There are certain things you just have to do when in Iceland—and soaking in the Blue Lagoon, the otherworldly geothermal playground that ranks among the country’s top tourist attractions, is one of them. But now there’s another steaming, soothing and, yes, scenic spa option that’s closer to Reykjavik, Sky Lagoon.
If you’re planning to visit this island nation, which is nicknamed “The Land of Fire and Ice” and is home to 600 natural hot springs, should you head to the warm, silky waters of Blue Lagoon or give the modern and stylized Sky Lagoon a try? We’ve been to both and here’s what you can expect.
You’ve probably seen photos of the Blue Lagoon on social media and thought, “I definitely need to do that!” Millions of other travelers have decided the same thing, making this visually stunning geothermal spa so popular that advance reservations are absolutely necessary. Bookings are for a one-hour arrival window and the Blue Lagoon is open 365 days a year. It’s a fun option for a family adventure and children as young as 2 years are welcome, although kids ages 8 and younger must wear floaties.
Location: Blue Lagoon is a rather remote oasis on the Reykjanes Peninsula, which is also home to Iceland’s international gateway, Keflavik Airport. It’s about a 50-minute drive from downtown Reykjavik or 20 minutes from Keflavik. What is unrivaled is the sheer drama of the surrounding black-lava landscape, formed by centuries of volcanic eruptions.
History and Facts: Slip into the Blue Lagoon and you’ll float in 2.4 million gallons of geothermal seawater with a temperature averaging 98 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, so it’s as hot or even hotter than a whirlpool or jacuzzi. The water is sourced from deep underground and was first enjoyed decades ago when, in 1974, a lagoon unexpectedly formed in the Svartsengi lava field next to a geothermal power plant.
Scientists began to study the beneficial properties of the mineral-rich water and the original reservoir continued to attract wellness-focused Icelanders until 1999 when the Blue Lagoon was relocated to its present location. It was enlarged in 2016 and now covers 93,646 sq. ft. In 2018, the award-winning Retreat at Blue Lagoon Iceland, a luxury resort with a 62-room hotel, subterranean spa, and the panoramic fine-dining Moss restaurant, opened.
The Experience: Once you’ve showered and changed into your swimsuit in the locker room, follow signs to the steaming lagoon, which is set amid a dramatic volcanic landscape and ringed by wooden boardwalks. The water is a surreal milky blue hue and is naturally enriched with silica, algae, and minerals. Stepping into it for the first time is like nothing else on Earth—a soothing cocoon of warmth set against a backdrop straight out of a sci-fi movie. Water depths range from about 2.6 feet at the edges of the lagoon to 4.7 feet towards the center. The only caveat is the water’s distinct sulphur smell, but after a few minutes it’s likely that you’ll hardly notice it.
Aside from soaking while enjoying the stunning setting, there are several in-lagoon experiences to try. The most Instagram-worthy is the In-Water Mask Bar, where you can grab handfuls of goopy white silica mud and apply it to your face and body for 5-10 minutes before rinsing it off. To quench your thirst as you soak, you can swim or wade over to the In-Water Bar for a selection of juices, water, beer, and wine; there’s a limit of three alcoholic drinks per person and you’ll wear an electronic bracelet that records your purchases and acts as a key to your locker. You can also choose to stand beneath a geothermal cascade at the Lagoon Waterfall or enjoy the soothing warmth of dry or moist heat in a sauna or an earthen Steam Cave.
The Amenities and Souvenirs: You can add onto your Blue Lagoon immersion with optional experiences such as Float Therapy (from $178 for 45 minutes) that combines meditative weightlessness with gentle body work/light massage or an actual In-Water Massage (30 minutes from $112). There’s also a Blue Lagoon Skincare line that can be purchased.
If you can’t get enough of the landscape but your skin’s starting to prune, you can head to Lava, a restaurant with large windows overlooking the lagoon, to dine on fresh, local Icelandic cuisine (in-robe dining is allowed until 4:00 p.m. daily). There’s also a café serving snacks and offering indoor dining.
The Cost: Rates start at $60 per person for the most basic soak, including a silica mud mask, towel and one drink; for $78 per person, you get two additional masks of your choice, a bathrobe to use, and a glass of sparkling wine if dining at Lava restaurant.
