Whenever a friend visits me in Iceland, I always recommend they go swimming . I understand that they already plan to visit the Blue Lagoon, and that visiting a local swimming pool may seem redundant but I would argue that it is a completely different experience.
Our swimming pools are geothermally heated but they are usually not surrounded by lava, and they are a lot less expensive than the Blue Lagoon. Also, when an Icelander suggests you go swimming, they are not suggesting you work out, or even swim a single lap. We just want you to go to a swimming pool, shower (naked!), and then go into an outdoors jacuzzi („Hot pot“) and sit there for a while, preferably gossiping or discussing politics. If you don‘t know anything about politics, just talk about the weather, it is always a relevant topic here. Make no mistake, swimming outdoors is always a good idea, come rain or shine, in summer or winter.
A good swimming pool, in my personal opinion, will offer one of two things: a fantastic view or many jacuzzis. „Swimming“ is my absolute favourite activity to do as a family, here are ten swimming pools we really enjoy visiting:
This is my favourite swimming pool, no contest. It is very simple, a small swimming pool and a single jacuzzi. They often offer coffee that you can drink in the jacuzzi and the view is stunning, you watch over a river which is great for fishing salmon. I also have it on good authority that Harry, prince of England, has visited this pool and enjoys fishing here. My grandfather came from a farm just out of Vopnafjordur so we try to visit the area for one week every summer.
This swimming pool is certainly one of the main attractions, the others being the delightful café and surprisingly cheap woollen goods store that is in the same building as the café where locals sell their produce. The fjord itself is also stunning, with grand mountains, but there is a 50/50 chance of sunshine or fog so we mostly plan to go swimming together every day and the view is just a bonus.
If you are staying in Reykjavik and want to go swimming with a child, I think this is the best option. This town is close to the farm where the nobel prize winning author Halldór Laxness lived, and he rightly expressed the opinion that access to hot water was one of our most precious realities. You can ponder how public swimming pools raise the living standards in Iceland from one of the three outdoors jacuzzis, one of which offers massage.
They also have a jacuzzi with cold water which sounds terrible but relieves back pain. Or, play in the indoors swimming pool. Or swim in the outdoors swimming pool. Or visit the steambath or go to the sauna. Or, and this is what I like to do, chill in the paddling pool which is hot enough to just stay in for a while, and have your kids play in the slide that is in that same pool or the fake gigantic mushroom that is an outdoors shower too. And let older kids and adults try the three great slides which are yellow, orange and red. Basically, you have a bit of everything here, and the staff are very friendly.
You can usually find a fun place for kids to play in any Icelandic town, a castle to climb in and slides to go on. This swimming pool has one of those inside the indoors swimming pool. I would really just describe it as insane. Of course it is great fun, the kids could easily play there for a couple of hours. This is absolutely the best swimming pool if you want to stay inside (perhaps if the weather is dreadful). There is also an outdoors slide so – more fun!
My guess is that some of the fishermen that live there made so much money that they felt the need to give back and thought „hey, everyone likes swimming“. And indeed we do, thank you very much Mr. Fisherman.
This swimming pools is close to where my parents live, and after I moved home from England, this is where I would go swimming both with friends from school and my friends from Leeds that visited. I always remember one of them completely amazed that it was snowing in a swimming pool. But we visited because of the slide, when I was young there was just one large slide and one small slide, that was enough because the large one is really tall and the small one is incredibly fast.
Now, they have added another small one for younger kids. As young teenagers, visiting the pool after dinner was always a fun way to spend the evening (the pool closes around ten PM). They have also added an indoors swimming pool where serious swimmers train, and this is where I like to swim laps since it is olympic sized and indoors. There are seven jacuzzis to choose from and a steambath.
Laugardalur is also an area full of fun places to visit, in summer you can go to the Family Animal Park (Húsdýragarðurinn), and see the farm animals that you might find in Iceland, or stroll through the botanical gardens. In winter you might try ice skating (indoors). And at any time of year you can walk around the large park and enjoy nature.
This may be gossip, but I´m prone to that in this context, so let me start by telling you that the wife of one of our most famous film directors built this swimming pool. It is beautiful, the view is incredible and it feels like you are just going to fall into the fjord – the architecture is more common for really rich people‘s houses that are near the sea. Make sure to visit later if there is a bus outside since it is a tiny swimming pool, and this one I would visit without children because it is so romantic. It is also a huge hit on Instagram .
Breiðholtslaug is my neighbourhood swimming pool, I am very happy with it. My daughter had swimming lessons here and the indoors can be rented for birthday parties. There is also an indoors sauna (split by gender) which is lovely and relaxing. There are three outdoors jacuzzis, one of which is large and spews water at you in such a way that massages tense muscles as well as a steambath.
There are two long slides to keep the children occupied and a smaller pool for them outside too. I enjoy swimming here, and across the road there is a lovely library where children can put on costumes and climb as well as look at books in many different languages – a perfect family day.
This swimming pool bankrupted the town it is in, Álftanes. As a result Álftanes had to integrate into Garðabær, a nearby municipality. I think this is a good deal for everyone involved but I don‘t live in either of these towns and never have.
What was so expensive? The machine-made waves, feeling like you are swimming in the sea when you are in fact not. You are swimming in a swimming pool that is very close to the sea. This is great if you are part of the Search and Rescue team and want to practise saving people in the sea but is it worth the massive investment? I think not. Regardless, the swimming pool is aesthetically pleasing and children can either play in the waves or on the largest water slide in the country.
Last time I went here, I sat next to the president of Iceland in the jacuzzi. I watched the Chinese tourists that were sharing this moment with me and realized they had no idea, and decided not to tell them because he was there with his children and the man deserves some family time. But it did remind me about what is great about Iceland, everyone will visit the swimming pools.
This swimming pool is one of the oldest in town, and was designed as an indoors pool by Gudjon Samuelsson, the same architect as Hallgrimskirkja church and Hotel Borg. They have recently enlarged it to include an outdoor pool and more jacuzzis. This makes for an excellent visit where you can choose to swim indoors or outside and visit two different jacuzzi areas. There are no slides for children but inside there are diving boards.
This one really surprised me, mostly because it was built without geothermal water so the entire 25 m swimming pool used heated water which must be terribly expensive. But it is another fisherman‘s town and we have some pretty rich fishermen here, this town is especially famous for langoustine. An absolutely excellent swimming pool, with comfortable jacuzzis, a great play area in one of them for younger kids and three larger slides for older kids. We had great fun there and they will have geothermal hot water soon which makes more sense.
I have only visited this swimming pool hung over but even in that state it was obvious to me that it would be a great place to return with my children next time we leave the city for a big adventure. There is a house of cheese for the children to play in, need I say more? There are also, oddly enough, two options if you want a cold pot (one is a jacuzzi with colder water and the other a tub full of hot water), and three hot jacuzzis.
The swimming pools is large enough to swim in and the play area is larger than in most swimming pools, it would be lovely to sit in the jacuzzi and watch the children run around. There is also a steambath and a very strange massage option which I would describe as the motor of a boat that you turn on in the jacuzzi. It was a bit too much for me (I had to choose whether to keep hold of my bikini bra or bottoms) but given the state I was in, I might have been using it incorrectly.
The best travel recommendations come from locals. Check out these Wanderguides from Iceland by locals sharing their travel tips and hidden gems.