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Take a Journey to Iceland's Blue Lagoon Spa

Nov 29 2010 - 4:29pm

Not many countries can claim a spa as its main tourist attraction, but in Iceland's case, it's easy to see why so many people flock to the Blue Lagoon. The milky blue waters of this geothermal spa draw hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, and it's as relaxing as it is picturesque. I'd heard of this beautiful place, but never dreamed I'd see it with my own eyes. So when the Blue Lagoon invited BellaSugar on a trip to see the spa, what could I say but "já"? Read on for a tour of this must-visit spot, but you've been warned: once you've seen Iceland, you'll want to go there. (I'm planning my next vacation already.)


Iceland is surprisingly close to the East Coast, only 4.5 hours from New York. Upon arrival, many visitors make the Blue Lagoon their first stop. It's only eight miles from the airport, and most shuttle buses to Reykjavík offer a stop. Blue Lagoon is one of the most visited attractions in the whole country, drawing more than 420,000 locals and tourists each year.

Icelandic fun fact #1: Because of the island's close proximity to the Arctic Circle, Iceland enjoys nearly continuous days and nights of sun during the warm months. Winter, on the other hand, brings relatively little daylight — almost eight hours in early November, but as few as five in January. This photograph was taken around 8:45 a.m.

Lava Path

Lava fields surround the Blue Lagoon, making for an otherworldly landscape. Moss covers the rocks, and sometimes snow covers the moss. Within the spa, there are separate men's and women's changing rooms; if you've forgotten your swimsuit, you can rent one.

Icelandic fun fact #2: Historically, Iceland is notoriously expensive. After its major banks collapsed in 2008, though, its weakened currency makes Iceland more financially accessible. (Expect to pay $50 a day for a small rental car, and a little more for an apartment rental in Reykjavik.)

The Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon's large bathing area is filled with blissfully warm seawater, around 98° to 102° Fahrenheit. It's outflow from a nearby geothermal power plant, and because it's bacteria-resistant, there's no need to treat the water with chlorine. Every two days, the water is renewed, so it's frequently freshened.

Icelandic fun fact #3: One hundred percent of the electricity produced in Iceland comes from renewable sources such as geothermal and hydroelectric plants.

It's In The Water

The lagoon's water is rich in mineral content, and its milky blue color is due to its naturally occurring algae. Almost 20 years ago, people with psoriasis found that when bathing in the lagoon, their symptoms drastically improved. (Clinical studies [1] back it up.) Today, psoriasis sufferers can visit the spa's adjacent skin care for treatment.

Fun Icelandic fact #4: Iceland sits on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which explains the island's wild volcanic activity. The Eurasian and American tectonic plates meet at the Reykjanes peninsula, home of the Blue Lagoon.

Unusual Treatments

Along with lounging in the Blue Lagoon's waters, visitors can relax in two steam baths, rest in a sauna, or be "massaged" by a waterfall. For a wholly unique experience, book an in-water treatment. Your massage therapist will help you shimmy onto a foam raft, cover you with a blanket, and knead away tension as you float on the water.

Icelandic fun fact #5: Almost all Icelanders speak perfect English. Their own language is so well-preserved that the average citizen can read and understand their ancestors' 13th-century sagas.

Winning Skin

White silica mud lines the bottom of the lagoon, and boxes of the stuff are available for bathers. To fit in with the Icelanders, apply the mud on your skin and let it dry for about 10 minutes. The result: baby-soft, smooth skin. Along with the high sulfur content of Iceland's hot water, the mud might explain why Icelanders have near-universally clear skin.

Icelandic fun fact #6: Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir is the first openly gay head of state in the world. Iceland, home of the world's oldest ongoing parliament, has been called the most feminist country [2] in the world.

Drift and Drink

Thirsty? Swim up to an in-water bar for refreshments like white wine (served in plastic glasses for safety) and consider picking up a fresh algae face mask. No cash needed, either: You pay by swiping an electronic bracelet at the bar, then settling the bill upon checkout.