Since its March 2021 debut, Sky Lagoon has become a convenient alternative to the Blue Lagoon for relaxation-seekers wanting to enjoy a soothing soak that’s just minutes from central Reykjavik amid an ambience that, while not adults-only (kids age 12 and older are allowed if accompanied by someone age 18 and older), is decidedly less frenetic. In fact, Sky Lagoon’s vibe is closer to an oceanfront luxury resort pool and spa area than a tourist attraction, and while its artifice doesn’t detract from its soothing vibe and panoramic sea views, it doesn’t deliver the instantaneous wow factor of its world-famous competitor.
Location: Sky Lagoon overlooks the northern Atlantic within the Skerjaforour fjord at Karsnes Harbour, which is just a 15-minute drive from downtown Reykjavik. Its 230-foot-wide infinity-edged geothermal pool is naturally heated to about 100-104 Fahrenheit and offers sweeping views of the ocean along with Iceland’s unique volcanic landscape, including cone-shaped Mt. Keilir, on either side. The view is especially stunning at sunset, notably during summer when the sun skims the horizon but never truly sets. Opening hours vary by season, but Sky Lagoon is open 365 days a year.
History and Facts: Sky Lagoon may be modern, but its design took inspiration from ancient turf houses built by settlers to withstand the North Atlantic region’s harsh weather. The eye-catching building that houses the reception area, changing rooms, and a café rises from street level like a gentle hill, but it is actually constructed with tiles cut from swampy turf that have been stacked in a beautiful herringbone pattern. Both the lagoon and spa area were constructed with sustainability in mind and no single-use plastics are used.
The Experience: Once you enter through the striking reception area, head to the locker rooms; Sky Lagoon is wheelchair accessible (there’s a chairlift for entering the water) and also offers private changing facilities for guests who identify as non-binary or transsexual. A plastic wristband locks your locker (no robes or slippers are provided) and it’s just a short walk through the shower area (where you must shower) to a wade-in area with a gentle slope.
As you make your way through the canyon-like entry, you’ll be surrounded by man-made faux volcanic rock walls that are nonetheless realistic and totally photogenic. You will, however, notice that Sky Lagoon’s water (4.9 feet in depth at its deepest) is a darker, and ironically more down-to-Earth shade of blue-green because it lacks the reflective silica and other suspended minerals that give the Blue Lagoon its surreal hue. Still, the water’s soothing warmth and superb coastal scenery are a divine combination.
The entire infinity-edge lagoon is dotted with boulders and there’s a refreshing waterfall that makes a great photo-op. The most popular spot is the Lagoon Bar tucked into a cove and serving a selection of beer, wine, and non-alcoholic beverages, all at an additional cost of about $2.50 for a soft drink, $10 for a beer and $10-$20 for a glass of wine or champagne. There’s a limit of three alcoholic drinks per person and purchases are stored on your wristband and paid for when you exit the locker room.
With a Pure Pass admission (see pricing below), you can also enjoy the traditional and immersive 7-Step Sky Ritual. Emerging from the lagoon, you can opt to do a stimulating cold plunge (it’s icy!) before entering the spa area, where you’ll rewarm for about 10 minutes in a sauna with floor-to-ceiling windows offering sea views. Then it’s time to walk through a cold mist before applying a fragrant, tingle-inducing salt scrub all over your body and entering a steam room.
The final step is to shower off—and marvel at how incredibly soft and smooth your skin feels. Sky Lagoon’s credo is that taking time to relax and destress by nourishing your senses is a classic Icelandic tradition in keeping with the belief that “everything works out in the end.”
The Amenities and Souvenirs: Once you change and exit the locker room, there’s a choice of two dining options: The Sky Café serves soups, sandwiches, and other Icelandic treats, while Smakk Bar offers five unique and seasonal Iceland tasting plates. Sky Lagoon also features a retail area that sells its signature body scrub, body lotion, and other products.
The Cost: To just enjoy a soak in Sky Lagoon, you can book a Pure Lite Pass for $57, but if you want to try the 7-Step Sky Ritual, you’ll need a Pure Pass that costs $71. Private changing facilities cost extra and can be enjoyed with the Sky Pass (at $99) and couples or platonic pairs can book Sky Lagoon for Two Sky Passes ($257 for two) that includes the lagoon, the 7-Step Ritual, a private changing area, one glass of wine or beer per person, and a Sky Platter from Smakk Bar.
Bottom Line: If you’ve never experienced the Blue Lagoon, a visit there should be a top priority. But if you’ve been there/done that and you’d love to try a geothermal journey that’s just minutes from Reykjavik, give Sky Lagoon a try. They each offer soothing submersion in two very different but incredibly scenic settings. And, if you have time, you can always book a soak at both.