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Swimming with kids in Iceland: Navigating the locker room

The public pools in Iceland are beautiful and warm and a great place to take your little ones any time of year.  (Swimming outside with snow in your hair is a really cool experience!)  It is well worth the effort of getting everyone ready for the pool.  BUT yes, what you’ve heard is true–you are expected to shower naked (soap, shampoo, and all) before entering the pool.  No, you can’t skip that part.  No, your kids can’t skip that part, even if they don’t want to be naked in front of strangers.  What you need to know, then, is how it all works; that’s what we’ll tell you in this post.

With my kids, at least, part of making a new and anxiety-inducing situation more comfortable is talking through it step by step beforehand so that they know exactly what to expect.  Kids who feel like experts and who are telling you what happens next are not kids who are worrying!  So in this post, we will try to give you the info you need to let them become experts.  All the pictures here are from public pools, not the fancier spas, so they won’t be showing the upscale end of things!

When you enter the building, usually the first thing you do will be to pay your entry fee (not usually the children’s job!).  At this point you should still be in street clothes.  When going to the Y at home, it may save you time to put all the kids in their bathing suits ahead of time, but that won’t do you any good here–as we noted above, you would have to take the suit off to take a shower anyway.  If you are not bringing your own towels, this is also when you can rent towels.  You may or may not be given a locker key or token at this point, but everywhere we have been, you will eventually have access to a locking locker, included in the admission price.  Once all the business at the desk has been taken care of, you will be directed toward the locker rooms.

But before you get to the locker rooms (rarely, inside the locker room), is the shoe area!  (The shoe area?  What is a shoe area?)  It is a room/hallway/sectioned off area with benches and shelves where you leave your shoes (and probably socks too)!

shoe rack

Sometimes this area will also have coat hooks for hanging up your cold-weather gear.  So everyone sits and takes off their shoes and then goes barefoot into the gender-appropriate locker room.  (I suppose if you are bringing flip-flops, this would be when you would put them on.)

Once you enter the locker room, it is a good idea to scope out the layout before starting to undress–more comfortable to wander around looking lost now than later when you are naked!  You will be looking to see where a few things are located.  First, the lockers.  You may or may not have been assigned a specific locker, depending on the pool/spa you are at.  Next, the showers and the towel/swimsuit cubbies.

towel cube

There should also be a bathroom somewhere.  Sometimes there are two:  One between the lockers and the showers and one between the showers and the pool.  Finally, look for any baby-related supplies you may need.  There is always a diaper changing area, usually a lot more sturdy than the plastic fold-down ones in the US.  Unfortunately, the one locker room where we asked to take pictures was the one where they had the standard US-type!  I will try to get another picture later of the Iceland-typical changing table.

alftanes womens baby shelf

The men’s locker room will also have a baby changing area, though not always as nice.  Here is the corresponding area in the men’s locker room at the same pool:

alftanes mens baby mat

There is usually also at least one high chair.  These are small and easily moved high chairs, typically near the towel cubbies.

high chairs and towel cube and shower

Why would you need a high chair in a locker room?  Well,  it is a handy place to stash the baby when you are changing into or out of your swimsuit or drying off–much nicer than a towel on the floor.  I’ve not tried to bring it into the shower with me, but it is very difficult to shower with a baby on one hip and the high chairs aren’t the kind to be damaged by water, so that might not be a bad plan, either!

Once you have the layout figured out, it is probably best to send everyone to the bathroom before you really get started.  Then everyone undresses, putting your bags/clothes/etc. into the lockers, but keeping your swimsuits and towels (and goggles or any other supplies you need *at* the pool) with you.  Ideally, you won’t come back to the locker after this until you are leaving!  You all head to the towel/swimsuit cubbies and put your towels and swimsuits (and swim diaper if your child needs one) there.  Note that occasionally these may have numbers that correspond to your locker on them, but usually they are unnumbered, so you can choose whichever one(s) you want.

The showers are usually all in one open room, as you may remember from gym classes in high school (if you are old like me!).

alftanes showers

You do not have to bring soap with you, as every one we have seen has had shower gel at a minimum.  The fancier spas will also have shampoo and conditioner, though you can’t count on that.  To minimize the stuff I need to carry, we usually just use the shower gel to wash our hair as well, and worry about conditioning (if necessary) when we get home.  So once your suits and towels are stashed, take your showers as the signage directs–usually there is a visual (to avoid the language barrier) indicating that you must wash your hair, underarms, crotch area, and feet. (You can see an example of this on the wall in the picture of the changing table above.)  After showers, you go back to the cubby area–not the locker area: they try to keep the floor there dry-ish–to put your swimsuit on.  You can leave your towel in the cubby while you swim or you can take it outside with you if you are worried about the temperature.  At many pools you will be encouraged to leave your towel inside, as sudden rain would not be an unusual event, and you don’t want to emerge from the pool to a cold, wet towel.

You might wish to give some thought ahead of time to the mechanics of showering and suiting up with your children.  Since I have an infant with me, but also older daughters, we can trade off who is holding the baby so that I don’t usually have to shower with a baby on my hip or pull on my swimsuit while holding a slippery wet baby.  The high chair is invaluable for the times when I have been there without one of my older kids.

Another useful thing to know is that on the way from the locker room to the pool, you can usually find a box of water wings that are free for children to use.  That was a hit for us on our last trip seven years ago, and the seven year old still uses them at some pools—even the 10 year old occasionally.  (Most pools have very shallow areas, but one spa was almost uniformly 4 feet deep, which was slightly deeper than she liked.)

As far as entering the locker rooms with a child of the opposite gender, I am not sure of the cut-off age.  I have certainly seen little boys of 3 or 4 with their mothers.  At the other end of the range, my 10 year old went to the women’s locker room by herself when she went swimming with just Dad and brothers.

When exiting the pool, we will sometimes rinse off with a warm shower on the way in, just to minimize the amount of whining about how cold the air is!  Pick up your towels at the cubbies, and then reverse the whole process until you are back outside with your shoes on.  Remember to dry off near the cubbies where you pick up your towels to keep the floor dry near the lockers!

The first pool we went to, I heard some complaints from my kids about having to undress in front of people, but given how much they enjoyed swimming in the nice warm(!) pools, I haven’t taken much flak for it since then.  Hopefully, with a little preparation, the locker rooms won’t seem scary to your kids either, and they can just look forward to splashing in the pools!

Swimming with kids in Iceland: Navigating the locker room was last modified: January 15th, 2017 by Lora