The local natural wonder that is perhaps most ingrained in the fabric of Icelandic culture is the bounty of geothermal energy, the naturally heated water that powers our lives and heats our homes, baths and pools, public as well as private.
The spa is a modern day invention, but enjoying the various health benefits of bathing in thermal baths is an Icelandic tradition dating back to the settlement. Snorri Sturluson, the famous twelfth century historian and author, was a prolific spa enthusiast by modern standards, and had his own thermal pool built so he could soak in hot water whenever the mood struck him. Of the thirteen baths that are known to have been used in the early days of the Icelandic society, four are still standing.
AS UNLIKELY AS IT MAY SOUND, REYKJAVÍK SPORTS ITS OWN GEOTHERMAL BEACH, WITH WHITE SANDS AND WARM OCEAN WATER
Since the advent of harnessing geothermal energy in Iceland, the tradition of public bathing has become deeply rooted in the local culture. Locals of all ages and professions frequent some of the hundred public pools for both health and social purposes; in order to unwind after a long day or to catch up on gossip with friends. The swimming pool culture has clearly established itself, for the greater capital area alone has seventeen public swimming pools, most of which are outdoors and some of which are equipped with saunas and steam baths. Rules of hygiene are taken very seriously with regard to the pools and all visitors are required to shower thoroughly without a swimsuit before entering the water.
The luxury of geothermally heated water has also been utilized to an increasing degree lately in the luxury spa setting. The most famous of these is the Blue Lagoon, located in a lava field on the Reykjanes Peninsula, not far from Reykjavík. And, as unlikely as it may sound, Reykjavík sports its own geothermal beach, with white sands and warm ocean water (assisted by a little geothermal injection). Still, there are those who swear by the health benefits of swimming in the cold ocean, so every day, you will find Icelanders enjoying a swim in the cold Atlantic.
Iceland is the perfect location for whale watching. The cold waters off the coast play host to a diverse marine life. During the summer months in particular, the shores become a veritable feeding ground for multiple species of large marine mammals, giving visitors a chance to observe these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.
The Icelandic horse is a unique breed of smallish horses that came to Iceland with the first settlers from Norway 1100 years ago. Archeological digs in Europe have revealed that it is descendent from an ancient breed of horses that is now extinct outside of Iceland, where it has been preserved in isolation.
When making a trip to Iceland, it is hard not to pay special attention to the country's namesake—namely, its 4,500 square miles of glacier. Ice climbing on Iceland's glaciers is practiced year-round and takes place mainly on the Sólheimajökull and Svínafellsjökull glaciers in the south of Iceland.
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