The best places to swim in Iceland

August 13, 2013 in Europe,Iceland,Places

When I saw that the high temperature for our trip to Iceland would be around 50 degrees, I expected to spend most of my time in layers and a woolen beanie–not a bathing suit. I was as surprised as anyone when I realized on our last day there that we had gone swimming seven times in six days. 

Christine Amorose in Seljavallalaug swimming pool in Iceland

The good men at Kuku Campers had told us about two under-the-rader (and off the Ring Road) swimming spots when we sketched out a loose plan for the ultimate Iceland road trip, and we quickly realized that Iceland’s public pool culture was the key to campervan living. Almost every town in Iceland, no matter how small, has a public pool: it usually consists of two hot tubs (hot and hotter), a swimming pool, a steam room and public showers. Instead of paying to use campground showers, we would pay $4-5 for admission to the public pool: go for a swim, relax in the hot tubs, chat in the steam room and then take a nice hot (communal) shower. Granted, you have to be comfortable with same-sex nudity in the locker rooms–but if you are, it makes living out of a campervan feel super luxurious. And when you’re not in a public pool, you’re swimming in natural hot springs: file under best thing ever. Here are my favorite swim spots in Iceland:

Blue Lagoon in Keyflavik, Iceland

Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa

Yes, the Blue Lagoon is touristy, and yes, it’s crowded (compared to anywhere else you’ll go in Iceland). But even if this is the Disneyland of swimming holes (aka expensive with a swim-up bar), it’s a must-see. Grab the bus that stops here on the way to Reykavik from the airport (or vice versa), and relax away the stress of flying.

Public swimming pool in Hofn, Iceland

Hofn Public Swimming Pool

I have a mild–ok, strong–obsession with waterslides. SO MUCH FUN. The Hofn public pool has two water slides, two hot tubs, a steam room, a lap pool–and it’s sparkling shiny, new and clean. It costs about $5 to enter, but it’s so, so worth it. Bonus: that wooden cabin building you can see in the photo above has a salad bar (you’ll understand the enthusiasm after three days of trail mix and hot dogs) and free Wifi. Oh, how we loved Hofn.

Seljavallalaug swimming pool in Iceland

Seljavallalaug Swimming Pool

Built in 1923, Seljavallalaug is one of Iceland’s first swimming pools. It’s naturally heated by geothermal activity: it’s not hot tub temperature, but it’s definitely warmer than you would expect based on the outside temperature. Although it’s tempting to think you’ll have it all to yourself, keep your swimsuit close to the edge if you decide to skinny dip: we were surprised first by a honeymooning couple, and next by an Italian tour bus. If you do manage to enjoy it in solitude, just soak it up: the serenity is what makes the experience. (Here are directions on how to find it.)

Hrunalaug Natural Hot Spring in Iceland

Hrunalaug Natural Hot Spring in Iceland

Hrunalaug Natural Hot Spring

This natural hot spring is nestled in the middle of nowhere: our directions consisted of drive until you see the white church in Hruni, make a right, park the car in the “parking lot”, walk over the hill about 15 minutes. And then you come upon this delightful little shelter, a manmade hot tub utilizing the naturally heated river. It’s crazy, and it’s beautiful, and it was just the best day ever–especially since we had it all to ourselves.

Hveragerði hot river in Iceland

 

Aly Gill in Hvergeroi, Iceland

Hveragerði Hot River

Even though the hike was much more complicated than Lonely Planet made it out to be (almost comically so–think climbing over fences of unsuspecting farmers and 3 kilometers that took two hours), it was all worth it when we found the convergence of the hot and cold river in Hverageroi. We sat right where the hot and cold blended into the perfect temperature, and stuck our beers in the cold section to chill. We didn’t make it to the spot until almost 9 p.m., but that’s the joy of the midnight sun: being able to start hikes much later than recommended! Despite the setbacks, it was all worth it to relax among the sheep and the silence–with a can of beer, of course. (Here are the hiking guides for the area.) Bonus: the hot clay that is bubbling up along the path is a killer natural face mask–and the natural pools of cool water are a refreshing way to rinse it off.

Public swimming pool in Hveragerði, Iceland

Hveragerði Public Swimming Pool

Another great public swimming pool! Although Hverageroi has plenty of geothermal rivers and natural hot springs, we still loved swimming a few laps and using the showers at this public pool after the sweaty hike to the hot river. We also visited the Sundhollen Public Pool in Reykjavik: it’s the city’s oldest pool. While the indoor pool isn’t the most photogenic, it’s still a cheap and relaxing way to spend a couple of hours in the capital.

What swim spot would you most like to visit in Iceland? What was your favorite if you’ve visited?

  • Loved this! Do you know when it becomes too cold to swim in Iceland?

  • Hansson

    It’s never to cold to swim in Iceland due to hot springs, imo it’s even more fun when really cold!!!

