Swimming is serious business in Iceland. It’s so serious that learning to swim is even a mandatory part of the Icelandic education. Nearly every town has a public swimming pool. It’s a place to socialize, to work out and even to bathe. Going to the pool for a soak in the hot tub is even a typical second date activity in Iceland!
Here’s what you need to know about swimming in Iceland.
It all started with the hot tub.
Hot tubs and natural hot springs have been part of Iceland’s culture since its settlement. Even then, settlers knew the health benefits of de-stressing in the warm geothermal waters that abound in Iceland.
Today there are more than 120 public swimming pools in Iceland, called sundlaugs, and if you don’t have one you’re not even really considered a town. The pools are almost all geothermally heated, located outdoors and open year round. The pools are the communal heart of Iceland and a key of Icelandic well-being.
The best way to immerse yourself in Icelandic culture is to visit these swimming pools and see what they’re all about.
Etiquette for swimming in Iceland
There are a few etiquette rules that are good to know before you strip down to your bathing suit and cannonball into the water.
1. There’s typically a small fee to enter the swimming pool complexes, though most natural hot pots and rivers are free. Bring a towel with you, or pay a small fee to rent a towel at the complex.
2. You’ll take your shoes off either in the reception area of the pool complex or before entering the locker room. Don’t worry; it will be very evident where to leave your shoes by all the other shoes lined up. And there is very little crime in Iceland, so never fear that your shoes might go missing. You can also carry them and place them in your locker if you choose.
3. You’re required to shower nude and thoroughly wash prior to putting on your bathing suit and entering any of the pools, hot tubs, saunas or steam rooms. There are separate male and female locker rooms, but inside there usually aren’t shower curtains or individual stalls. This can be a little shocking, particularly for North Americans. Rest assured that it’s as normal for the locals as eating breakfast and no one is staring at you. If you try to skip the shower, a locker room attendant might scold you and you’ll most definitely catch the evil eye of the locals. Iceland Tourism even made a video to stress how important this is.
4. Don’t cannon ball into the pools.
5. If you’re swimming laps, always stay to the right in your lane.
30 best swimming pools and hot springs in Iceland
1. Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland. It’s located just 15 minutes from the airport, so you can stop by after landing to soothe your travel weary bones or on your way for one last Icelandic bath before you head home.
2. Laugardalslaug Swimming Pool
This is Iceland’s largest and most well equipped swimming pool complex with Olympic size lap pools and a hot tub that has room for up to 50 people. You can even book a massage ahead of your visit to Laugardalslaug.
3. Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach
Sunbathing on a golden sand beach in Iceland? It’s not as crazy or cold as it sounds! This is a geothermal beach and the fusion of the geothermal run-off and the chilly seawater create a comfortable 15-19° C (59-66° F) year round. If you’re feeling really adventurous, plunge into the cold sea after a warm soak.
4. Secret Lagoon
This rustic pool was opened in 1891 and used until 1937 before being abandoned for over 60 years. A local renovated and reopened the swimming pool located in the sleepy village of Flúðir in 2014. Secret Lagoon has become increasingly popular with tourists ever since. The Lagoon also offers Northern Lights soaks in winter; float in the warm water and keep an eye on the sky.
5. Laugarvatn Swimming Pool
Laugarvatn is located on the Golden Circle route on the way to Gulfoss and this swimming pool complex is well worth a stop for its pool, three hot tubs and sauna.
6. Reykjadalur Geothermal River
Just a 40-minute drive from Reykjavik and a short three-kilometer hike brings you to the “Smoky Valley.” Part of the river that runs through the geothermal valley is boiling at 100°C (212°F), but downstream another cold river merges with the geothermal river and it creates the perfect natural hot pot.
7. Sundlaugin Laugaskarði
Sundlaugin Laugaskarði was built in 1938 and for many years it was the largest pool in Iceland; the National Team trained here until 1966. The hot tub has an electronic massage and there is a lap pool, shallow sitting pools and a sauna. Located just a few minutes from Reykjadalur, it’s a perfect stop after the muddy hike.
8. Sundhöll Selfoss
One of the largest swimming pools in South Iceland, Sundhöll Selfoss has indoor and outdoor pools, a play pool with water slides perfect for kids, sauna, steam room and hot tubs.
9. Hella Swimming Pool
You can sunbathe in Hell…a! Or just take a break from road tripping Iceland’s south coast with a stop for a little waterslide fun on Hella Swimming Pool’s three slides.
Iceland’s oldest swimming pool is nestled in a valley beneath the infamous Eyjafjallajökull. The geothermal water trickles down the mountain and into Seljavallalaug, which is basically just a large concrete pool and some changing rooms, but no other facilities . The river-crossing hike back to this hidden swimming pool is well worth it for the spectacular setting.
11. Sundlaug og íþróttamiðstöð Vestmannaeyja
Don’t even bother trying to pronounce this one. But no matter because this Westman Islands swimming pool is more like a mini waterpark built on a volcano with a handful of different water slides, a climbing wall built right up out of the water and various jacuzzis.
