A visit to Iceland’s world-famous Blue Lagoon is at the top of most travelers’ lists – and it was certainly on mine. So I was thrilled to visit the Blue Lagoon on my recent winter trip and personally experience Iceland’s fascinating and relaxing “bathing culture.”
This culture seems to spring from the intersection of Iceland’s geologically-active natural landscape and its friendly, outdoorsy and hearty people. There are “hot pots” – geothermally heated pools of all shapes and sizes – everywhere in the country for taking relaxing dips all year long! For Icelanders, this is their social hub, their equivalent of the local pub – or is that the “wet bar?” Luckily for us visitors, we are welcome to join in.
My March 2016 winter tour (with three good friends) took us to Iceland’s two largest towns – bustling Reykjavik in the southwest and small but charming Akureyri in the north. During our short five days in the country, we got ourselves into “hot water” three different times. Each was a fun and unique experience I’d like to share with you.
Iceland’s Legendary Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is located in the midst of a black-lava field, about a 50-minute bus ride from Reykjavik. The huge lagoon’s warm waters (around 100˚F) are fed from the nearby geothermal power plant. These milky waters (with a bluish tint, thus the name!) are rich in mineral salts, fine silica mud and algae, all which are good for your skin.
My friend Jamie and I went to the Blue Lagoon on our final night in Reykjavik, arriving at around 6pm. After check-in at the large, well run spa complex, we first went outside – fully dressed to keep warm in the mid-30s cold evening air – to take some photos before it got too dark. Then, it was back to the dressing area to follow standard Icelandic bathing protocol. Everyone must first shower sans swim suit, making sure all body parts are washed and clean as per the cleverly “instructive” sign on the shower wall (photo below).
We entered the Lagoon pool around 6:45pm, fully enjoying the next 1 ¼ hours meandering and exploring the huge lagoon with its many different areas, with varying depths. You quickly learn how to walk (and crouch as needed) to keep your torso fully covered in the warm water. Despite the large numbers of bathers sharing the Lagoon, it didn’t feel overcrowded to us.
We enjoyed all the people watching – a mix of locals and tourists relaxing and chatting, drinks in hand, face masks on. Of course, there were young people taking selfies with their phones, trying to keep them dry with makeshift plastic bags. We had some interesting conversations with other travelers who were as excited to be at this iconic lagoon as we were.
Our Blue Lagoon admission got us one free drink at their “swim-up” (okay, walk up!) bar and our high-tech electronic wrist band (tied to your credit card) allowed us to order more. Jamie got a glass of prosecco wine while I had a strawberry smoothie. I soon followed it with a “Green is Good” smoothie I saw many others drinking. It’s made with frozen spinach, mango, ginger, pure orange juice, bananas and ice. I don’t usually like to “drink green” but it was really tasty!
We also sauntered over to the “walk-up” facial mask station where, with our own hands, we applied a white silica mud mask. You let it dry for 15 minutes, then wash it off. We later returned for round two – the greenish colored algae mask. At this age, I’ll take anything that promises better skin!
The lagoon itself closed at 8:30pm so we exited the water around 8pm so we would have time to dress and beat the final departure rush. Plus we enjoyed a delicious snack in their cute Lava Café before catching the 9:15pm bus back to Reykjavik. Returning to the hotel rejuvenated, Jamie & I agreed that the Blue Lagoon was a wonderful Icelandic experience not to be missed!
Helpful Blue Lagoon Hints: We bought the “Comfort Level” entry ticket for 8000 Icelandic Krona (ISK) (~$62 USD)/pp. This level (one above Standard) gives you the use of a towel, first drink of your choice, and the algae mask. This seemed to be a good level unless you want to upgrade to the next one (Premium) which adds the use of a bathrobe and slippers. The round-trip bus transfers (with a Reykjavik hotel pick-up) was 3900 ISK ($31). Summer prices (high season) cost a bit more.
The Blue Lagoon is located about 20 minutes from the Keflavik International Airport and 50 minutes from Reykjavik. Since it’s situated between the two, many travelers visit the Blue Lagoon upon arrival or departure from Iceland – so the facility has a storage area for luggage. With many international flights arriving in the morning, a visit to the Blue Lagoon when it first opens (8 or 9am, depending on the time of year) means there will most likely be less crowds.
