This past February, I took a long weekend and traveled to Iceland. When people think of Iceland, they first think: ice, cold, tundra (news flash: it’s not the arctic)—and then in my case, “why the hell are you going to Iceland in winter?!” Once they get over all of that, they probably think: that pretty blue lake with hot water, aka the Blue Lagoon. When planning my itinerary to Iceland, the Blue Lagoon was certainly toward the top of my to-do/see list, it just felt like I couldn’t visit Iceland and not go there. We visited the Blue Lagoon the evening that we arrived in Iceland to get it out of the way.
Once I actually got to the Blue Lagoon, and I learned more about it, I began to wonder: is this the real deal, or is it just a tourist trap? As it turns out, it’s mostly just a tourist trap. This is not to say that you shouldn’t take a dip into the Blue Lagoon upon visiting Iceland (it is beautiful and refreshing!!), but just know that you won’t get the true Icelandic experience when it comes to bathing in geothermal hot springs.
So, you might be wondering: what makes the Blue Lagoon a tourist trap, are there any good things about it, and where can you go to get the authentic Icelandic experience of bathing in a hot spring?! Keep on reading my friend!
What makes the Blue Lagoon a tourist trap?
- The tourists/crowds. This is pretty obvious. The Blue Lagoon is crowded with tourists, the lines are long, and it’s a bit hectic, especially in the locker rooms–which were not kept up with due to traffic, probably (so please don’t walk around without flip-flops). They provide towels (and robes in some cases), but good luck finding the same dry, white towel you walked out with when you’re ready to step out of the lagoon. I will say that the lagoon itself is actually HUGE, so it’s likely that you won’t be on top of other people while inside. I did go at dusk, so I’m not sure how this would pan out mid-day when most people are likely to visit.
- The price. The price of a Comfort (basic) ticket for entry into the lagoon (per person) is around 6,800 ISK (56 USD). This includes entry (obviously), a locker, a towel (that you’ll probably lose), access to the silica mud mask (we couldn’t find this and probably for the better, judging by how difficult it looked to remove), and one drink at the swim-up bar. This is pretty pricey, but you can also stay as long as you’d like and hey, when in Iceland, right?
- The extra amenities/luxurious feel. You can go a tier above the basic ticket price to Premium for 9,713 ISK (80 USD, per person) if you want extra amenities, such as a robe, slippers, or a reservation at the restaurant (you won’t dine for free, but you get a free glass of sparkling wine with your meal –woo!). You can also get Retreat Spa access if you are willing to pay around 77,465 ISK (638 USD) for 1-2 guests for 4 hours (yeah, no thanks). Needless to say, I was all set with the Comfort ticket.
- The pre-booking. Don’t think you’re just going to show up at the lagoon and jump right in! You have to reserve a time slot, in advance, like—way in advance. Booking your time slot at the Blue Lagoon was like booking reserved seats at the movie theater on the premiere day. When I arrived in Iceland, I decided to then try and book my tickets for the lagoon. The only time slots that were left for the next FOUR DAYS were 8pm and 9pm (would’ve been fine in summer when it’s light out all the time, but not February). I actually got lucky when I refreshed the webpage and a 6pm time slot miraculously showed up. Please don’t be like me.
- The deception. I was surprised to learn that the Blue Lagoon is not a natural phenomenon. The Blue Lagoon was described to us as an “architectural accident” and “the result of run-off from a geothermal plant nearby.” Yes, very interesting. All along, I’d been thinking how BOMB our planet is for managing to create such a mystical place made from lava rocks (which are actually real and naturally occurring), heating the water to a perfect temperature (105 degrees Fahrenheit) and creating the perfect shade of blue from all the minerals (R.I.P to your hair, by the way). Not so much. It’s not all that bad though because it’s beautiful to look at and lounge in. The blue water and black lava rock contrast also makes for great photos during the day.
Are there any good things about the Blue Lagoon?
There are. It’s truly a beautiful place to visit. I did my research beforehand (obviously not well enough to know about pre-booking way in advance), and I did what Google told me to do and went around dusk (~5:30-6pm). There was something about being in the hot water as the sun faded on the horizon and then being under the stars that was magical and peaceful. It was cold outside (about 35 degrees Fahrenheit for reference), but with the steam and hot water, the contrast was perfect.
Another plus to going at night was that there weren’t many kids around—and generally there probably weren’t as many people as there were earlier in the day. The size of the lagoon itself was amazing, because you don’t feel like you’re in a crowded swimming pool or hot tub. You can also take photos and look like you’re the only one there.
So, where can you go to get a more authentic experience?
If you go on the Golden Circle tour (which you should, damnit), you can go to Gamla Laugin, or Secret Lagoon. We did this, and I enjoyed it so much more than the Blue Lagoon. The Secret Lagoon is a natural phenomenon, as it is a fresh water hot spring fed by a geyser right beside it. You even get to see the geyser go off every once in a while and you can constantly hear the geothermal activity. We were told that the Secret Lagoon is the oldest swimming pool in Iceland, and that not many people (and by people they probably mean tourists) know about it. The Secret Lagoon looks like a normal Olympic-size swimming pool, except that it is surrounded by nature and greenery, and not plaster.
The Secret Lagoon, it is not a “geothermal spa” like the Blue Lagoon. You won’t get the same level of luxury, and as such, it’s a lot less expensive than the Blue Lagoon. The price for entry is around 3,000 ISK (25 USD), a little more than half the price of the Blue Lagoon. You’ll get access to a much more well-maintained locker room, where the floor is actually dry and kept clean. Be warned, though, that the shower area is open so there is no privacy in that regard (as opposed to Blue Lagoon)—but hey, when in Iceland, right?! You won’t get a complimentary towel (but at least you can bring your own of a different color and be able to differentiate).
What I liked the most about the Secret Lagoon is that the water is different temperatures in different areas. As you make your way closer to the geyser, it gets hotter, and in some cases too hot to stand in. I’d like to also mention that the Secret Lagoon does not have all of the minerals that the Blue Lagoon has, so you don’t need to put leave-in conditioner in your hair prior to entering (a blessing, trust me). There were also tourists at the Secret Lagoon, but there were no long lines and the crowd was more relaxed and there was just less bustle overall. After you get out, there is a café where you can purchase food and drink.
The bottom line.
Overall, I did enjoy both experiences, but if you want to keep costs low and get the authentic Icelandic experience of bathing in geothermal hot springs, I would visit the Secret Lagoon. There are definitely other geothermal pools/hot springs all around the Island, so if you know of any, let me know in the comments! I definitely plan to visit Iceland again, and one of my favorite things to do was relax in the hot springs after a long day of exploring the otherworldly landscape that is so characteristic to Iceland.