Of Icelanders’ obsession with all water; swimming pools, hot springs, spas, the Blue Lagoon and even the North Atlantic ocean
It seems like Icelanders are obsessed with water; they swim, soak and relax in it all year. This might be because of the fact that Iceland has geothermal energy in abundance so heating up several pools is not a problem. Let’s check out some “exotic” spa options as well as conventional ones.
Picture by Reykjavik city
There is nothing like stepping in a pool or hot tub in the freezing cold during winter, outside. Yes, you read right, almost all Icelandic swimming pools are outside and hot all year round (it is also very nice to step in in the summer). Most pools not located in geothermal areas are inside though. There are ca. 123 official swimming pools in Iceland, pretty much all towns have one. Many of them have hot tubs which are kept at various temperatures, ranging from 37°C to 42°C which is equivalent to 98°F - 111°F so everyone should find a suitable one for their own taste. The pools themselves are kept at a comfortable 29°C or 84°F.
You can generally strike up a conversation with the locals in these hot tubs. Many people meet in the hot tubs to enjoy a little soak and discuss current affairs. Icelanders tend to shy away from starting to speak but this might be a good place to interact with the locals.
Some tourists are startled or even frightened when they step into the locker rooms and realize that they are required to strip and shower naked before going in the pool, sort of like this traveler. Do not be alarmed, nobody is looking and nobody cares what you look like, we really only care about keeping the pools clean. Although I would avoid making the people that work in the showers notice that you are trying to cheat because they will pay attention to you and it is their job to notice!
For up to date information about the swimming pools in Iceland you can visit www.swimminginiceland.com. You can drive your SADcar to most if not all of these swimming pools. :)
The Blue Lagoon plus other nature baths and Spa options
Most tourists that are planning to visit Iceland know about the Blue Lagoon and many of them think it is one of the must-do spots. I agree. Not much more to say about that. The Blue Lagoon is mid-way between Keflavik international airport and Reykjavik so it is convenient to drive there and see the sights in the Reykjanes peninsula while you are at it. The Blue Lagoon is man-made; the water is extra water from the nearby power plant Svartsengi. The water can help people with skin diseases such as Psoriasis because of the high content of minerals such as silica and sulphur. When you get close to the lagoon you will smell the sulphur, this applies to most of the geothermal areas in Iceland, they smell like somebody farted in the car.
Tip for people with long hair: Do not put your hair in OR use a lot of the conditioner provided before you get in because the minerals in the water will make it dry and terrible.
There is another lagoon like the Blue Lagoon, the Nature baths by Lake Mývatn in the north of the country. The nature baths have been open for around 18 years and are gaining popularity every year, especially because of the surrounding landscape in the area. It is worth a visit if you are in the area.
Laugarvatn Fontana is yet another tourist attraction made up of steam baths, mineral baths and hot tubs. The steam bath is actually on top of a hot spring that you can hear bubbling and sizzling underneath your feet, which is quite nice. The hot spring has been used by locals for years but the Laugarvatn Fontana is newly built and very modern. It is situated by Laugarvatn on the Golden Circle and is a perfect end, or beginning, of a long day of sightseeing.
Since we are on the subject of hot springs, there are actually a number of natural hot springs that travelers and wanderers can bathe in. These hot springs are all over the country and have no admission (as opposed to the swimming pools and lagoons which usually are expensive).
Some of the most known and popular ones are Landmannalaugar, Hveravellir, Reykjadalur, Grettislaug, Víti (e. Hell) and Seljavallalaug. Some of these might not have any dressing rooms so either wear your bathing gear underneath your clothes or get ready to perform an acrobatic show under your towel.
It seems that no one has put together a list of natural hot springs for tourists but I managed to find a couple of lists in English that might help those that are interested.
,,Natural” Swimming pools
And while we are on the subject of natural, there are a couple of swimming pools that skip the chlorine in favour of natural mineral water that comes from the ground. The pool is natural in all ways, the water just runs through it and it is never cleaned making it slimy and green, and healthy apparently (because of all the nice natural algae). The experience is quite different from normal swimming pools and well worth a visit.
By now you are probably wondering what you have gotten yourself into and have started to plan how you can get a full refund from the airline and hotel, opting for Spain instead. If you prefer the more normal spa options we do have those as well and they are usually easy to find; right at your hotel if it is called Nordica Spa, Reykjavik Natura, Grand Hotel or similar. If you want to treat yourself you can also visit Laugar Spa, located right by Laugardalslaug Swimming pool. The spa is a wonderful little cave of different saunas and steam rooms, hot tubs and cold tubs as well as a relaxation room, very nice indeed.
Swimming in the ocean
Lastly, you can also soak in water that is not warm and Iceland has plenty of; the North Atlantic Ocean itself. Sea swimming has become increasingly popular in the last few years among Icelanders; some people go out in any type of weather all year round. There is even a very nice place to go to swim in the ocean, the man-made beach of Nauthólsvík in Reykjavik. The area contains changing rooms and showers plus a very nice hot tub which is used to warm the body after the coldness of the ocean. This option might be a little painful but certainly worth a good story when you get home. :)
A word of caution; please do not try to go into the ocean at just any place in Iceland, currents can be very dangerous and the cold temps as well. Never try to swim in the ocean by yourself.
The Nauthólsvík beach is open during summer and admission and use of the facilities is free. In the winter the beach is open Mondays and Wednesdays from 17-19.
So the spa options might be a little different from your idea of conventional but maybe not in a bad way. The question is; will you also become obsessed like the Icelanders that fill the pools, hot springs and hot tubs of Iceland on regular bases? Just a word of advise, if the sun is shining try to get to the pools as early as possible as the Icelanders are sun thirsty as well. :)