City Life: Reykjavík Exploration, Pool Time!

To-do list for a curious traveler:

  1. Walk and get your bearings (know where the pond, harbor, cathedral, and HARPA are in reference to your lodgings)
  2. Visit a geothermal pool and take your time to enjoy and experience it
  3. Explore a few museums (if you love museums, get a City Card!)
  4. Find some affordable food and drink

relax, refresh, reboot.

Visiting the geothermal public pool is key to truly experiencing Iceland. In fact, I recommend visiting at least two different ones. If you venture beyond Reykjavík, go to at least one in a smaller town. There are great pools in Hafnarfjördur, Laugarvatn (on the Golden Circle), Hvolsvöllur, Hofsós, Akureyri, Olafsfjördur, Heimaey, and more! Most of these facilities are outdoors, but are truly a great experience no matter the weather! Some have minimal indoor areas or lap swimming facilities inside for local schools and teams.

The pool is a great stop after your flight in. Yes, there is also the Blue Lagoon, a unique experience on its own. However, the public pools, while more basic, are very clean and at a tiny fraction of the price without the need to book ahead. If you’d also like to experience the Blue Lagoon, it requires pre-booked timed tickets, while the public pools do not. They may, however, be crowded in nice weather (above 60ºF and sunny) and evenings in decent weather.

The largest pool in Reykjavik is Laugardalslaug. Like many central Reykjavík pools, it is often busy except in the morning and tourist off-season. It’s got a good kid’s section, several hot tubs, plenty of pool acreage and 50m lanes, a tube slide big enough for adults, and a special sea water hot tub (always crowded). There are also steam baths and more amenities available here, and there were renovations throughout in 2023. Many tourists end up here because it’s a good hike east of downtown, where there are more hotels. Plus, there’s a campground right next door.

Central downtown’s Sundhöll was renovated in 2017, and I look forward to checking it out! My favorite Reykjavík pool so far is Vesturbaejarlaug, which is the image at the top of this page. This is in the west side of town (vestur means west, baer means town, laug means warm/bathing water). This is a much more authentic experience than Laugardalslaug, but may be out of the way for some. It’s a much more low key place, which includes an in-ground hot tub area behind the pool with AMAZING jets that revive you after long stuffy flights or a long day on your feet. But honestly, it’s hard to go wrong in picking a pool.

So, make sure you pack your bathing suit! Generally, the locals wear simple, fairly modest suits. You’ll stick out in a Speedo or a glittery, skimpy bikini. If you’re a lap swimmer like me, throw in goggles and your swim cap to stretch out over a few laps.

Take a towel! On my last trip, I took one of those large but thin/high absorbency sports/camping towels and liked having one I could wrap up in in the locker room. It was also lighter than a normal towel, and took up less room. Every now and then, your hotel will ask you not to take their towels to the pool. Your own will also be easier to pick out in the shower room. If you don’t have a towel, you’ll have to shell out an additional ~$6 to rent one.

When you enter the pool, look to see if there are shoe racks. In small pools in small towns, you should take the hint and leave your shoes there. If they aren’t there, they’ll be outside the locker rooms. DO NOT wear shoes into the locker rooms. Say you’d like to use the pool, and pay the entrance fee (at time of writing, it’s about $9 USD). They’ll gladly take credit cards, like almost any place in Iceland that’s not basic farm accommodation.

Enter the appropriate gender locker room, sans shoes (I also leave my socks in my shoes – extra incentive for them to be untouched, not that there’s any chance someone will take your shoes). Some pools, including Laugardalslaug and Vesturbaejarlaug, have a couple changing cubicles in the locker area. Key systems vary. Laugardalslaug gives you a wrist band you’ll use to enter and exit back to the locker rooms, and you hold it to a locker to lock and unlock it. Vesturbaejarlaug has keys on rubber bands you can take with you on wrist or ankle. There are several versions of ways to secure your belongings!

Locker room rules:

Silence your phone and put it away at once. Phones have cameras, and both are considered rightfully taboo in the locker rooms.

You must shower in the nude, without your bathing suit. Undress and take just your key/wristband, any soap or shampoo you want to use (a mild soft all-purpose soap is available in most showers), sunscreen/sunglasses if it’s sunny, your suit, and your towel. (And your goggles and cap if you’re a swimmer!). Use the bathroom before heading to the shower area.

Head to the shower and scrub up. You’ll probably see great posters about making sure you wash your hair/face, armpits, crotch, and feet. Here’s another, very Icelandic reminder. Some pools have a few private cubicles or curtained-off areas. If it has a solid door, lay your suit over the door to ensure the attendant (larger pools have one) that you are washing properly. If you’re going public, you can leave whatever you won’t use in a shower in one of the many open cubbies by the showers. When you are ready to head to the pool, clean and be-suited, leave your towel and personal shampoo/soap tidily in a cubby. No, do not take your towel outside. It’ll just blow away.

If you need to apply sunscreen, dry off and do so at this point. Make sure it dries before you get into the water, though!

Let’s pause a second: if you are anxious about the changing situation remember, you won’t see any of these people again. The Icelandic people know to mind their own business; follow suit. This was really tough for me to do, and still can be, as I have a body that is ill, difficult, and not nice to look at. Just do it. If I can do it, you can! Also, if your feet are tender on hard surfaces, it’s ok to wear sandals out to the pool, but be sure they won’t blow away when you take them off before getting in!

Pools also have non-water sitting areas and sometimes some lounger chairs for soaking up some sun. This is a nice place to start if you have sunscreen to dry, or if it’s gorgeous out. Etiquette in the water itself is very much common sense. Don’t block ladders or stairs, keep an eye on your kids, don’t splash folks. Relax, float, go between hot and warm water (or maybe challenge yourself to the ice bath), check out the sauna or steam bath if you wish. Take your time, I recommend budgeting no less than 90 minutes for a visit to the pool. Note: If you take a break to go in and use the bathroom, you must re-shower.

When you’re loose, relaxed, and tan, head back in and shower, and rinse your suit. Some pools have spinners to help get water out of your wet suit. Make sure you are DRY before setting foot in the locker room – this is another faux pax to avoid. Pick up your shoes on the way out. There will be at least one hair dryer (at least on the ladies’ side) either inside or near the outside of the locker room.

I hope you love the pool experience. Note that there are different summer and winter hours. Personally, I love ending my day with the pool with the exception of arriving early in the morning after a flight from the USA. If you are looking forward to going to the pool everyday, like museums, and plan to use the bus, get a City Card – it includes all Reykjavik pools and bus fares, and many museums!