The Blue Lagoon: A tourist trap or an important part of your Iceland checklist?

One of the questions I get asked the most by my friends that visit Iceland, Couchsurfers that stay with me and even some of the readers who contact me through the blog is whether the Blue Lagoon is worth visiting. I haven’t really written about the Blue Lagoon before because I prefer to point you towards things you might not find on other travel sites and you are bound to discover the existence of the Blue Lagoon on your own. I heard a statistic once that something like 80% of everyone that comes to Iceland visits the the Blue Lagoon during their stay. Considering that it’s not free, and not even cheap, that’s an insane amount.

But is the Blue Lagoon worth it?

The Blue Lagoon is not the natural wonder that many people think it is. In fact, it’s man made. They don’t tell you that on their website, or least I didn’t find it, but it actually came about when they were building the geothermal power station Svartsengi and the lagoon consists of surplus water from the plant. That doesn’t make it any less special though. The water is still very rich of minerals, thought to have good effect on your skin, and it’s a lagoon in a middle of a lava field that you happen to be able to bathe in. So in a way you could say it’s an accidental man-made wonder. Many people say that the Jarðböð in Mývatn area are much better because they are more natural but wrong again – also man made.

There has been a lot of development at the Blue Lagoon since I was a kid. It really was more about the lagoon itself in the early years and the buildings surrounding it were minimal to say the least. Now it’s a full blown spa with a hotel, a restaurant and banquet facilities. Its main draw is still the lagoon and the mineral rich water but there’s so much more too it. The prices before and after reflect that.

The buildings at the lagoon are very clever and beautiful. They morph into their otherworldly surroundings perfectly and all the facilities are well kept, functional and well – kind of pretty. The restaurant, Lava, is gorgeous with walls made out of rock and atmosphere lighting that really emphasizes the dramatic effect of the rock in the architecture. They’ve won all kinds of prizes for their buildings so it’s not just me that thinks that.

I think the biggest critique the Blue Lagoon has received in recent years is their prices. A single entry to the lagoon is 4800 ISK or 35 Euros. After the economic crash in Iceland most companies working in tourism tied their prices to Euros because of the fall the króna. So even though the prices were the same more or less in Euros, they doubled in Icelandic krónur. They have also been raising the prices pretty steeply the last few years so it has gone from something like 3000 ISK two or three years ago to 4800 ISK today. That’s a big raise in prices percentage wise.

Another thing people have mentioned is the amount of the people that visit the lagoon every day. At any given hour there are a number of buses, rental cars and mini vans outside the lagoon and it’s pretty busy inside. I guess people feel that with that many visitors it doesn’t need to be that expensive. For an Icelandic family of 4, paying full price, the amount they have to pay is almost a whole week’s worth of groceries. Why pay that when you can go to the neighborhood geothermal pool and pay not even 10% of the price?

I’ve had the good fortune of hearing the Blue Lagoon’s marketing team speak at different industry functions which has given me some perspective. First of all they took a lot of loans to build all those facilities that also doubled in the economic crash so they needed to fill that gap by raising the prices. And their marketing strategy is that the Blue Lagoon brand is a luxury brand and to keep that standard it has to be priced accordingly. It sucks for us average Joes and Janes but makes perfect business sense. I even understand the business decision behind making everyone walk through the gift shop to get out of the place, which I’ve heard also annoys people. I mean I’m a business student – I get it.

What I don’t like about the Blue Lagoon is that they are getting a little bit greedy. The Icelandic tourism industry is based around commissions, the tour operators pay the booking agents commissions for selling their tours and attractions pay the tour operators commissions for including them in their tours. It’s the same in tourism everywhere in the world. The tour operator gains from getting more people selling their tours, the booking agent gains from being able to run a business selling tours and even though this may cause slightly higher prices, the consumer actually also gains because the service gets better. The prices would be that high anyway, a company that is trying to maximize their profits puts up whatever price that customer is willing to pay and the customer is obviously willing to pay the price including the commission.

