The outside temperature was 2o C but with the wind chill, it felt more -6o c. Every now and then, and without warning, Arctic wind gusts whipped hailstones, like mini shards of glass, across my exposed face.
And here I was, luxuriating in an outdoor pool with the water kept between a balmy 37 and 39o C. Welcome to Iceland’s Blue Lagoon.
An outdoor pool is to Icelanders what a pub is to the British and a café is to the French. It is a place to meet, to chat, to pass the time of day. Whatever the time of year and whatever the outside temperature, the Icelanders will congregate in these outdoor pools.
To those outside Iceland, the Blue Lagoon is the most well-known of these outdoor pools. But is it worth visiting? Here’s a guide to the Blue Lagoon, including what to expect and practical tips on how to get the best out of your visit.
What is the Blue Lagoon?
First and foremost, the Blue Lagoon is not a natural phenomenon. It is a man-made lava rock pool, fed by water from the adjacent geothermal power plant (Svartsengi).
The water owes its distinctive milky blue colour from its high silica content, which forms a soft white mud on the bottom of the pool. In fact, the water itself is milky white but the sun’s reflection gives it its blueish hue.
It is also rich in other minerals and algae which are reported to have therapeutic properties. The Blue Lagoon’s water completely renews itself every 40 hours.
Where is the Blue Lagoon?
The Blue Lagoon sits within a moss-topped black lava field on the Reykjanes peninsula in southwest Iceland. It is around a 35-minute drive from central Reykjavik and 15 minutes from Keflavik airport.
How do I get there?
Iceland has a limited public transport infrastructure. If you choose not to hire a car, you will need to book a transfer to the Blue Lagoon.
Most visitors visit the Blue Lagoon as a day trip from Reykjavik or visit it on arrival at, or before departing from, Kevlavik airport. Check here for transport options. Alternatively, you can choose a transfer when booking your Blue Lagoon entrance ticket online.
If you want to maximise your time in Iceland, visiting the Blue Lagoon en route to/from Kevlavik is a good option. Luggage storage facilities are available.
When is the best time to visit?
The Blue Lagoon is open year-round. Whilst there is no good or bad month to visit, bathing under the midnight sun or whilst gazing at the Northern lights could be something quite special. I visited in challenging weather but felt it was all part of an authentic Icelandic experience.
Online reviews suggest that the Blue Lagoon can suffer from overcrowding. However, this did not reflect my experience and my entry was timed for 2 pm. If you are concerned about overcrowding, time your visit for early in the day or near closing time.
How much does it cost to visit the Blue Lagoon?
Make no mistake. A visit to the Blue Lagoon comes at a price.
Three packages are available: Comfort, Premium and Retreat Spa. Prices as of March 2019 are as follows:
- Comfort 88 Euro
- Premium 110 Euro
- Retreat Spa 580 Euro
All packages include entry to the Blue Lagoon, a silica mud mask, use of a towel and a drink of your choice. The Premium package also buys you the use of a bathrobe and slippers, a second mask of your choice and an optional restaurant reservation. Top of the tree, the Retreat Spa is your ticket to the Blue Lagoon’s spa facilities and a more private bathing area.
If you don’t have your own set of wheels, you will also need to factor in the cost of your transfer from Reykjavik. This cost me 40 Euro for the return transfer, bringing the cost of this day trip to the Blue Lagoon to 128 Euro.
As I said, the Blue Lagoon is not a cheap day out.
Should I buy the Comfort or Premium package?
I recommend saving yourself some money and skipping the Blue Lagoon’s Premium package. The main advantage of this over the Comfort package is the use of a towelling bathrobe. Looking at the sea of identical bathrobes hanging together at the pool’s entrance, good luck identifying your robe when you step out of the pool.
If you feel you need a bathrobe, you can hire this separately for ISK 1400 (14 USD).
Should I book a ticket in advance?
Prebooking is required. To book, head to the Blue Lagoon’s website.
What should I bring with me?
Forget any stories that you may have heard of naked outdoor bathing. Swimwear is essential in all areas of the Blue Lagoon, including the sauna. If you forget to pack swimwear, you can rent this from reception.
I also recommend bringing a pair of flip-flops for walking around the locker room and to and from the pool. Although the bottom of the pool is uneven, it is smooth because of silica deposits. Therefore, you will not need water shoes.
