Nature & Environment May 02, 2016

Pools in Iceland: Exploring the Country’s Geothermal Culture

Iceland is known for its hot springs, but do you know how vital they are to Icelandic culture?

There’s no doubt most of the world is familiar with Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon, but did you know there are 120 public pools (or sundlaugs) throughout the entire country? These geothermal spas play an important role in Iceland’s culture (so much so that Inspired by Iceland recently created a video explaining etiquette!). One New York Times writer recently explored these natural wonders and learned just how vital they are to Iceland’s identity.

Swimming education was made mandatory in Icelandic schools in 1943, prodded by the country’s history of inexperienced sailors who frequently drowned off the coast. The country’s drill, originally used to search for gold, was used to access the waters just below the Earth’s surface, naturally warmed by Iceland’s volcanic activity.

Much like the urban public plazas of Italy or the traditional pubs in England, these public pools are Iceland’s social spaces, where everyone from friends to families to coworkers can relax and talk. Parents bring their children to these public pools to relax before bed, continuing an Icelandic tradition from decades past.

Icelanders also follow a strict showering rule before climbing into any of these hot springs, since they’re so lowly chlorinated. For reserved tourists, this can be daunting, but native Icelanders agree it promotes a healthy body image.

Traveling to an Icelandic hot spring soon? Brush up on your etiquette, and tell us about your experience in the comments below!