Seljavallalaug: A hidden gem in South Iceland

Seljavallalaug (e. Seljvavellir pool) is one of those places many visitors in Iceland miss because they are busy checking off all the highlights of the south on their Been There Done That list. It’s nestled in a narrow valley below the infamous Eyjafjallajökull and it’s the oldest pool in Iceland that is still standing. It was built in 1923 by some visionaries that wanted to provide the locals with a place where they could learn how to swim. Unlike today, where Icelanders won’t graduate school without passing a swim test, most Icelanders didn’t know how to swim in the beginning of the 1900s which was a problem since many of them lived off fishing. It was important to get these things in order and those who built this pool knew that.

Today I believe the pool is mostly maintained by volunteers and of donations but you can still very much swim in it while enjoying the spectacular surroundings. It’s built next to a rock wall that makes up one of its four walls and the water comes from a natural hot spring close by. It’s 25 meters long, 10 meters wide, and even offers dressing rooms where you can change but no showers. There is no entry fee and you are asked to treat it with care and respect but alcohol consumption is strictly forbidden. I don’t think you want to be wasted in that location with something happening and no life guard anyway!

Walking towards Seljavallalaug

Walking towards Seljavallalaug

The changing rooms at Seljavallalaug

The changing rooms


The pool itself

Helga enjoyed the pool!

Helga enjoyed the pool!


On the way back to the car

On the way back to the car

The landscape in the valley is pretty intense

The landscape in the valley is pretty intense

Jumping over a stream

Jumping over a stream

How to get to Seljavallalaug

When you are driving in the direction from Reykjavík you turn of the ring road (No.1) into road 242 marked Raufarfell. It’s just past Þorvaldseyri (The Iceland Erupts exhibition) so make sure you don’t miss it (like we did). You drive until you see a sign that says Seljavellir but if you follow that road you get to a new pool that was built later where you can park. From the car park you walk for 15-20 minutes towards the bottom of the valley and in the end you will see the pool peaking behind a corner. You can’t see it until you get to it so if you think you’re going the wrong way you probably aren’t. You will have to jump over a little stream and the way is a bit uneven but it’s an easy walk and everyone should be able to do it.

It’s been a few years since I was there last time and I’m sure that the access to the pool changed a bit in the eruption because it didn’t look anything like I remembered. So if you have a guide book that says it has a nice trail to it and you feel confused when you don’t find it – don’t worry about it. It’s there!

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46 thoughts on “Seljavallalaug: A hidden gem in South Iceland”

  1. Sarah says:

    One of my favorite places in the world. Plus your sister looks unbelievably beautiful in that one picture!

  2. july says:

    One of my favorite places too! You feel so special when you are here, swimming between rocks, waterfalls, and hot water…. !
    You can see one of my video from this winter in iceland, and me and my boyfriend, with a gopro, swimming here 😉

  3. Anna says:

    Been there, done that, enjoyed it! It was already on our list of things we were hoping to do, and we made it. Thanks for the extra tips 🙂 Ps. We’re in Reykjavik again Wednesday evening to Friday morning before flying back home.

  4. Wilson says:

    I was there today, thanks to your suggestion. That’s an amazing place, in such a beautiful valley, it was well worth the walk. Thank you so much for leading me there!

  5. mathieu says:

    Place looks great! We are planning a january trip, is this place accessible by foot without a guide during the winter time?

    1. mm Auður says:

      It probably depends on the weather – I’m actually not sure how safe it is. You definitely have to take into consideration the limited light (so if you are there in the afternoon you might be going back in pitch black). I also don’t know how the road up there is in winter. It should be OK if the weather is fine but take precautions.

      1. mathieu says:

        Indeed weather is an important factor…normally this would take you how long to walk in and out?

        1. mm Auður says:

          I don’t know, maybe 20 minutes? Maybe less…

  6. Matt says:

    Thanks for telling us about this amazing spot. We arrived late morning after a mild snowfall (3 or 4 cm) and my wife was a bit dubious about directions to “Park at the pool and walk up the valley for 20 minutes” but we lucked out with an Icelandic guide. After we parked our car, a beautiful black dog came down the hill to say Hi and then ran 50 meters up the valley and turned her head as if to say “this way!”. She lead us straight to the pool (taking a more direct route than the set of prints we could see in the snow from an earlier visitor) and then sat next to the pool for half an hour while we swam. After we dressed, she lead us back to the car and then ran up the homes to the west.

