Iceland – Lagooning in Winter
The Secret Lagoon is a steamy alternative to the Blue Lagoon. Below I describe our stormy encounters with each place, but wish we could have visited even more locations. If we didn’t have to change our plan due to an approaching storm, you can bet I would have been the Myvatn Nature Baths while we were in North Iceland. If you cannot tell already, I’m a fan of lagooning. Nothing beats shivering in below freezing conditions to instantly milling around comfortably in the steamy water.
Note that it is a country custom to shower off before heading into any public pool. You will be able to find gender-specific changing rooms to change into your swimsuit. If you’re American, stop being a prude because we all have bodies and there were too much giggling and shenanigans when I visited the Blue Lagoon. But do keep the showering in mind when visiting local pools and hot pots, where there may not be as much instruction for foreigners. Let’s jump right in!
THE BLUE LAGOON
My overall impression is that the Blue Lagoon is a stunning location and design. It’s marketing department earns a raise because advertisements for the Lagoon are EVERYWHERE. Its success and popularity has made it more like a theme park with people jostling here and there to take selfies. But if you know you are going into, then you can adjust your expectations and still have a good time.
We bought our tickets about a month in advance and some of the afternoon time slots were already sold out. We bought the earliest time available (8:00 am). We decided to do the least expensive price, which was still $55/per person. I printed our tickets and watched the instruction video before we left the US. I felt prepared.
At a Glance:
- Rating: 3, would like to do it time and again
- Intensity: Swimmie
- Duration: 2-4 hours
- Cost: $30 - $55+
- Location: Great locations throughout the country
- Restrooms: Usually located in or near changing room
- Being comfortably outdoors in below freezing temperatures
- Participating in a cultural tradition
Recommended for going to the Blue Lagoon, Secret Lagoon:
- Towel (or rent one)
- Sense of adventure
When we arrived at 8:10 am, there was already a charter bus in the parking lot. The temperature was hovering just above freezing, with rain was coming down sideways in the wind. There is a small building right off the parking lot for luggage, but I recommend leaving luggage in the car if you have a rental -- the luggage check line was pretty atrocious. It’s another 3 minute walk to the main building, which is brutal in sideways rain and smells of sulfur. I didn't notice any sulfur smell once we were in the Lagoon itself.
Once you are inside, you get in line to check in. The line moved quickly and took us maybe 5 more minutes. At this point, a gentleman stood atop a stool or chair to announce that the roads would be closing at noon and you have the option to get going early or hunker down at the Blue Lagoon. They give you a wristband that will allow you to open up your locker.
You have to shower off and I recommend using their products – they smell and feel amazing. I put my hair up into a bun before entering the lagoon and didn’t feel a difference afterwards, but I read all over the place to coat your hair in conditioner and put it into a bun to protect it from the minerals in the water.
Entering the Lagoon:
Because of the approaching storm, the recommended method of getting into the lagoon was through an indoor pool area that had a giant, partially under water door leading outside. But because everyone was using this method, there is a bit of jostling and the water is not very warm. When we headed out the massive door, we were immediately stung by the wind and rain.
We had to swim-walk against the wind to get away from the main door and strategically move around people. Everyone was trying to decide whether or not to head further out or head back indoors. Since the lagoon is quite large, so much of the heat evaporated quickly and it was difficult to find warm spots. The wind burned my ears and we did two attempts out further away from the main door. Boyfriend was a bit better off, having surfed the freezing California coast for so long, but I could tell he was eager to get on the road to Reykjavik before any roads were closed. When we were inside between the attempts, I realized it must have been right after 9 am because a new wave of giggly people came flooding into the indoor area.
The shower afterwards felt amazing because of how cold it was outside. The Blue Lagoon has great amenities and I was able to dry off, hair dry, remove and reapply make-up in complete comfort. There is a kitchen, where you can get snacks or have a coffee indoors. My skin felt amazing for the rest of the day.
