Swimming pools and hot tubs are always major attractions in Iceland, both to Icelanders and foreign tourists, and they can be found in the most unlikely places all over the country.
Strandir is an area on the east side of the Westfjords, reaching from Hrútafjörður to Reykjarfjörður. It’s one of the most sparsely populated parts of the country with around 800 inhabitants spread over 3,500 square kilometres. Strandir’s tourism industry is a bit of a late bloomer, perhaps partly because of the lack of dramatic attractions like there are in South, and definitely because of tough road conditions, although there have been some improvements in recent years.
Exploring the swimming pools in the region is an adventure worth tolerating the bumpy road for. There are four of them. Yep, there are four swimming pools, and several hot tubs, for 800 people (well, and a bunch of tourists). What’s perhaps even more surprising is that the pools in the more remote areas are actually far older than the ones in the more populous areas.
The first swimming pool you will encounter in Strandir is located in Hólmavík, which is the region’s largest town (approximately 400 people). Constructed in 2004, this is—truthfully—the most uninteresting pool on the list (although the fact that it exists is interesting). This 25-metre pool is the only one in the region that’s not heated by a geothermal energy source. But it’s nice enough, with hot tubs, a wading pool, a sauna and a gym. Situated next to a campsite, it should satisfy any tourist’s need for cleaning, refreshing, exercising and relaxing.
The next pool you’ll find in Strandir, is in Drangsnes, a village of 70 people. This cute little 12.5 x 8 metre pool opened in 2005 and also has a hot tub, a wading pool, a sauna and a gym, along with a great seaside view towards Grímsey island.
However, Drangsnes has a far more popular and attractive bathing option: the hot tubs. These legendary tubs have been located at the shoreline, just off the main road, literally since the day after a geothermal energy source was discovered in 1997. Originally, there were two green tubs, donated by a trout farmer. Now only one of the original tubs remains, and there are an additional two more conventional tubs with seats and massage jets.
Back in the day, it was not uncommon to see the people of Drangsnes walking the streets wearing bathrobes, on their way to or from the hot tubs, but now there is a changing and showering facility across the street. People used to joke that the locals used the hot tubs much like the Gauls used the magic potion in ‘Asterix’: to gain their strength.
Now we get to the even more interesting pools. Those are a bit more difficult to access, as the roads in the northern part of Strandir are unpaved. Just drive carefully. The first of these swimming pools is at Hotel Laugarhóll in Bjarnafjörður. This is where most of the children from Hólmavík and Drangsnes learned to swim, before the construction of pools in the respective towns. The pool at Laugarhóll (which can be translated to “Pool Hill”) was constructed in 1947. It’s a full-size 25-metre pool for ardent swimmers. There is also a nice natural hot spring to soak in.
Nearby is a protected site where you can see a recreation of Gvendarlaug hins góða, a pool named so after having been blessed by the medieval bishop and folklore figure Guðmundur Góði (“Guðmundur the Kind”). There are several natural or recreated pools by this name in the country.
Also close to the pool is an exhibition, run by the Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft in Hólmavík. The exhibition consists of traditionally styled turf houses and is called The Sorcerer’s Cottage, after another historical figure, Svanur the Sorcerer, who is mentioned in some of the Icelandic Sagas. He lived at Svanshóll, which is still an active farm in Bjarnafjörður. Despite the name, the exhibition is meant to show the living conditions of medieval tenants, which were pretty tough. But at least they had a hot tub to relax in after a hard day’s work.
To get to the next pool, you just keep on driving until the road ends. There, you will find the small swimming pool at Krossnes, accompanied by a hot tub, seemingly added as an afterthought. It’s on the shoreline, close to the sea. It’s magical to soak in a pool, surrounded by the sea and the untouched nature, at the edge of nowhere.
5. Reykjarfjörður nyðri
The road may end at Krossnes, but there’s still one more pool which deserves an honourable mention. The oldest pool on the list, constructed in 1938, is still further north and is arguably not a part of Strandir but of Hornstrandir. You cannot drive there, so you must either hike or take a boat from Norðurfjörður or Bolungarvík to the isolated Reykjafjörður nyðri. This harsh but beautiful region was inhabited until the 1960s; since then people have only stayed there in summer.
If you take a boat, you must walk some distance from the pier (beware of the Arctic terns if you’re there during the summer!) to the cosy 20-metre pool, and the apparently indispensable hot tub which was later added. The nature here is spectacular, and Drangajökull glacier provides a scenic background.
The pools in Strandir are simply a treat for everyone, playing hard to get with their locations, making them that much more rewarding when you finally reach them and get to take a dip!
How to get there: If you are driving yourself, take the route through Búðardalur from Reykjavík or Route 61 from Ísafjörður, that will lead you to Hólmavík. You can take the bus there too. It runs three times a week during the summer. The distance from Reykjavík is around 230- 270 km.