Iceland and Icelanders are known for soaking in hot springs and warm geothermal pools. But Ocean swimming, not as much.
As you can understand, swimming in whichever conditions is part of the wonderfully curious Icelandic culture. It is not rare to see Icelanders on their daily (or weekly) visit to the public pool, enjoying the hot tub and dipping into the cold tub after coming out of the steamy sauna, and this all year long!
So taking a cold dip is a popular Nordic tradition. The Finnish and the Russians enjoy an ice cold ocean dip after coming out of the steamy sauna. The same applies to Icelanders, but don’t forget the Víking factor… They live more intensely!after Moving back and forth from steamy saunas or hot pools into the the cold ocean.
So it is not uncommon to see Icelandic locals go dipping into the ice cold ocean, the North Atlantic Ocean! Even now, in January with ocean temperatures as low as 4°C (39.2°F). Oh, those Viking genes…
The most common place to go ocean swimming in Reykjavik is Nauthólsvík beach (www.nautholsvik.is/en/), a geothermal beach not so far from the center of Reykjavik. It is open all year long and can be very busy during warm summer days. During the winter, obviously, you won’t find many people sunbathing… But definitely, the ice cold dipping as become more popular over the last years. In the winter season, there is a small fee of 650 Kr. for the access to the locker room, steam bath and most importantly, the geothermal hot tub.
When going for the first time, it is recommended to stay NO MORE than 30 to 60 seconds in the ice cold water. Remember that it can be quite a shocking experience for your body! The idea is evidently to use as little clothes as possible, as if you would go swim normally, in a pool. Hence, no wet suit! There is no “Ice cold swimming police”, but understand that you get the benefits (and the fun) from it by getting cold. Granting all this, they recommend using special shoes in order to avoid being hurt by the rocks dotting the ocean floor. The shoes are available there and cost about 15$.
With practice, some of the experienced swimmers are able to stay in the ice cold water for up to 15 minutes. On average, people stay 5 minutes, and it is more than enough, believe me! Regardless of the amount of time in the water, it is absolutely necessary to move around and make the blood circulate throughout the body. The prickling and numbness in the extremities and on the skin is completely natural and the muscles will start to contract, normal as well!
Many Icelanders believe in the many benefits of the activity on their health condition. Take Haukur Bergsteinsson, for example, an eighty-two years old man swearing by cold ocean swims for good health. When interviewed by MBL in April 2017, he said “I’m going to keep swimming, the feeling is just indescribable. For me, it is definitely unmissable!”
Some studies even showed that getting your body used to very cold water on a regular basis can help with the blood circulation (increasing the level of white blood cells), to boost your immune system, to bring your endorphins higher and reducing stress. Overall, including this exercise in your routine assures a happier, healthier and more energized life, according to Icelanders!! Well being and energy; this is what the ice cold water from the North Atlantic Ocean can provide you with! Don’t think about it too much, just do it!
What makes it great, is the whole experience. Coming out of the water is extremely fulfilling and cold doesn’t seem so bitter anymore. Yet, it is nothing compared to the warmth feeling filling up your heart when jumping in the 38°C hot tub. The fizzing feeling on the whole body brings back alive some body parts you thought you might have left in the ocean… It feels like your body melts a little bit and as if the system reboots from the inside. It can be very addictive… You are warned now!
DO NOT TRY ocean swimming just anywhere in Iceland as waves can be EXTREMELY STRONG and it can be VERY DANGEROUS!
Nonetheless, by trying this experience in Nathólsvík, you get to enjoy your viking experience AND then award yourself by with a dip in a warm geothermal pool! Oh, and Nauthólsvík also sells coffee and snacks to warm you up after the adventure! Not bad, not bad at all!
I invite you to have a look! https://nautholsvik.is/en/