Icelandic Swimming Pool Culture Nominated for UNESCO Status

Swimming pool in Iceland

Icelandic “swimming pool culture” could be added to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir, minister of culture and business, has confirmed a nomination for it to be added, Heimildin reports. This is Iceland’s first independent nomination for the list, which includes things like Chinese shadow puppetry, Inuit drum dancing and singing, French baguette bread and Finnish sauna culture.

Physical and spiritual

The nomination comes with multiple statements of support from municipalities, sports and swimming societies and swimming pool guests. They include stories, experiences and attitudes towards swimming pools in Iceland with discussions on their meaning and importance, according to a statement from the ministry.

The nomination has been prepared fro some time by the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies and the National Museum of Iceland. “Swimming pool culture holds a special and important place in the daily life of Icelanders,” said Lilja. “Meeting in the hot tub or taking the family swimming is a social connection which is invaluable and makes its mark, not only physically, but spiritually as well.”

Big part of everyday life

According to a recent survey, 79% of adults in Iceland go to swimming pools. Some 120 public pools operate in Iceland and are a big part of everyday life all around the country.

The process for UNESCO evaluation is 18 months, so it will be revealed in December 2025 whether Icelandic swimming pool culture will be added to the list.

Wine, Gas, and Swimming Pool Prices Rise

Laugardalslaug geothermal swimming pool in Reykjavík

With the new year, changes to public price structures all over Iceland come into effect. Municipalities have upped the fees for some of the services they offer, while the 2024 budget, recently approved by Alþingi, heralds new taxes and adjustments to the existing ones.

Tax rates on alcohol and tobacco go up by 3.5 percent, Morgunblaðið reports. As does the licensing fee for public broadcasting and the tax on gasoline. The litre will cost an extra ISK 4.20 [$0.03, €0.03], while the litre of diesel goes up by ISK 3.70 [$0.03, €0.02]. The vehicle tax on lighter automobiles rises by 30 percent as well, while owners of electric cars will need to pay a new fee per kilometre, which for the average driver will amount to ISK 90,000 [$666, €599] per year.

Trash and tickets pricier

Municipalities have also announced higher prices for trash collection, as a new system for sorting refuse is being implemented in the capital area. The biggest increase is in Reykjavík, where the price for two bins goes from ISK 52,600 [$389, €350] to ISK 73,500 [$544, €489]. The highest fee remains in the more affluent neighbouring municipality of Seltjarnarnes and amounts to ISK 75,000 [$555, €499].

In Reykjavík, the prices for trips to the swimming pool, museum tickets and petting zoo admissions have also gone up. A single adult ticket to a public pool goes up by 6 percent and will now cost ISK 1,330 [$10, €9]. Yearly tickets go up by 5.5 percent, while prices for towel and swimming trunk rentals also rise. A hike in bus fare prices has also been announced. They will rise by an average of 11 percent.

Preschool Staff on Strike in 11 Municipalities

school children

Staff at 60 preschools in 11 municipalities went on strike today as negotiations between BSRB, the Federation of Public Worker Unions in Iceland and the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SÍS) remain at a standstill. Other municipal staff across the country, including swimming pool and harbour staff, are already striking. Negotiators had an informal meeting two days ago but called it a step backwards.

“It was an informal meeting, so it wasn’t a traditional negotiation meeting,” Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, chairperson of BSRB, told RÚV. “But the result of the meeting was that we went backwards rather than forwards, so this dispute is still just in a deadlock.”

Today’s strikes affect preschools in Kópavogur, Garðabær, Mosfellsbær, Hveragerði, Árborg, the Westman Islands, Skagafjörður, Borgarbyggð, Stykkishólmur, Grundarfjörður, and Snæfellsbær. On Wednesday, harbour staff in Ölfus and the Westman Islands will strike.

BRSB has demanded that the collective agreement be retroactive from the beginning of this year, but the SÍS negotiating committee has resisted agreeing to such an arrangement.

Strikes Likely to Force Closure of Swimming Pools This Weekend

Reykjavík swimming pool Laugardalslaug

Strikes by members of the BSRB union who are employed by swimming pools will most likely force the closure of public pools in West, North, and East Iceland over the Whit Sunday weekend. Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, Chair of BSRB, told today that “the knot had been slightly loosened” in the wage negotiations between the BSRB and the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SNS), although there remained “some distance” between the negotiating parties.

