Geothermal activity and natural hot tubs
Most of the swimming pools are heated by geothermal energy, natural resource of big importance since ancient times. Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, even owes its name to the steam of hot springs (smoke, as Ingólfur Arnarson, the first settler called it). Reykjavik literally means “The Bay of Smokes”.
Apart from lovely pools, a different way to experience the power of Iceland’s geothermal energy is to visit areas such as southwestern geyser area (part of the very popular “Golden circle” tour), Seltún area in Reykjanes, impressive Gunnuhver hot spring or boiling mud pods in the north, near Myvatn. But any walk in the nature will do; don’t be surprised if you see steam rising from the ground as you make your way through lava fields, or see a stream of boiling water flowing slowly through green pastures of Hveragerði. It is fun discovering a hot spring of just the right temperature in the nature and taking a break from your walk relaxing in warm water. They exist all around the country; some are already discovered by tourists and listed in tourist guides, and some remain well hidden and are kept a secret by locals.
And then, of course, there is the luxurious way to benefit from geothermal energy; the most famous being Blue Lagoon. Its water has a unique composition of silica, algae and minerals, beneficial for soothing psoriasis symptoms and with anti-age effects. Its water is also amazingly blue, especially in the sun, and in contrast to black lava rocks surrounding it, seems almost surreal. Make sure to reserve your time at the lagoon in advance, it is really popular even with its high admission rates. Slightly less known to tourists, but offering similar experience, there are Myvatn Nature Baths, situated near Reykjahlið, in the north of the island.
Geothermal facts and fun facts
Iceland is world’s largest green energy producer per capita, little over half of its natural resources being of geothermal origin. It owes this abundance of hot water to its position and high volcanic activity in the area. Vast utilization of geothermal energy for heating and electricity developed only recently (second half of 20th century); it was used mostly for washing and bathing before 1950s. In the old days, hot springs were also useful for junk disposal, which later proved to be unpractical as one of the hot springs “returned” all the accumulated garbage during the 1947 earthquake.
Water in households
Today, hot water in households is of geothermal origin too, with one smelly consequence: a scent of sulfur in the air as you shower (by sulfur, I mean rotten eggs). This may be a surprise for the first time visitors, but Icelanders are so used to it that they can’t even notice any bad smell. Cold water comes from a different source; it is pure spring water and is smell free. It is one of the purest in the world and you can always get a free glass in any restaurant or a bar. It will, however, cost you a fortune if you buy it bottled up in a supermarket.
What I found absolutely wonderful is that geothermal energy is used also to heat pavements and car parks, keeping them snow-free in winter. And interestingly enough, it is used to heat greenhouses, enabling growing of bananas in this cold climate (some sources even mention Iceland as biggest exporter of bananas in Europe).
Iceland does things differently
All in all, Iceland does seem to do things differently. And in a good way. People have learned to live with harsh weather conditions, but also to enjoy and appreciate the benefits of nature. No matter how you choose to spend your time in here, Iceland will surely surprise you in many ways. Keep an open mind, breathe deeply and bring your swim suit when you visit.