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4 of the best places to swim in Iceland

I recently wrote about places to swim or bathe in Iceland, including the famous Blue Lagoon and a municipal pool in Reykjavík, with tips on swiming pool etiquette.  Here I’m going to tell you about the more adventurous swim spots we found including the oldest pool in Iceland, some isolated hot pots by a glacier and a steaming hot river, as well as the fabulous heated beach in Reykjavík.

Reykjavik geothermal beach Nautholsvik

Swimming was one of the things we loved most as a family when we visited Iceland in summer 2014, though the word swimming is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration when what we mainly did was wallow and lounge about.  Bathing is probably a more acurate description.  Not a great deal of sport was involved, but the following four places should give you an idea of the uniqueness and wonder of bathing in geothermal hot water in the wilds of Iceland.

Seljavallalaug Swimming Pool

mountain pool in Iceland 5

This pool is still one of Iceland’s best kept open secrets.  It’s only a short distance from the Ring Road and yet the majority of visitors miss it.  That’s how I’d like it to stay so I won’t give detailed directions on how to find it, however plenty of other bloggers have so just Google it if you want to go!  I remembered it from my childhood and was delighted to find it hadn't changed in 30 years.

hiking to mountain pool in Iceland

Seljavallalaug pool in Iceland

Seljavallalaug pool is Iceland’s oldest existing swimming pool built by local scouts in 1923.  It’s located in a hauntingly beautiful valley under the infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano, next to a rushing river, surrounded by nothing but nature.  To get to it you have to walk for 15-20 minutes from where you can leave you car (which is a few kilometres down a dirt track off the Ring Road).  The hike takes you along the river and across it at one point, and when we were there the route was obvious because of the many footprints in the volcanic ash.  When we pointed out that this was recent ash from Eyjafjallajökull it just added to the adventure for our 9 year old.

ash from volcano

Seljavallalaug pool Iceland

The pool itself is a basic concrete structure of which one of the four walls is simply the mountain side.  Hot water trickles down the slope and more is piped in from nearby springs.  There is a changing room which saves having to get changed in the rain and serves as somewhere dry to leave your clothes.  It too was covered in ash (inside) from the volcanic eruption!  The overall temperature of the pool is not hot, but it’s pleasant and feels lovely and warm compared to the air temperature.  Bagging a spot where the hot water comes in is heaven.  There was another family and several couples using the pool when we were there (perhaps 10 people in total) so we each had to take turns under the hot spouts but no one hogged them for long and it was all very civilised. 

mountain pool in Iceland 1

mountain pool in Iceland 3

The water is dark and only cleaned once a year by local volunteers but it feels wonderful.  Its colour only adds to the moody atmosphere.  It’s hard to describe how special this place is, it all seems so unlikely, to be swimming in a man-made pool in the middle of nowhere (and in the rain in our case), surrounded by mountains, with only the sounds of the torrent gushing by and the occasional human laugh.  It was certainly one of the (many) highlights of our holiday in Iceland.

Hoffell hot pots near Höfn

Hoffell hot pots near Höfn Iceland

Hoffell hot pots were just what we needed to warm us up on a truly foul day in the south-east of Iceland.  We’d pretty much failed to see the magnificent iceburgs at Jökulsárlón owing to driving rain, thick low cloud and howling wind so we needed cheering up.  And wallowing in steaming green hot tubs within sight of Hoffelsjökull glacier did just that. 

Hoffell hot tubs near Hofn Iceland

glacier near Hoffell hot pots

These hot pots are located about 15 kms west of Höfn, once again in the middle of nowhere really. There are 5 round and hexagonal shaped tubs at the base of a rocky outcrop at the edge of a plain.  They are fed by piping hot water from a nearby spring and each pot varies in temperature. There weren’t any thermometres so I don’t know the exact temperature but one was too hot for us and we’d been able to get in 42°c in other places, so it was hotter than that!  There is a small changing hut and a shower (unlike at Seljavallalaug) which proved to be a challenge to use:  not for the temperature which was lovely and warm but because the water was blowing everywhere except on us, it really was revolting weather.  Taking an outdoor shower in the howling wind and rain was another unique Icelandic experience. 

hot pot near Hofn 1

hot pot near Hofn 2

Hoffell hot pots, despite being in a remote location and unmanned, are not free and as such there is a small fee which you pay on honour into a black pipe by the side of the pools.  I have no idea how often anyone comes along and checks/empties the money but we were happy to pay for somebody’s hard work in creating and maintaining these wonderfully isolated and quirky thermal tubs.  Whoever had the vision to make them definitely deserves support.  