Strikes begin

On May 15, BSRB – Iceland’s largest federation of public sector unions, comprising 19 labour unions with some 23,000 members – began strike action as part of its ongoing negotiations with the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities (SNS). Some 1,000 workers – including staff in preschools in Kópavogur, Garðabær, and Mosfellsbær, and primary schools in Kópavogur, Seltjarnarnes, and Mosfellsbær – went on strike.

Further strike action was approved last Friday, May 19, which means that this weekend, the number of people participating in BSRB strikes will be around 1,700. Eighteen municipalities will be affected by the strikes.

As noted in an announcement from BSRB this morning, the staff of swimming pools and sports centres in West, North, and East Iceland are among those who will begin strikes this weekend. This will most likely mean that numerous public pools within affected municipalities will be forced to close their doors to visitors over the Whit Sunday weekend.

“If agreements are not reached before June 5, swimming pools and sports centres will be added in even more municipalities, including the capital area, until agreements are reached,” the announcement further notes.

Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, Chair of BSRB, told today that “the knot had been slightly loosened” in the wage negotiations between the BSRB and the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities; although there remained “some distance” between the negotiating parties.

The staff of the following swimming pools and sports facilities will stop working this weekend:

Akureyri swimming pool
Glerárskóli swimming pool (Glerárskóli Sports Centre)
The sports centre in Hrísey (swimming pool and gym)

Dalvík sports centre (swimming pool)

The swimming pool in Ólafsfjörður and the Fjallabyggð sports centre in Ólafsfjörður
The swimming pool in Siglufjörður and the Fjallabyggð sports centre in Siglufjörður

The swimming pool in Varmahlíð and the Varmahlíð sports centre
Sauðárkrókur swimming pool and the Sauðárkrókur sports centre
The swimming pool in Hofsós

Stefánslaug in Neskaupstaður

Swimming pool and sports centre in Borgarnes

Snæfellsbær swimming pool and sports centre

Brattahlíð, swimming pool in Patreksfjörður

Three Deaths in Swimming Pools in Three Months

A woman in her late forties died in Lágafellslaug swimming pool in the town of Mosfellsbær yesterday, RÚV reports. It was the second death in a capital area pool within one week: a woman in her 80s died in Kópavogslaug swimming pool last Friday. In addition to these two cases, a man was found dead in a hot tub in Breiðholtslaug in Reykjavík last December. A swimming safety expert says it should not be possible for deaths like these to occur in capital area swimming pools.

Paramedics were called to Lágafellslaug pool in the capital area municipality of Mosfellsbær yesterday when a woman was found unconscious. The woman was taken to the hospital where she was pronounced dead. Detective Superintendent Margeir Sveinsson says the case is under investigation, as other cases of deaths that occur in swimming pools.

Police continue to investigate the death that occurred in Breiðholtslaug pool last December. The victim was in his 70s and physically disabled, and he had likely been unconscious for around three minutes before he was discovered by another patron. Hafþór B. Guðmundsson, a former lecturer in sports science at the University of Iceland and an expert in swimming safety, was interviewed by RÚV last December following the death in Breiðholtslaug. He called for action on safety issues in Icelandic swimming pools.

Floating Through Oblivion

OASISThe word oasis refers to a fertile area in the desert. The essential component of the concept is water, for the area is made fertile because of it. The popular image is a half-dozen palm trees, huddled religiously around a small pond, surrounded by an expanse of sand. Although there are no smouldering deserts in […]

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Can you help me find a poem my tour guide recited about showering in Iceland’s swimming pools?

We’re very sorry to say we don’t know the poem you’re referring to. We are, however, very familiar with the showering protocols of Iceland’s public swimming pools.

At every swimming pool, you’ll see signs reminding you in several languages that you must shower – in the nude! with soap! – prior to putting on your swimsuit and jumping into the pool. The signs even include diagrams highlighting the body parts to focus on when lathering up: Hair, underarms, genitals/backside, and feet.

The reason is twofold. First, it’s just basic decency to wash yourself properly before stewing in hot water with other people. Secondly, the more everyone practices proper pool hygiene, the fewer chemicals are needed in the public swimming pools. It’s a win-win!

