Forget Iceland’s crowded Blue Lagoon, head up north for a more relaxing geothermal spa experience at Mývatn Nature Baths.
When I think of Iceland, one of the top activities that comes to mind – alongside husky sledging – is stepping into a steaming aquamarine geothermal pool surrounded by snow.
I was keen to experience this during my trip to Akureyri in Northern Iceland earlier this year, and so booked myself on a daytrip out to Mývatn Nature Baths.
Mývatn – out of this world!
Known as the ‘Northern Lights Capital of Iceland’, the Mývatn area is home to Mývatn Lake – the fourth largest in Iceland and some landscapes that look literally out of this world. The whole region has an otherworldly feel to it with black piles of lava stone suddenly appearing on the landscape alongside craters. And the geek in me loved driving over the point where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet.
I wasn’t surprised to discover this was one of the areas used for filming north of the wall in Games of Thrones, and is home to the Grjótagjá lava cave where those iconic scenes between Jon Snow and Ygritte were filmed.
Before heading to the Mývatn Nature Baths we stopped off at several beautiful spots in the area including the Goðafoss waterfall, Dimmuborgir lava rock formations and Hverir mud pools.
At Dimmuborgir there are a number of different routes you can take around and through the formations, varying from a few 100m to several kilometres. We visited during a heavy snowstorm so wasn’t able to see a huge amount and the paths weren’t particular well trodden as our group essentially had the place to ourselves. But we did have a little exploration around the caves and through archways as well as act like kids sliding down slopes and making snow angels (it’s just gotta be done, right?!).
The Bog of Eternal Stench?
It was here we first started to get that sulphur smell that comes from an active geothermal area and this grew much, much stronger as we headed to the large field of bubbling mud pools at Hverir. Now I felt like I’d entered the world of Labyrinth and had arrived at the Bog of Eternal Stench. We had to be very careful with our footing here as the heavy fall of snow had hidden some of the softer mud areas – and you know, I didn’t want to smell bad forever. But I loved exploring this stinky, barren stretch of land, and even had the chance to get up close to steaming rock formations where I was able to warm my hands.
Mývatn Nature Baths
Having walked through snowstorms and clambered through the thick snow it had left, our reward for the afternoon was to warm our weary muscles in the geothermal waters of Mývatn Nature Baths. I was nervous, having heard how crowded the popular Blue Lagoon in Grindavík had become, so I was relieved to discover serene, if surreal, waters where we joined just a few small groups of other bathers.
I’d already paid for entry as part of my daytrip package, so on arrival I followed my group to pick up my wristband and a coin for the locker before heading towards the changing rooms. There is a cafe on site, but there’s no direct access to it from the baths, so instead you can order drinks (beers and soft drinks) at the entrance, and they’ll be brought out to you when you get to the baths.
How to book Mývatn Nature Baths and entrance price
You can actually just rock up and buy tickets on the day if you wish, but it’s much better to book in advance. This is easily done via the baths’ website, or often lots of day tours from places like Akureyri include entrance fee in their package.
Depending on the time of year you visit the price differs, as the baths have different entrance fees for summer and winter. There are also different charges for adults, teenagers, students, disabled and elderly. At time of writing the higher rates are approximately £30, £14 and £21 accordingly. Children under 12 – accompanied by an adult – are free.
This price does not include hire of towels, dressing gowns etc. We brought our own with us from the hotel, but you can hire towels and swimming suits for roughly £5 each and a bath robe for around £11.
Changing facilities at Mývatn Nature Baths
Once past the entrance you head through to an area where you must leave you boots and shoes before then separating to go into the men’s or women’s changing rooms. I was actually quite surprised at how small these were for a facility of this size – it was much smaller than the facilities my local swimming pool, for example. And there isn’t much privacy, so if you’re not one to bear all I recommend trying to come with your swimming costume already on otherwise, like me, you’ll be queuing to change in one of the four small toilets!
Once in your bathing gear it’s a case of popping your towel in the rack and taking a mandatory quick shower before braving a chilly corridor that leads out to the baths and the oh so cold air that’s between you and those steaming hot waters.
Myvatn Nature Baths in winter
This was the tough part of visiting Myvatn nature baths in winter – the walk from the shower to the waters feels like forever! But you can choose to pop inside the sauna and steam rooms that line the path if you can’t do the whole walk in one go. Realistically the distance is only probably 5-10m, but in minus temperatures its feel like so much more!
But once you’re in – bliss – and you can stay in the baths for as long as you want. We first entered the water when the snowstorm was in full affect, so in the beginning all I could really see was the pale blue of the water, the steam rising up and meeting white as far as the eye could see. Later, as the storm cleared, a pale strip of blue appeared between the snowy ground and cloudy skies and we got to enjoy amazing views across an artic tundra landscape that flitted between snowfields and volcanic mountains.
Myvatn nature baths is actually manmade, and the water comes direct from a nearby borehole. At its deepest it reaches 1.3m. The baths are split into two main areas, one slightly cooler than the other, but this is where you get the best views. I however, spent most of my time in the warmer pool, which has some rocky seats to lounge upon and mini waterfalls to stand under. On average the temperature of these baths are between, 36 – 40°.
Towards the end of my visit I braved a short walk to some of the smaller ‘trough’ baths as I called them which had even warmer temperatures of 42°. At home I have my baths so hot I look the colour of a lobster, so I was in my element with this one.
I also popped into the two steam baths before leaving. These are built directly on top of a geothermal area and here 50° steam rises through vents in the floor. Heavenly!
Lake Myvatn Nature Baths vs the Blue Lagoon
Full disclosure I have not yet visited Iceland’s blue lagoon, but from everything I’ve heard from other vistors the site has become overcrowded and the prices inflated. Personally I’m really glad I visited the Mývatn Nature Baths instead as I found them very peaceful and relaxing. Sure, there were quite a few other visitors but we all had space to ourselves to relax and soak in the atmosphere.
I still hope to check out the Blue Lagoon one day and if I do I’ll update this section accordingly. However, everything tells me that Myvatn is the better option for a more relaxing experience. So when it comes to choosing between myvatn nature baths or the blue lagoon, if you have the chance to pick either you know which I’d recommend…
Mývatn Nature Baths – fast facts and tips
The best way to get to the baths is via car or tour bus. They are probably over a six-hour drive from Reykjavik, so not really a viable daytrip. If you’re doing a ring road road trip then I highly recommend visiting! Further information on how to get to Myvatn nature baths is available on their website.
– Mývatn Nature Baths is open all year round. In winter (October-April) you can visit between 12-10pm. In summer (May-September) you can visit between 9am-12pm. Final entry is half hour before closing time.
– It’s best to book entry in advance online.
– Depending on the time of year and visitor category, entrance costs between £14-30 per person.
– If you can, bring your own towels and bathrobes. These can be hired for around £5-10 if needed however.
– Don’t wear brass or silver jewelry into the baths as they can be damaged by the high sulphur content in the water.
– Sulphur, however, is supposed to be good for asthma and other respirator conditions as well as good for the skin.
If you have any questions I haven’t answered please let me know in the comments below and I’ll do my best to help!