“One of this country’s best redeeming qualities are the pools of hot water found sprinkled all over it. Those pools somehow manage to make life on the edge of the inhabitable world somewhat bearable-to-goddamn awesome when all else fails, especially when temperatures drop below sub-zero and an endless winter takes hold of the heart.
They are also pretty great during summer, when those dark days seem like a distant, repressed memory. We treasure every single one of the geothermal pools, quaint hot tubs and glorified puddles sprinkled all over our small rock in the North Atlantic, and so should you.
All of those pools are special, all of them offer something to love: the modern concrete and glass constructs with their fishtank steamrooms and suburban families, the indoor pools and their ambitious architecture, the barren wasteland screaming ocean end-of-the world three-person decaying concrete tubs. All of them do, yet some of them stand out, earning a very special place in travellers’ hearts, haunting their dreams and demanding repeat visits.”
We printed the above passage in July of 2009 (in an article entitled ‘Thank God For Hot Water’), and it’s just as true now as it was then. Nothing’s changed. Iceland’s massive reserves of steamin’ hot geothermal water are still making life on the island possible, and when accumulated in pools or tubs it can serve to make it downright awesome! In that spirit (and since we heard there was a massive shortage of touristy articles about Iceland’s pools and hotpots—preferably with some sort of volcano tie-in), we’ve gone and made a list of FIVE AWESOME POOLS FOR YOU TO VISIT WHILE IN ICELAND, IF YOU CAN!
Seljavallalaug, close to Skógafoss
Seljavallalaug pool is so awesome and so close to Reykjavík that you really have no excuse for not visiting.
Hitchhike if you must, just go there. The pool is located in a beautiful valley, surrounded by hills and mountains and sky and grass (and probably elves), and it is the perfect place to ponder life, the universe and everything. It was built in 1924 and re-done by locals in 1998, and is by all standards a rustic affair—it frequently fills with algae, and there are some modest changing rooms but no shower. And it’s just lovely.
Head south on Route 1, past Selfoss and Hvolsvöllur, slowing down once you near Skógafoss. Make a turn at the farm Seljavellir, drive as far as the road takes you, park your car and then walk for ten minutes or so. Enjoy.
Grettislaug, rather close to Sauðárkrókur
The Grettislaug hotpots are located just north of Sauðárkrókur in northern Iceland. It is said that Saga hero Grettir Ásmundarson bathed in this pool (or some 11th century variant of it) after his famous (well, in Saga-buff circles) swim from Drangey island. And even though you’re not a ghost-fightin’ strongman hero type, the appeal is undeniable. Grettislaug’s two pools are nicely warm (38°C and 41°C, respectively), lined with smooth, algae-covered stones and offer a great view of forever and ever. NOTE that there are no changing facilities: you’ll just have to change in your car or something.
The pool is located about 40 kilometres from Varmahlíð on Route 1, specifically in Glerhallavík at Reykjaströnd in Skagafjörður. The road north of Sauðárkrókur is kind of shabby, so it’ll take you a while to drive—but it’s worth it.
Tálknafjörður hotspots, by… Tálknafjörður
Located a few kilometres outside fishing hamlet Tálknafjörður in the southern Westfjords, the Tálknafjörður hotpots are revered by the locals as well as any traveller who happens upon them. While soaking in the hotpots is free of charge, they are remarkably well kept and official looking (though you should expect some algae) and offer some modest changing rooms. Regulars like to brag that they are one of the world’s best places to observe Aurora, but the surroundings (and the ever present allure of scorching hot water) ensure them a must-visit status year-round.
From Tálknafjörður, drive along Strandgata until you see a red-roofed cottage on your right. Suit up. Dive in.
Reykjanes, not far from Ísafjörður
The Olympic sized pool-cum-hot tub at Reykjanes in the Westfjords is a local treasure and an attraction in its own right. It was built in 1934 and was until recently Iceland’s ‘longest’ swimming pool—it was originally meant to be a modest 25-metres, but the builders apparently got the measurements wrong. The geothermal heating results in a comfortably inconsistent average temperature and a warning sign graces its banks: pool may be extremely hot, patrons enter at their own risk. It is better for floating around in and hot-tubbing than exercise; a perfect spot to watch Aurora or twilight as area whippoorwills or redshanks stop by for a dip every now and again.
Driving to Ísafjörður via Ísafjarðardjúp will take you right past Reykjanes (it is a two hour drive from the town), and a sign that says ‘Reykjanes’ will alert you when it’s time to make a right turn (unless you’re driving away from Ísafjörður. Then you’ll make a left turn.
The cheese containers, right outside Húsavík
We probably shouldn’t be telling you about these, as they are a well-kept local secret. But we figure since the good people of Húsavík are so welcoming to tourists and travellers, they surely won’t mind. A sort of ‘freegan’ take on your Icelandic geothermal hotpot, these are made from disused cheese containers once used by a nearby farm for cheese-making, with changing rooms fashioned out of an old cargo container. The hot water comes straight from the ground—occasionally, in the event of a flow-interrupting earthquake, the pool will even dry up!
Drive along Höfðavegur, leaving Húsavík. Take a right turn onto a smaller road, leaving an old lighthouse on your left. It’s located only a kilometre out of town, and you’ll surely make it there eventually.