Icelanders expect you to follow the letter of their law when going for a swim: wash, naked, with soap before entering a public pool or hot tub.
I’m shocked by how many Americans post comments about washing first not being required at home. Actually, at my local YMCA in New England, a sign clearly states that “soap showers are required” before entering the pool.
It’s just that, at American pools, nobody enforces the law.
We have laws against jaywalking, too, but you’d never know it in most cities based upon enforcement.
Also, our instructional posters are plain English language ones without the helpful “red zone” graphics employed in Iceland.
Cell phone or camera use isn’t allowed in locker rooms thank God! so I’ll point you to others’ mysteriously captured photos for illustrations. Follow the links to pool etiquette articles, below.
Picture the typical men’s room sign “guy” infographic, then add big red circles glowing around head, armpits, groin, hands, and feet. Those are the parts it is mandatory to wash with soap before entering an Icelandic public swimming pool or hot tub.
I’m reinventing the wheel here, but it bears repeating again! since every Icelander seems to know that Americans (and Brits) arrive unprepared for proper Icelandic pool protocol. I read about a dozen “how to use a public pool in Iceland” posts myself, and yet, here I am reiterating much of the same advice.
IHeartReykjavik.net posted my favorite for average travelers (make sure to read some of the 133+ comments); IcelandWithKids.com is also very thorough, especially with information for families and parents traveling with children.
Those posts helped me, so I hope to offer the same to another reader. Good travelers respect the places that they visit by following the rules.
Access for visitors with mild physical impairments to Icelandic pools
Another, perhaps less common, thing I want to address is accessibility in Icelandic public pool locker rooms.
I did find one blogger who writes about access from the perspective of a wheelchair user, but he only seemed to visit the swanky Blue Lagoon spa. For over $40 per person, it darn well better be fully accessible!
I was looking for an affordable, family-oriented experience more akin to what average Icelanders might enjoy with their own kids.
Also, my needs are far less intensive than those of a pool user who requires a lift (hoist) to access the water. I have arthritis and chronic pain due to an autoimmune condition. My accessibility needs are variable, but often minimal, and most relate to twisting and pushing with the hands.
Sometimes, however, hip or knee joint stiffness makes it hard for me to reach my own feet. Heck, I couldn’t get my arms high enough overhead (shoulder stiffness) for the requisite TSA scan when I departed from Boston the night before I visited my first Icelandic pool.
Some days, aside from morning stiffness in my fingers, I bend like a healthy person; other days, not so much. This is a big part of what drew me to the famous geothermal hot pots of Iceland during even a brief stopover.
When my joints are stiff, I’m also more prone to balance issues and potentially falling. My limbs don’t always respond the way I’m expecting to the commands sent from my brain.
I had questions before my first visit to a public pool in Iceland to which I couldn’t find answers online. I’ll try to enlighten those of you with similar concerns according to my own experience as an English speaking tourist with about two weeks’ experience in that country.