Spoiler alert: This article contains references to nudity and terrible puns throughout. 

Before visiting Iceland, I had a somewhat romantic notion of what swimming in the outdoor geothermic pools might be like.  I had visions of lazing back beneath starry skies; of being able to watch your breath rise in steamy plumes before your face as the warm water envelopes your body; of lagoons so blue even Paul Newman’s eyes would feel pangs of inadequacy gazing down upon them…

While outdoor swimming was undeniably one of the coolest things I’ve done (see what I did there?), it was not without its surprises.  There are a few things you need to know first.  After all, it’s not an experience you can just DIVE into, WILLY-nilly…(this is already getting out of hand, I know…)

So before you take the plunge (…), I thought I’d share with you a few facts I picked up along the way.

The pools are just as good at night. 

To Icelanders, outdoor swimming is as much an every day social activity as meeting your friends for a coffee or sharing a few pints over the footy.  Locals are just likely to visit the pools after work as they are before, and I was surprised to learn how busy the pools were in the evenings.  It might seem a bit barmy to us Brits to laze about in a hot tub in the middle of winter when normally we’d be kicking back with a cup of cocoa, but with the quality of life in Iceland consistently regarded as above average, you’ve got to wonder who’s having the last laugh!  So, y’know, when in Iceland…

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No, that’s not rotten eggs that you can smell…. 

…it’s sulphur.  Perhaps the only thing that can take away from the experience of swimming in a natural geothermic bath is that you are, in fact, swimming in a natural geothermic bath.  They can be somewhat pungent.  But at least if you get lost looking for the pools, you can always wind down the windows in the car and wait for your nostrils to be hit by the unmistakable eggy odour.

Leave your inhibitions at the door! 

I’m afraid to say the rumours are true.  Showering nude is non-optional.  Before you go getting your knickers in a twist (that can wait, believe me), let’s take a moment to consider why it is so important to shower naked before entering the pool.  These are not your average, run-of-the-mill chlorine-infused pools that we are used to; they are natural hotsprings.  There is nothing added to the water to destroy the grime and bacteria that we, filthy humans, bring to the pool.  While it may seem a little unnerving to get your dangly bits out for all and sundry to see, I’m pretty sure we can all agree that the prospect of a gob full of someone else’s manky bum-water is equally unappealing.  Most changing rooms are equipped with a few curtained showers for those of us who are not quite so keen on exhibitionism, and almost all will have posters giving detailed instructions on how to wash yourself properly – in case you didn’t know.  Oh, and don’t even try to get away with a quick over-the-cozzy scrub; there are people employed specifically to make sure you follow the rules, and you do not want to mess with them!

Always remember to take a towel beyond the changing rooms… 

You will not be let into the main changing area unless you are dry again.  I learned this the hard way, having failed to take a towel with me to the poolside.  I was met at the door to the changing room by a surly (and let’s not forget, Viking-lineaged) attendant, who did not care one iota for my predicament.  Believe me, nothing screams ‘Silly Foreigner’ more than having to risk hypothermia whilst waiting for yourself to drip-dry by the poolside in sub-arctic conditions…which brings me on to my next point:

It’s bloody baltic outside! 

Yes, this seems an obvious statement to make, but it’s easy to forget once you’re in the warm waters of the hot springs that you are actually going to have to get out again and make your way back to the changing rooms.  Be prepared for things to get nippy…#couldcutglass #justsaying

Outdoor swimming is surprisingly cheap! 

You would think, given the quality of the facilities and the increasing popularity with tourists, that outdoor swimming would be quite a pricey activity but it’s really not!  Many of the natural pools across the country are free to visit, while even the city pools in Reykjavik rarely cost more than 650 ISK (£4) making it a hugely affordable activity for all.  No wonder Iceland folk are a happy lot.

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Getting in your thirty lengths will probably not make you any friends 

Although the locals may refer to visiting the pools as ‘going for a swim’, there is often very little actual swimming involved, and so it can upset the balance a little if you decide to come along and pull your best Phelps impression.  Genuinely looking to exercise?  Do a bit of research and find a pool which offers lane swimming…and stick to the lanes!

Things can get a little cosy 

Want a place in the hot tub?  Be prepared to fight for it!  The locals have no qualms about  hopping into the pools with strangers, and things can get a little squashy to say the least.  Which is fine, if like me, you have no issue being sandwiched between two burly bearded local chaps – not so great, however, if you are an advocate for personal space.

The Blue Lagoon is not a natural pool… 

The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s most visited sights.  However despite being located in the middle of a lava field, it might surprise you to learn that not only is it not a natural lagoon, but that the water is actually overflow spillage from a nearby power plant!  While this might somewhat dampen (…ha!) the illusion of a relaxing, natural experience, bathers need not panic about the quality of the water; Iceland’s plants run on geothermic power which means that you’re far more likely to feel the effects of too many beers at the lagoon bar than you are radiation poisoning. Huzzah!

….it’s also in the middle of nowhere 

The drive from Reykjavik takes approximately an hour.  Taxis don’t come cheap in Iceland, and if you’re visiting off-season the fare could easily set you back at least 15000 ISK (£90!). To avoid burning a massive hole in your wallet, ask at your hotel or the tourist information center about booking onto an organised trip, or, because the lagoon is just off the main road to the airport (a further half hour away), why not visit on your way home? Believe me, standing in line at security will feel like a breeze after you’ve just spent an hour bathing in silica-infused waters!

Conditioner will be your best friend 

Sulphur + soft hair = never going to happen.  Make sure you apply ample conditioner before and after visiting the pools, lest you fancy rocking the scarecrow look for the next few weeks.

About The Author

A twenty-something-year-old with a penchant for travel and a never-ending supply of terrible puns.

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