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Beyond the Blue Lagoon: five incredible geothermal baths in Iceland

While the Blue Lagoon, just outside Reykjavík, is world-famous for its warm, milky waters, you'll find plenty more idyllic swimming spots around the country, from a modern spa with a swim-up bar to remote hot springs reached via a countryside hike. 

Sky Lagoon, a geothermal spa that opened near central Reykjavik earlier this year

Photograph by Christopher Lund
Published 17 Aug 2021, 15:00 BST, Updated 26 Aug 2021, 15:36 BST

Good news for anyone not entirely comfortable in their birthday suit: unlike hot spring bathing traditions in Finland and Japan, in Iceland modesty is still cherished. If the extrovert in you feels like this is an imposition, then know that the nation’s high level of volcanic activity and blend of modern and traditional facilities should offer adequate compensation. While the Blue Lagoon has become globally renowned as a hot spring hotspot, elsewhere around the country you’ll find everything from baths with high-tech bars located in the soothing waters to remote lagoons reached after a hike. So, stay hydrated, don’t tarry too long and don’t forget your swimwear.

1. Mývatn Nature Baths

The northern and eastern regions of Iceland don’t have the same level of volcanic activity as the west, making Mývatn something of a rarity. Lying around 50 miles east from Akureyri, the area is best known for its eponymous lake (home to legions of birds and great squadrons of summertime midges), which was created by an eruption more than 2,000 years ago. Today, the facilities make the most of this natural setting. Expect slick Scandinavian design, enormous open pools and a gigantic sky — when you can see it through the steam.

2. Sky Lagoon

The new Sky Lagoon has plenty of competition around Reykjavík, but there’s surely nowhere offering a more polished experience. Completed in spring of 2021, it offers a seven-stage cleansing treatment, as well as incredible views from its elevated position at the end of a peninsula. Expect sailboats and eider ducks to float past in the cold Atlantic while you relax. One of its most frequently enjoyed features is a swim-up bar, from which guests can order beer or Champagne — you’re limited to a maximum of three drinks, though, as the combination of warm water and cold air is already likely to make you a little light-headed.

3. Hellulaug Pool

The little-visited Westfjords area is more famous for its Tolkienesque scenery and sumptuous waterfalls than it is bathing, but in the southern part of this remarkable region, there are various community-maintained options. You’re in the wrong place if you’ve come looking for state-of-the-art facilities or even pretty basic ones — around here it’s altogether more traditional. That often means a fairly rudimentary set-up, but with unspoilt views of the untamed landscape and low footfall in these parts, there’s rarely anyone else with whom to share the water.

4. Hveravellir

Arguably the prettiest and definitely the most colourful hotspot in central Iceland, Hveravellir’s geothermal pools are found in the heart of a nature reserve of the same name. The pools appear like volcanic welts on the skin of an alien planet and while many are cooled and designated for bathing, others are so hot they can be used for cooking. This far into the wilderness, Hveravellir is also a great spot for watching the Northern Lights in autumn.

5. Seljavallalaug

Built back in 1923, long before Iceland was enjoying its 21st-century tourism boom, the Seljavallalaug pool is most likely the oldest in Iceland. It takes 20 minutes of trekking to get there from the car park (a short detour from South Iceland’s Ring Road) and is maintained by local volunteers, making it also one of the rawest bathing experiences in the country. Nonetheless, over the last decade or so, it has seen increasing interest again, thanks to its volatile neighbour, the mighty ash-spewer Eyjafjallajökull. To help you avoid trying to pronounce the nearby volcano while asking for directions, the website has coordinates.

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