It gets nippy in Iceland, so when packing don’t forget hat and gloves. But the no. 1 essential? Swimming trunks.
I don’t think I’ve ever been more relaxed than in the few short hours I spent at the Blue Lagoon, Iceland’s premier tourist attraction. Soaking in 38°C geothermal waters, silica mask on my face, occasionally floating over to the swim-up bar for a fresh beer while enjoying the spectacular backdrop of snow-capped mountains. The only thing I had to worry about was keeping the falling snow out of my pint.
Situated in the middle of a pretty bleak-looking lava field in south-west Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula, National Geographic magazine controversially stated that the Blue Lagoon was one of 25 wonders of the world. Although totally man-made, it latched onto this free publicity which is now the spa’s unofficial slogan. It would make my list, natural or not!
Geothermal seawater is piped from underground to the surface, where it combines with minerals in the volcanic rock to give it its milky blue appearance. It is used to generate electricity at the nearby Svartsengi power plant, and the output water is deposited in the lagoon for us to enjoy.
There are several hot-spots around the pool where the water is much hotter than elsewhere, so make sure you don’t stay in one place. In the far corners of the pool, there are buckets and ladles of silica mud for you to make your own DIY face mask. There are also saunas, steam-rooms, a massage area and my favourite – a waterfall. I’d highly recommend you stand underneath this for a few minutes, and allow the torrent of hot water to pummel your shoulders, before plunging back in the steamy turquoise water.
Another of my favourite things about the Blue Lagoon is that while you lounge around in your swimmers, the lifeguards wear big black parka jackets with their furry hoods up and black scarves wrapped around their faces, looking like baddies from a Star Wars film. Could this be the worst job in the world? Walking around watching lazing holidaymakers on the beers amidst snow blizzards? It’s not as if any lifeguards are likely to be called into action, diving in to save some stricken soul – the water is waist high at best, and the ‘three alcoholic drinks’ cap means there shouldn’t be any Ibiza Uncovered-style drunken shenanigans.
It’s not particularly cheap at €35 for standard entry, €50 for the comfort package (use of a towel, a drink from the bar and an algae face mask) or €65 for the premium package which also includes slippers and robe. These are winter prices, so expect to pay €10 more in summer. There is a luxury package too, but I’m not sure why anyone would want to pay €165 for this – the extra price gets you a private changing room, access to an exclusive lounge and a table reservation at the posh restaurant, Lava. Whatever package you choose, you’ll be handed an electronic wristband at the entrance, which you use as a scanner for the lockers and at the bar. Just hand this back when you leave and settle your bill – there’s no need for any cash.
There are many other geothermal spas in Iceland that are much cheaper but that is probably for a reason, as they surely can’t be anywhere near as scenic as the Blue Lagoon. They are also where Icelanders go – I can’t imagine too many locals come here, which might explain why prices are published in euros rather than krona. Other geothermal pools don’t let you take photos, for obvious reasons, but everyone at the Blue Lagoon floats around with camera, phone or iPad held aloft. I’m pretty clumsy, so kept my camera in the locker-room and kept popping to fetch it every now and then.
Once you’ve entered and undressed, you’ll be invited to take a naked shower. There are cubicles for the shy, although nobody checks so I’m sure most people avoid doing this. Whether you’ve brought your own towel or have paid for one, chances are you won’t see it again. There are outdoor towel racks just before you enter the pool, but as the towels all look the same, there’s a bit of a free-for-all and people were helping themselves to whatever they could grab when we were there.
If you haven’t rented a car, a variety of tour companies can take you there by coach – you can either go from and return to Reykjavik, or be dropped at the airport after your soak. Keflavik international airport is just down the road from the Blue Lagoon, so is a popular choice for visitors to chill-out at before flying home.
We got return coach transfers with www.grayline.is and were picked up and dropped off at our hotel in Reykjavik. Return bus fare is a pricey 3,700 ISK (£18/$26), but with no cheap public transport options you’ll have no choice. It might be an expensive day, but will be one of the most memorable experiences you can have with your clothes (well, your swimming gear) on.