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The Blue Lagoon, Iceland: Review

A couple months before our trip to Iceland, one of my teens was watching a Safiya Nygaard video YouTube. Where was Safiya visiting this time? The Blue Lagoon. That’s how iconic this spot is. When your friends go to Iceland, their Blue Lagoon selfies are what they Instagram.

So not going to the Blue Lagoon was never an option. Even after I learned that it’s not a natural hot spring but a run-off pond from a power plant. Even though at over $100 (for the time and date we entered) it was more expensive than other thermal baths we could have visited. You just don’t go to Iceland without hopping in the Blue Lagoon.

Because it’s close to the airport, and because we needed something to do between landing at 9:30 a.m. and checking into our Airbnb in the afternoon, we decided to buy our tickets for 11 a.m. the day of arrival. This ended up working out perfectly.

Arriving at The Blue Lagoon

My parents, my husband Erik, my son “Toth” and I squeezed into our rental car and drove about 25 minutes from the airport to The Blue Lagoon. There was plenty of parking relatively close to the entrance. We had been smart enough to put our bathing suits in our carry-ons, so we didn’t have to get into our suitcases. We just grabbed our backpacks and headed in.

Beyond the sign, a paved path runs through the lava field to the building, the lava rising up into walls on either side of you as you walk. Before you go in, you get your first look at the lagoon, or a stream connected to it, pearlescent blue and steaming.

We waited in the short line to show the bar code on my phone to validate our pre-purchased tickets. We paid $106 per adult for the basic “Comfort” package. Prices fluctuate depending on date and time; when I looked today, a ticket for a few weeks out was $86. As a kid under age 14, Toth got in free! We didn’t pay extra for the Premium package, as we didn’t think the extra face masks and use of a robe would be worth it. We received electronic, waterproof wristbands that looked like Fitbits, which we would return at the end of our visit. We entered right around 11:30; anything up to 11:59 would have been considered “on time.”

Since we hadn’t had anything to eat or drink since last night in Chicago (and it was now 6:30 a.m. Chicago time), we headed straight to the small cafe, which has big windows looking out on the lagoon. My latte was delicious. My dad had a muffin, which he said was good.

Next, we split up into the locker rooms. These are large, but like the locker room at any health club, the lockers are close together and can feel crowded. The lockers are included in the price, and they lock and unlock using your wristband. The women in the locker room along with my mom and me sounded like a United Nations of languages and accents — everything but Icelandic.

Knowing that this is the rule in Iceland, I scrubbed down in the shower before putting on my bathing suit, but most other people appeared to be just rinsing off with their suits on. No one enforced the shower rule. I slathered my hair with the provided leave-in conditioner, put on my suit and the robe I’d brought with me, tucked my wet hair into a bandana to protect it from the silica-infused water, which is supposed to be murder on hair, put my glasses on a cord (the water can also scratch lenses, and if you drop your glasses, they can be hard to find in the opaque water), my phone into its waterproof lanyard, and headed outside to collect my towel. I also brought a small bag outside with me, containing my hand lotion and chapstick, which I hunge on a peg over my robe. I left my flipflops below these, and, finally, stepped down the stairs into the steaming water.

Taking the Plunge

You don’t actually plunge into the Blue Lagoon. You walk in down a ramp with a railing. Ahhh! The water isn’t hot-tub hot, but it’s the perfect temperature to walk around in, keeping you not too hot and not too cold as you stroll. The “lagoon” doesn’t look as natural as I’d envisioned; it looks more like one of those sprawling swimming pools at a beach resort. It has bridges, artificial waterfalls, and in-water pathways and nooks and crannies to explore. The water is a sort of milky turquoise, and smells only slightly sulfurous. Its depth varies, but it came up to our chests in most places. We took some selfies, then toured around, our feet squishing comfortably into the mud at the bottom, but never sinking in. We noticed that certain areas, always near a mysterious wooden box on a deck, were warmer than others. I guess this is where the fresh hot water from the geothermal plant is piped in. (This lagoon is basically a wastewater dump. In fact, when it was first created, people were mad about it — until they tried bathing in it and decided it was pretty nice.)

Our first little activity was acquiring the mud mask that comes with the price of entry. You line up outside a little shed at the edge of the water, and staff ladle out whitish, silica-rich mud for you to smear on your face. There are small mirrors to help you smooth it on while avoiding your eyes and hair. There are two other kinds of mud masks available to those who paid for the Premium package. The staff can tell which package you have based on your wristband, so they know what to offer you.

The masks felt fine, if a little sticky. We walked around a little while with them on, then tried to rinse them off. They were a little harder to get off than we’d expected. Part of the problem, I think, is that the lagoon water is already pretty full of minerals, so it doesn’t dissolve the mud much. We ended up rinsing with some of the cold drinking water flowing from a fountain under one of the bridges. People say their facial skin felt wonderful after the mask, but I can’t say we really noticed any difference.

Next up: Toasting Erik, whose birthday was that day. Like the face masks, The beverages are served from a window you can walk up to in the water. Erik and I selected sparkling wine, my parents had hard apple cider, and James had a smoothie. All were very good, and of course cold and refreshing. One drink is included with admission. You could, of course, purchase more drinks if you wanted, using your wristband. Staff members in windbreakers constantly walked around the lagoon collecting the empty, reusable plastic cups.

Story Time

We walked around awhile longer, just letting the warm water erase the pain of being on a plane all night. At this point, we had arrived at a side area near the building, and our fingers and toes were pruney, so we were starting to think about getting out. We had probably been in the water for two hours. Erik headed back to the locker room on his own. But then a young staff member in a turtleneck showed up and announced it was storytime, so the rest of us stayed to hear it.

He told the story of how this place came to be in a presentation full of low-key jokes, wrapping up with an anecdote about having to ask the hidden folk permission to build the adjoining hotel and spa. This was the first Icelandic person we had heard speak at length — our car rental guy had been a man of few words — and we loved his low-key style and humor. It rained lightly as he talked, welcome little droplet of cool on our shoulders and heads.

Once we finally got out, I took a few more minutes to explore the walking paths around the lagoon. There are some off-limits pools off to the side. From what I understand, the main lagoon is constantly being refreshed, as old water seeps into the ground and new water flows in. But not enough water seeps into the ground, so they have built more holding ponds off to the side for the used, cooling water to flow into. According to the storytelling guy, the mineral content, including saline, and the constant refreshing keeps the water quality high without the use of chlorine or filtering. The only thing living in there is some specially adapted blue-green algae, which give the water its special hue.

Then I happened upon the sauna, which was empty, and sat in there to re-warm myself before heading back to the locker room. The strong, hot rainbath-style shower in there felt almost as good as the lagoon itself. From the shower, I moved on to a small room with a heated bench, sinks, mirros, and bottles of Blue Lagoon branded body lotion, which I used liberally.

How I Felt After

I felt great leaving The Blue Lagoon. I can’t say I noticed any special effect the mineral-laden water had on my skin, but I definitely appreciated how the warm water had taken away the aches and pains and headache that typically follow a red-eye flight.

None of us manged to keep our hair totally out of water, especially Toth, who hadn’t gotten the message to put his long hair in a bandana. (I ended up giving him mine halfway through.) But none of us noticed any hair problems after.

In general, The Blue Lagoon felt like the premium experience it’s marketed as. When I go back to Iceland, I won’t go back; I’ll explore other geothermal pools and try a neighborhood pool as well. But I’m glad I checked it out once, and that we’ll always have our photos of this iconic Iceland checklist item.

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