Every community in Iceland has its own public swimming pool

Large or small, rich or poor, every community in Iceland has its own public swimming pool. Here neighbours catch up, children misbehave and the local mayor is confronted about his latest decision. Mix in naturally heated water and some wonderful settings right across the country, and it’s easy to see why a trip to the sundlaug is a great way for visitors to soak up Iceland.

 

Hike between the mountains to Seljavallalaug

Iceland’s earliest pools were sited in places where geothermal water came naturally from the ground and mixed with rainwater. Seljavallalaug, the country’s oldest still-standing swimming pool, owes its stunning location between a steep mountain and a river to practical reasons: here it can be warmed with runoff from a small hot spring. The pool is a 10-minute walk from the parking lot, and facilities are basic: the lockers can be dirty, and there’s no shower.

Today, almost a century after Seljavallalaug was built, Iceland boasts one pool per 2,000 people. Most of them sprung up after swimming lessons were made mandatory in 1940, usually within walking distance of a schoolyard; the technology to drill for geothermal water and build pipelines brought the pools into towns and villages.

 

Follow the pool-signs on Route 1

Klébergslaug in the village of Kjalarnes is a miniature example of what nearly every pool in the country has to offer. In addition to a swimming pool – in this case, just 17m long – it has multilevel hot tubs (for the lazy) and a small waterslide (for the crazy).

Travelling clockwise around Iceland, Kjalarnes is the first village on Route 1, the Ring Road, after leaving Reykjavík. As elsewhere, a road sign directs the way to the local pool; a blue frame around a head sticking from water – notice how the illustration is not urging any kind of swimming!

The counter-clockwise drive, beginning in southern Iceland, arguably makes for an even better first pool. Sundlaugin Laugaskarði by Hveragerði looks like an old villa and until 1966 boasted Iceland’s longest pool. The steam bath is superb.