Up until this year, the Blue Lagoon has paid all the tour operators and booking agents commissions for pointing their customers towards them and driving them to the lagoon. But now, they’ve decided to stop doing that. You know why? Yeah, you’re right – because they can. Because their brand is so strong that 80% of all tourists that visit Iceland go to Blue Lagoon. As I see it, they didn’t get their on their own. They are were they are because everyone else in the industry helped them getting there. So cutting the commissions to these same people seems a bit greedy to me.

So back to the question at hand, is it worth your time visiting the Blue Lagoon?

Do you like Spas? Do you like soaking in warm water outside ? Do you like visiting places you won’t find anywhere else? Do the pictures interest you and make you think you’d like it there? Then yes, you should definitely visit. I haven’t really heard anyone who’s gone there complain about the actual experience of the lagoon. It’s lovely to float around for a while, pop into the steam baths and get silly with the mud clay. I personally just can’t afford going there except on very special and rare occasions. That’s the curse of making money in Icelandic krónur. Or as in my case at the moment, not making any money at all. Is your trip to Iceland ruined if you don’t visit the Blue Lagoon? No.

You are always faced with questions about tourist traps wherever you go. When I was in Cambodia I had to pay more than the locals to go visit the Angkor Wat. I didn’t mind – I just wanted to see the temples. I also didn’t mind paying a little more at the markets – what I bought was still a bargain. I even didn’t mind it when the border controller on the Thai-Cambodian border made me pay little extra for my visa. It’s all a part of the experience. Plus, I had a choice and I chose to buy and experience these things because the money aspect of it didn’t matter to me. It’s really the same with the Blue Lagoon. It’s a unique experience and if you don’t mind paying for that experience it’s all worth it in the end. You decide what is worth it to you.

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13 thoughts on “The Blue Lagoon: A tourist trap or an important part of your Iceland checklist?

  1. Josh

    An interesting article. I recently spent 12 days solo trip in Iceland. Loved most parts except the very unexpected weather and crazily expensiveness. I tried to visit all parts of the Iceland (two of my favorites are Jorkulsarlon and Snaefellsnes).

    Most people seem to do Blue Lagoon on the last day of their trip and before they head to the airport. I thought about doing it also, but I think the price was 8000ISK which is close to $70USD (10/2012). An $70 for public bath with 240 other people isn’t all that special for me and not worth my money. I, however, used that money to buy the silica mud pack for my mother who’s going to enjoy it.

    I vowed myself to visit Iceland again later. Maybe I can visit BL then, hoping its admission fee won’t be 18400 ISK.

    Reply
  2. Qaoileann

    I have to say I *loved* the Blue Lagoon – it was incredible.

    However, when I went I (a) stayed in the hotel (b) in December, so there were very few people actually in the pool when I was there. I think I would have enjoyed it a lot less had it been crowded. And like you say, I was happy to pay the money – it was the end of my trip, I had an early morning flight, and after staying in a hostel for the week I had the money to do it.

    Reply
  3. Auður Post author

    Josh – the price you mention must include the price of the bus to the lagoon and back or to the airport because the admission fee is 4800 ISK.

    Reply
  4. Jenny

    I went to the Blue Lagoon when I visited Iceland 8 years ago and loved it. I was drawn by its uniqueness and juxtaposition with the power plant. I hope to come back soon (saving hard!) and I hadn’t planned to revisit, now I’ve heard what the price is, I certainly won’t. Hopefully we’ll be able to visit other hot springs around the country.

    The owners want to be careful about alienating the tour operators, people are good at finding alternatives and there’s always someone with a better business mind out there!

    Reply
  5. Hlíf

    I love the blue lagoon. I recommend it to foreigners who visit Iceland. The only thing I hate about it is how expensive it is. I would love to go there a few times a year, but there is no way in hell that I can afford it. But if I was visiting Iceland I would definitely go. It feels so wonderful.

