Any visitor to Iceland simply must visit one of the island’s ubiquitous public swimming pools. This is not a request. A point of pride for most locals, the pools are generally first rate, and admission is dirt-cheap (around 5-600 ISK). There is no better way to immerse yourself in Iceland. Again, visit one of those pools. This is not a request.
Public pools in Iceland generally open early and close late, making for an excellent start—or ending—to your day of frolicking among elves and Björkses! Opening hours in the capital region vary slightly, but you can count on Reykjavík pools being open from 6:30-22:00 Monday through Thursday (on Friday-Sunday, closing times vary).
Almost every pool in the capital region hosts a well-equipped gym. However, they are sometimes operated by private companies, so you’ll need to pay separately for the workout.
While every pool has its charm and a loyal following of regulars that will sing its praises, they are far from equal. To assist you, intrepid traveller, in finding the right place to swim a lap, soak your bones in hot water and/or boil yourself in piping steam, we went out and surveyed every single swimming pools in the greater Reykjavík area (except that one in Kjalarnes—it takes like eight hours to get there). Read on and pick one, then go take a dip.
This is not a request.
= Thumbs up
= Two thumbs up, great
✓ = Check, it’s there
✘ = Nope, not there
Sauna: (for historical significance)
Hot dog stand:
Hipsters/local politicians: ✓
This pool was recently voted “Iceland’s best pool,” and you’ll definitely encounter a number of locals who will offer their highest praise, proclaiming it a must-visit. This makes absolutely no sense.
That’s not to say it’s all bad. Far from it. Vesturbæjarlaug has a number of things going for it. But it is also safe to say that it is Iceland’s most overrated pool.
When Vesturbæjarlaug was opened in 1961 it was described as “the pearl of Western Reykjavík.” Since then, the pool has occupied a certain place in the hearts of Reykjavík natives. It has good character, and some significant renovations in recent years have modernized and improve it considerably.
The hot tubs are certainly the best place for the traditional Icelandic hot-tub debates on politics and current affairs. The dressing rooms and showers are still largely original. It still lacks a water slide, and hopefully one will never be added (not every pool has to pretend it would rather be by a hotel in Majorca).
Vesturbæjarlaug was Iceland’s first pool to offer a sauna. It was gender-segregated in the beginning, since Reykjavík’s then-pool authorities adhered to the Finnish tradition of sweating in the nude.
The current sauna is OK. However, it isn’t hot enough, and you can’t control the humidity, which almost takes all the fun out of the experience. It is also rather small, seating five to seven comfortably. What the sauna lacks in comfort, it makes up in historical significance, as it plays a small, but important role in Icelandic queer history. Before being gay was accepted by Icelandic society, closeted homosexuals would frequent the sauna, which became a notorious cruising location. Although cruising culture is largely a thing of the past, a number of gay men of a certain generation retain loyalty to the place.
Vesturbæjarlaug also has a unique steam bath, a large circular room, resembling a yurt, with glass walls and a concrete floor. While it has a pleasant feel to it, you get the sense that the contractor never really finished the job. It runs quite hot, which is nice (but beware the scorching concrete floor!).
What really gives Vesturbæjarlaug its edge is the location, close to the city centre. The café that recently opened right across the street is the perfect place to observe young up-and-coming Icelanders attempt to balance a bourgeoisie lifestyle with hipster cool. There is also a really good hot-dog stand right next door—a definitive plus.
Hot dog stand and concessions: ✘
Lágafellslaug is hands-down one of the very best pools in the Reykjavík area. It also offers the best sauna. This one has almost everything.
Just a few years old, the pool is a great example of what we could term “Scandinavian welfare-state architecture.” Modest while radiating prosperity, it is simple enough while providing everything you can hope for in a good Icelandic pool. The dressing rooms have a nice enclosed garden area for outdoor showering, and an excellent steam bath with a glass wall oversees the pool area. The sunbathing spot also offers a lovely view of Mt. Úlfarsfell.
Lágafellslaug’s main attraction is definitely its sauna, which is unquestionably the best you can find in the greater Reykjavík area, a large traditional sauna with virtually no drawbacks.
OK, there’s one drawback: its size. The sauna comfortably seats 15-20 people. Coupled with Icelanders’ lack of proper sauna culture, this results in folks wandering in and out every few minutes, loud conversations and hordes of unruly children, transforming what should be a place for quiet contemplation into a loud bus stop.
But, the sauna is wonderful. It has a large rest area with benches and showers, and even a tiny enclosed garden with a couple of benches where you can cool down and watch the sky change colours.
The pool is perhaps out of the way, but it is an ideal place to stop when you arrive back in Reykjavik at the end of a trip around the country.