Hoffell hot pot near Hofn

hot pot near Hofn 3

We thoroughly enjoyed spending an hour or so mucking around and relaxing here.  For a short while there was one other couple in a separate tub but for most of the time we were the only people for what seemed like miles and miles. Every now and then the cloud lifted enough to see the glacier (seen in the photo of little son's back turned) but for the most part we were enveloped in deep damp gloom, but heck it really only added to the fun!

Nauthólsvík geothermal beach, Reykjavík

Reykjavik geothermal beach Nautholsvik

Reykjavík is a northern city, everybody knows that. It is located only 270 km south of the Arctic Circle but what everybody doesn't know is that it is just about possible to enjoy a dip in the sea. As bizarre as it sounds Reykjavík has a geothermally heated beach! Well, that's how it's described in the blurb.  In reality what it is is a small area of heated water in an artificially created semi-circular bay. Depending how cold the surrounding water and air are makes a difference to how "warm" the water feels. The area where the hot water arrives is marked by a few poles but naturally water without walls disperses and we honestly couldn't feel any warmth!

Nautholsvik geothermal beach Iceland

Reykjavik Nautholsvik beach

However, Nauthólsvík beach is a fabulous place, I found the whole concept of heated seawater totally bonkers - it really is quite mad. During the 2 weeks we spent in Iceland we visited several times, always in fairly awful weather, often at the end of a busy day to wind down and relax. As always, the weather isn't important in Iceland for if you only ever went out in when it was good, you wouldn't go out much! What you get at Nauthólsvík is one of the loveliest hot pots around - long and rectangular and full of sand - a sauna, clean proper changing rooms with the obligatory naked showering, a café and a lifeguard...all for free (well, you have to pay at the café but that's kind of obvious!) What you also get is imported yellow sand, grassy banks and play areas for kids.  The beach and hot pot are open all year but I'm not sure about the changing rooms.

Reykjavik geothermal beach

Nautholsvik beach hot pot Reykjavik

The first time we went to the geothermal beach the slighty crazy 14 year old son charged into the sea determined to swim out to the marker buoys. I think it was a case of mind over matter as he ploughed on regardless of the cold. I think he knew he was at a heated beach and just believed the water would be warm-ish. So he swam the 100m or so out to the edge and back again and practically collapsed into the hot pot, writhing in pain. His feet had lost all feeling from the cold. We asked the lifeguard what the temperature of the water was that day, he said 11°c – not exactly tropical! Not even anywhere near the temperatures described in the guidebook. But hey ho, he's always claimed he's a Viking ever since he swam in the Atlantic off the west coast of France in March when he was 3!  And he survived to tell the tale.

Reykjadalur hot river near Hveragerði

natural hot river in Iceland 1

(A slightly cheeky N°4) I feel this post has gone on long enough, so I'm going to leave you on tenterhooks, sorry...You'll have to wait to hear all about what was possibly our most unusual bathing experience in Iceland. What happened when we hiked to a hot river in the mountains....coming soon!  

If you enjoyed this and are thinking about visiting Iceland you might also like tips on how to make a trip to Iceland affordable.

Have you been swimming in Iceland?  Do you have a favourite place to bathe?

 

Why not PIN it for later!

4 of the BEST swim spots in Iceland

 

 

Suitcases and Sandcastles
 
 
 
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Comments

  • Guest
    Clare (Suitcases and Sandcastles) Saturday, 25 February 2017

    These look absolutely wonderful, Phoebe! Part of me can't believe I'd be able to be warm in water in the cold weather. I do love the idea of bathing surrounded by such beautiful countryside. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

  • Guest
    Phoebe Monday, 27 February 2017

    Oh yes you'd be warm, sometimes far too warm; the water can be boiling (quite literally).

