Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Reykjavik, Iceland: Splashing through Geothermal Mineral Pools - November 2015

Guest Blogger: Brenda Wilkerson
Certified Storm Spotter, Devout Memphis Grizzlies Fan & Avid Blogger www.dontstopbelieving.me

When I visited Iceland, I fell in love with its geothermal mineral swimming pools. Most towns have at least one public pool, and many Icelanders go daily if possible. They consider it important to their overall health, and now that I’ve participated, I can see why.

On the first night of our trip, my friends and I experienced local swimming pool culture at Laugardalslaug, which was just down the street from our hotel. (Not yet used to the Icelandic language, we immediately renamed it “LaGuardia” for our own reference.) Laugardalslaug is the largest pool complex in Reykjavik, with pools of various temperatures and purposes, a large water slide, a gym, and play equipment for kids. Anyone can gain entry for about $5, and monthly passes are available for even less per visit.

At the front desk, we were given rubber wristbands which provide access to a locker and were directed to the men’s and women’s locker rooms. There, we were introduced to Icelandic pre-swim procedure. Everyone has to strip down and wash with soap before putting on swimsuits and heading outside to the pool. This step is not optional; there are matrons in the shower room making sure you follow the rules. When you’re done swimming and soaking, you have to shower again, and then dry off to the matrons’ satisfaction before re-entering the locker room. I actually found this practical European attitude toward nudity kind of refreshing, and Bethany and I had a good laugh about it. (“Brenda and I no longer have any secrets,” she reported back to our friend group.)

Laugardalslaug was packed with locals, even late on a Wednesday night. Scandinavian children climbed onto play structures above the water’s surface totally unfazed by the near-freezing temperatures. I felt too cold in the regular pool, so I adjourned to the hot pot and spent a happy hour or so there. It was just what I needed after our red-eye flight and day of touring. Friends and neighbors chatted while steam rose into the air to meet the light sleet falling. I decided if my culture allowed for a daily workout and hot tub in community with my friends, I’d be a much happier person. Let’s get on this, America!

After such a relaxing time, we wanted to visit a public pool every night in Iceland, but they were usually closed by the time we arrived at our nightly destinations. So our final geothermal experience was at the famous Blue Lagoon. This pool is heavily marketed to tourists, and I doubt many locals go there. Like many people, we visited the Blue Lagoon on our way back to Keflavik Airport for our outgoing flight. We arrived around 10 am and walked right up to the desk, where the attendant told us repeatedly how lucky we were to get in without reservations. I thought he was exaggerating, but by the time we left, the line was out the door ... so either pre-book, or get there early!

Given the luxurious reputation of the Blue Lagoon, I was surprised to learn its milky, mineral-rich water is waste water from a nearby geothermal power plant. Whatever its origins, it felt great. We slowly wandered around the lagoon for a while, then found a spot to sit and relax with a smoothie from the swim-up bar. Blue Lagoon’s one free spa amenity is silica mud, available in buckets all around the pool. It’s meant to be used on the face only, but many visitors formed assembly lines and slathered it all over each other, which was entertaining.

While I enjoyed my time at the Blue Lagoon and am glad I went, I preferred the simplicity and earthiness of the public pools. The Blue Lagoon felt like a glossy Disney-fication of Iceland’s wonderful geothermal pool culture. Next time, I think I’ll stick to LaGuardia.


  1. I've been to the Blue Lagoon and it's one of the best experiences of my life!
    Jabeen x

  2. I've been to hot pools in New Zealand, and I agree - there's just something magical about it :) Especially on a cold winter's day when only vikings/ice swimmer would usually consider getting in the water.