Hot dog stand: ✘ (doesn’t really matter)
Sundhöll Reykjavíkur—Sundhöllin—is a great piece of history. Opened in 1937, after years of delays and difficulties caused by the Great Depression, it was considered one of the most important public buildings in Iceland, a beacon of modernity and progress. It is the only pool in Reykjavík to offer a proper diving board, its deep end reaching 3.5 metres.
The pool’s changing rooms, complete with personal walk-in lockers, are still largely original, and its modernist design is a sight to behold. Furthermore, the hot-tubs are among Reykjavík’s best. And whilst it has no sauna, Sundhöllin does offer a very nice, very small steam room.
In recent years, Sundhöllin has been bereft of an accompanying hot dog stand; however, there is a fine selection of great food destinations close by. We recommend Vitabar—a neighbourhood bar and burger joint that has made Grapevine’s Best Of Reykjavík list a number of times—and the small café just to the pool’s west, Reykjavík Roasters—one of Reykjavík’s best cafés, period.
To anyone wandering around downtown Reykjavík, looking for something to do (or just feeling tired after a long night): a visit to Sundhöllin is something you should seriously consider.
Hot dog stand:
A place to take the kids:
Crowds of foreigners: ✓
The current iteration of Laugardalslaug was inaugurated in 1968, sixty years after the municipality began operating a bathing facility in the area, which has acted as a pool site since 1772. Throughout Iceland’s history, the Laugardalur valley’s numerous hot springs (all underground and hooked up to the geothermal power utility by now) have been a great boon to locals, who would in the past venture there to do their laundry. Legend has that the steam rising from these hot springs were what gave the capital its name, as “Reykjavík” literally translates as “Smokey Bay.”
The pool is Reykjavík’s largest, a favourite with locals and usually packed during summer. The swimming pool itself is 50 metres long, ideal for swimming laps. It has something for everyone: a large warmer pool popular with young teens, a large indoor pool, a tall water slide, a wading pool, two smaller waterslides for younger kids and a large selection of hot tubs. There is even a sea-water tub filled with water pumped from a low-temperature underwater hot spring just off the coast to the west of the pool.
Since Laugardalslaug is located close to several large hotels along with Laugardalur’s camping grounds and hostel, it has become a favourite destination for groups of tourists. This means that the tourists-to-Icelander ratio will at times be roughly the same as in your average puffin shop.
Laugardalslaug’s late opening hours make it a great place to finish off your day. An on-site hot-dog stand ensures you can experience almost everything you would want from a pool trip in Iceland.
Except a decent sauna, which is a shame. But, to be fair, the steam bath is pretty intense. It is certainly the best example of the narrow, claustrophobic feeling and dimly lit plastic tanks that pools in the Reykjavík area used to offer in lieu of a decent steam bath or sauna, providing a unique impression of how it feels to be a piece of broccoli in a steam cooker.
Hot dog stand:✘
Crowds of foreigners:✘
Best swimming pool during summer days: ✓
This pool is a favourite destination for families. It offers a nice water slide, a shallow outdoor pool, and a very nice shallow indoor pool that connects to the outdoor area via a little river. Kids love it. There are also three large hot tubs, and a beautiful view of Reykjavík. The dressing rooms also have a large comfortable outside changing area. This pool is really wonderful in the summer.
A newly added steam bath ensures Árbæjarlaug status as one of the very best in the capital region. The old hell-closet of a steam-cooker (like the one in Laugardalur) has been replaced with a spacious steam bath that runs hot enough to drain away the fatigue of a long hike or the worries of the workday.
Definitively worth the visit, especially if you want to avoid the flocks of tourists at Laugardalslaug.
Hot dog stand:✘
Apart from Vesturbæjarlaug, this is the only swimming pool in Reykjavík proper that sports a sauna. In line with Vesturbæjarlaug, the sauna is gender-segregated—however, Breiðholtslaug’s sauna is actually very good. It runs hot, you can control the humidity and it comfortably seats at least ten people. Sure, the resting area could be nicer, but the sauna itself gets two thumbs up.
Breiðholtslaug’s steam bath is also very good, large and spacious, with a glass wall facing the pool area. The pool itself is an old-school Icelandic swimming pool: a no-frills place to bathe, swim and relax in the hot tubs. Since the pool is located in a residential suburb, far from any tourist attractions, you will only meet locals, making this a great place to observe salt-of-the-earth Icelanders. It is also a great place to experience the changing face of the Icelandic nation, since the surrounding neighbourhood’s large immigrant population means you are just as likely to hear snippets of conversations in Polish as Icelandic.
