This post was originally published in September 2019, and updated in December 2022 after a return visit to Iceland.
The Blue Lagoon looks pretty dreamy in photos, right? Who wouldn’t want to soak in those milky blue waters, washing away all of their worries and stresses? This iconic geothermal spa typically shows up on everyone’s list of must-see places in Iceland. And I get it! Known for its striking blue waters and therapeutic properties, the Blue Lagoon absolutely blew up on Instagram in recent years, drawing thousands of travelers to its waters every year.
As beautiful as it may seem on Instagram, when you visit in person, the experience might be a little different. I was definitely surprised to discover that some aspects of the famed Blue Lagoon weren’t quite how they appeared on social media. Their highly effective influencer marketing convinced me to visit (and pay a lot of money for) a luxurious spa experience that is one of the natural wonders of the world. While this lofty promise is admirable, I would argue it’s a bit of smoke and mirrors. After visiting the Blue Lagoon once in 2016 and once in 2019, I can’t help but feel a sense of disillusionment.
To help others avoid a similar sense of disappointment, there are a few things that you should probably know before planning your visit to the Blue Lagoon. Although I left feeling relaxed and recharged, the experience was WAY different than I expected. In this post, I will delve into 5 of the misconceptions I had about the Blue Lagoon, and tell you the surprising truths that you need to prepare yourself for.
5 Things No One Tells You About Visiting the Blue Lagoon
In practically every photo of the Blue Lagoon, the focus is put on the blue water and people wading into it. Dreamy shots of visitors floating in the water and close up images of the stark color contrast between the black volcanic rocks work together to create an idyllic looking scene. When framed this way, who wouldn’t want to enjoy a relaxing day at the Blue Lagoon?
What the photos hardly ever highlight is the massive powerplant and factory that sit behind the Blue Lagoon…. Yes, that’s real. On the same road as the Blue Lagoon, there is a huge geothermal power plant with tons of pipes, steam and ugly looking infrastructure. And you can see it from the lagoon! They’ve tried to put up some visual barriers to block the industrial center, but Buzzfeed has a hilarious Instagram vs Reality demonstrating this point!
If you come to the Blue Lagoon via car, you’ll drive right past the powerplant on your way in, and it is easily visible while you are soaking in the pool. The Blue Lagoon is not a naturally created hot spring. It is a manmade pool that is heated from the earth, but also from the residual heat of the powerplant. Not exactly the blissful expectations you had in your mind, is it?
Big Crowds & Lots of People
The Blue Lagoon is one of, if not THE, most iconic attraction in Iceland. As I mentioned earlier, it basically was Instagram for a minute there, with thousands of people posting endless shots at the lagoon. Plus, it is conveniently located only 20 minutes away from Keflavik Airport, the major international airport in Iceland. There is hourly shuttle bus service from the airport, which means there is a steady stream of visitors coming to the lagoon.
Read as → BIG CROWDS.
Although it is hard to find firm numbers on the daily visitor count, it is estimated that the Blue Lagoon attracts up to 4,000 guests on an average day. Number balloon in the summer and busy season. That rounds out to nearly 1.5 million people each year. That is a lot of bodies soaking in those waters! Because the lagoon is pretty sizable, it doesn’t necessarily feel crowded while you’re in it.
To be clear though, you are never floating more than a few feet from the nearest person. Those clean photos of an idyllic scene? Photoshopped. You’ll have people in the background of practically every photo you take. You should expect lines and wait times too. There is a line for food, there is a line for the sauna, there is a line for the masks. The whole thing is specifically built for lots and lots of tourists, and it feels that way when you’re there.
Strict Time Slots
When you purchase your ticket to visit the Blue Lagoon, you are given a strict window of time for your visit. It is down to the half hour! Printed several times on your confirmation email with specific details about the terms and conditions, they are serious about the timing. You need to arrive within your assigned window, or else you may forfeit your ticket (which you generously prepaid).
Our flight back to the US took off in the early afternoon, so we opted to visit the Blue Lagoon before our departure. We decided to book the first available time slot at the 8:30 am. We did not rent a car during our Iceland stopover, so we were dependent on the Blue Lagoon shuttle bus from Reykjavik city center. We waited for the shuttle promptly at the time we were told, and the shuttle never came. Because we missed the first shuttle, our arrival at the lagoon was delayed.
We were very stressed about missing our strict window, because I didn’t want to lose the money we had already paid. When we arrived at the Blue Lagoon check-in counter, they seemed annoyed by our delayed arrival and gave me a hard time about it. I had to argue with them and advocate for ourselves, and ultimately, we were allowed in without repurchasing our ticket. I was anxious all morning, so I needed the lagoon to relax from the stress they induced on me!
Very High Visitor Turnover
With roughly 4,000 daily visitors, the Blue Lagoon needs to have a systematic and streamlined way of managing the flow of tourists. I received a master’s degree in tourism, and I know that there are plenty of ways to efficiently handle a high volume of tourists without degrading the tourism experience. In my previous travels, I have been to plenty of high-volume destinations, such as Meow Wolf in Santa Fe or Iguazu Falls in Brazil, that still maintain a calm and pleasant experience for the visitor.
