What is the nudity culture in Iceland like? When, where and why are people getting naked in Iceland? Is it true that you have to wash publicly in the nude to enter the Blue Lagoon? Read on to discover all you need to know about nudity in Iceland.
Attitudes towards nudity in Iceland are very relaxed.
That is not to say that you can stroll down Laugavegur without your clothes if you feel like it, as you might upset other pedestrians.
It is, however, perfectly legal to be nude in public in Iceland, as long as you don't offend anyone.
In fact, you'll find many places across the country where you can be out and about in your birthday suit.
Iceland's free attitude towards nudity largely stems from a mix of the hot spring and pool culture, traditional folklore, a willingness to experiment with art, and a history of feminist protest.
How each of these facets shaped the nation's open-mindedness has a story of its own.
Whether you are an avid naturist looking for a place to express yourself, or someone hoping not to have to sacrifice intimate privacy in order to go swimming, knowing a bit about the culture of nudity in Iceland can help prepare you for your travels.
Photo from The Golden Circle & Fontana Geothermal Baths
Shy travellers face both a blessing and a curse when it comes to nudity and swimming pools in Iceland.
On the one hand, swimsuits are mandatory in all public pools (not including bikini tops), so you don’t need to worry about getting flashed while you’re trying to relax.
On the other hand, you are obligated to shower and wash your naked body before you enter the pool.
The reason Icelanders are so adamant that you don’t enter their pools without a proper scrub-down is, in fact, purely hygienic.
Many of Iceland’s pools have minimal or no chlorine in them. So, for everyone’s peace of mind, all who get into the water have to make sure their body isn’t polluting it with germs.
In most of the larger pools, such as the Blue Lagoon, this doesn’t need to be unnerving since the facilities are fitted with cubicles in which you can wash in private.
Even so, attendants will be on duty to make sure that those going in and out of these cubicles are not wearing their swimsuits.
Don’t worry, you won’t need to be nude in the Blue Lagoon. The nudity police (staff) stop at the shower point. When entering the pool you’ll need to ensure you have a bathing suit after leaving the locker room and the pool showers.
Like all spas and pools in Iceland you just need to make sure you wash thoroughly before you enter the pools and after you’ve left, before getting changed.
You would certainly be frowned upon if you entered Blue Lagoon’s Lava restaurant in the nude!
If you are travelling around Iceland, you will notice public pools even in the most remote seaside villages.
In fact, in the tiniest of hamlets, very often all you will find is a church, a gas station, and a swimming pool. Most often, however, these pools only have public showering facilities.
Even if it makes you uncomfortable, many of these pools, such as the Infinity Pool at Hofsós, are so beautiful and serene that you'd be well advised to bite the bullet and get on with it.
There is an unspoken rule in Iceland which dictates that you should not stare at other people in the changing room. On top of that, Icelanders are body-positive people, so don't worry, overcome your fears and join the party.
Although it is mandatory to wear a swimsuit, this only applies to the bottom half.
Women are not legally obligated to wear anything on top (e.g. bikini top). So everyone has an equal opportunity to get a little tan whenever the summer sun emerges.
Iceland is a geothermal wonderland, dotted with bursting geysers, churning mud pools, and steaming hot springs.
Many of these have the perfect temperature for bathing, and some are so remote that you can jump in naked without worrying about other people seeing you.
Before indulging in the wonders of nude bathing in Iceland’s naturally heated waters, however, there are a few things to be aware of.
First, many springs are far too hot to bathe in, so you should only bathe in the ones that are officially safe to enter.
Picture from Landmannalaugar to Thorsmork | Five-day hiking tour
After all, even if the water in some pools seems to be a perfect temperature, the earth around them may be unstable with scalding water just beneath the surface. Otherwise, they may be prone to heating up very quickly without warning.
Remember that because Iceland's is a very young country that is still in constant formation. The powers operating beneath the Earth's surface are fierce and are to be respected at all times.
This is also the same cave featured in the popular HBO tv series (Season 3, Episode 5), Game of Thrones.
Secondly, some hot springs have harmful bacteria in them, because they have no treatment systems like in the swimming pools.
Hot pots in the Westfjords and on the Reykjanes peninsula are particularly notorious for this.
Many hot springs in those areas which might be deemed safe by older sources are now unfit for bathing because of the large number of bacteria in the waters.
Towards the end of the summer season, even the waters that are popular for bathing such as those in the Highland areas of Landmannalaugar and Hveravellir, become contaminated.
At this time of year, it’s recommended that pregnant women, young children and those with vulnerable immune systems should avoid them.
Photo from Reykjadalur Hot Spring Hiking Tour
Many hot springs, however, are perfectly safe to enter in the nude and some can be found without anyone around.
There is no judgement from Icelanders for this kind of skinny-dipping, even if you are caught.
Not only is naked bathing seen as a wonderful way to connect with nature, it’s a smart way to keep your clothes dry and lighten your laundry load.
Of course, if there are other guests at your destination, you should perhaps ask if they mind before getting naked and joining them.
Different people will react differently, and for some, your birthday suit might fall into the realms of ‘indecent exposure’.
A good way to avoid other bathers altogether is to travel around at night in summer. Under the midnight sun, there are much smaller crowds.
Equally, you could rent a four-wheel-drive and travel out to the springs in winter when there are fewer travellers around.
