My kids love thermal pools having been introduced to the joys of warm water pools in Austria. So it was only natural that we would do a thermal pool tour along the ring road. There are more than 175 swimming pools in Iceland so it was pretty easy to find one pretty much everywhere we stayed.
Frankly with all the driving, hiking, and other activities we did on our road trip, soaking in a warm pool was the perfect way to relax for my husband and myself. The kids did their usual diving, sliding and swimming, of course. It’s good to be young and NEVER tired.
Geothermal Pools in Iceland
Swimming in geothermal pools is a big part of Icelandic culture and so we felt we were partaking in the local culture. On an island with so much water (on the island and surrounding it), swimming lessons are a compulsory part of the school curriculum. All of the pools we went to had inflatable armbands freely available for young non-swimmers.
Swimming in the open air is kind of cool no matter what the weather. We were out in those thermal pools in sunshine, cold, rain and fierce wind. It’s surprising how you don’t really register the outside weather when all but your head is immersed in really warm water.
In a couple of the smaller thermal pools on the North and East coast of Iceland, we were the only foreigners there. I had little toddlers staring at me in open curiosity because I’m pretty sure they had not seen too many dark-skinned persons in real life before.
The pools all had lockers to store your stuff. In some cases you could keep your valuables behind the front desk. You must bathe without bathing suits before getting into the pools though. It’s a non-negotiable part of local culture. We saw some tourists keep their bathing suits on at the Blue Lagoon but I don’t think that would fly in the local towns.
You can rent towels from the front desks as well. They are not the most luxurious of towels but they did the job. Who wants to carry wet towels around Iceland?!
The Two Big Thermal Pools
Everyone has heard of the Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik but Mývatn Nature Baths in Lake Mývatn is less touristed. At the Blue Lagoon we overheard someone complain about the sulphur smell but we didn’t think it was bad. The Blue Lagoon is a well-run operation beautifully landscaped in an 800 year old lava field.
We were not sure what to expect at Mývatn because the name in Icelandic translates to ‘fly water’ in honour of the swarms of flies in the region. The Lake Mývatn region was indeed a flyfest as our car’s windshield quickly got splattered dark by the dumbest of the flies. The baths area itself though was fine. The geothermal water comes up from 2500 meters (8200 feet) below the surface and smells strongly of sulphur. The view of the surrounding area is fabulous.
Our Favourite Thermal Pools
My son’s favourite pool was at the Bogarnes Sports centre. It’s got indoor and outdoor pools (with 3 water slides). The pool is heated with water piped in from the Deildartunga hot spring nearby which is the largest hot spring in Europe. It pumps out 180 litres of boiling water every second!
My daughter loved the pool facilities at Blönduós which is fairly new. There was a kiddie pool, and an outdoor pool with hot tubs, water slides and lanes set aside for serious swimmers. It was very family-friendly with a lot of pool toys available for the kids to borrow.
My husband chose the Hofsós pool as his favourite because it has an infinity edge over Skagafjörður bay. It was designed by the same architect responsible for creating the Blue Lagoon. I couldn’t last more than a half-hour there though because the wind whipping off the fjord created a painful ringing in my ears. All of me was warm from the water except my head which unless I was going to develop gills had to necessarily stay above water.
As for me, I never met a thermal pool I didn’t like!
Thermal Pools in Reykjavik and the Golden Circle
Reykjavik itself has about 20 pools so you are spoiled for choice:
- Laugardalslaug, Iceland’s largest pool complex, is very family-friendly with water slides and a kiddie pool.
- Another good one with kids is Salalaug which has indoor/outdoor pools, hot tubs and a waterside.
- Arbaejarlaug is another indoor/outdoor pool with kiddie pool and water play facilities for children.
- The oldest public bath in Iceland is Sundhöllin designed by a famous architect. It has diving boards but no watersides.
Near the Golden Circle, you will find Laugarvatn Fontana which has geothermal baths and a thermal bakery. It’s located right on the black beach at Laugarvatn lake. The Secret Lagoon in Fludir in the Golden Circle area was built in 1891. Surrounded by natural beauty, it’s got its own little geyser that erupts every few minutes. That little water feature should make up for the lack of water slides.
The website, Swimming in Iceland, is a great resource to find pools near where you are going to be. Just type in your location and it lists the pools nearby as well as pertinent details like opening times and costs. Trust me, this is one cultural institution all the members of the family will enjoy thoroughly.