Swimming is such an embedded part of Icelandic culture that it’s hard to separate the two, a fact that seems a bit odd considering the near-arctic location of the island. But Icelanders truly have a deep love of, and possibly a deep need as well, for dipping, soaking, paddling, splashing and, yes, swimming in pools of warm water. Icelanders are more than lucky to have so much geothermal-heated water at their fingertips, and have done an amazing job at tapping into this resource for health, play and leisure.
A quick tally of the number of established swimming facilities in Iceland puts the number at just over 120, with most located in towns along the main highway. In general, Iceland’s swimming pools are fairly modern and well-equipped with proper changing rooms, lockers and showers, and nearly all of them have at least one hot tub, or “pot”, for a more heated soak. Dip your toes into the warm waters of Iceland for a true local experience!
Laugardalslaug, which today includes two Olympic-size pools, indoor and outdoor, a vast, shallower fun-and-play section, seven hot pots of varying temperatures, a steambath, a new sand-filled beach volleyball court and a huge waterslide, is the pride of the city. Located in the Laugardal recreational park, it was the first official pool in Reykjavík, and the first to hold swimming lessons for men and, later, women. Kids have also been taught to swim in gradeschool for many decades now, which means pretty much everyone on this arctic island knows how to swim!
In some instances locals use their pools (and specifically the hot pots) as daily meeting places where politics and weather are discussed while basically more than half naked. It can be a little daunting for a visitor to enter a tub sensing that everyone else in it knows each other well, but a smile and nod hello usually works wonders.
No list of bathing spots in Iceland would be complete without the world-famous Blue Lagoon. It’s an amazing place to soak and for a lot of visitors it’s one of the highlights of their trip to Iceland. What started out as as an almost secret bathing spot out in the lava fields between the capitol and the Keflavík airport a few decades ago has morphed from a rough-bottomed runoff pool next to a hydroelectric power plant into a high-end spa with all the amenities, including professional massages. The spa restaurant is fine-dining, and at the bar out in the lagoon itself you can treat yourself to the drink of your choice.
The silicate-rich waters are definitely super relaxing and healing, and the sensation of being both refreshed and relaxed stays with you for days. Be aware, though, that due to high demand, pre-booking for the Blue Lagoon is now mandatory, so visit our tours page and guarantee yourself a mind-blowing experience on your Iceland adventure!
One of the most impressive newer pools is Árbæjarlaug, located on the way out of Reykjavik in the suburb of Árbær. For lots of local kids it’s the “pearl pool” or “dome pool” due to the high glass dome that covers the main entrance and indoor kids pool, which you can swim from and out, to the a fun and therapeutic collection of wading, soaking, micro-bubble-massaging and exercising pools, a high and twisty waterslide, high-pressure waterfalls for kneading back and shoulder muscles and a steam room to relax in. There’s also a grand view over the Elliðaár valley with the city of Reykjavík in the distance.
Árbæjarlaug is a great, inexpensive place to take the kids and enjoy yourself as well.
Krossneslaug, in the exotic Westfjords, is one example of what would be called today an “infinity pool.” It’s basically a concrete rectangle built next to a grey-sand beach on the northern edge of a peninsula bordering the Arctic Ocean only a few kilometers from the end of one of the remotest roads in the country. That said, it offers a once-in a lifetime experience, not only because of how difficult it is to get there, but because of the stunning view out over the vast cold northern sea.
It has a basic changing hut where guests leave a small fee, and thankfully is open all hours, which means a chance to watch the midnight sun as it skims the horizon to the north, barely setting, then rising once more. There’s also Hofsóslaug on a beach on the Skagafjörður peninsula up north by Akureyri, another similar experience that’s a little bit easier to get to but just as amazing.
Mývatn Nature Baths
Going back to more natural phenomena (though all of Iceland’s pools are natural – filled with site-local geothermally-heated water) the Mývatn Nature Baths are an absolute gem of blue and white in an eerily barren and highly geothermally-active landscape. Located between the gorgeous Lake Mývatn and a high mountain range that steams with underground thermal activity, this spa is, unlike its famous cousin the Blue Lagoon to the south, not the byproduct of the energy industry.
Instead, it’s basically a reiteration of a millennia-old tradition of using the natural sulfur-free hot waters and steams of the area to bathe. It’s an excellent place to stop and relax on travels around Iceland.
A few known rural pools are literally simply large concrete rectangles filled with local geothermally-heated water. One well-known one, Seljavallalaug, made it onto the Guardian’s Top Ten Pools in the World list a few years back, and though it may deserve the title, is still just a humble, rugged part of the Icelandic landscape. takes advantage of a cliff face for two of its sides, making swimming in it a more rugged adventure.
It’s probably a good thing that it’s a little hard to get to, including a short hike and a jump over a stream, because that means it’s not too overwhelmed by visitors who’ve seen photos of it in world-famous travel guides and websites. There’s just a simple changing building, with no shower, and there’s entrance fee (no lifeguard!) so bathers go at their own risk. It’s well-kept by volunteers, and guests are asked to respect and maintain its natural beauty.
Historical records show that Icelanders have been soaking for pleasure since the days of the Sagas, bathing and lounging in naturally heated rivers and hot spring ponds. There’s proof of at least thirteen such spots, with four still in use today. For example, Snorralaug (‘Snorri’s Pool’) in Reykholt is said to have been constructed in the 12th century by basically running hot spring water through underground piping to a stacked-stone tub 120 meters away.
This pool was one of the first man-made structures to be protected in Iceland and is a just day trip away from Reykjavik, and is a wonderful way to get the Viking experience and enjoy a good soak too.
A short distance away from the city is Reykjadalur, where after a nice hike you can relax in a warm river and enjoy the view. Getting there is as easy as driving east to Hveragerði, about 45 minutes, then following the road through and past the town to the end, parking and starting up the footpath. Along the way steam, sulfur-yellowed earth and bubbling grey fumaroles add an otherworldly atmosphere, and disrobing to climb into the naturally-heated river tops it off.
It’s hard to estimate the number of geothermal bathing spots but there are easily upwards of forty un- or partially-developed rivers and ponds around the country that, if located (some are tough to get to), are free for all to use.