What is a geothermal spa? Where are the best geothermal spas in Iceland? What is the difference between a geothermal spa and a hot pool? Continue reading to learn about the seven best places to unwind in Iceland.
Iceland’s volcanic activity is major part of the country’s appeal. It has created its magnificent mountain ranges, dramatic lava fields, countless craters and many other spectacular features. For guests coming to this country seeking relaxation, however, it is the water heated from the fires beneath the earth that make Iceland so special.
Bathing in this geothermal water is a unique and rejuvenating experience, and there are many ways you can do it. While heading into out into the nature to find natural springs is great fun, and the many pools around the country are perfect places to unwind and meet new people, it is the geothermal spas that boast the highest forms of luxury.
These places take the heat from the earth and use it create facilities where you can be pampered like royalty and have your physical, mental and spiritual health nourished. Saunas, man-made waterfalls, steam rooms and hot tubs define many such spas across Iceland, and all are found in the most beautiful parts of the country. The surrounding landscapes are best appreciated when revilatising yourself in the warm waters, and in winter, they also provide the most sublime locations to marvel over the Northern Lights.
What makes them particularly special in Iceland is how much the country’s nature is utilised in the facilities; the warm water bubbles up through springs, is filtered through volcanic lava, and cooled with the fresh meltwater of the glaciers. As a result, it is pregnant with healing minerals such as silica. No extra chemicals are needed to keep the pools clean, as the natural flow of the hot springs that feed them mean the water is constantly being replaced.
Visiting a geothermal spa on your trip to Iceland is thus a great way to experience the island's magnificent nature in a state of complete and utter relaxation. This article, therefore, will provide a guide to the best of these deluxe locations, in no particular order.
The Blue Lagoon is Iceland’s most famous geothermal spa, and the largest. It is best known for its opaque, azure waters, filled with healing minerals; its treatments for those with skin conditions such as psoriasis; and it wide range of luxury features. It boasts steam-rooms; a Finnish sauna; a man-made waterfall for massaging your shoulders; a cave to relax in; poolside silica tubs for face masks; and an in-water bar. For an extra cost, you can also get an algae mask and a range of in-water massages.
The pools of the Blue Lagoon are surrounded by magnificent lava landscapes, with endless fields of jagged black rock, covered in a creeping grey moss, and barren volcanoes towering in the distance. When seeing this from behind a veil of steam, in contrast with the vivid colour of the water, the site gains a fantastical sense of mysticism.
The pools in winter are also an excellent place to search for the Northern Lights in comfort, and in summer, they provide a serene location to admire the effects of the midnight sun.
Another major part of the Blue Lagoon’s appeal comes from its location on the Reykjanes Peninsula, the stretch of land that connects Keflavík International Airport and Reykjavík. Because of this convenient position, many bus transfers ferrying guests between the two locations stop at it, as it is a fantastic place to unwind and rejuvenate after or in preparation for a long flight.
If you wish to visit the spa whilst on your holiday, then you can either rent a car and drive yourself, or book this Blue Lagoon Shuttle from the capital. Trips to the Blue Lagoon are also included alongside many other tours, such as this super jeep excursion sightseeing around the Golden Circle, this private jeep tour that will take you lava caving and around the sites of the Reykjanes Peninsula, and this ATV tour along a rocky and spectacular coastline.
Please note, however, that tickets are not included in these prices. You will need to book yours well in advance, as even in the quieter seasons of Iceland’s tourism, it is very unlikely that you will be granted admission simply by showing up on the day. You can do this through the Blue Lagoon website.
Photo by Balazs Busznyak
If you book a self-drive holiday or vacation package with Guide to Iceland, however, the vast majority will organise a ticket for you, alongside all accommodation, tours and either your car rental or airport transfers.
There are two restaurants on main Blue Lagoon site. LAVA is built into the surrounding lava field, and has views over the pool, serving lunch and dinner using the freshest Icelandic ingredients. Moss restaurant, meanwhile, is open in the evenings only, and was recommended by the Michelin Guide in 2019. It is slightly more upmarket, includes an extensive vegan menu, and has the option to sit at the chef’s table for an added cost.
Photo by Jeff Sheldon
There is also shop with a range of Blue Lagoon treatment products that utilise Icelandic natural ingredients, allowing you to take some of the magic of the spa back home with you.
The Blue Lagoon even has two hotels on site for those who want to make the very most of the spa. The Silica Hotel is the oldest, with beautiful rooms and views, and has its own private lagoon. The newer Retreat Hotel, meanwhile, is the most luxurious (and expensive) hotel in the country, and the only one with five stars. It also has its very own geothermal spa.
A spa within a spa, the Retreat Spa is perhaps Iceland’s most exclusive location altogether. The Retreat Lagoon is far less busy than the Blue Lagoon itself, sheltered by spectacular walls of lava rock, and visited by some of the world’s most famous celebrities, most notably Kim Kardashian and Beyoncé.
