When you think of Iceland, what images are conjured up? For some it might be volcanos and vikings, while for others it´s glaciers and geysers. But how about sunbathing and sandcastles? No? Well get out your beach towels, because on a beautiful, sunny and calm summer day (admittedly a rare meteorological occurrence at this latitude), you may want to visit Nautholsvik (pronounced “nay-tolls-veek”) for a day at the beach. Yes, there´s a beach in Reykjavik, 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. Despite the name Iceland, there is nice weather here, and sometimes amazing weather. It just doesn’t stay sunny for long periods and shorts weather is somewhat rare, all of which creates a sense of urgency to get out and soak up the sun. In Reykjavik´s “thermal beach,” as it is called and shown here, was on a particularly splendid summer day with clear skies, calm winds and outright warm weather.
Nautholsvik is situated in a nice little cove at the mouth of a small bay and is not far from downtown Reykjavik. If you are ever here and want to find this beach just locate the Reykjavik Airport and follow the road that parallels the runway to the end. The airport is a small regional airport for domestic flights only and not a disturbance. On the contrary, it´s interesting to see the various small aircraft taking off and landing.
Why it’s warm
Nautholsvik is mostly man-made: the sand was brought from elsewhere and the ocean swimming area artificially created. It has two freshwater swimming/wading pools called hot pots, both with heated fresh water and more like oversize hot tubs. 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 to swim in the hot pots; other than 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 Íþrótta Og Tómstundaráð Reykjavíkur, or ÍTR for short (you won’t have to say it to get in). They are the same organization that’s in charge of all the pools and spas in Reykjavik.
Your day at Nauthólsvik 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 people go by or get our your bucket list and check off the one about traveling to an island way out in the North Atlantic, just below the Arctic Circle.
Nautholsvik 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 one might 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, which coincidentally is located in five huge tanks on the hill above the beach at a site called Perlan (the pearl). Iceland has hot water in spades, it is the lifeblood of this country and, it is used for just about everything, from home heating to warming the ocean water for swimming.
It is redundant and almost cliche to say that Iceland is a land of extremes and contrasts. But it’s true and Nauthólsvík is just another example of this. Iceland is a beautiful country and there is so much to see. 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.