Your Blue Lagoon ticket comes with a reservation for a specific day and time. We didn’t purchase our ticket ahead (with the tour package) because we wanted to “keep our options open.” However, when we naively went to our hotel tour desk the morning of our second-to-last day to book the Blue Lagoon for the next day, we were shocked to find that reservations were completely sold out. All they had was an opening for that same evening, which we gratefully snapped up.
Luckily for us, it worked out just fine. However, when planning your trip, make sure to speak with “those in the know” and pre-book the Blue Lagoon with adequate advance notice (depending on the time of year) so you don’t miss out on this marvelous “hot pot” experience!
Akureyri’s Community Pool – Something for Everyone
We had two other enjoyable bathing experiences while visiting Akureyri in Iceland’s north. The town’s acclaimed outdoor swimming pool complex (Sundlaug) has a total of 11 pools of different sizes and temperatures. We started our day-time visit by going down its twisty turny water slide a few times. Each time, we quickly climbed the steps – braving outside air temps in the 30’s – before landing kerplunk in the warm 88˚F water. Then Carol & I (both pool swimmers back home) swam some laps in the 6-lane, 25-meter pool (82˚F), all of this while surrounded by heaps of white snow. Definitely surreal and fun!
We finished up by lounging in a smaller “hot pot” (heitur pottur in Icelandic) at a toasty 102˚F. This small circular pool had a “jet stream machine” which provided a vigorous (OK, pounding!) back massage once you’re strapped in (facing front) and the button is pushed. We chatted with a nice local young man who helped explain how this unusual device worked. He was originally from the U.K. but he met, fell in love and married an Icelandic woman seven years ago. I can certainly imagine why as the young women here (with their Nordic heritage) are definitely beautiful!
Myvatn Nature Baths – Enjoying a Night Time Soak
Another day, we took a tour to the geologically-active Lake Myvatn (“mee-vaht”) area, about an hour’s drive east of Akureyri. After touring the sights all afternoon and enjoying a tasty dinner at a local farm, it was time (around 7:30pm) for our evening bathing experience.
We drove to the nearby Myvatn Nature Baths, the North’s proud younger sister to the more famous Blue Lagoon. After the usual cleansing shower, we headed into the adjacent natural steam bath for 10 minutes to get warmed up first. This strengthened our courage to head out into the cold night air to the baths, while an outdoor digital thermometer was registering 0˚C /32˚F!
We quickly waded into the large outdoor bathing lagoon. It felt great to immerse our bodies up to our necks in the warm, mineral-rich waters (which varied between 97-104˚F). For the next hour as dusk turned to night, we lounged and slowly moved around the two large interconnected lagoon pools, enjoying the clear skies filled to the brim with stars shimmering above us!
Opened in 2004, Myvatn Nature Baths is a man-made lagoon with a sand and gravel bottom. There are some in-water seating areas of rock and wooden benches and a thundering “pipe waterfall” for an optional vigorous back massage (photo below). The lagoon is open until 10pm in the winter and 12 midnight in the summer. Sometimes, you can actually see the Northern Lights from the lagoon waters, but we had no such luck that night. However, it was still a magical evening that we all loved!
Final Thoughts: I hope I have inspired your “hot pot” desires and given you a better idea of bathing options for planning your own travels to Iceland. No matter the time of year, it’s certainly the quintessential Icelandic experience. If possible, try to schedule a nighttime soak under the stars!
Blue Lagoon – http://www.bluelagoon.com/
Myvatn Nature Baths – http://www.myvatnnaturebaths.is/
To learn more about my Iceland trip, check out the following posts:
- Iceland’s Winter Wonders: Northern Lights, Reykjavik, Bjork Sighting & More.”
- Akureyri – North Iceland’s Not-To-Be-Missed Travel Gem
- Iceland’s Lake Myvatn in Winter: A Smoking Hot Experience!
Comments: Have you been to the Blue Lagoon or Myvatn Nature Baths? What was it like for you? Or if you’re a wannabe Iceland traveler, what type of “hot pot” experience would appeal to you?