    Thanks for providing us with a tip that lead to one of the best experiences of our trip, it was magical!

    1. mm Auður says:

      Thank you for sharing Matt and you are very welcome! 🙂

    2. Maryanne says:

      This same dog was at the pool when we went, and when my friend and I left the dog led us the whole way back down the trails. Lovely!!

  7. Yves says:

    Wait. You didn’t tip the dog? ;p

    1. says:

      No, tipping dogs in Iceland is very disrespectful.

  8. Jennie says:

    This sounds so exciting- I love the pictures from the pool! How is the weather now- do you think it is accessable now in October? Im leaving for Iceland in 1 week (yippeeeeee!!).

    1. mm Auður says:

      It’s accessible as long as the weather is OK (there are often storms around this time of year that don’t scream out “go hike and get naked in nature). The pool is not that warm though so I don’t know if I would get in if it was really cold – there’s one spot where the water comes in where it is warmer but I was there this summer and there were some people there that were just cold.

  9. Mike says:

    do you know how deep is the pool?

    1. mm Auður says:

      No, I don’t know. Maybe 2 meters where it’s the deepest. Maybe a meter on the other end…

  10. Jeremy says:

    My wife and I visited in November. We got to the parking lot after dark, but with some trial and error we figured out where to go. A group of French travellers gave up at the stream crossing, and a couple Americans that we gave directions to on the way out also bailed. Probably because we told them the change rooms were totally reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project! Which they were! Super creepy in the dark, it was a great adventure! We went to find the plane after this!

  11. Bart says:

    We’ve attempted to find this pool, but failed, and we were not alone. In total, we were three independent groups that hiked up the Rauarfell mountain crossing a river at several points and climbing up steep hills with lose rocks. None of use found the pool and each of us gave up after looking around for almost an hour.

    We drove onto road 242 but there was no sign that said ‘Seljavellir’ (we drove in both directions to make sure). The only sign we found on road 242 was ‘Selkot’, and that’s were it looked like a place to park. We hiked up to the mountain, had to climb over a fence, found a home made hot tub (which we took as ‘new pool’) and continued climbing up crossing a small river several times. At a certain point, there was a fork, and we had to take a left or right. We tried both options without results. Obviously this was not the right path, but weird that three groups independently made the same mistake.

    We’ll attempt to find this pool again tomorrow. Looking at Google Maps and OpenStreet Map it looks like we need to drive INTO Seljavellir road (not caring about any sign, and ‘Seljavellir’ is the name of the road), passing Hotel Lambafell on the left and drive until the end of the road. I’ll post an update tomorrow.

  12. Bart says:

    I still owe this blog an update. We returned the day after and found the pool without any problem. Simply drive towards Hotel Lambafell, pass it, and drive until the road stops. You’ll see the new geothermal pool hidden behind a wooden fence (I guess that was the knew one). Simply park your car there and start walking. You have to cross a river, but it’s very easy and the only tiny challenge. The river can be crossed where-ever, there is no official path. I suggest everyone who wants to take a dip to bring a garbage bag or so, so you can undress in the filthy rooms while standing on the garbage bag.

  13. Dave says:

    Now the most important question: What temperature is the water? I would like to know if it is warm enough to swim in in the winter or late fall. (should be close to 40 degrees centigrade, I hope. Greta post! Thanks.

    1. mm Auður says:

      It’s not very warm and there’s only one spot in the pool that gets very warm.

    2. Jennie says:

      We were there last days in October last year. I think it was warmer than I thought (!) and no problem at all to swim there late fall! It was actually snowing by the time we had found the pool 🙂

      Its not as warm as the Blue Lagoon, however its a free entrance and in the middle of the mountains! 😉

  14. Tin says:

    Is it doable to drive out here on a day trip from Reykjavik?

    1. mm Auður says:

      Yes, it’s easy to combine with a south shore tour for example:

  15. Einur says:

    It it open in June 2016? And in good condition?

  16. May says:

    We just returned from our trip this week and we did make it out to the pool. It was quite an experience – the toughest part was getting past the stream/small river which was flowing fast and icy cold. We forgot our flip flops and went through barefoot and all I could think was “this might be where we go down.” But we made it, in the rain and all and it was worth it. I’d do it again given the chance!

    1. mm Auður says:

      That stream is normally not a problem, must have been because it was raining or something.

  17. Karl says:

    Just went in early November and the scenery was awe-inspiring and worth the trip even in the rain and cold wind. We also had a small challenge crossing the stream in one spot (maybe because of the time of year) and caught a couple of booters doing it. The pool is indeed not that hot at this time of year, but warm enough to swim around in even with the colder weather outside.

