If you’ve seen the Icelandic Tourist Board’s new ‘Inspired by Iceland’ video campaign, you may be under the impression that Iceland is always sunny and Icelanders are super-hip-dancing-machines. While that’s debatable, the scene where the tanned couple goes skinny-dipping and makes out in a natural hot spring is pretty spot on.
Swimming is very much a part of Icelandic culture. I once read somewhere that Americans rendezvous at a coffeehouse, the Brits head to the pub, and Icelanders meet up at their local swimming pool. Although Icelanders do the coffee and pub thing too, they’re really the only ones I know of that catch up with friends at the public swimming pool.
The town water cooler
For the last thirty years, my grandma has been meeting up with her friends at their local swimming pool about three mornings per week. After swimming their laps, they sit in the hot tub and chat before getting out and having some coffee. It’s quite the social affair and if you’re looking for the town gossip, the hot tub is the place to go.
You’ll find public swimming pools in nearly every town in Iceland and everyone from young kids to old folks frequents them. On a fantastic note, Reykjavík’s newly elected mayor Jón Gnarr of the Best Party campaigned on the promise of making access to swimming pools free for students and losers. Not to mention, he also promised free towels.
Anyway, if you’ve seen one, don’t think you’ve seen them all because each pool flaunts its own local flavour. In general though, they taste a lot less like chlorine than, say, US pools. Instead (not to scare away any prude Americans), you should know that everyone is expected to soap up naked in a communal shower before getting into the water.
The countryside bath
However, pools in Iceland are not limited to the town. There are over 700 geothermal hot spots in Iceland and you’ll find pools, hot tubs and springs in the remotest parts of the country. Heitar Laugar á Íslandi, a book that was released last year, describes quite a number of these pools in Iceland, along with their GPS coordinates. Admittedly some are more hidden than others, but it’s also possible to spontaneously happen upon them.
Some of the greatest pools and hot springs can be found in the isolated Westfjords region on the Northwest corner of Iceland. On a recent road trip with friends from the States, as we wound our way around Reykjafjörður (Smokey-fjord), we spotted both a man made swimming pool and a natural hot spring in a majestic landscape of otherwise utter isolation. Given any desire to replicate that scene from the ‘Inspired by Iceland’ video, this would be a good place to do it.
So we veered off the road, climbed out of the car, stripped off our clothes and broke out in a dance to Emiliana Torrini’s Jungle Drum. Well, not really. But we did enjoy an evening relaxing in a geothermal heated hot spring. I highly recommend it. Plus, you don’t have to wait for Jón Gnarr to deliver on his promise of free admittance to swimming pools for students and losers because nature’s tubs are usually free for all.
Car provided by Hertz car rental for Westfjords trip. Book online at www.hertz.is or call 522 4400