When people ask me about attractions near Reykjavik, the Blue Lagoon nearly always crops up. Is it far? Is it crowded? Is it worth spending a lot of their budget for a few hours in a pool at a spa complex in the “middle of nowhere” (outside of Reykjavik) OR should they just pay a much smaller fee and try out the city pools popular with the locals? Well, now I’m going to explain absolutely everything about the swimming pools in Reykjavik and the Blue Lagoon to help make your decision that bit easier.
Pool Etiquette in Iceland:
Okay, so let’s get straight to the point here. You’re going to see bums, balls and boobs. And lots of ’em! If you’re thinking about closing this tab now, Icelandic pools are definitely not for you.
Firstly, all footwear come off at the door of the locker room. You can either keep your shoes on the shelves at the entrance, or you can put them in a bag and store them in your personal locker. Depending on whether you’re in the Blue Lagoon or a local pool, you will get either an electronic locker key at reception or you can choose your locker and then take the key in the lock.
If you’re uncomfortable with getting butt naked in a crowded locker room (just to clarify that men and women‘s are separate, in case that wasn’t clear) then you can scout around and you may be able to find an empty cubicle. Strip there, put your items into your locker and wrapped (or not) in your towel, find a shower. There are usual a couple with half a door or a curtain but I cannot guarantee this for all pools. Now, this is important: You must shower completely naked. No swimwear. And soap up good. There are signs marking all of the body parts to be washed well before entering the pool area – hair, underarms, genitals and feet. Also, don’t go thinking that this is like gym class and you can run through the showers. There’s staff there who have no problem sending you back in! After your shower you can dry yourself in the drying area and there are shelves for your towel. You can’t enter the locker room again if you are not dry, it’s just nicer for everybody that way.
The Blue Lagoon:
Once you’ve followed the above procedure, you will surely fall in love with this place. Actually, wait. You’ll fall in love from the moment you see the steam rising up onto the horizon from your car / bus. Chances are, you’ve never seen anywhere like this before. You follow the steam up the road and turn right into the grounds of this spa. Before you enter the main building, please please PLEASE turn left after the main pathway. It’s so beautiful. The sight of the milky blue water surrounded by black and white (silica changes it) lava rock will make you weak at the knees. It is magical, really. Apart from the fact that it’s all man-made. But still, we’ll let that slide.
When you’ve left the changing rooms you’ll come to a kind of lobby area. I’m not really sure what to call it, “lobby” doesn’t seem right either. It’s the inside area before you go outside into the lagoon and it has some chairs and an overpriced cafe. You’re not supposed to bring your own food to the Blue Lagoon but I maaay have heard that technically you can stuff your face in a locker room cubicle. You didn’t hear it from me, shh!
If you don’t want to face the inviting Icelandic weather (that we all know and love!) outside then there is a pool in this area which leads outside lagoon too. I slightly prefer braving the winds though and stepping outside (there’s towel hooks out there) because you freeze and then you nicely burn when you enter the water. Mmhm. Take me back!
Also, something the Blue Lagoon has going for it is the fact the fun silica mud masks! I’m not sure it’s possible to put that on and not take a selfie. What a great marketing technique – I mean, everybody knows where they are whether they tagged the photo or not!
The lagoon can get pretty crowded though. Oh, and you must book ahead of time because they only let so many people in at a time so it’s never too full, you know? It’s emptier if you go in the morning rather than the afternoon or evening.
The City Pools:
I’ve been to Laugardalslaug and Vesturbæjarlaug in the city centre a few times each. These are probably the most popular two and the easiest to get to for tourists.
Laugardalslaug is the bigger of the two. And it has a slide. A slide for not only children, but adults too! YAY! I can’t think of much better than a slide which finishes in warm water! Not hot tub warm, but warmer than usual. They also have a regular pool, a pool with lanes, a cold tank, 4 hot tubs ranging in temperatures and a bigger, kind of common hot pool for lots of people. Oh, and a gorgeous salt pool which is super good for your skin!
You can either walk to Laugardalslaug (~40 minutes towards the Botanical Garden) or can catch the 12 or 14 bus (420 ISK) from Hlemmur bus station on the main street, Laugavegur.
Vesturbæjarlaug is in walking distance from the centre. It’s on Hofsvallagata, up by the cemetery / university side of the city. This pool usually has more locals in it and less tourists. There’s a regular pool too but it’s much smaller and then again there’s a common hot pool, a couple of nice hot tubs and a cold tank. This pool is a good bit smaller than Laugardalslaug but it’s really nice and cosy and everybody is friendly, so don’t be put off!
I completely understand why Icelanders scoff at the Blue Lagoon and call it a tourist-trap when they are used to the pools they have in the city centre, but at the same time I do think that if you’re only staying in Iceland for a short time (and you don’t mind spending €50 entrance fee) then you should enjoy an afternoon there. They have done a fantastic job and it is beautiful. The city pools are really nice too, so relaxing and it’s great to join in and get a sense of the pool culture in this incredible country. Whichever you decide to do, it’s a winner!