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In most countries, you build a swimming pool somewhere convenient. Not in Iceland.
Seljavallalaug has a hill on one side, with a river on the other, and is a 15-minute hike up from the nearest road. Here, intrepid visitors can bathe in naturally heated water, which comes from a nearby hot spring, while taking in Southern Iceland’s rugged beauty.
It’s also something of a history lesson. Built in 1923, this pool is the oldest one in Iceland to remain operational and – at 25m x 10m (82ft x 33ft) – was the largest pool in the country until 1936. It’s seen heavy use, too. Alarmed at the number of fishers who drowned off Iceland’s shores, a law was passed in 1940 mandating swimming lessons for all the country’s children.
But Seljavallalaug’s location eventually began to count against it. Technological improvements meant it was easier to pipe water to convenient locations, and in 1990, a pool was built closer to the valley floor.
Yet, Seljavallalaug remains open. There are no lifeguards, and the pool is cleaned only once a year. While there are lockers, there’s no shower – which means it can get dirty. But you can still swim at this monument to Icelandic ingenuity, free of charge, gazing out at the snowy peaks and the scree-lined valley.
Seljavallalaug isn’t the only atmospheric place to take a dip in Iceland. There are pools, sauna and hot tubs all over the country, many of them thermally heated, and heading into the water for a swim or a chat is a big part of local culture.
Seljavallalaug is off the Ring Road. The turn off is at Edinborg; from here, you follow Route 242 2km (1.2mi) to Seljavellir to park. It’s then a 15-minute walk up a lovely valley. There’s plenty to see in the area – the epic Skógafoss waterfall is just east of here, and the black-sand beaches of Vík are 30 minutes beyond.