A swimsuit might not be at the top of your packing list when travelling to a country called Iceland, but the local, naturally heated swimming pools are the centre of the Icelandic social scene, where gossip and news is exchanged while bodies are warmed and relaxed.
the country’s geothermal energy, virtually every town in Iceland has a
naturally heated pool. As you drive through the country, you are likely to
notice steam leaking from crevices or spewing ahead on the horizon -- evidence
of geothermal vents and hot springs. Piping hot water is siphoned off to public
pools, where the water is minimally treated to keep it as pure as possible.
abundance of hot springs, most of Iceland’s pools are typical cement swimming
pools and hot tubs, not naturally occurring lagoon-like ponds. Iceland’s
largest facility, the Laugardalslaug
in Reykjavik, is a massive complex consisting of a 50m pool, half a dozen hot tubs, kids’ pools and even a waterslide. The Hverageroi
pool, situated 45km from the capital city, takes advantage of the region’s
particularly dense geothermal activity with similar facilities: hot tubs, a lap
pool, a sauna and a fitness centre. Even the famously stunning Blue
Lagoon, just outside of Reykjavik, is a manmade pool originally built to
hold wastewater from the adjacent geothermal electricity plant.
Do not let
the lack of spa-like ambience turn you off, though: the clean, warm and
unchlorinated waters are soothing and invigorating, and soaking in them is more
about the experience than the surroundings. If you are looking for more natural
surroundings however, consider the recently-discovered hot springs at Lake
Kleifarvatn, which has underwater springs popular with cave divers, or Hveravellir, where multi-coloured
ponds beckon the soaker and swimmer.
will have at least one, if not several “hot pots” – hot tubs filled with water
heated to varying temperatures. These small pools are where genial social
exchanges happen – between seniors, children, business professionals and
everyone else in between – and even if you do not speak Icelandic, people will likely
try to include you in the conversations.
are very affordable, towel and swimsuit rentals are available, and the larger
pools will have locker rooms with free locks as well as shampoo and soap in the
way to enjoy the pools is to alternate between the cooler lap pool and the hot
pots or saunas. Note that despite Iceland’s notorious winters, most pools are
outside and it can be a frigid run from pool to pool.
Swimming pool etiquette
Before you cannonball into the pool, be aware of some important conventions
when visiting Iceland’s pools and pots:
Because Iceland’s pools have very few chemicals, it is important that bathers
are clean when they enter them. And a quick duck under the stream of water
while in your swimsuit does not count: you need to get naked and lather up. If
you do not, you will be called out on it by the shower monitor (yes, it is a
real job), which is definitely more embarrassing than getting naked in the
your shoes. This happens before the shower; you take them off before you enter
the locker rooms, which are notoriously clean.
off. When you are coming back in from the pools and subsequent shower, you should
dry off thoroughly. Remember, those locker rooms are super clean, with nary a
drop of water on the floor.
To get the most out of your experience, sample different pools. Swim a few
laps, then soak in a hot pot or sit in a sauna. And make sure you chat to the
The article 'Soaking in Iceland’s social scene' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.