Built right into the mountains, Seljavallalaug is one of the most stunning outdoor pools. Here's how to find it and what to expect!
Ah, Iceland! The land of endless geothermal pools, natural springs, and stunning outdoor scenery. All of which can be experienced not only in the summer, but in the winter too! And amidst snow-capped backdrops and chilly air, these warm outdoor pools might be even more appealing in the wintertime. But no matter what the season, no trip to Iceland is complete without a visit to one of these pools.
Everybody in the world has swooned over Instagram photos of Iceland’s Blue Lagoon – but have you heard about any of the other more under-the-radar pools and springs? Like, Seljavallalaug, perhaps?
History of Seljavallalaug
Seljavallalaug is one of Iceland’s oldest pools (built in 1923), and it has quite an interesting history. It was actually built with the intention of teaching people how to swim. And it did! The pool hosted compulsory swimming lessons beginning in 1927. This is also a good point to mention that Seljavallalaug is a man-made pool, but a pool that is fed by nearby natural hot springs.
And while it was a big deal back in its heyday, it’s kind of abandoned now. I say kind of abandoned intentionally. It’s abandoned in the sense that it is no longer officially in use, but that doesn’t mean it’s not popular among tourists. In fact, that fact probably makes it even more popular among tourists.
Here I’ll break down how to get there, what to expect when you do, and how to treat it responsibly.
How To Get To Seljavallalaug
Seljavallalaug is located in southern Iceland. And even though it’s often considered to be one of Iceland’s “hidden” pools, it’s really not too difficult to find! It’s about 90 miles east of Reykjavik, just a little ways off of Route 1 (which is also known as the Ring Road).
From Reykjavik, take the Ring Road east about 90 miles until you reach Road 242 called Raufarfellsvegur. You’ll make a left onto Raufarfellsvegur and drive until you see a sign that says Seljavellir. You’ll have the option to go left, right, or straight at this intersection. Continue straight here, past a few guest houses and small hotels on your left, until you reach the Seljavallalaug parking lot.
From the parking lot, it’s a 20-minute or so walk to the pool itself. There is no signage marking the way, but the path is well treaded. You should have no problem knowing which direction to head! You’ll likely have to navigate over some small creeks and streams, so be especially careful of ice in the winter.
What To Expect
Well, firstly, it’s free! There’s no admission cost as it isn’t run by anybody or anything. A couple of volunteers do come to clean the area and the pool every few months or so.
When we went in December, we only saw one other small group of people the whole time we were there, which was maybe an hour or so. Keep in mind that in the winter, the days are much shorter (we’re talking like, four hours of daylight) so plan accordingly! You wouldn’t want to get caught out there in the dark.
That said, if traveling in winter, expect it to be cold of course! The air will be cold, but the pool will be warm. The only problem is those few dreadful seconds of taking off your layers before you dip in! And then, trying to get dressed again when you’re all done.
Which leads me to…facilities. Or lack thereof. There is one small building that used to house changing rooms, now it’s just an empty shell of a building. No heat, no restrooms, no nothing really. So be prepared to rough it and make sure you bring everything you need with you – towels, change of clothes, etc.
What NOT To Do
Although I did just mention that the building lacks facilities and is for all intents and purposes, empty, it actually wasn’t empty. The ground was littered with trash. Empty cans, plastic bags, even towels and clothes left behind. To put it very plain and simply, do not leave your trash here. It is so environmentally and ethically irresponsible and just plain disrespectful!
And while Seljavallalaug is no longer officially “maintained,” it still remains open for tourists and locals alike to visit. It doesn’t have to, though. Being able to go and swim in the pool at Seljavallalaug is a privilege! Exercise basic etiquette here and make sure to leave no trace!
Should Secret Places Remain Secret?
A lot of people have this belief that “secret” places like this around the world shouldn’t be publicized. That travel bloggers and Instagram influencers can post enticing images of places like these to thousands of followers, but not reveal the location. I don’t buy that.
And no, nobody is required to reveal exactly where they are and what they’re doing every minute of every trip. That would be ridiculous. Not to mention unsafe. I’m more so talking about traveling to specific places and intentionally hiding the location from people for fear of it becoming too mainstream, too trashed, too whatever.
I’ve heard the argument that people don’t want to reveal said “secret” location for fear of it being overrun with tourists. Tourists who won’t treat the place with the respect it deserves. Which, on one hand is fair, but on the other hand is kind of elitist and presumptuous. I get it, I mean I just mentioned a couple paragraphs ago how Seljavallalaug was filled with the trash that tourists left behind! But we need to make sure that people know this type of behavior is wrong, rather than attempt to restrict them from traveling to certain areas.
Which is how I feel about Seljavallalaug. It’s amazingly cool, off the beaten track, and a piece of Icelandic history! Anybody who is willing to get there deserves to see it, but must also be willing to leave it in an even a better state than they found it.