Small organic café:
Place to take the kids: ✓
Locals and regulars: ✓
Situated in a well-off suburb, Seltjarnarneslaug is one of the nicest pools in the capital region. The pool is very compact and has everything you could want (except a sauna): a very comfortable dressing area, a selection of hot tubs (four in all, 37°C-44°C) a water slide and a wading pool and probably the best view from any pool in the region. The steam bath is also excellent, hitting the Goldilocks spot of steam baths: not too big, not too small, not too hot, not too cold. That’s some good steam bath feng-shui.
Seltjarnarneslaug also likes to boast that its water is particularly healthy as it comes directly from a nearby borehole, making it rich in minerals and ideal for treating various skin conditions.
Instead of a hot dog stand where you can get your fix of processed pig meat in a bun, by Seltjarnarneslaug you’ll find the lovely eco-friendly café/shop Systrasamlagið, “The Sisterhood,” which sells sandwiches, smoothies and coffee. Definitely worth a visit!
Hot dog stand: ✘
Wave pool & Iceland’s largest waterslide: ✓
Sauna and steam bath:
Like two of the most luxurious suburban pools, Lágafellslaug and Ásvallalaug, this pool is a product of the financial boom.
This shows. The designers really went overboard. So much so, in fact, that the cost of the pool, which opened in the spring of 2009, played a major part in the bankruptcy of the municipality of Álftanes, which lead to it being absorbed by neighbouring Garðabær. Soak up those bubble krónur and enjoy the luxury of Icelandic fiscal mismanagement at its best!
A stone’s throw from the President’s house, Álftaneslaug features the largest waterslide in Iceland—ten metres high and eighty metres long—the island’s only wave pool, a nice indoor pool, two excellent hot tubs and a wading pool for the kids—plus a really good swimming pool.
To top all this, Álftaneslaug has an excellent sauna and a top-notch steam bath. Neither are very large, but they are roomy and very comfortable—and both have a window with a view of the surrounding landscape. This is especially welcome in the sauna—while a traditional sauna is meant to be a dark windowless cabin, there is something particularly relaxing about gazing at the cold blue winter-sky through sauna haze.
Varmárlaug allows you to experience the feel of a classic Icelandic small-village pool—in the capital region. You’ll find none of the big city pools’ glamour, yet it definitely has an allure. And while it lacks a steam bath, it does have a very good gender-segregated sauna.
Of all the pools in the greater Reykjavík area, Varmárlaug is probably the least-know: frequented as it is almost exclusively by locals, very few people know of its existence and even fewer would know how to find it. In fact, it has very few things going for it, other than the sauna.
However, the Laugaland camping area that rests on the small hill above the pool offers a magnificent view of Mt. Esja and Kollafjörður bay with its islands—it’s certainly the place for campers who value view and nature above crowds.
Historical significance: ✓
Sundhöll Hafnarfjarðar is one of the capital’s oldest public swimming pools. Opened in 1943 as an outdoor pool, rebuilt in 1953 as an indoor pool, Sundhöll Hafnarfjarðar offers an interesting glimpse of a bygone era. It was also the first pool in the capital region to have a proper sauna. To tell the truth, both sauna and pool are past their prime—a real shame, because the building has its charm, and the location, by Hafnarfjörður’s outer harbour, nestled in a lava field, is truly beautiful.
Capturing the atmosphere of a decaying post-Soviet Union industrial city:
Garðabæjarlaug used to be the only pool in Garðabær, until the municipality swallowed bankrupt Álftanes along with its luxurious pool (see above). The two pools could not be more different: Garðabæjarlaug is everything Álftaneslaug is not, but not in a good way. It is old and run down, it offers practically nothing to children, and little for adults beyond the opportunity to swim a few quick laps. The hot tubs are uncomfortably deep, reducing their lounging potential, and the steam bath is just awful; dark, dingy and not even decently hot.
However, the second-rate facilities do have a sort of Post-Soviet Union charm. You really get the feeling you’re visiting a place that got lost in the bureaucratic shuffle, but just keeps going out of force of habit more than anything. This is all the more baffling in light of the fact that Garðabær is a well-off municipality, which many of Iceland’s wealthiest people call home. To wit: Garðabær’s mayor is the single highest-paid municipal employee in Iceland. This really makes you wonder why the municipality would offer its residents a third-rate public pool. Perhaps they figure everyone has their own private pool?
Despite all of this the pool has its regular and very loyal customers. The pool also has a decent sauna, which is gender-separated, with women’s and men’s hours.
Hot dog stand: ✘
Suburban Icelanders: ✓
Family destination: ✓
Grafarvogslaug is a small, nice, no-frills suburban pool. It serves its purpose well enough, but there is really no particular reason to visit this pool if you don’t live in the neighbourhood. As a consequence, the clientele is primarily local.