    Reply
  6. james

    the blue lagoon is a bit of a catch 22. too expensive imho but if you don´t visit it you´ll be faced telling people you didn´t visit it when that´s the only thing they know about iceland. personally, and i get asked a lot working in the industry, i tell people to skip it if they´re headed around the country and to go to jarðböðin instead: less than 1/2 the price, open later, less touristic, imho the water is nicer and as an added bonus they don´t have to employ security guards to stop excessively frisky people in the lagoon, leaving one to winder what they´re actually swimming in in the blue lagoon. having said that yes, it is definitely an experience and if you´re not able to get to jaarðböðin then the blue lagoon is pretty close to a must-do.

    Reply
  7. David

    I have been there 5 times and am going back again in August. I will say that once you see it, the cost is not significant for what you are getting. They could have nothing this clean, beautiful and amazing in the USA — that is for sure — at least not in the big city where I am from. It worth 10 times the price to visit for most people. If you are on a budget, then that is another story. I would rather economize on things in the USA and save money to do Iceland to the fullest. I have been to Myvtan also and I highly recommend it. I cannot imagine many people being disappointed!

    Reply
  8. Marissa | Tiny Pilgrim

    Very interesting! I actually just heard about the Blue Lagoon this morning, so I thought I’d look up some information on it. I’m from the United States and we have nothing like this around. So for many tourists, I believe it is the experience that they are willing to pay for. Whether the minerals actually have any effect on your skin or not, I think some travelers like to experience things because they are different.

    Thank you so much for sharing this information!

    Reply
  9. Maureen

    We will have only 4 days in Reykjavik and no car. Are there other thermal pools in or near the city where one can bathe? I would love to try that, but not at Blue Lagoon prices!

    Reply
    • Auður Post author

      There’s nothing like the Blue Lagoon in the city but a bunch of pools. The ones visitors go to most are Laugardalslaug, Sundhöllin and Vesturbæjarlaug due to their proximity to the downtown area .

      Reply
  10. George

    We went on our recent trip in February 2014 and had a fun time. Here are a few things I wish I knew beforehand though.

    Don’t waste the money on a “package”. The one we bought had a treatment as part of it. Well, the treatment was a frozen version of the silica or the pumice/ash that is already found in the water. If you look around, you can get it for free in the water. We also got a free drink, which we used for a slush. No, this was not worth the extra we paid for it. If you look at the spa prices for things like manicures and so forth, they are vastly overpriced. I’m not sure what is in the executive lounge, but I can’t image it’s worth 10,000+ Kronur per person.

    Get there early. The closer you can get there to opening, the better off you are. When we got there right at opening, there weren’t many people there but within a few hours, it gets crowded very quickly. Don’t worry, there are private shower stalls. You may have to be a bit patient to use them, but they are there.

    Watch your water intake. You are in very warm water and are sweating even though you don’t feel it, so you will want to drink more than you think you do. Yeah, you may get dehydrated being in water. My wife started getting a splitting headache because she didn’t drink enough, we got her a Gatorade in town once we left and she felt fine.

    It is a bit of a tourist trap, but is very well done and the people working there are fantastic, as was everyone else I had the pleasure of meeting in Iceland.

    Reply
  11. Elizabeth

    My partner and I are coming to Iceland on the 30th March for a week ( so excited!! ) and this is the only thing left that we have to book. We are planning on going on the last day of our trip ( 6th April ) but we are unsure of whether we will have enough time or not? We would arrive for 1000 opening then leave at 1500 to go to the airport with an hour slot for lunch in the Lava restaurant. is 2hours enough time to spend in and around the water? Im worried incase it is really busy and we end up being pushed for time? :(. Its a lot of money to spend for such a short time.

    I have found this website ( and your Instagram? … maybe its someone else with the same name? ) really helpful so thank you :). Maybe we will cross paths during our time in Iceland :).

    Reply
    • Auður Post author

      Two hours is plenty for the lagoon – you will probably turn into a prune if you stay any longer :)

      Reply
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