Iceland has been one of the countries that have impressed me the most since I started travelling. They call it the land of Ice and Fire, so it is not so surprising to find out it is one of the main Game of Thrones’ locations. But fantasy books aside, it is a land of contrasts. Its rough exterior and volcanic landscapes coexist with magical skies and thermal waters. The almost inhabited country is as vast as the kindness of its people… Their amazing chocolate and their rotten shark. See? Contrast.
When I started my journey, I knew next to nothing about Iceland, and I wasn’t sure how it was going to fit the country in my itinerary. However, I was going to fly to San Francisco and WowAir, an Icelandic budget airline, offered free layovers in the country, so I decided I had found my chance.
Since it was my first time in Iceland and I was not staying for long, I decided that I needed to visit the most popular places and give myself an excuse to go back. That’s why I chose to go to Iceland’s Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle. Two top attractions that you can’t miss if you are a first-timer in Reykjavik. I will tell you all about my experience, which is biased and limited, but at least it was true to me. If you have been to either the Blue Lagoon or the Golden Circle, do not forget to tell me about it on the comment section.
The Blue Lagoon
Do you want to know a secret? One of the main reasons that inspired my entire trip (besides my lack of a scholarship for my MA) was a picture I saw of the Blue Lagoon. The Blonde Abroad, a super cool travel blogger, posted about her experience there and I just felt an inexplicable connection to the place I don’t know, I felt drawn, so I decided that I would visit it before the end of my trip.
So what is the Blue Lagoon?
The Blue Lagoon is a man-made lake nurtured with geothermal water. It functions as a spa and relaxation centre and it is one of the main attractions in Iceland. The temperature of the water oscillates between 37-39 °C (99–102 °F) and it is supposed to be rich in minerals and sulfurs, making it very effective to treat different skin conditions.They also say it smells bad. It was not the case during my experience. I do not know if this changes with the season, like in Venice.
Anyways, Inside the lagoon you can find a skin care centre, a massage station, a sauna and steam room. The Blue Lagoon also features a cafeteria, a relaxation centre and a couple of restaurants. They offer three different packages: Comfort, Premium and Luxury and pre-booking is mandatory. All packages include the entrance fee, a towel, a mud mask and a drink. I went for the
cheapest most basic package, the Comfort one. And I was very pleased with my choice. However, you can check the Blue Lagoon Website to explore the different amenities it offers.
Location wise, the lagoon is closer to Keflavik’s Airport than Reykjavik. There is a shuttle that can take you to the spa before or after your flight or you can book it directly from the city.
What to expect of your visit
I decided to book the earliest tour to the Lagoon. I read the most popular time to visit was around 11, but, since I had also booked a tour to the Golden Circle on the same day, I decided it was better to start as soon as possible. And I think it was the best decision ever!
My shuttle picked me up at 7:00 am and our group reached the lagoon at 8:00 am. If you are coming from the airport or on your way there, there is a complimentary luggage storage room near the car park. At the entrance, you have to queue at the reception desk, where they check your booking and give you a bracelet that allows you to enter the facilities, use the lockers and order the drink or towels included in your package.
After that, you go to the dressing rooms where you can store your belongings and change. I had no idea what I should include in my bag, so I made this small list with some musts I took with me.
Things to take with you to the Blue Lagoon
- Bathing suit (if you forget it you can rent an overpriced one at the facilities)
- Plastic sandals
- Change of clothes
- Towel or bathrobe (if not included in your deal)
- Make up (I put some lipstick and mascara after my visit)
- Hairbrush (I forgot this and regretted it)
After you put on your bathing suit, you need to take a quick shower before entering the lagoon. This is non-negotiable. There is a shower section next to the dressing rooms and they provide free conditioner for your hair. I decided not to wash mine, but if you plan to get it wet at the lagoon, you should definitely cover it with the conditioner first. The water is so full of salts and minerals that it can really damage your beautiful mane. A layer of conditioner should protect it and leave it soft and shiny afterwards.
When you are all clean and ready, the fun part starts. I went last December, so I was lucky enough to enjoy a tropical temperature of -10 °C. It is completely bearable with seven layers of clothes, but it is borderline suicidal when have to cross a footpath from the entrance of the dressing room to the actual lagoon in nothing more than your bathing suit and a towel. I had never been so brave (or stupid) in my life.
You have to stop at a hanger section to leave your towel and sandals, but once you make it to the water your nervous system comes back to life again. The water is super warm and comfy and the lagoon is not very deep, so you can stand up or swim a bit.
I had heard it could get really crowded, but since we were the first group in, there weren’t many people yet. However, you have to keep in mind the season of your visit. During the winters in Iceland, the sun does not rise until 11:00 am, which meant that the first few hours of my visit were completely dark. I really did not mind it; the only downside was that I had to wait to take some shots. But otherwise, the place is well-lit and the sight of the sunrise from the lagoon is an almost magical experience.
