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Travel

The Blue Lagoon in Iceland is as cool as you want it to be. Plus three more hot springs to visit

On the 50-minute drive from Iceland’s Keflavik International Airport to downtown Reykjavik, the landscape switched from long, flat stretches of dirt to patches of grass studded with rocks. 

It was early August and it was cold — 40 degrees is chilly for a native Angeleno — and as I looked around, I couldn’t quite figure out why this place was at the top of my friends’ travel wish lists.

For the record:
10:34 PM, May. 11, 2019 An earlier version of this post said the 35-room Silica hotel at the Blue Lagoon will close for renovations and reopen as a 60-room hotel. A new 60-room hotel will open in addition to the Silica hotel.

One thing is clear: Iceland is trending.The number of people traveling here has more than doubled in the last six years, according to the Icelandic Tourist Board, and that number continues to increase by more than 20% a year.

For this we can probably thank, in part, Wow Airlines, the ultra-low-cost Icelandic carrier that tempts with the occasional sub-$100 one-way fare. And I’d also credit social media, which brims with selfies taken at and in the Blue Lagoon, Iceland’s best-known hot spring.

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But Iceland wasn’t really on my list. A story on low-cost airlines (I flew Wow) landed me in the capital city, which I could use as a base to explore the hot springs. Not my idea of paradise, but it helped when my sister Jessica, who was in need of a vacation, volunteered to explore with me.

The plan was to stay in Reykjavik, then drive to as many hot springs as we could without having to join a tour group or get on a bus. 

Of course, plans are made for changing, which is what happened when the car rental company failed to produce the four-wheel-drive I had reserved and paid for.

That meant we had to skip some the springs on our list that were off the main roads.

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But our tiny red Toyota Yaris did make it to the Blue Lagoon and three other memorable geothermals spots, all within driving distance of Reykjavik. 

Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa about the size of two football fields, sits amid an 800-year-old lava field on the Reykjanes Peninsula, a 50-minute drive southwest of  Reykjavik.

It is popular, so reservations are required because space is limited, ensuring enough sparkling water for everyone. (The lagoon can hold hundreds of  people.) 

The water, a combination of fresh and seawater from the nearby geothermal plant, is about 98 degrees, slightly cooler than your average hot tub.

Tourists sit in the Blue Lagoon outside Reykjavik. The Blue Lagoon’s blue and green waters come from natural hot water springs flowing through a lava field.
Tourists sit in the Blue Lagoon outside Reykjavik. The Blue Lagoon's blue and green waters come from natural hot water springs flowing through a lava field.
(Olivier Morin / AFP/Getty Images)

Ticket packages range from about $48 to $200. The premium package, about $85, is all you’ll need to feel like a king or queen. It includes mud and algae masks, towel, drink of your choice, bathrobe, slippers and a reservation and complimentary glass of sparkling wine at Lava, a restaurant at the Blue Lagoon.

Silica, the Blue Lagoon’s 35-room hotel, is a 10-minute walk. (It is closing for renovations in April and will reopen later this year, in addition to a new 60-room luxury hotel with a new restaurant.)

Jessica and I spent hours walking on the lagoon’s smooth rock floor. We eventually relaxed, although we had to dodge tourists who splashed through the water in search of the perfect selfie backdrop.

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One of the lagoon’s best features is its swim-up bar, where you can buy smoothies, wine, beer and water. We also tried the in-water massage (about $80 for 30 minutes, but you can skip it unless you like the sensation of sinking), had lunch at Lava (some of the best food in Iceland) and returned to the lagoon for several more hours.

The warm water is addictive, so we were glad to have allotted an entire day for the visit.

Info: Blue Lagoon, 011-354-420-8800

Hvalfjardarlaug

The Hvalfjardarlaug geothermal pool in Iceland.
The Hvalfjardarlaug geothermal pool in Iceland.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

A 42-minute drive north of Reykjavik took us through lush green valleys, across bridges over rocky streams and down a pothole-riddled dirt road to one of the most magical spots I have ever visited.

We were sure we were in the wrong place, so we parked our car so it wouldn’t block the road, then made our way down a dirt path.

When we reached the pebble-lined shore of the Hvalfjordur fiord, we turned left and walked about eight minutes (our hotel concierge had provided us with instructions) until we came to a tiny man-made pool surrounded by rocks. The hot water is piped in from a nearby spring. 

The fiord’s deep blue water and green mountains are the backdrop for the small hot tub, which fits two people comfortably. Birdsong and the sound of water lapping lazily at the shoreline provided the soundtrack for the afternoon. 

