Hveragerði is a town and municipality in the southwest of Iceland. It is often nicknamed ‘the Earthquake Town’ or ‘the Hot Spring Town’, due to the active geological and geothermal forces that define it.
Hveragerði is around 45 kilometres (28 miles) from the capital Reykjavík and takes half an hour to drive to along the Ring Road travelling south. Around 2,300 people live in Hveragerði, most employed in tourism, horticulture or agriculture.
There is a service centre in the town with shops, including an alcohol shop, a supermarket, a gas station, an information point, and a cafe. There are several restaurants as well, and just outside it is a popular horse farm.
Surrounding the town are nice botanical areas and many recreational activities are available. There are excellent hiking trails as well as nice hotels and a camping ground which is open in the summer months.
In terms of culture, a number of museums can be found in Hveragerði, such as the Árnesingar art museum and Hveragerði Stone and Mineral Museum. The town even hosts an annual culture and family festival in August.
Hveragerði sits on a highly geothermal area. Boiling water runs just beneath the surface of the ground, leading to many hot springs in the nearby hills. This is both a blessing for the town and a curse.
In terms of a blessing, it allows greenhouses to flourish, as they can be provided with heat throughout the year. Hveragerði is thus the world’s northernmost producer of bananas, which are grown alongside a host of other fruits and vegetables.
Many flowers and herbs are also grown here, and it is considered the centre of botany in Iceland.
The boiling water also allows food to be cooked simply by burying it for a few hours, providing the restaurants in the area with unique menus. It also brings the area a wealth of tourism.
The curse of this geothermal water is the effect it has on the residents. Stories of hot springs opening overnight in people’s kitchens, bedrooms and living rooms are very common.
Also, due to the Mid-Atlantic rift running through Iceland, many earthquakes hit Hveragerði. Fortunately, the houses are built here to withstand tremors, due to how common they are, but there is a lingering knowledge that a powerful earthquake or eruption could cause serious, perhaps irreparable damage to the settlement.
The river Varmá runs from the valley of Reykjadalur through the town. This region, which translates to the 'Steam Valley', is an incredibly popular place for hot spring bathing and hiking.
A gravel road that leads from Hveragerði takes you to the base of the hiking trail, which winds up, down and around beautiful, scenic hills dotted with fumaroles and mud pits.
It ends by a river that is fed by hot springs, meaning it is heated from the top, allowing visitors to choose the perfect place to bathe. There are no indoor changing areas, but screens to undress behind.