What else can you do at the Blue Lagoon?
Once you are inside you have a series of activities to choose from. You can go to the facial station and get a mud or algae mask. This means that everyone around you is taking selfies with their faces covered in a white paste. Everyone but you, since you forgot your water case and your ziploc bag is resting in the locker room and you do not want to leave the lagoon and run dripping wet back inside.. Where was I? Oh yes, there is also a waterfall and a hot room that is supposedly good for your skin.
Since the water is so hot, the staff do recommend taking breaks between your baths. There is a small cafeteria with a nice view and a relaxation room with deck chairs to lean in. My package included a hot beverage, so I ordered a delicious latte (sparkling wine is not considered hot, unfortunately) and enjoyed the free WiFi for a while before finally fetching my camera.
if you want to eat during your stay, you have to purchase something at the facilities, since the lagoon doesn’t allow external food or drinks. However, the prices are super expensive, so bear that in mind. I packed a small snack and smuggled it in my bag. No worries, I ate after I left the facilities, but it really saved my life.
I entertained myself swimming in the blue waters, resting in the hot sauna and snapping some pictures while I was semi naked and wet. Since I had a recent incident with my previous camera, I did not want to risk my new Canon. Therefore, I took all of my fancy pictures outside the water half-freezing my ass to death and took my phone in a plastic bag inside the lagoon. You can also purchase a special phone case in the Blue Lagoon’s shop, but my Ziploc worked just fine (for my wallet).
What happens afterwards?
After your experience, you can go back again to the dressing room and take another shower. The lagoon’s water is super salty, so I definitely recommend doing this. After you change, they also have a small station with blow dryers, big mirrors, q-tips and cotton pads to do your hair and your make up.
You can stay in the lagoon as long as you like, but since I had another tour waiting for me, I had to leave the place at 12:00 am. Nevertheless, the place was so relaxing and nice that I could have spent many hours there. If I go again, I would make sure to dedicate a whole day just to the Blue Lagoon.
Is the Blue Lagoon worth it?
In my opinion: Definitely! I firmly believe that Iceland’s Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle are a must to anyone visiting the country for the first time.
To be honest, I was a bit put off when I started doing a bit of research. Plenty of people said it was overpriced, touristy and not sanitary. However, because I went super early, I didn’t have any troubles with the crowds and since they had just opened, everything was super clean and neat.
What about the price of the Blue Lagoon?
Being straightforward, the price is a bit on the dear side and it almost made me change my mind. I had heard there were plenty of other hot springs in the country, but somehow I felt that I was cheating on myself. The Blue Lagoon had inspired my whole trip, so I did not want to back up now that I was there. Luckily, I found a great offer with Grey Line Iceland that included Iceland’s Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle.
When I was planning my visit, just the entrance to the lagoon was near $100.00 USD, plus the transportation to and from Reykjavik, which had a price around $45.00 UD. However, the full tour with Grey Line included the entrance fee to the spa, the Golden Circle tour and a shuttle from your accommodation in Reykjavik to all the destinations in the package for around $200.00 USD. Even though everything beyond 30 bucks is expensive to me, I thought it was a sweet deal for both experiences. It was a bit rushed to do Iceland’s Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle in one day, but the price and the good service made the experience worth it.
The cons of the Blue Lagoon?
The only thing I can say it is that it might have been more pleasant if I had been accompanied. And this comes from a person who LOVES to travel solo (read the subtitle of my logo). Don’t get me wrong; I am all up for a private spa retreat any day of the week. I am also a fan of not talking to people in general. But the Blue Lagoon is such a unique experience! It almost has a romantic vibe, so I couldn’t help but wonder if it would have been better to be there with my friends, my boyfriend or my mum. Also, there are so many things to photograph, but I felt super bad every time I had to ask strangers to almost die of hypothermia to take pictures of me.
Overall, I think Iceland’s Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle are two experiences you should do, no matter if you are travelling solo or with someone else. I would definitely go again to the lagoon. If a tourist company sponsored another solo trip for me tomorrow I would take it with my eyes closed. Or anywhere, for that matter.
Quick tips to the Blue Lagoon
- Go very early or very late. That way you will avoid the crowds.
- If you are not staying all day, pack a small snack in your bag. Eat it after your visit so you won’t have to pay the super overpriced food.
- Bring a water-proof phone case (or plastic bag if you are cheap like me). Believe me, you will want to take pictures.
- Give yourself at least 3 hours to visit. There are many things you can do once you are there.
- Book in advance! It is a very popular place, if you leave it to the last-minute you might not find places left.
The Golden Circle
Reykjavik is a small city. Do not get me wrong. It is super nice and charming and picturesque, but a couple of days are enough to visit it. The true essence of Iceland lies in its natural beauty. Therefore, if you are visiting the country, you can’t miss the chance to travel outside the capital.