If you visit the Blue Lagoon on a sunny day, bring a pair of sunglasses and sunscreen.
How long do people spend at the Blue Lagoon?
Most people spend around two hours in the waters of the Blue Lagoon. This reflected my experience.
Do I need to know how to swim to visit the Blue Lagoon?
This is not a place to do vigorous laps. The Blue Lagoon is all about relaxed bathing and you do not need to know how to swim to visit.
The depth of the water varies from three to five feet. If you are a non-swimmer, just be aware that there are deeper spots. Lifeguards are also on duty.
Will the Blue Lagoon destroy my hair?
Although the silica in the Blue Lagoon will not damage your hair, it can make it super crunchy. Therefore, if you intend to get your hair wet, apply liberal conditioner before entering the pool.
When it is time to leave the Blue Lagoon, make sure that you thoroughly wash and condition your hair. I found that my hair was drier than usual for a few days after my visit but, with proper conditioning, soon recovered.
What can I expect from a visit to the Blue Lagoon?
Expect a visit to the Blue Lagoon to be very slick and processed.
Entering the Blue Lagoon
On entry, you are given an electronic wristband. This serves as an electronic key to your changing room locker and as a payment chip for additional purchases.
The unisex changing rooms and showers are clean and well-maintained, albeit very busy and cramped. Shampoo, conditioner, powerful hairdryers and vanity kits are available. Additional towels are also available if required.
The first step is to locate an empty locker to store your clothes and valuables. Make sure that you memorise your locker’s number.
Like most spas, you are required to shower first. Then it’s time to brave the outside temperature and enter the Blue Lagoon. You now have a choice to make. For a gentle introduction, enter through the indoor pool. Alternatively, brave the Arctic air and enter the pool directly from the outdoors area.
Taking the waters
Acclimatise, letting the balmy water cover you like a warm blanket. Watch as gusts of wind whip the steam from the water into clouds.
Don’t forget to take advantage of your complimentary face mask. Wade over to the mask bar and slather a spoonful over your face, avoiding your eyes. After ten minutes, wash it off in the Blue Lagoon’s water. Looking ten years younger already.
Now it must be beer o’clock. Go across to the swim-up bar and order your complimentary drink of choice. Choices include Icelandic draft beer (recommended), wine and fruit smoothies.
Note that the Blue Lagoon imposes a maximum of three drinks per person. No drunken frivolity here.
For an instant massage, step under the outdoor powerful waterfall shower. Next, check out the adjacent sauna or steam room.
When it’s time to go
When it’s time to leave, take a shower. Make sure that you wash and condition your hair thoroughly. As your skin may feel a little prune-like after soaking in the Blue Lagoon – a bit like taking a long bath at home – slather on the complimentary body lotion after showering.
Plastic bags to carry your wet swimwear are available in the changing room. Deposit your towel in a bin and then make your way back to the spa’s entrance. Scan your wristband on the reader. It will alert you if you need to pay for additional purchases. Otherwise, just drop your wristband in the pop-out drawer and you are good to go.
Is it worth visiting the Blue Lagoon?
In my view, the Blue Lagoon is a complete tourist trap. Even in a country as expensive as Iceland, it is scandalously pricey.
Contrary to commonly held perceptions, it is not a natural phenomenon, owing its existence to a geothermal power station. With this same power station looming large next to the Blue Lagoon, some of the views from it are not exactly picture-postcard perfect. This is a far cry from its marketing material.
But, conversely, the Blue Lagoon is a one-of-a-kind experience and has an almost otherworldly feel. The sight of those milky blue waters in a lagoon hewn out of black lava rock, steam rising from the surface, is unforgettable. And let’s not ignore the unique mineral and algae content of the water that is good for the skin.
On balance, if I had to choose whether to visit the Blue Lagoon again I would opt for a more authentic Icelandic bathing experience. If you like spas and soaking in warm water, Iceland is not short of natural hot springs, perhaps the Secret Lagoon in Fludir, a small village in the Golden Circle area. Reykjavik tour operators offer this bundle with a Golden Circle tour.
And let’s face it … if you just want to view the Blue Lagoon, you can visit it without dipping so much as a toe into its balmy waters. Just buy a return transfer and take in the views from the spa’s café.