  • Guest
    Katy Saturday, 25 February 2017

    Phoebe I find the whole concept of heated sea pools quite fantastic. Warmer the better I say. I could just go for a long soak in the Hoffell hot pots right now. Wonderful. This has moved Iceland up on my must visit list! #FarawayFiles

  • Guest
    Phoebe Monday, 27 February 2017

    I really must write up our trek to a hot river in the wilds! It's such a unique place and all these swimming experiences just add to it.

  • Guest
    Tanja/The Red Phone Box travels Thursday, 23 February 2017

    excellent!I'd never associate swimming with iceland:) #farawayfiles

  • Guest
    Phoebe Monday, 27 February 2017

    I know, that's why it's extra good!

  • Guest
    rent.is Wednesday, 20 April 2016

    http://www.rent.is/images/swimming-in-iceland.jpg
    We did a top ten list of swimming pools in Iceland, including details of camping sites close or next to the swimming pools.

    Happy travels

  • Go Iceland Car Rental
    Go Iceland Car Rental Thursday, 04 February 2016

    How fun too see you guys went around and found our hidden gems. The Seljalands pool is a fairy tale to visit.
    However, visitors should be aware of the strict code of conduct they have in the pools here, especially before entering. So we wrote a blog about it so people know what to expect and what to bring. Hope it is informative.
    http://www.goiceland.com/blog/swimming-in-iceland/6776/

  • Guest
    Phoebe Monday, 08 February 2016
  • Guest
    Vlad Thursday, 25 June 2015

    All those places look amazing! I am hoping to go to Iceland real soon and I'll definitely come back to read your posts again! :D

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 July 2015

    That's great Vlad, thanks!

  • Guest
    Ting at My Travel Monkey Thursday, 25 June 2015

    No I have never been swimming in Iceland but I really want to now! How brilliant are your choices? I've heard of the Blue Lagoon but not the ones you've showcased. I love all the photos - it just looks like you had brilliant fun. Another thing to add to my 'when I get to Iceland' list! Thanks for linking up with #MondayEscapes

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 July 2015

    And I still haven't written up the hot river swim!

  • Guest
    Cathy (MummyTravels) Tuesday, 23 June 2015

    This looks amazing - I went in the Blue Lagoon on my visit, but would have loved to have ventured a bit further afield to the other pools too. #mondayescapes

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 July 2015

    The Blue Lagoon is amazing, the rest can wait for your next trip Cathy!

  • Guest
    Katja - globetotting Monday, 22 June 2015

    I love swimming almost as much as I love to travel so this post was a great fit for me! Iceland has long been on my wish list, it's moved up a couple of rungs now that I know about all these wonderful swimming spots - thanks!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 July 2015

    I hope you get to Iceland soon Katja

  • Guest

    These places are just so breathtaking! One would certainly enjoy having hours na dhours of swimming fun in those rivers, and warming up in hot pots sound like a great idea. And a geothermal beach! Who would have guessed! Thanks for sharing!

  • Guest
    Kaelene Tuesday, 21 April 2015

    So many of my favorite spots to swim in Iceland on this list!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 April 2015

    Oh I'm so glad Kaelene! It's always god to hear from someone who lives in the place.

  • Guest
    Mary {The World Is A Book} Saturday, 04 April 2015

    These are all great! It makes me want to go back to Iceland just to try them out. Actually, I'd make up any reason just to go back :) I can't even pick a favorite. You guys did a wonderful jb exploring and trying out these places for us.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 April 2015

    Mary I feel the same, I'd also make up any reason...my boys also want to go back this summer so bad...Maybe next time we'll try winter to catch the northern lights.

  • Guest
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} Wednesday, 01 April 2015

    That first swimming spot sounds heavenly the way that you describe it. No wonder you want to keep it a secret.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 April 2015

    It really is heavenly and not really a secret, but better that it isn't on everybody's itinerary.

