While planning my trip to Iceland, I pictured cascading waterfalls, sublime ice caves, and magnificent glaciers. But I knew very little of the Icelandic version of therapy. Swimming in geothermal pools is something of a ritual across Iceland and once I’d spent hours soaking in the comforting warmth of one, I began to understand why.
But this being my first trip to the Nordics, it wasn’t the idea of swimming outdoors in -6°C that I found hard to digest, the culture shock came from a lack of knowledge about the etiquette of going to a thermal pool in Iceland. Here’s what I wish I knew before I went.
The shower rooms, separate for men and women, are full of bodies walking around without any clothes on as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
There was a code of conduct to be followed before I could step into the misty comfort of the pool and it had no place for modesty. With hesitation, I took off all of my clothes, placed them in my locker, and tiptoed towards the shower area. To my utter shock, there were no curtains anywhere. As I turned on the shower, I stared at my toes, and hoped that no one would notice how red my face had turned. But this being a part of everyday life in Iceland, no one was looking, and the only person who cared about my love handles was me.
Once I’d showered, I put on my swimsuit, braved the chilly weather to step outside, and quickly dipped into geothermal bliss.
While showering, it’s mandatory to clean intimate parts of the body thoroughly, failing which tourists can get an earful from an Icelander. Illustrated posters in shower areas serve as guides for first-timers. The hot pools in Iceland have low chlorine content while some have saltwater, making it necessary to maintain hygiene through proper washing.
In the relaxing ambience of a thermal pool, Icelanders discuss everything from politics to the newest cafés in Reykjavik. But the conversations are never loud or intrusive.
It’s a place to de-stress, enjoy the tranquility of nature, and if you’re lucky, watch the Northern Lights waltz across the night sky. There’s an unwritten code of behavior in thermal pools that respects the privacy of others who share that space.
In the pool, I took a couple of pictures on my GoPro, but then felt like it was best to put it away for the sake of everyone’s privacy and enjoy the experience.