The Golden Circle seemed like the most obvious option for me, since I was a first-timer. Besides, it was included in my Blue Lagoon tour, so I thought I might as well take advantage of it. I went on an express guided tour. Which meant that it only lasted half a day, from 1:00 pm to 7:00 pm. But, since I was only staying in Iceland for just four days, I needed to cover as much as possible in a very short time.
What is the Golden Circle?
The Golden Circle is a famous route in Iceland that goes from Reykjavik to the south of the country and back. There are several attractions in the route. Nevertheless, the main stops include Þingvellir National Park, the geothermal area in Haukadalur and the Gullfoss Waterfalls.
Should you book a tour or rent a car to go to the Golden Circle
I think if I had had more time, I would have driven around the Golden Circle myself. But, as I explained, my circumstances made me decide to book the tour.
The advantages of renting a car are related to time management. You can decide when to start your journey and how long should you spend in each stop. However, you have to cover the price of fuel and make your way around Icelandic roads and maybe deal with snow. The tour is more restricted. You are continually on a hurry and in the company of a bunch of strangers. Also, you can’t really interfere with the itinerary. However, it is very comfortable in the sense that you don’t need to drive or decipher any maps. Additionally, you can get nice tips from your guides.
It all depends of your time and your ability behind the wheel. I have never driven in the snow and I was about to leave the country, so the tour suited me well. Also, both, Iceland’s Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle are two very popular (and touristy) attractions. Therefore, it is going to be crowded no matter what type of transportation you use. Next time, however, I think I will rent the car and explore a bit more of the not-so-popular side of Iceland just by myself.
Express tour to the Golden circle: My Experience with Grey Line Iceland
As I mentioned, my tour included Iceland’s Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle in just one day. So, after the spa, the bus left us in Reykjavik. There, we moved to a different shuttle to begin our Golden Circle experience. I also used the Grey Line for my Northern Light tour. And, although my overall experience was great, the only thing I can say is that the buses are usually super crowded. Both times I had to share my seat with other person and we had to queue every time we went to a bathroom or a restaurant. But, beyond that, I really enjoyed the company. They picked up on time and the guides were very nice and helpful. They also offer great value for your money,
Þingvellir National Park
We started the tour at Þingvellir National Park. This used to be the place where the old Viking Parliament took place. It is a good introduction to the country, since the snow starts to get deeper and you can appreciate the volcanic landscape and the mountain region. We stopped at a visitor centre to take some shots, use the restrooms and grab a bite.
Fun fact: You need to pay to use the toilet. However, Icelanders are so advance, that they take cards to pay for the loo. So worry-must-not. After that, we drove past the place were the tectonic plates from the American and the European continents meet. This was the closest thing I have been to be in two places at once. I also know this is a popular diving spot. However, since it was the middle of the winter, I decided to skip the adventure. I was still shaking from my experience in the Blue Lagoon.
Our second stop was at the Strokkur Geysir, by far, my favourite stop of the Iceland’s Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle tour. We stopped at another visitor centre and had to walk for a few minutes to reach to the hot spring area. However, the view was so stunning that I didn’t even mind the cold. As I said, since it was winter, sunrise was very late, but this also means that sunset is very early. Therefore, my visit to the Geyser was accompanied by the most amazing sky I have ever seen.
The geyser explodes every 5 -10 minutes and the water reaches a height of 30 metres. It is not the only one in the area, but it is the most famous, since it is the most active. It is completely free to visit it and the centre has a bathroom free of charge as well.
Fun fact: in Reykjavik you can find condoms with wrappers depicting the geyser erupting. I didn’t buy any (I promise), but I found it hilarious, nevertheless.
Our last stop of out Iceland’s Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle tour was at the famous Gullfoss Waterfalls. By the time we arrived there, it was almost dark, so we did not get a chance to really enjoy them at their best. Nevertheless, the sight was really impressive.
You can appreciate it the waterfalls from a small balcony the built in front of the river or do down a set of stairs to appreciate it from a closer point of view. There is a restaurant and a souvenir shop nearby.
We stayed there until the light faded completely and headed back to Reykjavik. Additionally, during our return, we were lucky enough to see the Northern Lights from the bus! They were not super strong, but clearly visible outside the window. I had already booked another tour where I could appreciate them better. But it still was a nice experience to finish our Iceland’s Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle tour
Is the Golden Circle worth it?
I thin the Golden Circle is a great introduction to Iceland’s natural beauty. After my visit I discovered there are hundreds of other astonishing spots for outdoor lovers besides Iceland’s Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle. But for a first-timer like myself I think it was a valuable experience. I don’t regret doing the tour. However, I think that next time I visit, I would skip it and wander around other sites in the north of the country.
However, I definitely recommend it if you are new to the country and what to get a taste of Iceland’s magical landscape.
Some of you have been asking me about the things you should absolutely know before your trip to Iceland. Don’t worry I will post it very soon. But, at the moment, I will leave you with all you need to know about Iceland’s Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle.
I guess I’ll see you on the road.