Relaxing in steaming hot waters whilst appreciating the natural beauty of Iceland is on the wish list of many avid travellers. Iceland has a lot of thermal activity and natural hot springs throughout the country. It is a way of life for the locals to head on down to their local hot pool and while away the time catching up on the local gossip. Some of the hot pools are hidden and very rugged whilst others have been converted into commercial places. However if you are visiting Iceland in the middle of winter, not all of the hot pools are very accessible. Harsh weather conditions can make it almost impossible to reach some of the sites and the vast amount of snow and rain can cause the water to be too cool for pleasant swimming. On the flip side, if there is too much thermal activity occurring the water can be boiling hot and not safe to swim in.
When we visited in Iceland in December, we explored many of the natural hot springs in the southwest of the country. However, unless you enjoy a wild time, I would recommend spending the money to go to the commercially operated springs where you are better protected from the raging winter weather and can enjoy heated change rooms and hot beverages after your soak.
GPS: N64°49.933 W22°19.110
Landbrotalaug is the best free natural hot pool you can visit in winter. It consists of two small intimate pools that can fit no more than a couple of people in each one. People usually skinny dip here so the golden rule is that if you see a car parked, respect peoples privacy and wait until they are finished before you take your turn. The heat in the pool is approximate 44°C and it is just heavenly to chill out in the hot waters when you are surrounded by miles and miles of snow and ice.
You will need to be brave to have a dip here in winter. Landbrotalaug is just past the Elborg Crater and directions are well sign posted. After passing the crater, you’ll see an abandoned farm house up on a hill called Skjálg where you should make a turn and then continue about 1 km. Park the car and then time for the hard part…. strip off your clothes, grab your towel and run across the freezing cold lake with stones to get to the hot spring on the other side.
GPS: N63°34.013 W19°36.379
Seljavallalaug in the south of Iceland is known to be breathtaking as it is set on the canyon Laugarárgil and the Laugará river flows just next to the hot pool. However it can be a real challenge to get here in winter as it requires at least a 20 minute trek on an unclear pathway that also crosses over water. We attempted to go here when it was snowing heavily but we were worried we could get lost as the snow was covering our tracks and after walking for 15 minutes we headed back. However we did see others go to this pool and the water is a good temperature for swimming in winter. There is also a change room. For more details, visit this blog about Seljavallalaug in winter.
GPS: N64°12’55.4″ W20°43’55.0″
Laungarvatn Fontana is a commercial hot pool in the south of Iceland and on the Golden Circle route, near other attractions such as the Geyser and Golden Waterfall. It is on the expensive side costing 3.800 ISK for basic entrance however you can purchase extras such as a towel, dressing robe or swimsuit. It also has a well stocked bar selling alcohol in plastic cups so you can drink in the pools. The change room and facilities are all very modern.
Laungarvatn Fontana has four pools that vary in temperature from tepid to very hot, as well as several steam rooms and a sauna. It is located on a lake and it is popular for visitors to first get very hot in the sauna and then jump in the freezing cold lake before going back to relax in one of the hot pools. Whilst this experience is invigorating, Laungarvatn Fontana doesn’t feel very natural but more like a swimming centre.
GPS: N64°12′ 56.62″ W20°43′ 53.31″
Vígðalaug, translated as the Blessed Pool in English, has historic relevance in Iceland. It is said to be where the first mass baptism took place when Althing converted Iceland to Christianity in 1000 AD. It is conveniently located right next to Laugarvatn Fontana, so you can visit both pools at the same time. Vígðalaug is very small with room enough only for 1 or 2 people at a time. When we went there in winter we dipped our hand in the water and it felt really cold, probably due to the heavy snow, so we did not take a dip and went to Laugarvatn Fontana instead. However the location is scenic as you have a beautiful view of Laugarvatn lake. A short distance from the pool you can also visit the historic site called Líkasteinar (dead-body-stones), which was the last resting place of bishop Jón Arason and his sons who were famously beheaded in 1550, when Iceland converted to Protestantism.
The Secret Lagoon
GPS: N64°8′ 14.288″ W20°18′ 33.483″
The Secret Lagoon is a commercial spring in south Iceland however it is more rustic (and cheaper) than the Laugarvatn Fontana. Located in Flúðir, it was the first official swimming pool in Iceland when it was built in 1891 and offered swimming lessons to the local children. However into the 1900s, when concrete swimming pools came in fashion, the pool fell into disuse and for decades it was virtually forgotten. Then in 2005 it acquired a new owner who started to use it as his secret private pool before opening it up again to the general public.
The lagoon is set in a natural surrounding amid rocks, hills and trees, and it is fed by a hot spring that produces bubbling 39°C water from deep within the earth at a rate of 10 litres per second so the water is constantly replenished. There are also additional smaller hidden hot pots located around the Secret Lagoon however when we went in winter we were warned by staff to avoid these pools as the water was boiling hot and too dangerous to swim in.
GPS: N64.140339° W20.259107°
Hrunalaug is a natural hot pool and located close by to the Secret Lagoon. In winter it can be difficult to reach here if the weather conditions are too harsh. To get here by car, drive to Flúðir and just before you reach the village, turn right onto road 344. Drive for 3km and turn right at the Hruni signpost. Keep driving until you pass a church on your left and then make another right hand turn at the wooden sign indicating Sólheimar. From there it’s around 400m where you will then park your car by the no-camping sign. When we drove here, we made the mistake of thinking we could drive beyond the carpark and got stuck in a ditch and needed to be towed out. Don’t make this mistake.
Once you have parked the car, it is a 5-10 minute walk over a hill, across a small stream, and up another hill where you will see the hot pool and a rustic wooden shack that serves as a changing room. The water is nice and warm and the setting is idyllic, however it can be unpleasant if it is snowing or raining as there is very little shelter from the elements. For more convenience, it is best to go to the nearby Secret Lagoon instead. Hrunalaug is on private land and the owner is annoyed with the sheer number of tourists who visit here each year and pollute the area. If you go here, be respectful and take your rubbish with you when you go.
GPS: N64°22.428 W21°33.832
Hvalfjörður is an hour north of Reykjavík. It is not difficult to find if you turn off Route 47 towards Hvammsvik, turn right at the first farmhouse, and then drive north along the beach on a rough gravel road. You will then need to walk to the end of the peninsula through the grass to find it. The hot pool is made of rocks and the water is sourced from a nearby well, and you control the temperature via a PVC pipe that leads to the pool.
Do not visit here in winter. When we arrived there was large signage warning visitors the pool was dangerously hot and not acceptable for swimming. We tried to walk to the end of the peninsula nevertheless and the winds and snow were so strong, we were almost blown off our feet and chilled to the bone. Despite our best efforts, we could not find the actual pool itself.
Visiting Iceland in winter is magical and we delighted in seeing beautiful nature covered in a white carpet of snow. When it is cold outside, there is no better time to enjoy an Icelandic hot spring. Just be mindful that the temperatures of the hot pools change throughout the year and some are boiling hot or not easily accessible in winter. If you are in doubt, don’t take risks and visit one of the numerous commercially operated hot pools instead.