During those rare hot summer days, Grafarvogslaug is packed with frolicking teenagers and kids playing on the water slide, in the indoor pool, or the shallow kids’ pool outside. The steam bath is pretty good, quite hot, with just the right amount of steam. However, it is as if it was meant to serve as locker room for a NBA team: the benches seem designed for someone who is at least two metres tall. If you are any shorter, your feet won’t reach the floor when sitting down.
The main hot tub has a clever design: a long trench with benches on either side, rather than the classic round design, making it ideally suited for conversations.
The absence of any sort of concession stand, for post-lounging hot dogs and stuff, is a major drawback.
Summer opening hours
(May 1- September 30):
Monday-Friday. 06:30 -22:00
Winter opening hours
(October 1-April 30):
Kiosk across the street:
Bodybuilders and bleach-blondes: ✓
Kópavogur’s two swimming pools are unquestionably among the best in the capital region; large, comfortable and well designed.
Kópavogslaug is older of the two, built in 1967. It recently underwent a complete renovation that lifted it into the highest class of capital region pools.
The pool itself is 50 metres long (most swimming pools in the Reykjavík area are 25 metres), making it a great destination for serious swimmers. It has a water slide, an indoor pool and a warm wading pool for the kids in addition to the standard selection of hot tubs.
The view on the pool grounds is also a little bit different than, say at Vesturbæjarlaug. Instead of lounging in the hot tub with a bunch of hipsters or politicians, you are treated to some of the best Iceland has to offer in the department of bodybuilding beefcakes and bleach-blondes.
The steam baths in both of the Kópavogur pools are top notch, with blue mosaic tiles and an asymmetrical layout providing a relaxing feel that is lacking from most of the area’s steam baths. Somehow, they have also hit upon the correct mix of steam, heat and light (because steam baths have to be dimly lit, but not too dark), so that you truly manage to unwind, rather than just battle the steam and heat. Both steam baths also have a really nice resting area with good showers and chairs where you can sit and cool down. Nothing remotely comparable can be found in any of the Reykjavík pools.
Across the street, you also have a nice neighbourhood kiosk, which sells hot dogs and ice cream. Ergo: Kópavogslaug has pretty much everything you might wish for.
Summer opening hours
(May 1- September 30):
Winter opening hours
(October 1-April 30):
Monday-Friday 06:30 – 22:00
Hot dog stand: ✘
The newer of the two Kópavogur pools is among the best family pools in the capital region. It features a large, shallow indoor pool, an outside wading pool, a large kid-friendly hot tub, a water slide and even a small lazy river. Like the other Kópavogur pool, Salalaug offers an excellent steam bath. The beautiful blue tiled interior is steamy and dimly lit, while right outside you’ll find a nice resting area where you can take a cool shower before you wander out into the hot tubs.
The main drawback of this pool is that it’s located far out in one of Kópavogur’s distant suburbs, so, it is really out of the way. Also, there is no way to procure hot dogs within walking distance.
Locals and regulars: ✓
Beautiful grounds: ✓
Suðurbæjarlaug is a great pool to visit on hot summer days, its large grounds making it ideal for sunbathers. It also has a proper sauna, which is a definitive plus. Since saunas seem to be more popular among men in Iceland than women, Suðurbæjarlaug does not even bother having separate men’s and women’s hours. So much for equal opportunities (to sauna).
Considering how good the (men’s) sauna is, the steam bath is a terrible disappointment. It’s one of those tiny windowless closets which still serve as steam baths in many Icelandic pools. It’s way too hot, dark and uncomfortable.
Sundays: 08:00 – 17:00
Olympic length swimming pool: ✓
Shelter from the weather and winds:
Senior citizens: ✓
Ásvallalaug opened in September 2008, just as the great Icelandic financial bubble was deflating. It is another great example of the prosperity which characterized the naughts in Iceland. Housed in a giant recreational centre (with a first-rate gym!), it is one of Iceland’s largest pools, certainly its largest indoor pool. This makes it the ideal destination if you really want to swim but won’t brave the unpredictable weather.
The pool main attraction is a giant 50-metre long pool, part of which is split in two (accommodating those who feel swimming 50 metres in one lap is too much). There is also a large shallow kids’ pool, a large waterslide and three hot tubs. There are even two hot tubs outside.
The steam bath is also first rate, with a perfect balance of steam and heat. If you’re afraid of the weather, this is your pool.
YOU WILL WASH SANS BATHNG SUIT before entering any pool in Iceland. Those who fail to do so can expect to receive glances of deep hatred and disgust from locals. In Iceland, subjecting strangers to soaking in your dirt is not considered good manners (this is one of the only things Icelanders like to be polite about).