  • Guest
    Michelle Tuesday, 31 March 2015

    Just wow! I can't wait to read about the hot river! xx

  • Guest
    Fritha Strickland Tuesday, 31 March 2015

    I really really want to visit iceland. It's funny as I'd not thought about it before but this year it's something I've been thinking about loads! x

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 April 2015

    You must get there Fritha, I think you'd love it...I can just see you really enjoying Reykjavik.

  • Guest
    eileen @ FamiliesGo! Tuesday, 31 March 2015

    These look fun. Should I go back to Iceland, and I hope I do. I will seek a few of them out!

  • Guest
    Jess Monday, 30 March 2015

    I love the idea of those 'hot pots,' out in the middle of nowhere in the blustery Icelandic weather. It sounds relaxing and wild at the same time!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 April 2015

    It is just that - relaxing and wild. A great combo.

  • Verily Victoria Vocalises
    Verily Victoria Vocalises Sunday, 29 March 2015

    I would LOVE to get to Iceland one day - this is a great post and looks exactly how I picture it to be. Thank you for linking to #PoCoLo x

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 April 2015

    Thanks Vicky, I'm glad you liked it.

  • Guest
    Esther Sunday, 29 March 2015

    My husband cycled across Iceland (yes... I know) and keeps telling me all about the landscapes and all the fun things he did. If I see pics like yours, I am pretty sure he isn't lying ;-)
    Found you through #SundayTraveler

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 April 2015

    I have friends who cycled round Iceland for their honeymoon! Your husband isn't the only crazy person out there, in fact we saw quite a lot of cyclists, but we were always glad to be in the dry and warmth of a car! You must go and see for yourself these lovely spots Esther.

  • Guest
    Rhonda Albom Sunday, 29 March 2015

    Iceland is still on my bucket list. It always surprises that nearly every post I read about the country has someone swimming. It does look like there are quite a few great swim spots.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 April 2015

    I hope you get there Rhonda, it really is awesome.

  • Guest
    budget jan Sunday, 29 March 2015

    I never think of Iceland as a place to swim, but your post has given me a few ideas.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 April 2015

    I'm happy I've given you ideas Jan...I hope you get to try out swimming in the far north one day.

  • Guest
    Paula McInerney Saturday, 28 March 2015

    Looks stunning and a place firmly on our list

  • Guest
    Globalmouse Saturday, 28 March 2015

    We loved swimming in the pools and hot pots in Iceland...I'll have to go back to try some of these out!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 April 2015

    Happy to hear that you enjoyed Iceland too Globalmouse.

  • Guest
    Rachel Saturday, 28 March 2015

    Wow, it looks absolutely amazing, Iceland is in my top 10 places to visit x

  • Guest
    Merlinda Saturday, 28 March 2015

    I miss doing this, swimming outside! The places that you shared are just lovely and so organic! I wish we can do this soon!

  • Guest
    Nikki Fraser Friday, 27 March 2015

    They all look great and so relaxing. The views are amazing too.

  • Guest
    Jenny Friday, 27 March 2015

    Great post! I want to go to Iceland again now! I went when I was younger, but need to go back and visit these places with the kids! :) xx #PoCoLo

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 April 2015

    Just like me Jenny. Kids love it, it's just so different.

  • Guest
    Mina Friday, 27 March 2015

    I have read so much about Iceland but never visited it. It's one of the countries I hope to visit soon.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 April 2015

    It's so special Mina, I hope you get there.

  • Guest
    Lori Friday, 27 March 2015

    What a fab post! I've stayed in Iceland before for a few weeks and it was amazing although not much light as I went in October. I did visit the blue lagoon and it was fab! I can't wait to go back and try some of your suggestions. X

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 April 2015

    I'd love to go back in winter next time to try and catch the northern lights...

  • Guest
    Kara Friday, 27 March 2015

    Iceland is top of my bucket list to visit - am fascinated by Volcanoes and earthquakes!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 April 2015

    You'd love Iceland then Kara, there are several (mini) earthquakes every day!

