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Two people in the sea at Nauthólsvík Beach.
Photo: Photo: Golli. Two people in the sea at Nauthólsvík Beach..

Sea Swimming in Iceland

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You might have heard about the Icelandic swimming pool culture, but have you heard about the Icelandic sea swimming culture? In recent years, swimming in the sea has become increasingly popular amongst the people of Iceland, so much so that more than a dozen sea swimming societies have popped up all over the country. You might be thinking this is a joke, but we assure you, it’s not. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of emerging yourself in the cold, salty water of the sea. Your legs might ache, and your breath might catch, and for a moment, you’ll probably wonder why in the world you decided to do this, but there is also a unique connection to the Earth and ourselves to be found in the water. A few minutes of no thoughts, no feelings except the cold, and when you emerge from the sea, a sense of achievement and gleefulness. If you can do this, then surely you can do anything.

Our favourite places for sea swimming in Iceland

You can swim in the ocean nearly anywhere around Iceland, but there are a few locations that are better suited for it than others and some that just have an irresistible wow factor. 

Nauthólsvík Beach, located in Reykjavík, is a highly popular area amongst people living in and around the capital. It offers the unique feature of a small, enclosed lagoon where hot water runs into the cold sea, making it a few degrees warmer than the surrounding water. It, therefore, makes for an excellent place for first-time sea swimmers. Additionally, you can pay for access to changing rooms, showers, a hot tub, and a steam room. 

Five people on their way into the ocean at Nauthólsvík beach in winter.
Photo: Golli. Five people on their way into the ocean at Nauthólsvík beach in winter.

Langisandur on Akranes is a beautiful, 1 km [0.6 mi] long sand beach. Amongst locals, Akranes is often called by the nickname ‘Flórídaskaginn’, the Florida peninsula, and Langisandur probably has something to do with that. It does, indeed, remind one of someplace other than Iceland, especially on a sunny day. By the beach, you can pay for access to Guðlaug, a hot tub with a phenomenal view, perfect for warming up after a swim in the sea. There are also changing facilities and an outdoor shower.

Hauganes is a part of Ásskógarströnd coastal area near Akureyri. There, you can find a cosy, south-facing black beach sheltered from northern winds. The sea is shallow, which, in combination with the placement and the black sand, works as a heating mechanism for the usually cold water on sunny summer days. Like in Nauthólsvík and Langisandur, you can pay to get access to hot tubs by the beach, as well as changing facilities and a shower.

Hauganes hot tubs on a sunny day.
Photo: Auðunn. Hauganes hot tubs on a sunny day.

Holt Beach in Önundarfjörður Fjord is a stunning place to go for a swim. Sun or rain, the Önundarfjörður Pier will provide you with a picturesque scene superb for your socials (or just to enjoy without anyone knowing).  

Hesteyri, a charming and secluded former village in Hornstrandir nature reserve, might be the number one place in Iceland to bathe in the sea. With a small sandy beach beneath its nine quaint houses, crystal-clear waters, and mountains with flourishing nature everywhere you look, it’s a true gem that can hardly be described with words. 

Good advice before diving in

Before stripping down and running into the cold Icelandic ocean, here are a few helpful guidelines:

  • Don’t swim alone, and keep an eye out for your partner.
  • Use a brightly coloured swimming cap or hat so that others can easily spot you.
  • Go in slow and allow your body to adapt to the cold. 
  • Aim for calm breaths, and don’t start swimming before your breathing has become normal.
  • Stay close to the shore.
  • If there’s ice, don’t swim under it!
  • Listen to your body’s signals of hypothermia and exhaustion. A good rule of thumb is to regularly check if you can touch your thumbs with other fingers of the same hand. If you can’t, leave the water immediately. 
  • In case of hypothermia, call 112, the Icelandic emergency service.

Please keep in mind that there are some places in Iceland that are extremely dangerous to swim in due to strong currents and sneaky waves. Reynisfjara Beach on the South Coast and Brimketill Lagoon on the Reykjanes peninsula are two such places, and you should not, under any circumstances, get in the water there. Please familiarise yourself with conditions anywhere you want to swim.

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