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Northern Iceland: Myvatn Nature Baths
Northern Iceland typically only makes it onto longer Iceland itineraries. The region is too far from Reykjavík for a leisurely day trip and is best experienced on an extended holiday, like a one- or two-week circular tour on Iceland's Ring Road.
About 90 minutes by bus from Akureyri, Iceland's second city and Northern Iceland's most important population center, is Mývatn Nature Baths. The baths overlook Lake Mývatn, one of Northern Iceland's big tourist attractions. The baths consist of an enormous pool and steam rooms. Unlike the much better known Blue Lagoon near Reykjavík, facilities are pretty minimal beyond this. A café serves a decent selection of Icelandic beer and delicious homemade bread, and there is a gift shop as well.
Admission runs 2500 ISK (about $20) for adults; a towel is an additional 500 ISK ($4). Perhaps it should go without saying that you should bring your own swimsuit, but if you don't you can rent one for 500 ISK.
The Mývatn Nature Baths are fed by a borehole 2500 meters deep. Their waters are high in minerals and silicates. The water interacts with the pool's basin to produce a therapeutic mud that many bathers plaster over their bodies. The facility's steam rooms are fed directly by clouds of steam emerging from deep fissures in the earth. Best of all, they're not packed with bathers. Until tourism picks up in May, many visitors will move through these therapeutic waters more or less alone. (Bathers hoping for maximum privacy should consider weekday afternoon visits to avoid the after-work crowd.)
Sheer solitude places Mývatn Nature Baths in a very different category than the Blue Lagoon, one of Iceland's biggest tourist sites. The Blue Lagoon is located very conveniently about 20 minutes from Keflavik, Iceland's main international airport. It is an ideal spot for a quick layover and also makes a great final pit stop en route to the airport.
If by some unexpected development Akureyri becomes a significant transport hub, perhaps Mývatn Nature Baths will evolve into a major tourist site. But for the foreseeable future -- and especially in off- and shoulder-seasons -- this is one low-key gem.
There is a bus from Akureyri to Mývatn daily in the summer and four times per week in the winter. It costs 3400 ISK ($27) round trip. Passengers traveling to the baths should communicate directly with the driver regarding drop-offs. Upon request, the driver will release bathers just down the hill from the baths on the outskirts of the town of Reykjahlíð.