Lonely Planet Writer

Iceland's unlikely tourist hit: geothermal power stations attracting visitors

It might seem an unlikely way of attracting tourists … but geothermal power stations in Iceland are driving not just turbines, but also visitor numbers.

A geo-thermal power station by Iceland's famous Blue Lagoon.
A geothermal power station by Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon. Image by David Blaikie / CC BY 2.0

The island nation – famous for its geysers and dramatic volcanic landscape – put its faith in tourism after the catastrophic banking collapse that began in 2008. In 2015, the country welcomed one million visitors for the first time, although that has not been without problems and has put strain on some of the island’s most famous sights.

An unlikely success story has been Iceland’s commitment to renewable energy, as part of the country’s long-standing plans to move away from dependence on fossil fuels. Its geothermal plants have been central to that, with one fifth of all visitors to Iceland taking a tour of a power station last year, according to the Icelandic President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson.

The country’s most popular attraction, the Blue Lagoon hot spa, is actually man-made and fed by water from the Svartsengi power plant. President Grímsson said: “The Blue Lagoon was created by a spill of water from a geothermal power plant and we actually charge now every tourist to bathe themselves in a spill of water from a power plant.”

Iceland's geothermal power stations are becoming tourist attractions.
Iceland’s geothermal power stations are becoming tourist attractions. Image by Mekanoide / CC BY 2.0

The Icelandic President told the Sustainable Innovation Forum in Paris that visitors to the country were intrigued by clean energy. He explained how people were now happy to “pay an entrance fee to see a power plant”, to see the reality of an economy working without reliance on oil, natural gas or coal. All new geothermal plants are now being planned and built with tourism in mind so that guided tours can be given to visitors.

President Grímsson also told the conference how greenhouse agriculture had also become a visitor attraction where tomatoes, cucumbers and other products that never before grew in Iceland were being produced there using the same renewable energy sources.