Geothermal pools in Iceland
For hikers, the prospect of dipping into a warm pool in the middle of nowhere, after a long day through difficult terrain, is exciting. And if you’re the romantic type, taking the one you love to an isolated place and dipping naked into a warm bath out in nature, surrounded by colorful mountains, is as original and exotic as it can get.
Since Iceland is an island partly floating on magma, a significant portion of the groundwater is warm and even boiling. In many places around the country, hot water surfaces at a very comfortable temperature. Sometimes, extremely hot water blends with cold and clear spring water resulting in the ideal temperature to dip into. Overall, hundreds of such sites are in Iceland—some say as many as 700. Naturally, there are some more enticing or more conveniently located.
Not always easy to visit
The fact is that the most delightful natural geothermal pools are in the Highland. We are not talking about those innumerable roadside Jacuzzis that seem to be everywhere, originating from a hose. We are talking about the real thing—the natural geothermal pools.
The Highland is a vast area in the middle of Iceland and mostly above 600 meters in altitude. It is a place booming with natural vibrant colors during summer and a place immersed in snow in winter. Most of the geothermal pools in the Highland are formed more or less naturally and are usually surrounded by hot springs, sulfur landscapes, and rhyolite mountains. Dipping into such a natural phenomenon on a calm, clear day is an experience that cannot be matched. And because some of the pools can be a bit difficult to reach they are usually not so crowded.
Although Icelanders did not take advantage of hot pools throughout the centuries, some of those pools are part of our history. One of the best known is Snorralaug in Reykholt, owned in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, a writer and a chieftain who became one of the most prominent figures in Icelandic history.
Apparently, Snorri understood the convenience of dipping into warm water for relaxation, probably after writing a page or two in some of his masterpieces. Presently the pool is only for display by the church in Reykholt. Some of the other geothermal pools that are mentioned in our history are not connected to such illustrious figures but to the less fortunate ones—our outlaws, notably, one of our most celebrated outlaws, Eyvindur and his wife Halla during the late 18th century.
After fleeing the long arm of justice from where they lived in the Westfjords, Eyvindur and Halla spent two decades living in various places in the Highland. They stayed mostly where there were geothermal pools to keep them warm during the harsh winters and to cook their meals. Two of their most famous hangouts were Hveravellir at Kjölur and Herðubreiðarlindir in the eastern part of the Highland. In that sense, the outlaw couple can be considered entrepreneurs as most Icelanders today heat up their houses with geothermal water.
There are many reasons why Icelanders did not take advantage of the hot water under their feet for centuries. From the 18th century, there have been a few such stories involving geothermal pools. One of the most famous of them is Landmannalaugar, where farmers in the autumn, gathering sheep in the Highland took a dip in the geothermal pool after a daylong search. It was their favorite place and understandably so.
At the beginning of the 20th century when Icelanders and visitors started to travel to the Highland for recreational activities—hiking and driving through the difficult terrain—geothermal pools became a big attraction. At that time, Landmannalaugar became the most popular. Hveravellir, on the Highland road Kjölur also became popular as it is also surrounded by the beautiful display of boiling hot springs. In time, more geothermal pools were discovered in the Highland. Most of them were highly attractive as the size was perfect and temperature exactly right; for instance, pools like Laugafell and Strútur. In some places, the warm water blended into a small creek, falling from a small cliff forming a natural shower like at Laugavellir. Many of these places have understandably become popular among tourists as well as local people and should probably be on your list when visiting Iceland.
About the author:
Einar Páll Svavarsson is a political scientist turned photographer and writer with a passion for traveling in Iceland, and decades of experience. Einar is the owner and creator of one of the largest information website about Iceland—Hit Iceland.