Ah, yes, back to Iceland for another post. We haven’t adequately described the pool situation there, so we thought it needed its own post. I’ll try to adequately describe both the use and the condition of the pools there. I’m referring to the municipal pools, not the big fancy touristy soaks – The Blue Lagoon and such.
It seems that almost every town in Iceland has a geothermally heated outdoor pool. They are open year round, so you can have a nice warm bottom with a frosty head. Reykjavik must have had at least 6 or 7 of these exterior facilities. Some have awesome slides, most have a selection of tubs on the side of different temperatures to soak your weary bones. Typically they are 36-37 C (just enough so you feel warm, but not roasting), 38-40 C (definitely gets the skin a nice rouge), and 40-42 C (slow lobster boil). I am not sure if they have a higher pool than 42 C, but the saunas definitely are above that. Oh, and they also have a cool down pool that is about 6-7 C (to try to cool down after one of their steam roasting boxes, aka saunas). Pretty sure we tried them all, even if only for a few seconds in some!
Here is a little about the pools themselves and how to use them. Shockingly, they are simple. You show up, you pay the cashier a reasonable amount of money (for Iceland anyway, around 980 kr for adults, 160 kr for our 7 year old, and free for our 4 year old ) and you go to the change room. The pools are often open early (but not always on weekends) at 06:30 and stay open late 22:00 or later; but check the website, and don’t rely on Google to get the information correct – we arrived at a pool expecting it to be open, but the weekend hours were different than on Google. Also smaller towns may have limited hours for their pools.
Our first experience was at probably the one of the nicest pools in Reykjavik (Laugardalslaug). Here we were each given a bracelet to wear; similar to those ubiquitous rubber/plastic wrist bands that are often sold at the cashier of a sports store or grocery store – or kinda similar to a first-gen Fitbit, but with no display. The bracelets have a chip inside that activates the gate and you can use to lock/unlock your locker in the change room. Very handy. No keys, no change, no locks, just a rubber arm bracelet. They come in very fashionable colours as well – slightly worn out yellow, almost grey-black, off-white, blue (i think), and probably others. I am guessing the pool water might cause a bit of wear. They are a great system for sure.
So, ok, equipped with your wrist band you head to the locker rooms. There you are greeted by one of Iceland’s many signs – remove your shoes. You can either leave them on racks outside of the locker room, or put them in a bag to put in your locker. I left mine outside of the locker room on a few occasions and never had issues. So once you are down to your Jesus boots you head on into the change room. Here you are reminded, repeatedly by both signs and a shower guard dude to change here and shower au naturel before attempting to head to the pool. Seriously, there is a guy who has a job of sitting at the edge of the shower and making sure everyone washes well enough, without a swimsuit, before they are allowed to marinate in a tepid pool of human soup. There are no exceptions nor do people seem to care, as it is part of the culture, so whatever! I’m sure the nude group showers will freak some people out, especially if they have watched too many prison movies – but get over it, it is fine! So once in the shower they have signs everywhere showing you the key areas to wash – and it goes nicely with a little rhyme: Head, armpits, crotch and toes, crotch and toes, head, armpits, crotch and toes, crotch and toes (to the head – shoulders – knees and toes song tune).
Once that is done, you are free to enjoy the pools and soak up that rotten-egg smell. Actually, it isn’t too bad, once you are used to it, but the first few days in Iceland take some getting used to the hot water – as it all smells like sulfur. Another reminder is when leaving the pool, time to shower off again and dry off nude before going into the change room. This is serious business in this country, they keep their locker rooms clean and dry, so dry off well!
One thing that differed from the pools we are used to in North America is the lifeguards. Or the absence thereof… I think they were the people we saw walking on the side of the pool with their parkas a couple of times and headed to a tower with shaded windows. As an ex-lifeguard, Marianne had serious doubts about the response time in case of an incident. At pool #5 visited, we did notice that there were cameras pointed at all the basins so makes you think that someone must be watching. We even heard someone making an announcement in Icelandic at one point. Sounded like a lifeguard? We were hoping they weren’t talking to us. The upside of not having the heavy presence of a lifeguard closely watching your every move was that there seemed to be a bit more freedom with the use of the slides. The slides usually had a red/green light at the top so it was up to you to pay attention and go down when it was the right time. We never did quite figure out what the sign meant in terms of ages for riding the slides but there was a diagram clearly showing that it was ok to ride most of them with someone else and because we saw dads slide with little kids, we took that as a good enough sign that Maxine could go down with us and she loved it! Back home, she was often too small or too young to ride but she is the intrepid one who has no fear of slides. So lots of sliding fun for all of us and stairmaster climbing workout as a bonus!
We ended up using the pools in Iceland all over the country, and they were awesome. The pool in Akureyri had the best slides, while the first pool in Reykjavik (Laugardalslaug) had the best selection of hot pools on the side; you could find Icelanders of each shade of red coming out of the different pools, clearing helping you to figure out the temperature of that pool. Another pool in Reykjavik we went to, Árbæjarlaug, had a good slide for the kids, but also had a great shallow area for the kids to go and play. Their hot tubs were easy to access and not overcrowded, and they even had a nice indoor part of the pool that connected to the outside so that when it was too cold outside you could go in there and let the kids play. Of course each pool also has a lane swimming pool to get some exercise in. Most of the regular outdoor pools seem to be kept at a temperature of around 32 C, so perfectly comfortable.
We found that each pool had its own redeeming qualities and we enjoyed them all. Hitting the pools and spending a couple of hours relaxing (or having small children climb on you) is a must to when visiting Iceland. I mean especially if you like to hang out nude and chat with the locals – although good luck with that, small talk with Icelanders did not really go anywhere…
Summary: Pools in Iceland: Outdoors, hot tubs, slides, nude showers, wash your crotch, and watch the watcher watching you wash your crotch, relax, good, not too expensive, clean.
I would definitely say that Iceland pools are a must do! More so than the Blue Lagoon or the other nature baths. Not because those others aren’t great, nor should you avoid them, but these pools are cheap and you might actually be the only tourist there – we were on a few occasions!
Next time, more on the France restaurant thing. Why so many restaurants is awesome, not awesome! Or another random blog about us.. either or!
M, Asst. manager of snacks and baggage transport.