Icelandic fun fact #7: The Icelandic booze of choice is Brennivín, a potato-based, caraway-tinged liquor also known as Black Death (thanks to its whopping 37.5% alcohol by volume). It's tasty with spice and bite, like an edgy cousin of Pimm's. Say skál! when you raise your glass.

Icelandic Cuisine

The spa has a few dining options for guests. A cafe serves soups, salads, and snacks. For a gourmet option, Lava restaurant — built into a wall of lava rock — offers dishes such as reindeer burgers, arctic char, lamb, and even vegan options.

Icelandic fun fact #8: A visit to Iceland isn't complete without trying three foods. First, skyr is a tasty yogurt-like dairy product. Kleinur are delicious Nordic cousins of the doughnut. And then there's Hákarl, or fermented shark, which has a strong ammonia odor; I suspect Icelanders enjoy foisting it on unsuspecting tourists.

Privacy, Please

Feeling like a high roller? Splurge on a private changing room and access to an exclusive lounge. Past visitors to the Blue Lagoon include Quentin Tarantino [3], Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon, Juliette Lewis, band members of Coldplay and Foo Fighters, Teri Hatcher [4], Jude Law [5], and Kate Winslet [6]. Oh, and of course, Ali Fedotowsky of The Bachelorette.

Icelandic fun fact #9: Icelanders have patronymic names, meaning that their last names are based on their fathers' surnames. For instance, Björk Guðmundsdóttir is the daughter (dottir) of Guðmundur. And if you'd like to have an Icelandic baby named Frank, not so fast: the Mannanafnanefnd, or Icelandic Naming Committee, must approve all non-Icelandic first names.

A Place To Stay

In 2005, the Blue Lagoon clinic and hotel opened. The modern, well-designed facility is a five-minute walk from the main spa, and a winding path takes you past a field of lava rocks. The main reason to stay, aside from the proximity? A separate lagoon reserved for guest access only.

Icelandic fun fact #10: Each October, Reykjavik hosts the Iceland Airwaves music festival, drawing bands and music fans from all over the world. Past acts include TV on the Radio, Wolf Parade, Robyn, Bloc Party, and Sigur Rós. Every year, the Blue Lagoon hosts an in-water party complete with international DJs, too.

The Clinic Hotel

Each room affords views of mossy lava rocks, and the blankets are made with wool from Icelandic sheep.

Icelandic fun fact #11: To look like an Icelander, throw on a traditional knit lopapeysa sweater. Or hit up Reykjavik-based clothing lines such as Farmers Market [7], 66°NORTH [8], or spaksmannsspjarir [9].

Photo courtesy of Blue Lagoon Iceland

In the Lab

The Blue Lagoon has its own research laboratory, where scientists study the minerals, algae, and silica from the geothermal seawater.

Icelandic fun fact #12: The (short-legged!) Icelandic horse is one of the cutest animals you'll ever see. Imagine a My Little Pony, but don't call it a pony — it's a horse, as Icelanders will gladly remind you.

Room With a View

The scientists' findings go into the Blue Lagoon line of luxury skin care, including its best-selling silica mud mask [10].

Icelandic fun fact #13: More than 25% of Icelanders believe that elves live among them.

When in Reykjavik

While the main Blue Lagoon spa draws thousands of tourists, its spa in Reykjavik is a quieter place to relax. Visitors can slip in for an algae body wrap, unwind in an outdoor hot tub, or catch a yoga class at the adjacent health club.

Icelandic fun fact #14: Icelanders are friendly and tend to be on the quiet side — except when it comes to weekends in Reykjavik. There, it's a nonstop party that doesn't even start until around midnight. That might explain why relaxing in geothermal pools (there's at least one in just about every town) is so popular.

Photo courtesy of Blue Lagoon Iceland

A Land of Beauty

A snow-covered mountain makes a breathtaking backdrop at the Blue Lagoon, and the rest of Iceland is filled with similarly breathtaking scenery. Geysers, glaciers, the Northern Lights, waterfalls, volcanoes... it's a wonderful place to be. If you can visit, go — you can't possibly regret it.

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