When we got off of the plane in Reykjavik, I had no idea we’d be spending so much time in Iceland’s hot springs. Before my first trip, friends and acquaintances had mentioned hitting up every swimming hole possible, but we just didn’t have the time in November — five hours of daylight isn’t a lot! So in March, after spending one morning at the Blue Lagoon, and another evening at Fludir, we decided we’d be in hot springs every damn day. And for the next day, I had my heart set on Seljavallalaug.
Note: yes, I can pronounce that word. It took lots of practice, but I’m now confident that I’ll make a great Scandinavian some day.
Anyhow, Seljavallalaug is one of Iceland’s oldest swimming pools — built in 1923 to teach locals how to swim — and it’s kept up entirely by local volunteers. So if and when you visit, I cannot emphasize your duty to leave no trace. Places like these will only last as long as we can take care of them.5 I can say with confidence that the time we had at Seljavallalaug was by far my favorite part of our trip.
We had spent most of they day at site after site — starting with Seljalandsfoss and Gjulfrafoss, where everyone was struck by their first moments of “ho-ly shit, what planet am I on” awe. The landscape transformed with almost every curve of the road, and we met other travelers, ranging from the very handsome, Czech law student who helped us not get lost on the road to the plane wreckage, to the recent Santa Barbara grad, on his fifth day of a year-long solo travel adventure. Seljavallalaug felt like the right way to end an incredible day.
There were a few minutes that we had to ourselves in the pool, right before the latter traveler from Santa Barbara stumbled upon us. We mostly savored every one of those moments, because there is nothing more beautiful than being in a warm pool, surrounded by mountains, enveloped by clouds and lightly falling snow — with the only soundtrack being falling snow and the slight trickle of water from the hot spring to the pool.
Several times throughout that trip, we all talked about the importance of soaking up every single moment — and as often as we could remember to, we put our phones away and I kept my camera at my side, and we would soak up every sound, every breeze, and every scent. With every blink, every breath, I knew it would be more and more painful to leave.
We hung around the pool waiting for an older couple to leave, and when we finally had the pool to ourselves, we stripped down and got in, because yolo (or, “yoiio,” which we coined for “you’re only in Iceland once,” which obviously did not apply to me). And shortly after, the Santa Barbara grad I mentioned before showed up, and timidly joined us. He was so nervous to have stumbled upon four skinny dippin’ ladies that his hand trembled when we passed him our flask of bourbon. And every time we forced him to be our photographer. But by the time we were ready to walk back to the car, he tagged along for the walk, and we wished him on his merry way.
From the Ring Road, turn inland on Raufarfellsvegur road. After about 10 minutes, it’ll get pretty rough, but drive until you can drive no further, and park your car at the end of the road. There’s a little ridge on the left side of the valley that you can walk along. Our directions were “walk towards the valley for about 15 minutes,” which sounded crazy, but turned out to be 100 percent accurate. Once you cross a little stream, and turn around a bend, you’ll see the pool.
There are changing rooms and hooks where you can hang your clothes up to stay dry, and the pool is lukewarm, except for one corner, where the hot water trickles in. Try to avoid the hot spot, because if you’re there for too long, it’ll make the rest of the pool too cold to swim in!
Also, fun fact: the local volunteers do drain the pool out for cleaning once a year or so. When I visited in November, one of my hosts told me that they had drained it in September or October, and it took a month to refill and warm up again. So ask around when you’re visiting!