Wash Thoroughly Without Swimsuit – Or How to Behave at the Geothermal Swimming Pools
A visit to Iceland isn’t complete without a dip in one of the open air thermal pools located around the country; warm due to geothermal heat, and clean due to the strict bathing rules everyone must follow before entering.
Icelanders start going to the pool from an early age. They learn how to swim and comply to the rules of washing before entering, so showering naked with others of the same sex isn’t an issue. Men and women undress and shower in separate changing rooms, and within the changing rooms there is little or no privacy. No one is allowed to enter the pool without washing thoroughly—without their bathing suit. However, with the growing number of visitors from abroad these rules are becoming an issue for some.
“People come here from different cultures where the same rules may not apply and where it’s not as common for people to go to the swimming pool. Some feel that their privacy is being violated by the bathing without swimsuit rules. In respect for different views on the matter, we are currently installing private changing rooms and private showers,” says Logi Sigurfinnsson manager of Laugardalslaug in Reykjavík, the biggest swimming pool in Iceland.
A big poster from the National Center for Hygiene, Food Control and Environmental Health, guides people in five languages on how to wash before entering the pool, and washing without swimsuits is required of all in order to keep the water as clean as possible. The quality of the water is under strict supervision and checked for bacteria three times daily. The Public Health Authority also carries out random inspections every three months.
“We pride ourselves in keeping the water clear of harmful bacteria. Since we want to put as little of chlorine as possible in the water it’s essential for people to follow the rules of washing without swimsuits before entering the pool and hot tubs. One of the most common compliments we get is on the purity of the water; we would like to keep it that way,” says Logi.
The rules of washing
The rules on washing is not the only thing that confuses visitors from abroad; they are not sure where they should undress and do not know how to behave in and around the pool. Icelanders visiting the pool have sometimes found tourists undressing outside the changing rooms, undressing wrapped in their towels for privacy.
“In some countries that’s how things are done, people of both genders undress in the hallway and then go straight to the pool. And since we are seeing record numbers of visitors this year we haven’t been able to guide every single one visiting. But there is no harm done, and everyone gets to the pool clean and safe.”
This is how to behave at swimming pools in Iceland
1. Pay the entrance fee.
The admission fee for single entry (February 2018) is 980 ISK for adults and 160 ISK for children up to 18 years old. For those planning on a lot of pool visits, it’s cheaper to buy a pass for 10 admissions, which brings the single entry for adults down to 460 ISK and 100 ISK for children. The Reykjavík City Card provides free entry to the pools.
Towels and swimsuits are also available for rent at the ticket booth.
2. Shoes off.
Outside the changing rooms there are shoe shelves where you can leave your shoes. Shoes can also be stored in a locker in the changing room. Place them in a plastic bag, found at the entrance to the changing rooms.
3. Get a locker.
A locker is included in the admission fee so you can store your clothes and belongings. The key is attached to an elastic band which you can put around your wrist or ankle and bring with you to the pool. The number of the locker is on the key. Some pools offer roofless changing rooms without lockers, preferred by those wanting the whole outdoor experience.
4. Wash without bathing suit.
This is probably the most important rule! It's also one of the reasons for why the pools are clean and free from harmful bacteria, despite relatively low levels of chlorine in Icelandic pools. Your swimsuit must be clean so don’t arrive to the pool wearing it. Undress and make your way to the showers. If you are uncomfortable showering in an open space with other people, you can ask the staff if there is a private shower. Once you hit the showers you have to wash with soap and without your swimsuit.
Icelanders take swimming pool hygine very seriously, so don't think of trying to skip the showers!
Leave your towel and shampoo in the nearby shelves. You are welcome to take your towel with you to the pool, especially if you are going to sunbathe on one of the benches outside, but towels are usually left inside next to the showers.
5. Decide whether you want to go topless.
After several demonstrations by Icelandic feminists under the hashtag #FreeTheNipple the Reykjavík public pools decided they would no longer enforce different dress codes for guests based on gender. Other municipalities have followed suit, as legal experts agree that pools in Iceland lack the legal authority to ban women from going topless.
Women and men only need to wear trunks. If public nudity offends you, there is little need to worry, though: Nobody is forced to go topless!
6. Go to the pool.
Put your swimsuit on and go to the pool. Usually there is a freeform pool, which is good for drills; hot tubs for relaxing; a playing area for kids; and thermal steam baths. All of the pools have hot tubs and many also have water slides. Most of the pools are outdoors, which is wonderfully refreshing, and since they are warm it’s also great to hit the pool in winter, when it’s freezing outside. There is no time limit on the admission ticket, so you can stay in the pool as long as you please.
7. Relax in the hot tubs.
The hot tubs are the heart of any Icelandic swimming pool. It is where locals gather to discuss current events, politics or football, making it one of the best places to meet locals.
You can do as the locals, just lounge in the hot water, allowing any stress or weariness to drain out of you.
8. Shower again.
This time, it’s your choice if you shower but it’s good to wash the traces of chlorine from your skin and hair.
9. Stop for a hot dog or ice cream!
Locals like to top off their visit to the swimming pool, especially if it's a beautiful summer day or a weekend, with a stop at a nearby hot-dog stand or ice cream parlour. "Ein með öllu" (one with everything) or a soft serve ice cream with chocolate dip and Rice Crispies sprinkles is the perfect dessert to a relaxing visit to the pool!
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