Bubbling both below and above the surface, volcanic activity has defined Iceland’s landscape. Lava fields tangle from the foot of gas-spewing peaks and steam spurts from cracks in the ground.
Naturally, the Earth’s non-stop rumblings have shaped a national culture too. Bathing in hot springs is a tradition stretching back centuries. From dipping in hidden lagoons to pumping heated water into purpose-built pools, Icelanders have harnessed the power of geothermal energy to create a national pastime.
The Blue Lagoon in Keflavik, close to Iceland’s main international airport, has been declared a world wonder for it’s therapeutic silica-rich waters. But it’s not the only super spa in the land of fire and ice.
Recently opened, the Forest Lagoon in Akureyri is setting a new standard for Icelandic hot springs.
Where is it?
Harsh winds make forests rare, but this new nature-driven, purpose-built spa occupies one of the few leafy sites in the north and is in a sheltered position – exceptional in a country where winds can gust up to 70mph.
Is it easy to reach?
It’s a doddle to find. Overlooking the 60km Eyjafjörður fjord – where humpbacks regularly migrate to feed – it’s across the water from Akureyri. Leave the UK and be bathing a few hours later, thanks to a new direct flight from Stansted with Niceair (niceair.is). (Direct link to Manchester from October.)
What’s it like?
Cut directly into a mountain, with exposed basalt rock forming a feature wall, the wooden spa building is a natural beauty with trees from east Iceland planted at the entrance where a bistro serves meals and drinks – and stone sinks are a striking feature in the changing rooms.
The lagoon is divided between two main pools – heated to 39C and 41C. Inside, a wooden glass-fronted sauna looks onto the water, snow-dusted mountains and deciduous trees, whose boughs rotate through a seasonal palette of golds, bronzes and greens.
So what else makes it special?
Having 27 outlets pumping water into the lagoon means there are no cold patches to surprise you. Two swim-up bars avoid long queues and it’s open until midnight so you can watch the midnight sun or catch a glimpse of the northern lights.
How’s it different to the Blue Lagoon?
Although built by the same design team, BASALT Architects, the main difference is… it isn’t blue. While water flowing from lava fields into Keflavik’s world-famous attraction is rich in silica (colouring it a distinctive milky blue), at Forest Lagoon it’s simply a mountain spring heated by energy from the Earth’s core, discovered during digging for a new toll tunnel in 2015. Manager Tinna Jóhannsdóttir claims the water still contains beauty-boosting minerals collected on its journey through millennia-old basalt rocks.
3 more trendy Icelandic hot springs to try…
Myvatn Nature Baths, Myvatn
Bathe in water as blue as Keflavik’s lagoon, at one of the longest established hot springs. An hour’s drive east from Akureyri, it neighbours the sulphur-streaked bubbling hot pots of Hverir. Work is ongoing on new facilities for 2024. Visit myvatnnaturebaths.is; adults from £37 (excluding towel hire).
From a cliff-top position overlooking the Skjálfandi Bay and the Article Circle, relax in warm water and watch humpbacks fluke as kittiwakes swoop. Combine with a three-hour silent whale-watching trip from Husavik, on one of North Sailing’s electric vessels (northsailing.is; £68pp). Visit geosea.is; adults from £34 (excluding towel hire).
Opened last year, this slick spa and heated pool is on the outskirts of Reykjavik. Entered directly from the changing rooms, a waterway winds through rocks to an infinity pool, with waterfalls and a bar tucked into a cave. Pay extra for a seven-step ritual, including a circuit of sauna, rain room and body scrub and stick around for sourdough sandwiches and fresh soups in the café. Visit skylagoon.com; Pure Pass, including ritual and towel hire, from £62.
How to plan your trip
Discover The World (discover-the-world.com; 01737 214 250) offer a 4-night North Iceland Adventure summer holiday from £1031pp including B&B hotels, car hire and flights with Niceair from London Stansted to Akureyri.