  • Amanda @ Adventure Year

    I must admit, I do not think swimming when I hear Iceland. But some of (and by some, I mean all) these places look absolutely beautiful! I think the Hveragerði Hot River would be fun to get to and swim, so I’d probably pick there to start. :)

  • Thorsteinn Grétar Eiriksson

    Public swimming pools in Iceland are ALWAYS heated to a comfortable temperature, inside or outside, and even though it might get cold, the water will be nice and warm. For natural pools heated by hot springs, you could probably just ask around, but it shouldn’t get too cold to swim :)

  • Kristín

    best time i can think of to swim, is below zero, so that my hair freezes a little bit when i sit in the hot tubs…. Soo nice…

  • Now I want to go back to Iceland so I can swim everywhere haha!

  • jacquelinemathers

    I HAVE to start planning my Iceland trip, beautiful photos! xxx

  • Kristján Davíðsson

    May I also recommend to check out/Google the following pools and springs, all really worth visiting; -Krossneslaug (a small pool on the beach at the “end of the world” in the Westfjords), Hofsoslaug, a new wonderfully designed pool at Hofsos village (North Iceland), Laugafell highland hostel natural hot pools (East/Highland), Reykjanes hotel “Worlds biggest hot tub”, 52 x 12 meters old pool at an old boarding school turned hotel (Westfjords), Hellulaug, on the shoreline at Vatnsfjordur (Westfjords), Reykjafjordur, small pool and natural hot “pot” in the middle of “nowhere”, although it is close to the road (Westfjords), Grjotagja natural baths by lake Myvatn (North), Landmannalaugar & Hveravellir natural hot springs, a bit touristic/crowded (Highland South/Center) & Laugardalslaug, the biggest and one of the oldest in Reykjavik – my favourite; I swim there 5x/week, since 1990 probably around 3000 km in total :-) Do not forget to try out the seawater hot tub, it is truly marvellous!

  • Lauren @BonVoyageLauren

    The Blue Lagoon and the Seljavallalaug Swimming Pool would most definitely be on my list! Sounds like Iceland can provide a very relaxing holiday for travelers. Also, natural face masks?! I’m sold.

  • Seattle Dredge ✈

    ohh I love Hofn too, but I could not connect to that wifi when I tried! lol not that I really cared. Sigh, I need to do more hot spring swimming next time I’m back :]

  • OCDemon

    According to the photography I’ve seen of Iceland, it looks like the whole island is one giant swimming pool. Looks fun, too.

  • camorose

    I’d imagine when things start freezing over in the winter–but it’s likely great from spring through fall!

  • camorose

    Yes! We LOVED Hvergeroi–such a cool experience!

  • camorose

    So good to know!

  • camorose

    I LOVE that idea! One day!

  • camorose

    Take me with you!

  • camorose

    yes! It’s amazing!

  • camorose

    Noted for my next trip!!!

  • camorose

    Can be super relaxing or super adventurous–whatever you want, Iceland’s got it!

  • camorose

    Haha we went to the restaurant and got the passwords–multiple times :)

  • camorose

    Yup! The best!

  • Conny.A.M

    Myvatn bath beats the Blue Lagoon in every way…

  • Ella Louise Sutton

    I lived there all throughout winter and swam outside in the hot springs when it was freezing cold and snowing, it makes it so much better!

  • Hannah

    Swam at the pools at Laugarvatn yesterday – but pricey BUT the view right next the lack is amazing, plus the sauna and steam rooms add a bit extra in. Plus, it’s on the golden circle route but buses don’t stop there, so it’s good for those with a private vehicle.

    Loving your blog!

  • camorose

    Noted for my next trip!

  • camorose

    SO COOL! Must do.

  • camorose

    Next time, I need to check out these pools! Can’t wait to get back :)

  • I have to visit Iceland soon. Everytime I read something about this incredible country I like it more. Is it really expensive to travel there? I’m guessing it is.

  • camorose

    Food/organized activities/lodging is definitely expensive, but national parks are free–so a little bit of tradeoff there!

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  • Abon Gabe

    Laugardalslaug is the biggest one in Iceland in Reykjavik. Not too touristy, many water slides and 8 or so hot tubs. But my personal favorite is the swimming pool in Petersfjordur in the somewhat remote West Fjords region. Very clean facility with a nice modern swimming pool, clean dry sauna and two hot tubs. A very well-equipped gym is a nice bonus. What makes this nice swimming pool spectacular, however, is the view. The swimming pool is perch atop a hill that runs along the coast with a majestic view of the fjords…

  • camorose

    Noted for my next trip!

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  • katiebird

    I was actually in Iceland in August of 2013, but at that time I didn’t go in any hot springs except the Blue Lagoon. I’m actually getting on the plane to leave Iceland for the second time in a couple of hours. We visited the river in Hveragerdi. Not sure where you started out, but in town there is a trailhead and it’s not that complicated of a hike–except for the quicksand like pits of mud that horses have turned the path into. But the river was excellent.

  • camorose

    Amazing! Have the best time!

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  • Pebbles and Marbles like thing

    check out big swings on the app store. Its all hooked up to find these spots with direction!

  • Ásdís

    For information: http://grapevine.is/news/2015/07/05/tourists-destroying-natural-hot-spring/

    Bathing in Hrunalaug is not well perceived and the bath has been severely damaged due to tourists. Perhaps consider removing it from this article?

  • Asdís

    I see now that this article dates from 2013… Oh well, my comment is still relevant 😉

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