When you think of Iceland, what images are conjured up? For some it might be volcanoes and Vikings, while for others it’s glaciers and geysers. But how about sunbathing and sandcastles?
No, well get out your beach towels. For on a beautiful, sunny and calm summer day, admittedly a rare meteorological occurrence at this latitude, you may want to visit Nauthólsvík (pronounced “nay-tolls-veek”) for a day at the beach.
Yes, there’s a beach in Reykjavík, the capital city of Iceland, and on very good day you can sunbathe, play volleyball, build sandcastles and even swim. Truth be told you could do many of these things on any day, just not in a swimsuit.
Iceland is famous, or shall I say notorious, for its capricious weather. That’s not to say that there isn’t nice weather here. It just won’t stay that way and warm days are somewhat rare, all of which creates a sense of urgency to get out and soak up the sun.
The day I visited Reykjavík’s “thermal beach,” as it is called here, was on a particularly splendid Saturday in July, the skies were clear, the winds calm and the temperature was about 19 degrees Celsius (66 degrees Fahrenheit) – downright warm for Iceland.
Nauthólsvík is situated in a nice little cove at the mouth of a small bay and is not far from downtown Reykjavík. If you are ever here and want to find this beach just locate Reykjavík Airport and follow the road that parallels the runway to the end.
Yes, it is right near an airport but it is just a small regional airport for domestic flights and not a big noise disturbance. On the contrary, it’s kind of interesting to see the various small aircraft taking off and landing.
Nauthólsvík is mostly man-made: the sand was brought from elsewhere and the ocean swimming area artificially created. It has two fresh water swimming/wading pools more like oversized hot tubs, called hot pots, both with heated fresh water.
The two hot pots are kept at about 38 degrees Celsius (about 100 Fahrenheit) and the ocean swimming area is about 30 degrees Celsius (about 86 Fahrenheit). There’s a nominal charge of ISK 200 (about USD 2.75) per person to swim in the hot pots; other then that the beach is free.
There’s also a nice building adjacent to the rectangle shaped pool where you can borrow a locker, change into your swimsuit and buy ice cream and other snacks. The whole thing is run by a city-wide organization called Íthrótta- og tómstundarád Reykjavíkur (a mouthful), ÍTR for short. They are the same organization that’s in charge of all the public pools and spas in Reykjavík.
Your day at Nauthólsvík can include most of the standard beach activities – sorry, no surfing. It even has a very nice paved walkway that follows the ocean, circling around the airport in one direction and following along the bay in the other direction. People rollerblade, walk, run and bicycle along this route.
There’s even a small coffee house near the beach sporting a traditional Icelandic sod roof. There you can have the refreshment of your choice and watch the people go by or daydream about traveling to an island way out in the North Atlantic, just below the Arctic Circle. “Wait, that’s where I am!” I can’t help but be almost constantly amazed by the irony of this place given its global position. Planet Earth is an amazing, beautiful and diverse place.
Nauthólsvík used to be just the site of a small, natural hot water stream that fed into the ocean and Icelanders have been coming here to bath for years. Though I wonder how warm the bathing area was back then with just a small hot water stream flowing into the bay.
This spot is no longer dependent on a small stream and has its own connection to the city’s hot water supply. And, Iceland has hot water in spades; it is the lifeblood of this country, used for just about everything, from home heating to warming the ocean water for swimming. Let’s face it, without this abundant hot water swimming here would be unbearable.
It is redundant and almost cliché to say that Iceland is a land of extremes and contrasts, I know. But, the truth is, everywhere you look you are reminded of this fact. Nauthólsvík is just another example of this.
Iceland is a beautiful country and there is so much more to see. It can also be a harsh land. These contrasts come together to create an atmosphere and mood that is totally unique. And, when the weather decides to cooperate and the sun shines and the sky is clear, I have rarely seen a more beautiful place than here. The views go on and on as far as the eye can see, the air is clean and clear and the temperature can soar – well, sort of.
So, if you come to Iceland, don’t forget your sunscreen.
David S. Brooks, San Diego, CA, USA
P.S. I am married to an Icelander and lived in Reykjavík for two years from about 2004 to 2006.