12. Landmannalaugar Hot Pot
Venture into the highlands to the natural hot pot at Landmannalaugar using the F road F 208 from the south (located between Vík and Kirkjubæjarklaustur). It’s well worth the washboard drive for the dramatic scenery of the vivid orange rhyolite mountains and soaking in the warm waters of a fifteenth-century lava flow. Just be sure your rental is approved to drive on F roads (which are only open in summer).
13. Strútslaug Geothermal River
Located between the Torfajökull and Mýrdalsjökull glaciers, a geothermal river and a glacial river converge to create this natural hot spring in the remote highlands. It’s well worth the two-hour hike from Strútsskáli for a soak in this unique spot.
14. Kirkjubæjarklaustur Sport Center
A great pool to stop off at on the way to Jokulsarlon is the Kirkjubæjarklaustur Sport Center, especially if you’re traveling Iceland with young kids. There is a play pool perfect for the little ones and a hot tub with water massage perfect for the adults.
15. Eskifjörður Swimming Pool
This swimming complex is set between the bay and mountains, giving you stunning views while you whoosh down the waterslides.
16. Neskaupstaður Swimming Pool
The village of Neskaupstaður is built on a hillside sloping up from the fjord and the swimming pool complex sits on the top of the hill, providing spectacular views over the entire fjord while you have a little fun in the sun.
17. Selárlaug Swimming Pool
Iceland’s East Fjords are beautifully remote and the Selárlaug swimming pool is magnificently set in the middle of nowhere.
18. Víti Geothermal Lake
Literally translating to “hell,” Víti in Askja is anything but. The geothermal lake is located in a caldera created from a volcanic eruption in 1875. It’s only accessible from June through October since the calderas are in some of the most remote parts of the Highlands.
19. Sundlaug Húsavíkur
Many of the public swimming pools have been improved and renovated over the years, but Sundlaug Húsavíkur has remained just as it was when it opened in 1960. Take a break from whale watching and enjoy the waterslides and hot tubs.
20. Grjótagjá Geothermal Spring
Grjótagjá is a natural geothermal spring in a cave and bathing there dates back to the 18th century when the Icelandic outlaw Jón Markússon lived in the area and bathed there. Be sure to bring a headlamp for this one because even in the daylight, you’re climbing down into a dark cave in the ground. Game of Thrones fans will recognize it as the cave where Jon Snow and Ygritte first got steamy.
21. Myvatn Nature Baths
The Myvatn Nature Baths are the Blue Lagoon of North Iceland, complete with eerily blue water, though they are built on top of a natural geothermal river.
22. Akureyri Swimming Pool
The Akureyri Swimming Pool in the Capital of the North is so much more than a swimming pool complex. Like many other pools across the island nation, it has waterslides, jacuzzi and saunas. But you’ll also find all sorts of fun including golf, pedal cars and a playground onsite.
23. Dalvík Swimming Pool
Remember those water mushrooms from waterparks when you were a kid? The Dalvik swimming pool is the only one we’ve found in Iceland. It’s also located close to skiing so if you’re visiting Iceland in the winter, you can soothe tired muscles after a day on the slopes.
24. Hveravellir Hot Pot
Located about halfway between Reykjavik and Akureyri on F35 in the west highlands, Hveravellir is one of the most beautiful natural hot pots in Iceland with smoking fumarolees surrounding it. On a clear day you’ll spot both the Langjökull and Hofsjökull glaciers.
25. Drangsnes Hot Tubs
The Westfjords are visited by fewer than 2% of tourists visiting Iceland and fewer still make it to Dragsnes. The roads are mostly unpaved and rough, so skip a visit in the winter and make sure you have 4WD. Though Drangsnes is a sleepy village with not much else, it’s worth stopping just for a soak in these free hot tubs with a fjord view.
26. Krossneslaug Swimming Pool
The Krossneslaug pool is the most popular in the Westfjords. That said, it’s never crowded because of its remote location on a black beach two kilometers from a settlement home to a population of just 53. The contrast of the blue pool, black beach and sea beyond is sure to step up your Instagram, making it well worth going out of the way for this pool.
27. Heydalur Geothermal Hot Pot
Heydalur is so off-the-beaten-path that your GPS will tell you it’s not even possible to get there. Don’t worry; it lies. And it’s well worth the uncertainty as you navigate washboard gravel roads to the campsite because this spot often enjoys epic Northern Lights displays. Enjoy watching the Aurora dance across the sky from this natural geothermal spring made for two.
28. Stykkisholmur Swimming Pool
The swimming pool and hot tubs at Stykkisholmur have Frasenius certified water, which is claimed to have regenerative powers and is often used in the treatment of patients with kidney disease. Stop by this town in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula that featured in the The Secret Life of Water Mitty and soak up the health benefits.
29. Landbrotalaug Hot Pot
Landbrotalaug is a hidden gem in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula just about two hours north of Reykjavik. It’s not easily found, but detouring down F54 is worth it for a soak in this intimate hot pot that is just big enough for two. Using the GPS coordinates N64°49.933 W22°19.110 to find it.
30. Húsafell Swimming Pool
Husafell swimming pool is in a beautiful nature area and surrounded by lava formations, crystal-clear mountain springs and geothermal bubbling brooks.