Today was our day of relaxation, so we woke up late and decided to head down to The Pearl, or “Perlan“, which is located inside a nice state park area. It’s a giant glass dome sitting atop four big hot water tanks, and supplies much of Reykjavik’s hot water.
Inside is a cafeteria, a restaurant, balcony viewing area, and the Saga Museum, which is like a Madame Tussaud’s for viking history. We opted to skip it and instead headed to the balcony for gorgeous panoramic views of Reykjavik.
After lunch at the cafeteria (decent food & price, free refills on soup!), we took a short hike through an elfin forest down to the geothermal beach in Nauthólsvík. It’s free to the public, but was closed when we arrived. The water itself is cold, but there’s a man-made hot tub right next to the water that is heated during open hours.
Speaking of hot tubs, in Iceland they are called “hot pots”. Makes me think of people being cooked and served.
If you look at tour books, you will always find ads for the Blue Lagoon, which is a nice man-made geothermic spa 40 mins outside of Reykjavik. We had considered going, but the only way to get there is to 1) charter a bus, 2) hire a taxi, 3) drive there yourself. A normal charter bus (“tour” bus) would cost you approx. 3700/person, not including the cost of admission to the spa (another 3500/person, for the basic package). The cost of lockers & towels are also not included. On the plus side, you could stay as long as you want.
Since it was far and pricey, we decided to skip it. Instead, we heard that Reykjavik has 7 public swimming pools that also offer geothermic spa-like facilities, and only cost 550/person, including locker rental. As opposed to the Blue Lagoon which is heavily frequented by tourists, these swimming pools are frequented by locals. Iceland has something of a “swimming pool culture,” where, similar to how friends meet up in a pub or coffeshop during the week to catch up and chitchat, the locals will go to the pool and discuss matters.
In Reykjavik, there are two swimming pools within reasonable walking distance (ok, maybe one) of the city center: Sundhöll, which is located near the main street, and Laugardalslaug, which is the biggest and most populat of all the pools.
It was about a 40 min walk to Laugardalslaug from our hostel, and on a Saturday night it was pretty popular (I wasn’t allowed to take photos, so I’ll post generic ones). There were 6 outdoor hot pots (one was salt water), 2 big pools, 3 waterslides, a steam bath (sauna), and that’s just what we saw outdoors. There was a big indoor pool/hot pot area, but we couldn’t go in since they were hosting a “swim cinema” event. There’s also a cafeteria and gym as well.
It was amazing. I could see why Icelanders are happy despite the miserable weather. It was very relaxing and refeeshing to be inside a hot pot!
One thing I felt weirded about (Mark as well, respectively), but eventually got over: I’d heard stories of public baths where people would have to shower naked in front of others, but I’d never had to experience one, ever. Imagine my culture shock when I walked into the locker room and saw a bunch of naked women standing around like nobody’s business. It was definitely something I wasn’t used to, and admittedly I was pretty embarrassed about it. I thought about looking for an empty row of showers but there were none, so I decided to bite the bullet and just go for it; if the locals were doing it (and not caring about nudity), then I should adapt and do it too. Eventually I got over my embarrassment when I realized nobody cared, and nobody was looking. I did feel a bit uncomfortable when little girls were in the showers though, but I’d just look away and go about my day.
In all, we spent almost 3 hours there, and it was definitely the best part of our day. The steam baths were fun (a bit masochistic), it was a long corridor with futuristic-looking pods for people to sit and sweat. The hot pots were great as well, each had a different temperature between 100-110 degrees Farenheit. I’d highly recommend anyone to visit this particular swimming pool if staying in Reykjavik, it’s a good way to get a glimpse of the locals’ culture and get some R&R at the same time.