A live show by local punk band Æla at Iceland Airwaves 2015 - Picture from Æla's Facebook Page
Many who don’t know anything about the nudity culture surrounding swimming pools and hot springs in Iceland, still know about the nation’s open-mindedness towards the human body from the music videos produced here.
Take, for example, the band Sigur Rós, whose music has won international acclaim.
The band's album covers and music videos frequently contain nudity, but in a way that is far more tasteful than that of most artists from countries where nudity is a subject of taboo.
Compare the video below, for example, to Robert Thicke’s notorious ‘Blurred Lines’.
Sigur Rós are not alone. The up-and-coming electronic musician, ÍRiiS, has also used a lot of nudity in her many productions.
In Iceland, nudity is perceived as the natural state of a human being. It is, therefore not sexualised, but combined with nature, signifying something pure, innocent and timeless.
Curiously, while most nudity-averse cultures will make exceptions when it comes to displaying sculptures of the human form, Iceland’s sculpturing tradition is so recent that this is not notable here.
The art of sculpting only really began in the early 1900s with the works of Einar Jónsson. Though his work is dotted all over the city, his subjects are most often fully clothed.
"Elf Play" by August Malmström. Wikimedia, Creative Commons.
Most of the folk stories of Iceland tell some important truths of what the country was like historically. Many of them contain ancient lessons in morality.
Due to the powerful moral chokehold of the church, many of these stories have an extremely conservative bend.
For example, one story tells of Hidden People murdering multiple women for the crime of simply dancing in the nude.
You would think that this would have deterred people from nudity, but that is not the case.
Iceland’s Christian traditions are strong, but many pagan beliefs from the Old Norse religion bled into the new faith and affected many of the customs.
Look, for example, to the Icelandic celebration of midsummer.
Until the Reformation, Iceland was Catholic, and thus the people were encouraged to celebrate the birthdate of Saint John the Baptist on June 24th.
However, this day already had a purpose in the Norse faith. There was an existing tradition of rolling naked in the morning dew to secure luck for the year to come.
This has been practised throughout Icelandic history by those unaffected by Christian influence.
Picture from the Reykjavík Slut Walk by Helgi Halldórsson
Icelanders love a good protest. Whether it is against NATO (1949), gender inequality (1975), the banks (2008) or corruption in government (2016), they are passionate about direct democracy and unafraid to gather in front of the Alþingi (parliament) in the thousands to demand change.
In 2015, nudity found its way into the ongoing fight for justice when the American #FreeTheNipple campaign found its way to Iceland.
Even if topless nudity has been allowed in pools, women were still finding themselves subject to judgement, objectification and critique for sunbathing without covering themselves. More recently this even impacted breastfeeding in public.
Furthermore, people were getting sick of the double-standard in the media.
Men’s nipples could be seen in children’s television, whereas the nipples of women were only shown in adult situations which were almost always sexual or violent.
Picture by Maria Eklind - Wikimedia Creative Commons
For this reason, the women of Iceland took to social media.
They posted pictures of intentional nip-slips to help show their friends and followers that they were hiding nothing frightening, dangerous or even that particularly interesting inside their bras.
They also took to the streets topless. They were brave not only for breaking the taboo but because they first did so on March 26th, when the weather usually demands multiple layers.
The protest was later repeated in more pleasant conditions in June.
Nudity is also featured in many other campaigns. An example of this is the Slut Walk, which aims to shut down the shaming of women who are as sexually active as their male counterparts, as well as challenging rape culture.
The Slut Walk often features toplessness, as does the Reykjavík Pride parade.
Photo Credit: The Icelandic Phallological Museum
No article on nudity in Iceland would be complete without a reference to the world’s only Phallological Museum, located on Laugavegur by the Hlemmur Square Bus Station.
This bizarre, titillating and still somewhat fascinating place has hundreds of specimens taken from the animal kingdom. There is also one particularly revolting display of a poorly preserved human member.
It also, however, has rooms and cabinets displaying artwork and books dedicated to the penis.
This further cements the fact that Icelanders really don’t take nudity or seeing genital organs as something to get sensitive about.
Picture from the Reykjavík Slut Walk by Helgi Halldórsson
Although it might seem to you by now that Icelanders like to get naked for any reason, there is one thing they are not permitted to undress for - money.
Since 2010, it has been the policy of the government that no person’s body is a commodity.
Therefore, those who strip for a living must leave a fair amount to the imagination of their patrons.
This was part of a wider crackdown on prostitution and the sex trade, where those who purchased the services of an escort or else were a ‘pimp’ would face charges. The escorts face no charges themselves.
This, in turn, was part of a wider push to modernise Iceland’s gender dialogue and face the gendered issues of an increasingly globalised world.
The legislation has faced criticism for being sex-negative However, the policy has also been praised for helping limit the exploiting of women being brought here to be a part of the sex trade, as well as protecting those who make a living as exotic dancers.
Picture from The Blue Lagoon | Transfer and Comfort Admission
To conclude, Iceland is a paradise for naturists and a wonderful place for the body-conscious to get more comfortable with the bits we’re all born with.
Even if you have read this piece with a growing feeling of horror at the thought of being watched while showering, you can at least trust that the locals are respectful enough to look away.
While you are under no pressure to join the people of Iceland in their naked glory, using the opportunity to enjoy being in your birthday suit can add streaks of liberation and exhilaration to your travels in the land of ice and fire. Getting Naked in Iceland is no big deal to us Icelanders and we welcome you to embrace our quirky culture!