It also boasts some magnificent subterranean features, such as an underground steam cave, the Lava Spring where one can find serenity with water cascading from the ceiling, and a meditation room with a burning fire at its centre. Above ground is a nest area, where you can recline in suspended hammocks in a room with floor-to-ceiling windows. You can even book your very own spa and pool area in a space called the Lava Cove, with an on-call masseuse, chef and yoga instructor.
Like at the Blue Lagoon, there are a wealth of treatments and massages on offer, within a set of sanctuary spaces called the Ritual. It also has its own restaurant with a breakfast and all-day menu, renowned for its delicacies.
Photo from Admission to the Relaxing Secret Lagoon Spa
The Secret Lagoon has become less of a secret as the tourism industry has boomed, but is still a wonderful place to visit. It is much more affordable than the Blue Lagoon, but it should be noted that it has none of the extra amenities such as saunas, steam baths or treatment therapies.
While not quite a geothermal spa like the others on this list (more of a swimming pool), it warrants a place due to its unmatched location, sitting right beside a bubbling geothermal area complete with its very own geyser, as well as its air of fantasy, with steam rising before abandoned buildings and colourful hot springs. The water is also rich in minerals, providing the healing properties that the other spas boast.
Photo from Admission to the Relaxing Secret Lagoon Spa
Its history is also of note; the Secret Lagoon is the oldest man-made pool in Iceland, constructed in 1891, and though fell into disrepair for many decades, found new life as the tourism industry flourished.
It is recommended to buy admission to the Secret Lagoon in advance, particularly in summer when it is at its most popular. As with the Blue Lagoon, visits to it are often included on other tours, such as with Northern Lights hunting and Golden Circle sightseeing.
The Lagoon is located in the beautiful village of Flúðir, which is located very close to the Golden Circle, Iceland’s most popular tourist trail. This route covers Þingvellir, a National Park between two tectonic plates with over a millennium of history; Gullfoss, the most famous waterfall in the country; and the Geysir Geothermal Area, a place renowned for its exploding hot springs.
As it only takes half a day to cover these sites, a visit to the Secret Lagoon comes highly recommended a way to relax after your adventure.
Another geothermal spa that is perfect to enjoy as part of a Golden Circle trip is the Fontana Spa in the tiny hamlet of Laugarvatn; it is, in fact, directly on the road between Þingvellir and the Geysir Geothermal Area, making it the great stop if you are driving yourself. Even if you are not, some Golden Circle tours, such as this one, include as part of their agenda.
The Fontana Spa sits right on the shore of the lake the village is named after, which is renowned for its geothermal activity; if you wade into the lake a little, you can often feel tongues of hot water rising from the bed (although the rest of it rather cold). Its two pools, filled with minerals, are rather small but a lovely temperature for bathing, and there are a wealth of other facilities that make the site worth visiting.
There is a luxurious Finnish Sauna with a large window overlooking the lake, and temperatures that exceed a sweltering 80 degrees Celsius. There is also an incredibly humid steam room built directly over a natural hot spring, with only grids on the floor separating you, and hot tub with panoramic views of the mountainous surroundings.
The Mývatn Nature Baths, are a beautiful geothermal spa in north Iceland, located just an hour east of the capital of the region, Akureyri. The spacious pools boast similar azure waters to the Blue Lagoon, and are also rich in healing minerals. There are also two steam baths, set over natural hot pools like at the Fontana Spa, and an on site restaurant, Café Kvika, where you can get a range of soups and sandwiches.
Located in a lava field by the spectacular Lake Mývatn, this geothermal spa is a wonderful spot to admire the magnificent surrounding landscapes, and potentially see the Northern Lights in winter. It also makes a fantastic stop on a trip around north Iceland, which has a range of diverse features.
Most of these amazing sites are visited on the Diamond Circle sightseeing route. This trail visits the most powerful waterfall in Europe, Dettifoss; a vast, horeshoe-shaped canyon called Ásbyrgi; the historic ‘Waterfall of the Gods’, Goðafoss; the barren geothermal area of Námaskarð Pass; and one of the world’s best locations for whale-watching, Húsavík.
Additionally, it explores the lake area itself, which is renowned for its thriving flora and fauna. Mývatn is also famous for is beautiful and bizarre geological features, with towers of rocks jutting from the waters, dozens of craters lining the shores, and ‘the lava fortress’, Dimmuborgir.
The sites of the Diamond Circle and the Nature Baths can all be visited easily by those renting a car, or by those taking tours from Mývatn or Akureyri. After a day of sightseeing, there is no better way to unwind and reminisce over what you witnessed than in this spa. It is even possible to see some of the sites and have a two hour bask for those staying in Reyjavík, with this tour that includes flights to and from Akureyri.
