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Three things are reliably found in every Icelandic village: a Lutheran church, a gas station selling hot dogs, and a public pool heated by the country's plentiful hot springs. (To put this in perspective, consider that New York City has 25 times the population of Iceland, but half as many public pools.) Geothermal pools are so important to Icelanders that the Icelandic word for "Saturday" (laugardagur) means "pool day" or "hot springs day." During work hours it's not unusual to see business meetings conducted in the hot tubs. Icelanders visit the pools year-round, even in rain and freezing weather, and credit them for their long lifespans (81 years-old for men and 86 for women) and low stress levels.

We do not review all the village pools, only because they're so ubiquitous and easy to locate: just look for street signs depicting a bather. Obscure villages may only have a small pool, hot tub, shower, and changing room, while larger towns could also have lockers, lifeguards, fitness equipment, water slides, kiddie pools, an indoor pool, saunas, and a row of hot tubs, each set at a different temperature. Some farms also have pools that are open to the public, and nature has fashioned a few nice baths as well.

Health spas take things to the next level, with massages, beauty treatments, fitness classes, and so on. The best spas outside Reykjavik are the Blue Lagoon in Reykjanes Peninsula, the NLFI Rehabilitation and Health Clinic in Hverager?i, and Myvatn Nature Baths.

Pool Etiquette

Icelanders are especially strict about pool rules, especially when they pertain to hygiene. (Remember that Icelandic pools are far less chlorinated than pools abroad, so the concern over spreading germs is not paranoia.) To avoid stern looks of disapproval -- or even lectures by pool monitors -- follow the simple procedures below:

  • Leave shoes and socks outside the locker room, unless a sign specifically authorizes you to take them in.

  • Undress completely at your locker and then walk to the showers carrying your towel and swimsuit. Stash your towel by the showers.

  • Shower first, and then put your suit on. Rarely will you find a shower curtain or stall to hide behind; if you feel shy, be assured that Icelanders are both respectful of privacy and very nonchalant about this everyday routine. (Also be prepared for voluntary nudity in steam rooms, which are sex-segregated.)

  • When showering, use soap, which is usually provided. Most shower rooms post a notorious sign -- often photographed by visitors -- depicting a human body, with red blotches over the "trouble areas" requiring particular attention.

  • Don't go down water slides headfirst.

  • After your swim, shower again and dry off before entering the locker room. Dripping on the locker room floor is frowned upon.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.