Did I enjoy the lagoon? Yes. Was it what I expected? No. The Blue Lagoon was under construction fairly recently, so hopefully this will alleviate some of the high traffic areas. The weather and amount of people definitely caused us to have a less-than-relaxing experience, but I bet it would be magical on a non-stormy day. My biggest frustration came from the fact that I felt locked into my non-refundable pre-purchased ticket, even though the weather was horrendous. Since I couldn’t stop thinking about it, I reached out to customer service after the trip and they had a prompt response addressing my concerns.
I give them two thumbs up on their customer service, design, skin and hair products, and marketing. If afforded the opportunity, I think I would return to the Blue Lagoon, BUT with consideration of the weather and my motivation (see the final FINAL thoughts at the bottom). I don’t know if they do walk-in tickets, do you happen to know? That would be ideal. Otherwise, I would probably wait until we were practically there until buying the tickets, with the understanding that they might be sold out.
THE SECRET LAGOON
A lesser known lagoon in Flúðir (somewhat along the Golden circle, north of Hella in south west Iceland) is the Secret Lagoon. This lagoon does not have all the glitz, design, and income that The Blue Lagoon, but it makes up for this by being less crowded, quiet, and steamy hot. I am not sure if this location is protected from the wind, but we had calm blue skies when we visited the Secret Lagoon. What then ensued was an incredibly delightful mid-day soak.
No pre-purchase needed!
The Lagoon is located near a small town at the end of an agricultural greenhouse-farming area. It is neat to see the greenhouses lit up at night. The entrance is well-marked and with a small parking lot. When we arrived, there was a tour bus in the parking lot (not a good sign), but luckily, the group was about to leave. Check the Secret Lagoon website to see if they list the time that the tour bus visits.
Entering the Lagoon:
The changing room is extremely clean and all amenities were in perfect condition, but are modest in comparison to the Blue Lagoon. They use an old-school key and lock on a wristband, versus the fancy and completely unnecessary electronic version at the Blue Lagoon. Shower off before heading into the lagoon.
The Lagoon is roughly the size of a very large swimming pool, but not quite Olympic-sized. It looks man-made on three sides, with the back side (furthest from the main building) is more natural and rough. If you want to look around before entering the lagoon, there is a walking path, where you can see a mini-geyser and other bubbling puddles.
The Lagoon is roughly 3.5 to 4 feet deep with a rocky bottom. Some parts of the Lagoon are EXTRA hot, which you cannot comfortably stay in for too long. In general, while it was hovering around freezing (maybe 33 or 34), the main part of the Lagoon was the perfect temperature. People are generally pretty quiet and calm, like the water itself. Chatting quietly or taking pictures was normal, yet not obnoxious. Although I am not sure if there were any Icelandic natives at the Lagoon while we were there, it felt more like a local’s retreat. I felt relaxed.
If you get a little too toasty, you can cool off in one of the outside chairs. Or when you are done, there is an indoor area with tables and chairs to enjoy a packed lunch. Even after showering off and getting re-dressed, I was warmed to the bone.
I am beyond thrilled that we went to the Secret Lagoon. It was warm, quiet, and relaxing and everything that I could hope for in a visit to a thermally heated pool.
Final FINAL Thoughts/Should You Go?:
I still find it extremely difficult to think about my experience at the Secret Lagoon without holding it in comparison to the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is perfectly designed to please with bright blue waters, rustic natural outdoor rocks, expansive area, free face-masks, quality amenities, and minimalist modern dressing room in dark tones. It is designed to be gorgeous and boy have they succeeded. How could you not be impressed?
I read a lot of reviews about each location before going to Iceland and after writing this, I have decided to place the Blue Lagoon and the Secret Lagoon into separate categories:
- The Blue Lagoon falls into the category of an artsy and nature theme park immersive experience. I would say the motivation for going is to experience a very popular thing because it is cool.
- The Secret Lagoon (local warm pools, hot pots, and likely Myvatn Baths) falls into the category of a cultural tradition of relaxation. In this case, the motivation for going is to experience what Icelandic locals enjoy and to relax.
I definitely think everyone should experience the natural phenomenon of lagooning in winter, but whether or not you should visit one place over another comes down to your motivation. Good luck choosing –there are no wrong answers!
Have you gone to the Blue Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, or other hot spring in Iceland? How was it??