The Blue Lagoon

If you go to Iceland, you will hear two things about the Blue Lagoon. You will hear it derided as expensive and touristy and you will hear it lauded as amazing. Both of these things are true.

Lots of people talk about the Blue Lagoon but this is a post with all the details that you want to know before you visit. How do the wristbands work? What’s all this about naked showers? Read on and I will reveal all.

The Blue Lagoon is a good forty minutes drive out of Reykjavik, about twenty minutes from Keflavik, set well away from the main road out in a lonely part of the Reykjanes peninsula, surrounded by lava and moss and mountains and further protected from the road that accesses it by being hidden among the lava – it’s a good little walk down a lava passage from the car park, which means that although there are hundreds of cars and coaches arriving and departing every hour, you can’t hear or see them from the Lagoon. Its only neighbours are the various hotels and clinics that have sprung up around the site and its symbiote, the Svartsengi Geothermal Power Plant next door.

I hate to say it (I don’t. This is my favourite fact by far) but the Blue Lagoon is not natural. It was dug out of the lava by human hands and the water that fills it is waste water from the power station next door. It’s not as bad as it initially sounds. Svartsengi is a geothermal power station. It draws water up from deep within the Earth’s crust, seawater that has slipped through the cracks in this case, been heated to around 300°C (more than 550°F) and because of the pressure down there, remains liquid. It comes to the surface, the pressure drops, it rapidly turns into a phenomenal amount of steam, that steams drives the turbines that creates electricity, the steam cools back to water – clean, unblemished, very hot water – and that water is piped next door, where it’s put into the Blue Lagoon when it’s cool enough. I assume that some of the waste water is returned to the Earth and some of it is used for heating in the area.

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Don’t worry, it’s actually surprisingly difficult to get a glimpse of the power station, contrary to what this picture shows

So that’s what goes on behind the Blue Lagoon. The water is pretty special. It’s a sort of milky colour, although that can depend on the sunlight. As you’ll see, I have pictures of it looking milky and pictures of it looking perfect translucent blue. It’s full of silica and minerals and salt. It’s very good for your skin, it’s very bad for your hair. The top tip is to smother your hair in conditioner before you go in. My top tip is to just try not to let it get wet at all, which should be easy enough because the Blue Lagoon is for drifting, not swimming.

Now we’re at the Blue Lagoon. You walk through the door and pay your bathing fee. You have the option of a few packages or you can add the elements separately. For example, a Premium ticket gives you a bathrobe, towel and slippers included in the price, plus a free drink, a skin product and a table booking at the restaurant. Or you can buy a Standard ticket and request a bathrobe on top. Or whatever combination you prefer. If you have no swimwear, you can hire it. It says pre-booking is essential. This is something that came in about two years ago. I’ve not found it to be true. They have a certain number of people permitted in the water and if it goes over this, you have to wait for someone to get out, in theory. In practice, it’s never been a problem. However, prebooking is a good idea because it lets you jump the queue.

When you’ve paid, you’ll be given a bracelet. This is your magic key. Touch it to the target symbol on the gate to get in. Take your shoes off outside your changing room and go inside. There’s only one changing cubicle per changing area because you’re supposed to just change in public. It gets easier with practice, US and UK people. Put your stuff in any locker, close the door and touch your bracelet to the target symbol nearest the locker. Now it’s programmed to open and close that particular locker. The reader will beep and show your number and when you want to open it, just touch it to the same target and it’ll recognise which locker is yours and open it for you. Easy peasy.

The changing rooms are just that, by the way. They’re for changing, not for drying. You’re expected to dry in a drying area next to the showers and occasionally people will get upset if you take wet footprints down the corridor to the changing rooms, so take your towel from your locker and store it in one of the racks. It’ll be safe. No one will steal it.

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Next ordeal – the Naked Shower. You are required to wash without a swimsuit because this water is not chemically treated. It’s kept clean by only allowing clean people in. Don’t worry. The Blue Lagoon knows it has lots of tourists visiting for whom this is an ordeal. There are plenty of showers with doors and walls. Yes, they’re glass but they’re opaque frosted glass. You can’t see through them. Please strip and wash as requested on the posters. You’re grubbier than you realise.

And now you’re ready to go in! There are two ways in. You can walk out of the door and into the water in the conventional way. Or, if it’s cold or snowy or whatever and you don’t fancy being outside so lightly clad, you can go into the indoor pool and out through the water door, thus remaining safe in the hot water.

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The temperature varies around the pool. It’s hottest around the side nearest the restaurant and around the steam boxes – I don’t know the right word for this but it’s the points where new water is coming in and these points are identified by boxes of steam on the waterside and metal railings in the water to stop you putting your body in scalding hot water. Nowhere is it anything cooler than pleasantly hot. Wander around. There are underwater benches to sit on, artificial beaches to lie on, walled-off internal hot pot areas. You’ll find pots of white mud to put on your face – this is a must but do be aware you’ll be finding bits of dried mud in your ears for days. There’s a massaging waterfall, a steam room, a sauna and a steam cave. There’s an area roped off for in-water massages – these are prebooked and you go along at your allotted time, lie on a foam mattress on your back in the water, while someone who apparently trained with the KGB massages your back. While you’re lying on it. In the water. For a one-off, you should do this.

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Other facilities: Well, there’s the in-water bar. You can wade up to it, order a drink and pay using your magic wristband, so no need to take your wallet in the water. Drinks range from blue slushies, which are ideal for drinking in a blue lagoon under a hot sun, to skyr smoothies to beer. You’re only allowed two alcoholic drinks per wristband, which the band presumably tracks. You float around in the water with your drink and enjoy the luxury. Drinks in the pool is something I tend to associate with the Caribbean rather than the north Atlantic. If you’re hungry, there’s a cafe inside, serving more drinks and snacks – crisps, pots of skyr, sushi, chocolate, rolls etc. When you leave, they scan the wristband and that’s when you hand over money for your drinks and food.

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And finally, my favourite feature. In the summer, there are people wandering around with iPads. The lagoon is surrounded by walkways and bridges and they patrol these, catch people, have a chat with them and then take their photo and email it to them. If you don’t have a waterproof camera or you don’t want to risk taking yours in unprotected – taking photos in the water is permitted, if not actively encouraged, which is very unusual for a pool – you can still have a photo of yourself in the water. I think it’s a brilliant idea.

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Photographic evidence that it’s very possible to get sunburnt in Iceland

(Oh, and it has wifi, so if you have a waterproof phone/tablet case or you’re willing to risk splashes, you can tweet right from the water)

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The Blue Lagoon is open year round, from 10am until quite late at night, so you can enjoy the sunlight at 10pm in summer or potentially see the Northern Lights from the hot water in winter. I personally prefer it in the winter because it’s magical, floating around in that hot water while a snowstorm batters my ears, and because on a hot day in summer, I just overheat in hot water with nowhere cold to escape to.

Buses leave Reykjavik and Keflavik at least once an hour, from every tour company in the country and they leave the Blue Lagoon for Reykjavik and Keflavik at least once an hour. If you’re arriving early in the day, it’s a great introduction to Iceland to stop at the Blue Lagoon on your way to Reykjavik or if you’re leaving later in the day, it’s a great way to spend your last day on the way to the airport. Yes, it’s touristy. Yes, it’s also used by the locals. Yes, it’s worth doing at least once.