Again it is recommended to book admission to this geothermal spa in advance. If taking a self-drive tour or vacation package that reaches north Iceland, you will have the option to get a ticket while booking.
The Krauma Spa is a luxurious geothermal spa in west Iceland, fueled by the waters of the highest-flowing hot-spring in Europe, Deildartunguhver. Though much smaller than the others, accommodating a maximum of 140 guests at a time, its wealth of facilities and chic design give it an air of peace and exclusivity.
Rather than any larger pools, the Krauma Spa has five hot tubs, as well as one cold one filled with glacier water. These tubs look directly over bubbling geothermal areas in the beautiful landscapes that surround you. Furthermore, there are two steam baths and a relaxation room with a crackling fireplace.
Krauma Spa is close to many major attractions in west Iceland, easily fitting into a day tour in the region. Alongside booking a luxurious bath in the pools, you can visit the beautiful waterfalls of Hraunfossar and Barnafoss; the medieval village of Reykholt; the spectacular fjord of Hvalfjörður; and the seething hot springs that led to the creation of the spa. If you are not driving yourself, all of these sites are visited on this minibus tour, which includes admission to Krauma.
The Krauma Spa is also close enough to the magnificent Snæfellsnes Peninsula, which boasts an array of incredible landscapes and features, to be visited alongside a trip there. This two-day tour will introduce you to the land nicknamed ‘Iceland in Miniature', has a lava caving component, and will grant you entry to the spa.
Húsavík has already been noted as one of the world’s best places for whale watching, with the waters of Skjálfandi Bay alive with Humpback Whales, white-beaked dolphins, and an array of other creatures that occasionally include species such as Blue Whales and Orcas. The town is increasingly becoming known, however, for its new geothermal spa, the Geosea Sea Baths.
The Geosea Sea Baths are unique on this list as they are composed of geothermally heated saltwater, rather than fresh. This water is dug up by two nearby boreholes before being pumped into the pools, and though somewhat more unusual to bathe in, is as naturally-occurring and renowned for its healing minerals as in other spas.
Another part of the unique appeal of the Sea Baths is that they boast unbelievable, uninterrupted views over a mountainous fjord and sparkling ocean; all other geothermal spas are in Iceland are inland. Though there are no saunas or steam rooms to relax in, the Geosea Restaurant serves light refreshments and has a small outdoor terrace, open in good weather, and you can also enjoy a drink while you bathe.
Though this spa faces some competition from the nearby Mývatn Nature Baths, both offer very different experiences in terms of ambiance and what is offered. Admission to the Geosea Sea Baths is also notably more affordable.
The new Vök Baths are east Iceland’s premier spa, open July 1st, 2019. This beautiful, remote region, of incredible fjords and towering mountains, has little geothermal activity compared to much of the rest of the country, making a dip here essential for any seeking luxury on their travels.
The spa is located at the spectacular Lake Urriðavatn, which never fully freezes due to the hot springs on its bed. From the soothing waters of the Vök Baths, you will have fantastic views of this feature and the surrounding nature. If travelling in winter, they also provide a great location to look out for the Northern Lights in utmost comfort.
Urriðavatn is conveniently close to the largest town of the region, Egilsstaðir, making it easily accessible for those staying in the area.
The Vök Baths boast two pools, a sauna and a refreshing cold tunnel in the lake. The water is different from that in other spas on this list as it is not full of minerals such as silica and sulfur. As such, it has no smell, and is, in fact, so clean that it is drinkable. This is because it has been filtered through the nearby springs and there is a constant flow throughout the pools.
Admission to the Vök Baths comes with a serving of tisane tea, brewed with herbs found in the area and water from the spring. This can be found at the infusion bar; there is also a cafe on site where you can enjoy hot dishes, soups and sandwiches.
It is possible that you can arrive on the day and get entry, as the spa is newer and more remote than its cousins around the country. If travelling in summer, however, it is still recommended to buy a ticket in advance, just in case.
Bjórböðin gets an honourable mention on this list, as though not a spa that utilises Iceland’s healing geothermal waters to give you hours of luxury, it still is a spa of sorts. Instead of using minerals like silica to heal your skin, it uses the yeast in the young beer, which is also said to have rejuvenating effects.
As you bathe in hot tubs filled with warm beer, you can have a cold one from the barrels provided (so long, of course, as you are at least twenty); after this, you are given time in a relaxation room to let the yeast taken effect. The beer tubs only fit two at a time, although there is a larger one outdoor for groups who would rather stay together. When this is finished, you are free to enjoy the outdoor drinking area, which boasts beautiful coastal views, and the beer-themed restaurant.
This spa is located in the small town of Árkógssandur in north Iceland. It is possible to book admission and drive to the Beer Spa yourself, or, if you’d rather have a drink while there, get a tour from Akureyri.
Have you enjoyed the geothermal spas in Iceland? Which was your favourite? Did you book any extra treatments that you recommend? Let us know in the comments below.