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As we sat alone in the warm pool, we felt as though we had dropped into someone’s “Wish you were here” postcard. We alone enjoyed the solitude; we hadn’t seen another human being in miles.

But isolation isn’t guaranteed. If someone happens to be in the pool when you arrive, you’ll have to wait your turn. 

Info: Enter the GPS coordinates 64.373948, -21.563774 into Google Maps for directions, then write them down before you start the drive. Google Maps does not work once you leave Reykjavik, and there is no Internet connection. Free

Secret Lagoon

The Secret Lagoon in Iceland.
The Secret Lagoon in Iceland.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

The name may stem from the difficulty in finding this place. After our map app failed us, we had to stop at a gas station for directions.

The Secret Lagoon, created in 1891, is one of the oldest swimming pools in Iceland. It’s in the small town of Fludir, a little more than an hour’s drive east of Reykjavik.

It’s a popular stop on the 186-mile Golden Circle tour, which also includes the Geysir geyser, the Gullfoss waterfall and the Kerid Crater Lake.

We arrived in the morning, which was smart because access is limited to control crowding. (The website lists designated times for tour groups, so plan to arrive before or after them.)

The lagoon is behind a small building, where you check in and pay about $25 to enter. The Secret Lagoon is about the size of a large backyard swimming pool and is surrounded by dense forest in one direction and rolling green hills in the other. 

Steam rose from the ground, creating a dense fog over the water. A walking path allowed us to explore the spurting, bubbling hot springs without getting too close. We spent a couple of hours in the lagoon, which was ample time to relax and work up an appetite for lunch.

Info: 845 Hvammsvegur, Fludir;  011-354 853-3033

Laugarvatn Fontana

 

The Laugarvatn Fontana thermal baths in Iceland.
The Laugarvatn Fontana thermal baths in Iceland.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

Laugarvatn Fontana looks more like a heated public swimming pool than a hot spring, with shallow geothermal baths with tile walls and floors.

Not only is geothermal heat used to warm the baths, but it’s also used to bake bread underground. The  rye created in its geothermal bakery is delicious. You may want to stop for lunch rather than a soak in the pool.

Info: 1 Hverabraut, Laugarbraut, 840 Laugarvatn; 011-354-486-1400

If you go

THE BEST WAY TO REYKJAVIK, ICELAND

From LAX, Wow Airlines offers nonstop service to Reykjavik on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and Alaska, American, Delta, Jet Blue and United offer connecting service (change of planes). Restricted round-trip fares from $655, including taxes and fees.

TELEPHONES

To call the numbers below from the U.S., dial 011 (the international dialing code), 354 (country code for Iceland), the area code and the local number.

GETTING AROUND

If you’re planning on visiting just the hot springs mentioned, you won’t need a four-wheel-drive. Cars can be rented from Europcar at the Keflavik airport; 425-0300. From $120 a day with unlimited mileage. 

GETTING NAKED

The one thing you must know before visiting a man-made hot spring in Iceland is that you will get naked in the public showers. At the Blue Lagoon, you are required to shower naked in sex-segregated showers before entering the water. And yes, there is someone monitoring you.

After the public shower you can put on your bathing suit and enter the water. You also must shower naked before entering Laugarvatn Fontana and the Secret Lagoon.

WHERE TO STAY

Hotel Skuggi, 103 Hverfisgata, Reykjavík; 590-7000.  Doubles from $267, including breakfast. 

Icelandair Hotel Reyjkavik Marina, 2 Myrargata, Reykjavik; 444-4000. Doubles from $246.

WHERE TO EAT

Sandholt, 36 Laugavegur, Reykjavik; 551-3524. Bakery with excellent breads, pastries, sandwiches, soups and yogurt, as well as coffee drinks. Dinner will run about $30. 

Fridheimar, Blaskogabyggd, Selfoss; 486-8894. Eat in a tomato greenhouse that serves pasta, unlimited tomato soup with fresh bread, and cocktails. $19 for pasta or unlimited tomato soup.

Valdis, 21 Grandagardur, Reykjavik; 586-8088. An ice cream shop that serves sizeable scoops of licorice ice cream in waffle cones. $2.19 for a scoop.

Burid, 35 Grandagardur, Reykjavik; 551-8400.  A cheese and snack shop with everything you’ll need for a picnic by the marina. 

Omnom Chocolate, 4 Holmaslod, Reykjavík; 519-5959. Stop for a free chocolate tasting and to pick up some bars to take home. 

TO LEARN MORE

Icelandic Tourist Board, 9 Geirsgata, Reykjavík

jenn.harris@latimes.com


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