Hot tub happiness: the dos and don'ts of Icelandic spas
Going to a spa in Iceland can feel wonderfully alien. Against a backdrop of barren moonscapes and denuded hills, the waters are so preternaturally blue, so exag…
Reykjavík offers a host of activities – besides wale-watching and puffin-spotting tours, there are helicopter tours, horseriding and trips out to the southwest’s glaciers aboard a super-jeep. The latest offering – and it’s proving inordinately popular – is a trip inside the Langjökull glacier, near Húsafell. The glacier is about a two-hour journey from Reykjavík. If you’re here during the winter months, there are also excursions to see the Northern Lights. All prices quoted are per person.
Departing from the City Airport, helicopter tours of Reykjavík and the surrounding area are fast becoming one of the city’s most popular excursions. True, they don’t come cheap but the views of the capital and the dramatic scenery of the Reykjanes peninsula and Faxaflói bay are, of course, unsurpassed. Prices start at 24,000kr for a twenty-minute flight over the capital; throw in a landing on top of Mount Esja and you’re looking at 29,000kr. Three companies operate from the airport, offering a broadly similar programme of trips; there are full details on the websites: Helicopter Service of Iceland (561 6100); Norðurflug (562 2500); Reykjavík Helicopters (589 1000).
For sheer exhilaration, it’s hard to beat a glacier tour. The most popular trip is inside the Langjökull glacier near Húsafell, though other options include a glacial ride in a super-jeep, and although the ticket price is high, it’s worth splashing out – especially if you’re intent on seeing this part of the country without your own transport. The nine-hour tours take in the Langjökull glacier, Iceland’s second largest, alongside some of western Iceland’s other attractions. You’ll head first for Hvalfjörður fjord, before cutting inland to the Deildartunguhver hot spring and the Hraunfossar waterfalls, and taking the Kaldidalur Interior route towards the glacier, where a super-jeep (the ones with the supersized tyres) takes you to the top of the ice sheet. There’s also a stop at Þingvellir before the return to Reykjavík. Try Activity Group (tours daily May–Aug; 35,700kr; 580 9900).
Several companies offer horseriding all year round, including Eldhestar Völlum, Hveragerði (480 4800); Íshestar, Sörlaskeið 26, Hafnarfjörður (555 7000); and Íslenski Hesturinn Surtlugata 3, Reykjavík (434 7979). Excursions range from a one- or two-hour canter through the countryside to longer excursions around the local lavafields and even trips out to Geysir and Gullfoss; a two-hour tour usually costs around 11,000kr, with most companies offering pickups from Reykjavík.
The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, are most commonly seen between October and March, and one of the best ways to view them is to take a boat trip from Reykjavík harbour, which allows you to get well away from the city lights. Bear in mind, though, that the sky needs to be clear and free of cloud; on days when it’s too windy to put out to sea, the tour transfers to a coach that drives out of the city. Both Special Tours (560 8800) and Elding (519 5000) operate tours and a three-hour trip with Elding costs 9000kr, 8500kr with Special Tours; departure times are generally 9pm or 10pm – details are on the websites
The swimming pool is to Icelanders what the pub is to the British or the coffee shop to Americans. This is the place to come to meet people, catch up on the local gossip and to relax in divine geothermally heated waters. The abundance of natural hot water around the capital means there’s a good choice of pools, which are always at a comfortably warm 29°C, often with hot pots at 39–43°C. Opening hours vary greatly but are listed at itr.is, under the swimming pools link. Bear in mind that because pool water in Iceland doesn’t contain large amounts of chlorine as is common in most other countries, you must shower without a swimming costume before entering the pools and thoroughly wash the areas of your body marked on the signs by the showers.
Laugardalslaug Sundlaugavegur 411 5100. Iceland’s largest outdoor swimming complex, with a 50m pool, four hot pots, a jacuzzi, steam room, waterslide and masseuse.
Sundhöllin Barónsstígur 45A 411 5350. Until construction on a new outdoor pool is complete, the 25m pool here is indoors. However there are two outdoor hot pots, plus single-sex nude sunbathing terraces – a veritable suntrap on warm days.
Vesturbæjarlaug Hofsvallagata 411 5150. A 25m outdoor pool plus three hot pots, a sauna, steam bath and solarium.
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