Reykjavik has, for a long time, been using geothermal energy to keep the city and its people warm by drawing up hot water from natural springs and heating houses as early as 1930. Today, geothermal energy powers the entire city – with an electricity network harnessing 750 MW of thermal power from steam, and a hot water distribution system generating 60 million cubic meters of hot water annually.
On a sunny summer’s day in Reykjavik, tucked underneath the hill of Öskjuhlíð, is Nauthólsvík , the capital city of Iceland, a thermal beach has been created, where natural hot water flows out into the sea. While the sun might not provide sufficient heat to keep the country and its seas warm, Iceland has been blessed with an abundance of volcanoes, geysers and natural hot springs, thanks to its advantageous location along the Mid Atlantic ridge – a deep sea mountain range with a high concentration of volcanoes. Heat from the Earth’s core, where temperatures may reach 4,000-7,000°C, rises up to the surface in the form of hot water that seeps through fissures, cracks and permeable rock, allowing many countries like Iceland to easily take advantage of these naturally occurring heat supplies.
The geothermal beach at Nauthólsvík was opened in 2001 and now attracts over half a million guests each year. It is named after the farmstead Nauthóll, built in 1850, and burned down around the turn of the 20th century during an epidemic of typhoid fever. During World War II the area was used as a landing spot for amphibious aircrafts, and in the following decades became relatively popular with city residents as a summer outing destination. This was particularly thanks to a warm stream that fell into the bay of Fossvogur. In 1985, however, the stream was closed off by the government for being a health hazard. Towards the end of the 1990s the idea of converting the inlet to a recreation center gained traction. Massive rock walls were constructed to close the cove off from the ocean and the coast covered with fine-grained sand. Golden beach sand was brought in all the way from Morocco and an enclosure was created by erecting a big seawall to form an artificial lagoon.
The main objective of creating the geothermal beach was to establish the Bay of Nauthólsvík as a diverse outdoor area and haven for recreational activities; such as sunbathing, sailing and sea-swimming. The latter is surprisingly popular all year round, with people enjoying the use of the hot-tubs, steam-bath, changing facilities and showers, even when the water drops below freezing. The sea temperature varies from around -1,9°C during the coldest months and around 17°C in the summertime. Average temperatures are between 3°- 5°C in the winter and 12°- 15°C in the summer. The temperature of the sea inside the lagoon itself is higher in the summer, averaging at between 15°- 19°C due to the geothermal heating. It’s also significantly warmer during the winter in opening hours when the overspill from the hot-tubs warm the lagoon. Keep in mind that this also depends on the tide. During high-tide, when the lagoon floods, temperature differences are negligible. The beach opens for the season on May 15 and closes again on August 15—however the service center and facilities are open for a limited time most days during the off-season.
When the sun comes out, the beach is an excellent place to lounge with a book, splash around in the warm water, and picnic on the sand with friends or family. In addition to the warm lagoon, the beach boasts a sauna and two pools—a shallow rectangular one up by the service center, ideal for parents to relax with smaller children and toddlers, as well as a circular one at the water’s edge, which becomes partially submerged at high tide.The service center is run by the city of Reykjavik, which offers towel and swim-suit rentals and operates Strandkaffi, where guests can purchase ice cream, hot dogs, fizzy drinks and other refreshments. Use of the changing rooms, showers, pools and sauna is free over the summer months, but a small fee is charged during the off-season. Siglunes is the adjacent city-operated sailing club, and offers boating workshops for kids aged 9 to 16 throughout June and July.After enjoying a day at the beach, why not check out the modern Nordic cuisine of nearby environmentally-certified, restaurant Nauthóll—or grab some gelato at Perlan, while taking in the stunning view of Reykjavík from atop the observation platform surrounding the glass dome.