Bathing in hot springs has long been a part of the Icelandic culture. In fact, hot springs are so prevalent in Iceland’s history that a number of place names are named after elements related to geothermal activity, such as reyk (smoke/steam), varm (warm) and laug (pool).
And in more recent months, the hot springs have been dubbed by some publications as Iceland’s secret to happiness. If you’re intent on walking in the steps of many Icelanders before you and bathing in hot springs, here are ten things you must know before you do.
When I speak to travellers about their upcoming Iceland adventures, so many of them say to me that they must visit the Blue Lagoon. Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t, as it’s a pretty fantastic place. But I also want to be clear that there are a number of hot springs dotted around Iceland, which each offer something different.
Some are busy, some are quiet; some have costs associated with them, while others are free; some require booking ahead, others don’t; and some are man-made, while others are completely natural. As I say, there is a lot of choice when it comes to Iceland hot springs, and you shouldn’t ever feel like the Blue Lagoon is your only option.
Here are a few great options to get you started: Mývatn Nature Baths, Secret Lagoon and Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Baths, with lots more recommended in this article about Iceland's 5 best hot springs as well.
Something else I often hear from travellers is the worry over whether hot springs can damage your hair. Although some hot springs have a high amount of silica in them to help make the water blue and to provide a skin-softening mud mask, not all hot springs are like this.
If you suspect the hot spring you’re visiting has high levels of silica, then it’s often advised to avoid wetting your hair as it can become dry, tangled and stiff. But remember, not all hot springs are the same in this respect.
As with most countries, Icelanders are quite strict about cleanliness and hygiene when it comes to bathing in hot springs, which means you must shower nude before entering them. Although a lot of the showers don’t provide much privacy due to a lack of curtains or cubicles, they are of course, same sex only.
You’ll also spot a few signs dotted around the showers, which advise you that a proper scrub (including intimate areas) is needed. So please do adhere to this when in Iceland, or you may get a local moaning at you!
Although larger, commercialized hot springs like the Blue Lagoon and Secret Lagoon offer you the opportunity to rent towels and slippers, there’s nothing preventing you from bringing your own to use. You’ll easily save in excess of 1,000 ISK! But it’s also good to know you can rent them if you happen to forget to pack yours. Either way, you’re covered.
For many of the larger hot springs, coach tours visit them daily. But as you’re coming to a hot spring to relax, you may want to visit during quieter times - some hot springs even advertise when coach tours are likely to turn up.
The Secret Lagoon, for instance, has daily coach tours between 2.30-5pm, so advise you to come outside of these times (up until their 8pm closing time). I’d highly recommend doing a bit of research before you go, so you know when the quietest times of the day are likely to be at your chosen hot spring.
Did you know that there are a number of hot springs in Iceland that are completely free to bathe in? Some great choices of free hot springs in Iceland include Reykjadalur and Seljavallalaug.
Although some of the free options are lacking in shower and changing facilities, if you want the authentic Iceland experience (without a hefty price tag), then I’m sure you’ll find a way to work around the lack of facilities!
It should be expected that in order to visit popular Blue Lagoon, you’ll need to book ahead; weeks, if not months in advance. If you’re not able to book in advance though (for instance for a last minute layover), then there are plenty of other beautiful hot springs that don’t require an advance booking, including: Fontana Spa in Laugarvatn, the Secret Lagoon in Flúðir, Krauma Spa and the Mývatn Nature Baths.
Icelanders go to hot springs to discuss politics, the latest gossip, and anything else that springs to mind. But they (and you) are also here to relax, so remember to speak quietly when you do engage in conversations.
With hot springs ranging from temperatures as high as 96° - 111° F (36° – 44°C), we’re not kidding when we say the water is HOT! If you’re not used to bathing in temperatures like this, then you may find that you’ll need to hop out of the water halfway through before climbing back in again.
There is of course nothing wrong with this, and a lot of hot springs have flat surfaces around them, which are designed for this exact purpose.
You may be surprised to know that the Blue Lagoon isn’t in Reykjavik, it’s actually just over 49km away. And the Secret Lagoon within Iceland’s Golden Circle is even further away at 97.5km. If you’re renting a car during your trip then this is unlikely to be a problem for you.
But for anyone else, you may be worried you won’t get a chance to visit the hot springs. The good news is that there are a number of companies that offer tours to take you to some of the larger hot springs and spas, which are great value for money. Be sure to check them out!