The Icelandic Approach To Relaxation

As someone who has lived in Iceland on and off for the past few years, I can tell you that Iceland is home to many of the hardest working people I have ever met. From factory workers to fishers, from business people to farmers, Icelandic people really know how to work hard. But having lived here and worked amongst these hard workers, I also know that they really know how to relax.

I recently spoke to Tinna Heimisdottir, a 23 year old woman, from a small town in the east of Iceland. She’s currently studying Psychology in the University of Iceland and since the age of 16 she has been working in factories during her summer holidays and breaks.

Tinna had this to say:

“It’s all about the balance. We work hard so that we can feel like we’ve earned the break. Then, when the work is done we relax and go to the swimming pool, we exercise, we take care of ourselves, we recuperate, and then we get back to work the day after, or on the Monday. You can’t just have one or the other. It‘s all about the balance.”.

Just relax…

Iceland is known for its geothermal energy, and Icelanders utilize this pretty efficiently. Most swimming pools in Iceland are outside (which sounds completely crazy to us Brits!). However, they are all heated, meaning that even in the cold Icelandic winters, one of the coziest places to be is in an Icelandic swimming pool or hot tub. It’s very common for Icelanders to go after work and just sit there in the hot pool for a good few hours just talking to their friends and relaxing.

“Many Icelanders spend their free time hiking up mountains, and it’s not just for the exercise…”

Most tourists go straight to the Blue Lagoon to relax, and of course I would agree, it’s something everyone who visits Iceland should try. But there’s another way to relax, which is far more common among Icelanders.


Many Icelanders spend their free time hiking up mountains, and it’s not just for the exercise.

I know you’re probably thinking “That doesn’t sound relaxing, that sounds exhausting!”, and I would agree. HOWEVER, it is up to the individual on how hard they want to push them selves physically. Some of the people here find it too strenuous to hike up a mountain (understandably), and instead, they choose to take walks along glacial rivers or the famous black beaches.

If you take a drive outside of Reykjavik and into the nature, you will immediately be stunned not only by the country’s natural beauty, but by the silence. All you can hear is the sound of nature. No planes, no trains, no diggers, no police sirens, just the tranquil sounds of a river running, or birds chirping. It’s pretty hard to be out in the Icelandic wilderness and not feel relaxed. Icelanders often choose this as their go to means of relaxation because they can be out in the nature as well as it giving them time to reflect and be alone with their thoughts. It’s also great for people who find it difficult to just sit down and relax (e.g. in a swimming pool), because they can still be on the move whilst relaxing.

My hiking experience…

In keeping with this blogs’ theme of work hard so you can relax, and relax so you can work hard, I can say that I’ve personally experienced this whilst hiking up a mountain in the east of Iceland…

I had never climbed a mountain before and it was really tough for me. My calves felt like they were on fire within the first half an hour, but with the support of my girlfriend and her sister (who had both been climbing mountains since they were children and therefore found my struggling somewhat amusing), I kept going. After what seemed like 8 hours but was really about 2 and a half, we finally made it to the top of the mountain. I walked across the summit as I caught my breath, and this is where the hard work really paid off. The view from up there is something I will never forget. We could see the whole valley stretched out below us, a warm palette of greens and blues. Farmers fields, lakes, and sparkling rivers leading all the way to the ocean. The three of us sat there and watched the sun drift behind another even bigger mountain before heading back down.

So that was that. I had put in the hard work and climbed that mountain, it was tough and challenging, but when I reached the top I could relax and just enjoy the view.

I learned two things on that day:

1. I needed to work more on my calves in the gym.

2. You can’t relax at the top of the mountain, until you’ve really struggled to get up there in the first place.

It’s all about the balance.

Jæja… (Well…)

So if you come for a visit, be sure to drop by a local swimming pool and have a chat with the locals. Or you get out of the city and go for a hike in the nature. Either way, you’ll love it here!


I hope you enjoyed reading this blog, and thank you! Let me know if there is something you would like me to write about, maybe you have a question about living here in Iceland or you want me to write about something or someone in particular back home (e.g. someone who has just helped someone thanks to their training at Greenhouse Therapies) or anything else.


Tom Kelsall

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