The Important Shower Rule To Avoid Breaking While Visiting Iceland's Thermal Baths

Perhaps the most popular bucket-list activity travelers try in Iceland is taking a dip in one of the country's famous geothermal baths. There are several to choose from, including the tourist-packed Blue Lagoon and Sky Lagoon, as well as smaller pools in each local town. No matter which you visit during your trip to the north, you'll find similar customs — including one important rule about showering.

Before plunging into the warm, steamy waters, you're required to take a shower at the spa or bathhouse. Not only that, but you must shower completely naked, often in a room with other bathers. In fact, many of Iceland's pools and thermal baths have designated custodians who monitor the showers, watching for anyone who disobeys the rules.

If you're new to Icelandic bath culture, the process is fairly simple. Undress in the changing rooms, proceed to the shower without any clothes on (but keep your bathing suit with you), get sudsy, and finish by rinsing and throwing on your swimwear. After you've visited the pools, shower again to remove any mud or other residue stuck to your skin.

There's an important reason behind the rule

You may have heard that the Blue Lagoon can be stinky, but besides a little sulfuric stench, the waters at the popular destination and Iceland's other geothermal baths are extremely clean. They're so naturally pristine that no chlorine or similar agents are added to the water. Keeping the baths clean and free of harmful bacteria is a group effort — and that means you need to wash your body thoroughly before going for a swim.

The Blue Lagoon explicitly says that hygiene is behind the strict shower rules, stating on its website, "Wash without swimsuit before entering the lagoon. The cleanliness of the lagoon is partly dependent upon the cleanliness of our guests." Most other pool facilities and spas are similarly direct, posting illustrations on the shower room walls identifying which body parts should be washed especially carefully.

Given how important it is to cleanse your body thoroughly before visiting the thermal baths, it makes sense that you should be nude for the task. After all, wearing a bathing suit can make it difficult to soap up and rinse off carefully. On that note, also make sure your swimwear is clean before hopping in the pools. Keep your suit packed in a bag, rather than wearing it under your clothes on the day of your visit.

How to maintain privacy while showering

In Iceland, there are several sneaky dangers to watch for — but, thankfully, preparing to hit the pools isn't one of them. Even if showering naked with strangers sounds scary in your home country, it's completely normal in Iceland. Generally, you'll find that the locals have a casual attitude toward nudity, though, if it eases your worries, many of Iceland's large bathing facilities are built with gender-segregated changing rooms.

Still nervous about showering in public? Try to visit a bath or pool that offers private showers. These are available at spots like the Blue Lagoon, Laugardalslaug, Sky Lagoon, and Vök Baths. You can also take certain precautions to avoid exposing skin when possible. For instance, wait until you're in the shower to undress, rather than taking your clothes off in the changing room, though note that your items might get wet in the process. You can also keep a towel wrapped around your body (or have a friend hold one up for you) while you remove your clothes. Then wear the towel to the shower, keeping in mind that, like your clothes, it could get soggy in the shower area.

Remember that showering naked in public isn't likely to attract any attention in Iceland, though not following the rules will. Even if it's out of your comfort zone, embrace doing as the locals do when visiting the baths. You might find the experience to be less awkward than you expected.