Unfortunately the Blue Lagoon misses the mark on this point. From the minute you arrive at the lagoon, you are essentially shuttled between different stations to facilitate your experience. Wait here for your wristband. Go here to shower. Go here for a locker. Wait here for your mask. Stand here for your drink. Then leave. They seem to have a quantity over quality mentality that feels like churning and burning through visitors.
While I can understand the utility and purpose of a business model like this, in my opinion, it doesn’t need to feel that way to the visitor. Soaking in warm water is inherently relaxing, but not much else about the Blue Lagoon experience is relaxing, because it is so streamlined and depersonalized. I felt like I was just a product. The seemingly annoyed staff wasn’t super friendly either, only further deepening my feeling of dissatisfaction with the overall service experience.
There is no doubt that Blue Lagoon is exceptionally good at marketing and promotion. You’ll see advertisements for the Blue Lagoon all over the airport and in hotels around Reykjavik. Plus, they still have a robust budget for social media marketing, because I see their promoted content regularly. As a result, it is wild to see how much the business has grown since my first visit in 2016. There are whole new wings of the facility, like the fancy hotel and private lagoon area. Pitching itself as a luxury wellness experience has clearly worked for the Blue Lagoon.
However, I think the experience itself doesn’t quite align with this value proposition. Based on everything I’ve explained above, you can probably understand why my experience at the Blue Lagoon didn’t exactly feel like the “5 star spa” vibe that they brand themselves as. It is hard to describe why, but I think it is mostly a feeling. Having to lather my entire head in thick conditioner so that the mineral water doesn’t crack my hair doesn’t really feel like a luxury experience. Having an employee scoop mask cream out of a bucket into my hands doesn’t really feel like a luxury experience. Waiting in line for 20 minutes for a mimosa that costs 20 euros doesn’t really feel like a luxury experience.
Total Cost of Visiting the Blue Lagoon
On top of all of those misconceptions about the experience, I also can’t ignore the elephant in the room–the Blue Lagoon is VERY expensive. I am going to break down all the costs involved with our day visit to the Blue Lagoon in summer 2019. I checked the website again before republishing this blog post, and the prices have gone up since my visit. It seems like the prices are approximately 20% higher in 2022.
Let’s get into it. The minimum ticket on their website when we booked in 2019 was listed as 49 EUR. But that was a little misleading because the 49 EUR price was only available for specific days and it only applied to the latest time slot of the day. A majority of the tickets wound up being around 80 USD for the lowest tier of morning or midday visits.
Because we were flying out the same day as our visit to the Blue Lagoon, I opted to go with the premium package (middle tier) which had a few more inclusions, like luggage storage, a robe and slippers that we didn’t have in our carry-on bags. That package was 105 EUR per person. I also mentioned that we didn’t have a rental car, so we booked an airport shuttle with a pick up in Reykjavik and a drop off at the airport at the end. That added an extra 38 EUR per person to the bill.
Once you’re at the lagoon, all of the available amenities, such as drinks or additional masks, are not included in the ticket. Plus, the service provider is owned by the same company, so you can imagine how much the prices are marked up. If you want food or extra drinks or any massage services, all of those are highly priced. We decided to get one course for lunch at the Lava Restaurant, which cost another 85 EUR total.
In total, my husband and I spent $410 USD on our 3 hour visit to the Blue Lagoon. I would say that’s a pretty high price for two people.
Yes, we could have selected the lower tier ticket and packed our own lunch to save money, but I think it is important to be realistic about how much money the Blue Lagoon experience is really going to cost you. The initial sticker price that you see on their marketing material is not fully representative of what you’ll actually pay at the end of the day.
So what does all of this mean?
You might be asking yourself “Thanks for all of this, but should I go to the Blue Lagoon or not?”. The Blue Lagoon is one of the most recognizable attractions in Iceland. I don’t expect that this blog post is not going to significantly deter anyone from visiting. Nor is that my whole point! If you want to visit the Blue Lagoon, then do it. If you don’t want to visit the Blue Lagoon, then don’t.
The reason I wrote this post is to encourage people to set reasonable expectations about what the Blue Lagoon is really like. I genuinely believe that the enjoyment of travel always comes down to expectations. I think it is important to know the reality prior to your visit so that you are not surprised by your experience like I was. The Blue Lagoon will be crowded, expensive, and touristy. You will probably leave relaxed, but you might be disappointed too. If you know all of that and still want to visit, that is totally fine!
I am a big fan of spa and wellness experiences when I travel, so I wanted to visit the Blue Lagoon regardless. I just wish I had known some of these things beforehand. I could have tailored my expectations more effectively so that I didn’t leave salty with disappointment. I hope that this blog post helps travelers make informed decisions and grounded choices about whether or not the Blue Lagoon is worth visiting.
If this blog post turned you off from the Blue Lagoon, but you still want to have a spa experience in Iceland, let me propose an alternative – Sky Lagoon. Located just 15 minutes outside of Reykjavik, this luxurious spa combines the ancient tradition of Icelandic saunas with modern amenities. The outdoor lagoon is fed by the nearby geothermal springs which heat the water to a comfortable temperature. The water at Sky Lagoon is clear and less harsh than at Blue Lagoon. Plus, it has an infinity edge overlooking the ocean and city skyline that is honestly gorgeous. I mention Sky Lagoon as a must-do experience in my 48 hours in Reykjavik itinerary too. I visited for the first time in November 2022, and returned in January 2023 because I liked it so much!