Iceland is a hotbed of activity … literally. The country sits on a sheet of geothermal energy, which is why there is a lot of volcanic activity in Iceland, geysers across the countryside and hot springs in just about every community.
If people are familiar with any of the thermal pools in Iceland, chances are it is the Blue Lagoon that they know. The Blue Lagoon in Iceland is located about 45 minutes from Reykjavik, and, due to its proximity to the city as well as it’s famous reputation around the world, it has been named one of the must-see landmarks in the country. The Blue Lagoon touts itself as a spa, and there are a number of services ranging from massages to beauty treatments in which guests can indulge. There is an exclusive lounge available on site, and guests can purchase packages online prior to visiting.
Visiting a thermal pool in Iceland is absolutely a must-do activity when visiting the country, but travelers who limit themselves to the Blue Lagoon are definitely missing out on an authentic experience. In fact, having visited several thermal pools throughout the country, I would advise travelers to skip the Blue Lagoon altogether and visit one of the locals’ pools instead. Here is the skinny on how to do it right:
> Ask where the local thermal pool is. As you travel around the Ring Road in Iceland, you’ll have to stop and stay in many small towns along the way. In most of these towns, there is a thermal pool. When you check into your accommodations, simply ask where the pool is and what its hours of operation are. Some of the pools are a part of small workout facilities; others simply exist on their own.
> Pay for entrance. The price of visiting one of the local thermal pools is so much cheaper than visiting the Blue Lagoon, it’s almost embarrassing. A few Icelandic kroner go a long way at these pools.
> Bring your own towel. Some supply towels, but most require that you have your own.
> Bathe completely. When you see the sign that says to shower completely before entering the pool area, it means shower completely. Americans in particular have a tendency to take a few cursory drops of water to the skin and call it good. Others ignore the shower sign completely. Don’t do that here. It is considered incredibly unclean to enter the thermal pool without washing the body thoroughly, especially the private areas. Be respectful and bathe before entering the thermal pool.
> Pick a place to dip. Most of the local thermal pools consist of a few different places to hunker down in the hot water. Many are the size of hot tubs, and they go all the way up to legitimate swimming pools. Some even have water slides! They’re a variety of temperatures, but I found most to be warmer than bath tub water but a little bit cooler than the hot tubs I’m used to in the United States.
> Chat with the locals. This is where Icelanders come to hang out after work, and most seemed more than happy to chat with us. It’s not every day that foreigners pass up the Blue Lagoon for their local pool, and they’re just as interested in asking about why you’ve come to Iceland as they are talking about it.
>Bathe again. When you’re finished with your thermal pool experience, wrap up in a towel and head back into the locker room. Take a shower and wash completely. Don’t be shy.
Though I’m a big believer that you should pass up the Blue Lagoon for the smaller thermal pools around Iceland, you should know a few things: First, these are not spas. There are no massage services, executive lounges or on-site dining facilities (though there may be a hot dog stand outside).
Second, they are not fancy. The amenities are simple, but you also don’t have to pay an exorbitant amount of money to enjoy the experience. Third, this is part of the Icelandic lifestyle, so respect it. These pools exist for the locals’ enjoyment, not for tourists. Respect the posted rules and customs.
Finally, have fun! After you’ve sunk into one of the many thermal pools in the small communities scattered across Iceland, chances are the Blue Lagoon will be a huge disappointment, so if you like your time with the locals, feel free to skip the big kahuna for something else while you’re in the Reykjavik area.