Spa time with strangers & Icelandic retail therapy

Day three was spa day! Kind of. We again booked tickets through our lovely hotel concierge for the first bus out to Blue Lagoon in the morning.

Blue Lagoon was Amy’s ultimate dream travel destination, so we were pretty hyped up. Unlike many Instagram-famous travel destinations, Blue Lagoon actually lives up to the hype.

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The large geothermal spa is located about 50 km south of Reykjavik in the middle of an apocalyptic-looking lava field. It’s actually only 20km from the Keflavik airport, making it (probably) the best layover destination in the world.

We took an early morning bus that dropped us off right before 8am when it opens. It was about a 50 minute drive through a dark rocky landscape from Reykjavik. The bus dropped off in the parking lot and we walked down a path to the entrance of the spa. It truly is an oasis. You’re walking among black volcanic rock as far as the eye can see, and then suddenly there’s powder blue water and a modern spa building welcoming us in.

I highly recommend getting there early. We were among the first ones there, and it was nice to have a quiet locker room to change in and to get in the water when all you can see is the steam. Within an hour or so, the lagoon filled up. It was like a pool party, except chill and everyone kept to their own groups. So I guess like a pool lounge?

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We opted for the “comfort” package which included a towel, algae mask, silicon mask (which is included for everyone), and a free drink at the lagoon bar. I believe the package was about $60, compared to the $40+ standard package. Depending on which option you choose, you get a different wristband.

The steamy water is so inviting after the 30 seconds spent in the frigid outside air between the indoor room and the water (ha). Then it was spa time: we headed over to the mask bar for algae and silica masks. The spa bar(tender?) instructed us to leave each of them on for 5-10 minutes before washing off in the water. On the other side of the lagoon is the bar bar. We considered wine, but ended up getting refreshing skyr smoothies (basically Icelandic yogurt blended with berries).

BTW: if you don’t have a waterproof case/camera I’d recommend stepping out to grab a few photos and then locking up your stuff before getting in the water. I did it backwards and went out for pictures while wet, which was extremely uncomfortable!

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After a couple hours, we headed back in, showered and got dressed. We lingered in the café area (there’s plenty of seats and free wifi!) while waiting for LAVA Restaurant to open. Since we were there right when it opened, we were able to snag a table without a reservation.

LAVA is the fancy restaurant of Blue Lagoon. But $$$$ doesn’t mean there’s a dress code. You’re welcome to dine in your robe and head right back out to the lagoon afterwards. They have set menus as well as a la carte, with several seafood options. Their portions were surprisingly filling. Tl;dr: pretty food in a pretty space. Worth it for being the splurge meal of our trip.

After lunch, we stopped by the gift shop to pick up some of their famous skin care products before catching the next bus back to Reykjavik.

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Back at the hotel, we took showers again. The minerals in the lagoon make your hair feel crunchy no matter how much conditioner you use.

We had planned to rent a car and drive up the coast…but instead napped. And woke up too late. We walked to the city center and got dinner at Icelandic Fish and Chips. It seemed like literally every other tourist in town was also there. But it was a good meal. After dinner, it seemed like most of the shops were closing so we had no choice but to head back.

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A NOTE ABOUT NORTHERN LIGHTS

So we actually had our northern lights tour the night before (night 2 of our trip). The tour was included in our Groupon. A big tour bus picked up at the hotel after dark. We drove out to the middle of nowhere and stopped at a lodge/restaurant/maybe hotel. And we spent the next couple hours waiting in the darkness. It was a bizarre experience. Our tour guides watched the sky outside, letting us know if and when there was something to see.

Eventually, they said there was a faint glow in the distance. I’m still not sure if we actually saw it, or we were just so exhausted and desperate and cold that we thought we saw it. The best way to describe what we saw? Stand in a dark room, close your eyes, and punch yourself in the eyes. When you open them, that’s basically what I saw.

I know, I know. The photos you see online are totally unrealistic and the product of super long exposures and Photoshop. But our northern lights experience was still disappointing. Maybe another time!

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On our last day, we had a flight to catch in the evening. So we packed up our bags, tried and failed to rent a car, and ended up shopping in the city instead. We quickly got to know the streets as we walked around, taking in the colorful walls and public art. After warming up with coffee at Kaffitár, we started popping into shops and planning out how to spend our $$$.

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There are countless souvenir shops in the area, and most of them sell the same stuff. Lava rocks, ceramics, salt, furs, wool. My favorite place was a ceramics shop called Kaolin. It’s a gallery-style shop with beautiful (and pricey) ceramic works of art.

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After spending pretty much the rest of our money, we did a pit stop at Reykjavik Chips for a snack, and then headed back to the hotel to pack and take the bus to the airport.

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The airport again was super fast. We didn’t have much time before boarding, but did find out that there are a bunch of souvenir shops in the airport. Really, there’s no point in even buying souvenirs until you get to the airport. The prices are fair (some even cheaper) and they sell the same stuff. There’s even a Blue Lagoon shop. It’s like they’re making sure you get to spend every last krona before you get on that plane. But I appreciated it.


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Iceland was one of those places that I never really thought about going to. I didn’t know much about Iceland before going, besides the whole “Iceland is green and Greenland is ice” thing that they tell you in elementary school. And that volcano eruption in 2010. Of course the next big news to come out of Iceland happened while we were there. The Panama Papers were released on our second day there, and on day three we ran into protests in the city.

Ever since I went, I realized how much of a popular destination its become. It’s the trendy place to vacation these days, especially with the push for tourism with all of their layover programs on discount airlines. On this trip we only saw the southwestern part of the country, so I’ll definitely be back to explore the southern coast and the western fjords on a road trip. Or even just for a layover at the Blue Lagoon.