Planning a Geothermal Visit
On our first day in Iceland, we went into the information office in Reykjavik. Amongst other things, we asked about getting tickets for the Blue Lagoon for a week later when we would be back in the area. They checked the Blue Lagoon booking system and found that all the tickets were already sold out except for 7am or shortly before they closed at night.
The Blue Lagoon is probably the most famous spot in Iceland, analogous to the Eiffel Tower in France, i.e. it is perhaps the most iconic site in the country, and for that reason attracts scores of people, and is considered by some to be an essential experience and by others to be an expensive tourist trap. We had been on the fence about whether we wanted to go there, but the last of available tickets made the decision for us in the end.
FYI, our 2015 published guide book listed the cost of the least expensive Blue Lagoon ticket at €40 per person – basically allowing you through the door. It is now €50 ($58), but there are various upgraded tickets available, all the way up to about $530 for 2 people for one day.
While the Blue Lagoon may be the most famous Icelandic geothermal bathing spot, it is far from the only one. So, instead of going there, we ended up having two geothermal bathing experiences, pretty diverse from each other.
The first was at a spa called Fontana in the town of Laugarvatn which is on the Golden Triangle route. At Fontana we got to have changing facilities, towels, showers with nice cleaning products, natural steam rooms, a sauna, and various geothermal pools that got hotter and hotter as you moved through them all, for about $50 each . The pools are relatively small, and some of them are pretty shallow. These are for sitting or lying in, not swimming.
You could also walk down to the lakeside and take a dip or swim there, but it was so cold that I only got ankle deep before I wimped out and decided to enjoy the hot water exclusively. Fontanta also has a nice cafe and some other facilities on site that we did not use.
Al Fresco Time
On our last day in Iceland, we drove about 35 minutes to just outside the town of Hveragerði to go to Reykjadalur which is a open air river heated by geothermal sources. To get there (and back!) you have to hike for about 45 minutes along a well marked path, in some places going up some pretty steep grades, until you eventually reach a boardwalk by the river.
Facilities here include an open air screen which provides some protection from the wind and an illusion of minimal privacy as you change. That’s it. No showers, no toilets, no cost. Yep, totally free, which attracts lots of visitors, but it wasn’t overly crowded while we were there.
Our hikes in and out were accompanied by low dense cloud cover, so we didn’t get to see very much in either direction. This blog post I read before we went there shows some photos taken during much better weather. Our friends who were in Iceland a month before us said this was probably their favorite things from their trip and I can see why. We enjoyed it also.
One of the things that made both geothermal bathing experiences fun (and was pretty much the same in both places) was that these are social events. People sit in the hot water and talk to each other, which is fun, and often informative. At Fontana we had conversations with an American doctor who was traveling around Europe with her son, as well as a couple who were living as expats in Taiwan. At Reykjadalur, we talked with a Canadian couple visiting Iceland for the first time, as well as a local Icelandic tour guide.
You can get to Reykjadalur either by car or by bus. When we arrived we able to park in the small parking lot. But by the time we got back to our car, the cars were parked all the way down the road. Some rural buses in Iceland are designed to be able to drive F roads and so they have high clearance and 4×4 drive trains. As we got back to the parking lot we got to see one of these entering the river so it could turn around for the return journey. Not sure how comfortable it would be taking a long journey over bumpy roads on one of these things. I get motion sick in an ordinary bus after just a short drive!
The history at this site goes back a long way. In his old age, the first settler of Iceland became blind and lived at nearby farm over 1,000 years ago.
A sign at the parking lot recounted a great folk tale. Locals talked about “hot spring birds”, small and dark hued, that were said to bath in the bubbling waters. Boiling the birds was said to be of no avail, but immersing them in cold water was said to infuse them with a taste as if they had been boiled!
Both Fontana and Reykjdalur were really nice experiences. One of the things about going to these geothermal bathing spots is that they are social occasions. At both Fontana and Reykjadalur we found ourselves talking to the other bathers and having some nice conversations as we soaked our troubles away. Thankfully our hotel was able to loan us towels, but if we come back to Iceland again, as I hope we do someday, I would probably bring our own towels so that we could take advantage of such opportunities as we move from place to place.
And that’s the last of my posts about our European summer travels 2017. Hope you enjoyed them!