's circular, sunken pool is small – fitting about four people at once – and lined with cut lava blocks; views of Hekla rising up in the background more than compensate for the tepid water.
7. Jarðböðinn Nature Baths, Mývatn
If you're visiting Iceland in winter, hoping to see the northern lights, this Blue-Lagoon-esque spa in the hills above Mývatn – Midge Lake – is a great place to head. Miles from any large settlements and light pollution, there are views down over Mývatn's placid waters from the rim of the pool, making this one of the best hot springs in Iceland.
An added bonus is the tectonically unstable surroundings – boiling mud pits, volcanic cones, steaming lava from a 1988 eruption and even an underground bakery, heated by natural jets of steam.
8. Grjótagjá, Mývatn
Out in the countryside east of Lake Mývatn, Grjótagjá is a flooded subterranean volcanic fissure, which used to be a popular place for a swim until a nearby eruption in the 1970s heated the water up beyond tolerable levels.
But, lit only through the narrow entrance, claustrophobic and full of steam as it is, Grjótagjá is definitely worth a look – and, if you're around during the depths of winter, the water might just be cool enough for a brief soak.
9. Viti, Askja
Iceland's uninhabited interior is accessible for just a few short weeks during the summer, and if there's one place that demonstrates just how inhospitable the country can be it's Askja, a broad, flooded caldera surrounded by the jagged wreckage of countless eruptions.
Right on the lakeshore is Viti, a much smaller but even scarier crater created in a single colossal explosion in 1875 which blew debris as far away as Denmark. The pale blue water at the bottom is fine for a quick swim, but keep an eye on the smoking, sulphurous vents around the shore - if you're into hot springs in Iceland with a hint of a challenge.
10. Blue Lagoon, Reykjanes
Despite being very much on the beaten track, we couldn't finish off this list without including the Blue Lagoon. Just off the highway linking Reykjavík to the International Airport at Keflavík, the glorious Blue Lagoon - one of the best hot springs in Iceland.
Its vividly coloured water, the outflow from a nearby geothermal power station, pools amongst a desolate mass of rough, black lava rubble. The lagoon's fine white silt is considered a cure for all manner of skin conditions.
There are grottoes, steam rooms and an on-site restaurant, so it's easy to spend a whole half a day soaking in this otherworldly location. You can buy your entrance fee upfront online, including a towel and a drink to spend your time in style.
11. Sky Lagoon, Kópavogur
Kópavogur’s headline attraction is the Sky Lagoon, which opened in 2021. The newest addition to Reykjavík’s spa scene has a traditional look, with the changing rooms and café set in moss-covered, flint-walled buildings. The lagoon itself features a main pool with an infinity pool gazing out over the sea, a tumbling waterfall, and a bar where champagne, beer and wine are on offer at prices not quite as high as you might expect.
The whole setting, carved into craggy rocks, is spectacular, although the approach sees you pass through a rather uninspiring industrial estate. Many tourists will still choose to visit the Blue Lagoon, but this is better value and just as memorable. Visiting during the gorgeous low light of sunrise or sunset is unforgettable.
12. Secret Lagoon, Flúðir
Flúðir is simply a knot of services – a bank, supermarket, accommodation and a couple of places to eat – focused around a junction on Route 30, a back road to Gullfoss. The main reason to visit is to soak in the Secret Lagoon.
The Gamla Laugin (Old Hot Pool) at Hverahólmi, is just north of town. Here thermal springs in a grassy field have been diverted into a no-frills, open-air pool the size of a village duck pond; it’s a secret no longer and is incorporated into several tours.
Constructed in 1891 but later abandoned, recent renovations have converted the old hothouses to changing rooms, retaining a crumbling building which adds an atmospheric air, particularly when wreathed in steam.
13. Hvammsvik Hot Springs - the newest addition to hot springs in Iceland
Although Hvammsvík Hot Springs only recently opened to the public in 2022, it already ranks among the top hot springs in Iceland. Located 45 minutes from Reykjavik, the springs consist of 8 pools with water of different temperatures, from cool to hot.
The hot springs are located in a picturesque area and surrounded by mountains. It's the perfect place for a short escape from the bustle of the city, or for a longer stay, during which you can rejuvenate in the springs admiring the stunning views.
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14. Reykjadalur Steam Valley
Reykjadalur, the steamy heights above Hveragerði, is covered in trails and one of the best hot springs in Iceland. Its hillsides are stained by volcanic salts and heathland plants, and, in fine weather, offer inspiring views coastwards – not to mention the thermal streams, warm enough to bathe in, so take your swimwear.
For an easy four-hour circuit, follow Breiðamörk north out of town for about forty minutes to a bridged stream at the base of the fells, from where a pegged trail heads uphill. Crossing the muddy top, you descend green boggy slopes into Reykjadalur (Steam Valley), named after the hot stream that runs through the middle.
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Header image: Myvatn Nature baths © Ververidis Vasilis/Shutterstock.