As soon as you land in Iceland you start seeing pictures of the infamous hot pools. On billboards, on buses, in the airport; happy people lounging in milky blue water, steam rising around them as their skin soaks up the nourishing minerals of the Earth.

You know, like this lady:

Blue Lagoon Iceland

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that not every hot pool in Iceland comes with a luxury spa and 1,000 tourists. But whether you indulge in the famous Blue Lagoon like the lady above (cost: 35 Euro) or go for a local pool like the one pictured up top (cost: about 4 Euro), you need to know how to behave. Like every other every culture with a historic bathing tradition, there are rules you should not break!

So here’s what you do:

1. Pay the entrance fee, whether it’s astronomical or cheap, and rent a bathing suit or towel if necessary.

2. Find the ladies or mens changing room, and take off your shoes before you enter. They’re probably covered in dirt, snow and salt and the clean changing rooms are no place for that. Put them on the shelves provided outside the door.

Shoe Rack at Icelandic Bath

3. Pick a locker that still has the key in the lock. The key should be attached to a rubber bracelet. Take it out of the door and place it around your wrist or ankle. You don’t want to lose it! Note: some locker rooms require a coin to take the key out, which you will get back when the key is returned.

4. Strip completely naked and lock everything in your locker except your bathing suit and towel. Bring those with you to the shower area (don’t forget your key!).

Lockers at an Icelandic hot pool

5. Put your towel and suit in the cubbies next to the shower and go in the shower TOTALLY NAKED. It’s the Icelandic way of keeping the pools clean. Use the soap provided to clean all your important parts (see the amusing sign below – they take this seriously!). When you’re nice and clean, put on your bathing suit. You can leave your towel in one of the cubbies by the shower. (If you’re here in winter it will freeze to the chairs outside.)

Icelandic Baths Showering Sign

6. Head on out! If it’s winter you’ll want to move quickly but carefully and jump right into the main pool. You’re wet and it’s below freezing, best not to dawdle.

7. Enjoy! In addition to the main pool, which is probably somewhere around 28C/82F, there should also be a few “hot pots” aka hot tubs. These will range from 38C/100F to 44C/111F. It’s wonderful to take your time moving from the “cooler” pools to the hotter ones, especially if you’re lucky to be doing it in a snowfall! If you’re feeling really brave, you can enter one of the saunas which will probably be a toasty 46C/115F. I wouldn’t recommend staying too long in there! I only made it about one minute before I felt the air from my nose searing the skin on my lip.

Vesturbæjarlaug hot pools in Reykjavik

8. When you’re ready to come back in, head back into your changing room to wash off in the showers. Make sure you dry off as much as possible before leaving the showering area, it’s not polite to make the locker area wet. And don’t forget my favorite part: drying off your bathing suit. Somewhere in the locker room, probably near the showers, there will be a funny metal box attached to the wall. It looks like a small washing machine. Open the lid and stick your bathing suit in the cylinder. Hold the lid down for 30 seconds or so while all the water is spun out of your suit onto the ground. Voila – your suit is (mostly) dry! It’s the coolest thing and I don’t know why every pool in the world doesn’t have one!

9. Back at your locker, get back into dry clothes. Use the hair dryers and plenty of mirrors provided to make yourself presentable again!

Mývatn Nature Baths

By the time you’re done, your body temperature is WAY up and you can probably walk through the Icelandic winter without even wearing a hat! It’s a quintessential Icelandic experience that you simply have to try even if you’re only passing through. I didn’t visit the Blue Lagoon, but I know there’s a bus that goes there straight from the airport. So you could even have a soak during a long layover in Reykjavik! According to our Game of Thrones tour guide, it’s the minerals in the water that keep Icelanders looking so young, so it’s gotta be worth a stop, right?

This was my experience at both pools I visited: the Mývatn Nature Baths (touristy but not huge) and the Vesturbæjarlaug pool (local spot walking distance from downtown Reykjavik). But if there’s anything I missed, or you’ve encountered some different rules, let me know in the comments!

Happy bathing!

  • Donna

    Very helpful! Thanks!!

    • http://www.seeknewtravel.com/ Kit Whelan

      You’re very welcome Donna! After almost messing these up myself, I figured it was only right that I pass on the knowledge ;)