  • Guest
    Elizabeth (Wander Mum) Friday, 27 March 2015

    Hi Lou, I really want to go to Iceland!! This has inspired me all the more. Great post and fab pics. Am guessing even in the summer it isn't particularly warm...?

  • Guest
    Phoebe Friday, 27 March 2015

    Hi Elizabeth, we were there for 2 of the worst weeks of summer weather they'd had in decades! It averaged around 10°c in July but it isn't usually that bad! I think summer highs are usually around 17-18°. The thing is you don't go to Iceland for the weather. All I can say it be prepared. You can have 4 seasons in one day and it's very unpredictable. Take lots of layers and lots of wet weather gear. And your swimming stuff! Check out my other posts on Iceland by clicking on the Iceland tab. I've written 4-5.

  • Guest
    wendy Friday, 27 March 2015

    Wow that scenery looks fantatsic, great photos thanks for sharing

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 April 2015

    Thank you Wendy.

  • Guest
    Jaime Oliver Thursday, 26 March 2015

    wow what stunning scenery! .. i have never really thought about iceland as a holiday location .. not sure why its beautiful

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 April 2015

    Well now you know Jaime...

  • Guest
    ninjacat Thursday, 26 March 2015

    I would love to go to Iceland and though i can't swim I could quite happily bob

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 April 2015

    Iceland is purfect for bobbing!

  • Guest
    Catherine Thursday, 26 March 2015

    Ah it's almost the same thirty years on. When we went wild swimming we often blocked a hot and a cold river to make our own little pool. Don't worry we always took a spade to unblock our dams and sometimes there would be a spade left by someone else for this purpose. Great blog.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 April 2015

    We didn't find anywhere quite as wild as that this trip, I guess because we didn't have a 4x4 car, so could only get to the slightly less wild places, but that sounds fab Catherine.

  • Guest
    Nayna Kanabar Thursday, 26 March 2015

    What a beautiful place, I would have thought it would be too cold to swin in iceland but looks like you are having a fab time.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 April 2015

    The air is cold but the water's hot and that's what counts.

  • Guest
    My Family Ties Thursday, 26 March 2015

    Wow it looks so beautiful in Iceland, I have heard so many good things about visiting and this just cements it - I have to go for a holiday! wonderful and inspiring post xx

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 April 2015

    Thanks you, what a lovely thing to say.

  • Guest
    Liz Burton Thursday, 26 March 2015

    My Other Half is a mad keen wild swimmer, and while he'd never get me to join him in a river in the UK in February, I reckon I could do a hot pool!

    Funny enough I got a Wowcher offer through yesterday for Iceland. I'm going to take a proper look.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 April 2015

    Your other half would LOVE Iceland and you'd also have fun. I wonder what the outcome of the Wowcher offer was?

  • Guest
    lisa prince Thursday, 26 March 2015

    wow looks fantastic the type you go woah but have to try being unusual places

  • Guest
    Erica Price Thursday, 26 March 2015

    How wonderful! If we ever get the chance to go, I'll be making sure we take a trip there.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 April 2015

    Happy to hear that Erica.

  • Guest
    Jen Thursday, 26 March 2015

    Wow. We have never been to Iceland and have always wanted to go, but it is really expensive. Your kids are so lucky

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 April 2015

    Jen, there are ways to make it not so expensive. See this post I wrote on exactly that. http://www.loumessugo.com/en/blog/entry/8-tips-for-a-family-holiday-in-iceland-on-a-budget But you're right, my boys are lucky.

  • Guest
    Style Me Sunday Thursday, 26 March 2015

    What a wonderful post, I have always always wanted to go to Iceland, and you've just increase that desire even more now.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 April 2015

    I'm happy to hear that :)

  • Guest
    Emily Shepperson Thursday, 26 March 2015

    Such a lovely post. I think I would enjoy swimming more if I was surrounded by landscape like that.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 April 2015

    It certainly makes it unique Emily!

  • Guest
    angela hamilton Thursday, 26 March 2015

    I have always wanted to visit Iceland and now I want to go even more! Fantastic post x

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 April 2015

    Thanks Angela, I'm glad I've added to your desire!

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