Swimming and bathing has its own place in the Icelandic culture. It has always been essential for survival for fishermen, it’s healthy and swimming pools are a place for sunbathing, socialising and doing business. Since many years swimming has been a mandatory subject in Icelandic schools.
I guess when it comes to infrastructure, Iceland has the highest density of swimming pools all around the world. Some figures to boost my theory:
In the capital area alone you can find 17 pools for about 120’000 citizens! Around the country I counted 95 in total, which makes 78 for the other 210’000 inhabitants of the island, and most of them are open all year round.
In comparison: My hometown Zurich with about 400’000 citizen has 7 indoor pools, open all year round, and 19 outdoor pools open during summer.
So if you travel a country with 95 swimming pools and only 30 villages with more than 1000 inhabitants, sooner or later you will inevitably end up somewhere in a pool. As everywhere in places with many people at time you can spot all kinds of characters: those strutting with pride and self-confidence and on the other end of the spectrum those who try to sneak in as inconspicuously as possible. But in Icelandic swimming pools it all begins in the changing room!
There is a rule, valid all over the country (usually controlled by the staff) but often not known by foreign visitors who are in Iceland for the first time, and causing some giggling after a first shock.
You have to take it off!
This means: before entering the bath you go to take a shower, without your bikini or swimsuit, just all naked. And you wash yourself properly with soap (provided) from the tip of your nose to your toes. Why? I don’t know exactly. The best answer I got from an Icelandic women: “In the pools there is not much chlorine and it is kind of crazy that you enter a common shared pool dirty, so that you are sharing your dirt with everybody.” Maybe this idea originated in the older days, when bathing was not possible in every house and people probably went directly form the stable/fields to the village pool.
By the way: We ask our guests also to shower before using the hot tub, to keep it free of sunscreen, sand and mud, brought back from the riding day. But we do offer private showers ;-).
Travel tip: In many pools you can buy a 10-visit ticket. If you plan to go more often than 5 times (or if you are traveling in a group) this is the cheapest way to enter.
Looking for a spot for your next swim: https://sundlaugar.is/
PS: The new official wording of thermal pool rules: Everyone must wash thoroughly without a swimsuit before entering the pool. Swimsuits must be clean.