Icelanders have been going to the swimming pool on the regular since before they could walk. That means they’re very accustomed to being in the presence of bodies of all shapes and sizes. Nobody’s sizing anybody else up, they’re just focused on washing themselves so they can hit the hot tub.

If you’re less accustomed to communal shower situations, most public pools around the country have at least one private shower stall available.

We’re people pleasers here at Iceland Review, and since we couldn’t provide the poem your tour guide mentioned, we’ve whipped up this rhyme instead:


So you’re visiting Iceland and want to go swim?

Then there’s something important you must do with vim.

First find a locker and take it all off.

Doff your shirt, pants and undies; and let down your quaff.

Now on to the shower, to wash all your bits;

from your head to your toes, and don’t forget your armpits.

Pay no attention to others, it’s not about looking cool.

You’re just getting clean so you can jump in the pool.

Finally, pull on your suit – nudity be gone!

You’re clean and you’re dressed, so go get your swim on.

A Splash of Happiness

baby swimming

Long before I got pregnant, I heard about parents in Iceland taking their newborns swimming from a colleague of mine who joined baby swimming classes with her infant. She shared her experiences online, and in one of her videos, her four-month- old son stood unaided in the hands of his swim teacher. I was intrigued; […]

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COVID-19 in Iceland: Relaxed Social Restrictions Take Effect Today

Laugardalslaug Pool Reykjavík.

Iceland’s national gathering limit rose from 20 to 50 today, while regulations governing gym, pool, and business operations were also relaxed. Iceland’s government announced the changes last Friday after its busiest vaccination week, where 40,000 received a jab of COVID-19 vaccine. The restrictions will remain in effect until May 26.

As of today, swimming pools, gyms, camping sites, and ski slopes in Iceland may operate at 75% capacity, a rise from the previous 50%. Regulations were also relaxed for shops, which can now admit up to 200 customers (space allowing) and performing arts and athletic events, which host up to 150 seated guests per section, registered by name and ID number (kennitala).

Opening times were extended by one hour for restaurants and bars, which can now remain open until 10.00pm. All guests must leave the premises by 11.00pm. Two-metre distancing remains in effect, as does mandatory mask use in shops, on public transportation, and in all situations where distancing cannot be ensured.

Regulations Unchanged in Skagafjörður

The relaxations do not extend to the regions of Skagafjörður or Akrahreppur in North Iceland due to a group infection that emerged there last Friday. Seven have tested positive for COVID-19 in the municipalities, where primary schools and preschools have been closed and sports and recreational activities have been suspended.

Iceland currently has 100 active cases of COVID-19. Vaccination is progressing according to schedule: 37.6% of the population has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 14.6% are fully vaccinated. Icelandic authorities have introduced a plan to lift all social restrictions by late June of this year, when a majority of the nation is expected to have received at least one dose of vaccine.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Domestic Regulations Relaxed on April 15

mask use social distancing

Iceland will raise its national gathering limit from 10 to 20 people on Thursday and reopen gyms, bars, and swimming pools. The relaxed domestic restrictions, recommended by the country’s Chief Epidemiologist and approved by Iceland’s cabinet this morning, will remain in effect for three weeks.

The main changes that will take effect on April 15 are as follows:

  • Gyms and pools will reopen at 50% capacity.
  • Sports competitions and athletic activities with or without contact will be permitted among adults and children. The maximum number of adults in such activities is 50. Children are subject to the same gathering limits as in school activities.
  • Performing arts activities, including choirs, are permitted with up to 50 performers and maximum 100 guests in each separate section.
  • All shops can accept up to 5 guests for every 10 squared metres of space up to a maximum of 100 people, in addition to 20 employees in the same space.
  • Nightclubs, pubs, and slot machine venues may operate under the same conditions as restaurants. They must close by 9.00pm.
  • Driving and flight lessons are permitted to restart.
  • The general distancing rule for schools will be reduced from two metres to one metre. Preschool and primary school children will be permitted to engage in sports and recreational activities.

Iceland currently has 93 active cases of COVID-19 and one of the lowest infection rates in Europe. Only one patient is currently in hospital due to COVID-19. A total of 28,056 have been fully vaccinated (7.6% of the population) and an additional 33,078 have received their first dose (8.97%).

The updated regulations are in line with the Chief Epidemiologist’s recommendations, Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir stated in an interview today. No changes will be made to border regulations at this time.