  18. Emily says:

    Do you go naked in the pool or should you bring a bathing suit for this one?

    1. mm Auður says:

      you can be naked if you want but most people would change into a swimsuit I would think. There’s a small changing room there but it’s kind of nasty.

  19. Enar says:

    Wasn´t too nasty when we were there last summer. I would say “bring swimsuit”.

  20. John says:

    For anyone concerned about water temperature: We took a swim in the pool on a chilly February day. I actually found the water to be pleasantly warm and could have stayed in the pool for quite a while despite the chilly air (2 C/35ish F), but my girlfriend did not, so it all depends on your tolerance. Getting in and out is, of course, the hardest part. The natural stream trickling into the pool from the mountain is VERY warm and you can sit underneath it on the rocks and enjoy the scenery around you, which the photos here honestly do not do justice. The corner with the ladder where the water is piped in is indeed the warmest place, but it is patchy, so the surrounding areas are colder. Once you acclimate to the water, I think you’ll be fine.

  21. Molly says:

    I’m curious how late in the day you can visit this pool. Does anyone know if it closes?

    1. mm Auður says:

      It doesn’t have opening hours – you can visit it any time of the day.

  22. katye says:

    Audur – Love your blog! I have been planning my trip to Iceland for the past few months. I have used your Car Rental discount and have noted down so many of your tips!! I can’t wait til mid May. Quick question – I know that I need to be careful about road conditions and that Highway 1 is pretty good, BUT can I get to the entrance (down 242) in a compact car? So desperate to make it to this pool.
    Thanks in advance.

    1. mm Auður says:

      It should be fine. It’s not the best road but not the worst either.

      1. katye says:

        Thank you, Audur!

  23. Melissa says:

    Would it be completely silly to come here in June with our two young children (age 5&3)? They’ve done a lot of adventurous hiking and swimming in small pools/ponds in our home of Colorado…but don’t want to make the trip if it’d be way too dangerous and/or bothersome to others there. Thanks for any advice!

    1. mm Auður says:

      It’s not silly but there are going to be quite a lot of people there and the facilities are primitive (no bathrooms for example) so you might want to keep that in mind. There’s also a short hike to get there, which may seem long to small feet. It shouldn’t be dangerous at least.

  24. Jen says:

    Came to visit in early August and it was very crowded. There were plenty of tourists, kids included. The location is beautiful and the short hike was pleasant but this pool is definitely not “hidden” anymore. The water was also a bit scummy, with no chlorine or anything in it and so many people visiting everyday. I imagine it would be much more pleasant during a less touristy time of year.

    Water was comfortable but not super warm and there is now a small foot bridge to get across the small stream, although it looked like it could break at any minute.

    1. mm Auður - I Heart Reykjavík says:

      It’s been a while since I wrote this post and the number of tourists in Iceland has almost doubled! Even though there are other people there it’s still hidden away in this valley so I guess it depends on how you look at it 🙂

  25. Mirra says:

    Sorry but I don’t like these kind of articles. That “hidden” gem is not hidden any more but crowded… The hidden little gems of our country are getting trampled and ruined because of the overflow of tourists. It’s impossible to enjoy any kind of peace and beauty anymore since every single place is like a crowded trainstation. I think we should stop giving out clear instruction and recommendation to every good spot in Iceland, before there aren’t any left.

    1. mm Auður - I Heart Reykjavík says:

      I get what you are saying and since I posted this I haven’t posted instructions to any other spots that can’t handle a big number of tourists (something that most travel blogs don’t hesitate to do) This post was posted a long time ago before the influx of tourists and at the time I wondered whether I should post it or not and based my decision on the fact that it’s far enough from the ring road that most people will skip it (and they do) and the fact that Seljavallalaug was already in every guidebook out there.

      I am currently going over all the content on the blog and will make a decision whether or not to take this down in the next few weeks.

  26. Josie says:

    Hello Audur,
    What a great blog. Thank you so much for all your information. I am looking forward to taking the Reykjavik Tour when we come to town. Just a quick question: how deep is the pool?

    1. mm Hrannar - I Heart Reykjavík says:

      Hi Josie.

      The shallow end is not deep. Maybe 120cm or so. In the deep end I can’t touch the bottom. There is no chlorine in the water so there is a lot of green stuff in the water that makes it impossible to see how deep it is.

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