Iceland is “all about the water” my mum said when she came to visit. She was referring to the dual influence of the Gulf Stream, making Iceland unusually warm for its latitude, and the country’s ubiquitous hot springs. Without the hot springs, Icelanders wouldn’t be the people they are—hot tub addicts.
The number of swimming pools here is big, per capita, and the hot tubs are the star of the show. If the midnight summer sun is keeping you awake, just take a dunk in the closest hot tub and you’ll melt into sleepy jelly. Some Icelanders love to switch between hot tub and shocking ocean swim, to maximize the effect. Hot pots, as they’re often called, also allow you to bathe outdoors on an otherwise frozen winter night.
Swimming pools in Iceland are pretty much all outdoors. They’re all well maintained, though some are newer than others. It is often customary to have little perks like free lockers, soap, and hair dryers in the change rooms. Many are part of sports complexes that have gyms, weight rooms, classes, and hold sports tournaments in the summer. But, like their towns, the swimming pools of Iceland each have a unique personality. My mother and I sampled several en route from Reykjavík to Akureyri.
Swimming pool at Íþróttamiðstöðin í Borgarnesi
400 ISK per adult
With its clean and modern feel and aquatic colour scheme, the Borgarnes swimming pool was a pleasant start to our journey. About an hour out of Reykjavík, Borgarnes is a prime stopover point. The sun was out and the showers were hot. There are three outdoor hot pools, 35, 39, 42 degrees (with no jets), one kids’ wading pool, two lap pools (one inside), and three slides, each significantly different from each other. The top slide was fast!
Bergur Jónsson, a Borgarnes native and employee of the community centre, says: “The best thing about the swimming pool, for me, is to go to the hot tubs after lifting weights. We have a great view.” From the pool deck visitors can see over the ocean nearby, and can even watch football games being played in the adjoining field.
Swimming pool at Íþróttamiðstöð Húnaþings Vestra
400 ISK per adult
The Hvammstangi swimming pool is an unassuming little place. Some might even call it shabby. The building has the white-painted-concrete ambiance of an old hospital, but a clean one. Built in 1982, the pool uses geothermally heated water. Because it’s located higher up on the Hvammstangi’s hillside, the pool might have a nice view over town if we could see through the fence. The lack of lockers is a nuisance, but not a serious problem, because you can leave your valuables at reception. There is little to no theft. “Sometimes someone takes one towel, but nothing big,” the girl working there told us.
With two hot tubs at 37 and 40 degrees, this pool doesn’t have all the bells and whistles the others do, but I’ve got to hand it to them for having a hot tub at just the right temperature—and with jets! Despite the pool’s modesty, I can imagine crowds of kids hanging off floaty toys and parents lolling off lawn chairs on the deck when Hvammstangi congregates to enjoy this pool in summer.
Blönduós Swimming Pool
380 ISK per adult
My mother and I picked our way through construction into this brand spanking new sports complex only to find it hadn’t officially opened yet. With two slides, two hot tubs, a tots’ pool (with mushroom fountain!) and a lap pool, all outdoors, plus a steam room, this pool will be much better than the previous version, which was all indoors—mostly unheard of for a pool in Iceland. “For now we’re just cleaning up the place and getting ready for the opening,” Sara Jóhannsdóttir told us. She’ll be working there after the place opens on June 16. Much thought has been invested in this version. There are concrete floors rather than cushy rubbery ones because the latter become slippery in winter. The pool also uses a state-of-the-art chlorination system, and is electrically heated because there is no geothermal heat in the area. The best part of the pool? “I’m betting the slides are going to be awesome,” said Sara.
Grettislaug hot pool
grettislaug, just north of Sauðárkrókur
Okay, this isn’t officially a swimming pool, but if you’re anywhere near Sauðárkrókur you should go. It’s sixteen kilometres up a dirt road along the pretty Skagafjörður, through three gates you have to open yourself. The two outdoor hot pools are lined with large algae-covered stones that are smooth to sit on, but slippery. The smaller and larger pools are about 38 and 41 degrees, respectively. Even on a rainy day it’s worth a trip—park right beside, change in the car, and make a run for it.
Unfortunately there is no view of the fjord from the pools, but you can lay your eyes on the picturesque mountains and fields nearby instead. There were some nesting arctic terns nearby during our visit. The water is unfiltered, and apparently comes from directly beneath the hot pools. Some spots on the pool floor are too hot to step on. The downside of the spot’s convenience is that it is well used. There were three other cars worth of tourists there with us on a Thursday at noon in early June. Luckily the water seems to circulate well.
Sauðárkrókur Swimming Pool
380 ISK per adult
Built in 1957, this lively pool doesn’t act its age. When we got there it was full with swimming lessons—all foam crocodiles and kick boards. According to Eva Pandora Baldursdóttir, who works at reception, the patrons are “mostly townies, but in the summer there are many tourists and people passing by.”
The geothermally heated water feels quite chlorinated, and the supposedly 39-degree tub was hotter than the 41-degree tub, but the jets were nice and hard and the locals were friendly. The best part about the Sauðárkrókur swimming pool is “the service,” Eva told us. “Like when I’m on the deck sunbathing, I can go ask for a cup of coffee!” It’s all about the little things here. There is a courtesy water dispenser with cups in the lobby, and in the change rooms swabs and cotton pads are available alongside the requisite hair dryers. Best of all, on Fridays visitors can alleviate their post-swim munchies with a fresh cupcake—a new tradition.
Akureyri Swimming Pool
450 ISK per adult
The Akureyri pool was built in 2004, but has been a swimming spot in some way, shape, or form since 1897. It is by far the most professional pool we visited. No matter where you go, there is always an orange-t-shirted employee on guard. Several seem to take their jobs quite seriously.
It’s a busy place. Helen Gunnarsdóttir at reception barely had time to talk to me—there was a steady stream of arriving patrons. “The security is very strong,” Helen said, pointing to the security cameras. “We take care of the children and make sure everyone is safe.”
The electrically heated pool is also the most deluxe pool we visited. The two small hot pots were respectively scalding and tepid, and the jets were weak, but the rest was great. There are two 25-metre lap pools, a kids’ pool complete with mushroom fountain and snake statue, one larger hot tub at about 40 degrees, one warm shallow area with fountains, two slides, one deeper pool at about 29 degrees that is part indoors, part outdoors, a steam bath outside and a sauna inside, plus one pool indoors for lessons.
And there is exercise equipment outdoors in case pool patrons want to work out between hot tub sessions. And there’s a minigolf course and play structures in a grassy area beside the pool, which is supervised in the summer. Suffice it to say that this pool is disgustingly fun, and certainly roomy enough to comfortably accommodate the crowds that flock there.
Most exciting slide:
Best hot tub:
Free cupcakes on Friday in Sauðárkrókur
Akureyri—patrols indoors and outdoors
Greatest variety of pools:
Nicest place to sit on deck:
Go swimming while you ar in Iceland. Missing the opportunity would be a mistake on your part. Honest.
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