Soaking in a hot thermal pool is an integral part of everyday life in Reykjavik. It’s a wonderful reprieve in winter, when Iceland is devoured by darkness (and freezing temps) for months on end, and an equally soothing pastime in summer, when the endless daylight allows one to enjoy a long drawn-out social affair. But joining the crowds and plunging into one of over a dozen thermal pools in Reykjavik is not as simple as it sounds. There’s quite a strict etiquette to follow; so on your next Iceland vacation if you’re thinking you’re just going to strip to your swimming trunks and dive-bomb your way in, best you read on.
While all the pools in town are actually man-made, the water is sourced from underground natural geothermal pools; so although most may not seem epitome natural wonders, the effects, ambience and social atmosphere more than make up for the lack of visual feasting. In famed places like the revered Blue Lagoon, you may get a more spectacular view, yet the complex may come across as an overly-touristy trap to some. Instead, book your apartment in Reykjavik and visit one of the many suburban pools, for an authentic and unpretentious cultural outing.
City pools are easy to get to and very affordable, so going for a nightly soak after an adventure-filled day is quite ideal. Towels and lockers are available to rent, but don’t forget to pack your bathing suit before you leave home.
Hold it right there!
Once you have chosen your desired thermal pool, arrived and paid your entry fee, you’ll be directed towards the locker and shower rooms. This is where all notions of ‘familiarity’ end!
The hot temps of Reykjavik’s swimming pools means there’s very little chlorine needed to keep them clean; however, in order to keep the waters pristine, you’ll be required to shower before dipping in. If you’re thinking you’re just going to barely wet yourself under a shower head and head off, you’ll be in for a rude shock.
Not only are you required to scrub yourself silly before swimming, but you’ll be required to do so stark naked. Nope, no exceptions ever made. While the mere thought of parading in your birthday suit in a room full of strangers may be daunting for some, don’t fear: it is perfectly normal here to scour and clean your most intimate parts, while standing side by side with a dozen or so other people. In this neck of the woods, shower curtains or privacy partitions don’t seem to exist either.
In case you’re contemplating skipping this part, think again. Swimming pool shower blocks are equipped with signs reminding you not to miss that all important nook, and some even go as far as tell you how long you should be rubbing for! If you think this is embarrassing, wait until one of the shower room attendants decides you haven’t done a good enough job and jumps right in to show you how. No, we didn’t just make that up either. Sometimes, in life, one just needs to choose the better of two evils. Now don’t be embarrassed, we promise you not all Icelanders are two-metre-tall supermodels; on our excursion we found at least one (we couldn’t really agree on the second) normal looking girls. There was even a hint of some jiggly-thighs. Promise!
The rewards are plentiful
Overcoming your inhibitions will definitely be rewarded; all pool complexes have several ‘hot pots’ of varying temperatures and spending a few hours alternating between steaming hot and frigid cold pools is infinitely revitalising.
Pool plunging is to Icelanders what ‘going down to the local for a pint’ is to the English: a sociable and relaxing affair. So (now you can!) dive right in and make new friends in Reykjavik¬ in the most relaxing setting of all.