Blue Lagoon vs Laugarvatn Fontana: Battle of the Geothermal Pools

By March 27, 2014 Destinations, Iceland
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In Iceland you can literally watch the Earth bubble and boil, a poignant reminder of the active force that lives deep underground. Icelanders have been harnessing this geothermal energy for centuries, turning it into an affordable, green heat source that meets the large majority of hot water and heating requirements of the country today. Better yet, once the business of heating homes is taken care of there is still plenty of hot water left over to play!

The practice of a good daily soak in the local geothermal pool has firmly established itself in the collective consciousness of the nation, and I was more than a little excited to join in. Not all geothermal pools are created equal, however, and you may be surprised at which one I would choose to dip my toes in again if I had the chance…

Exhibit A: The Blue Lagoon

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Of all the pots to boil in, the Blue Lagoon is by far the most iconic. Images of silicon-clad faces lounging in the Lagoon’s turquoise blue water are perhaps as evocative of Iceland as the dance of the Northern Lights.

Only a short 15-minute drive from Keflavik International Airport, the Blue Lagoon is best visited as either the the first or last stop on your itinerary. Seeing as we arrived around 6am Iceland time (aka 2am Eastern), we made a beeline for the spa in hopes of tricking our bodies into functioning for the rest of the day.

By the time we stumbled through the airport in a jet-lagged haze for an hour or so grabbed our luggage and picked up our sweet new ride, we arrived at the lagoon just as a queue of fellow early birds began forming at the front entrance in anticipation for the doors to open.

After a mandatory scrub-down in the showers, we scampered across the deck out into the blue abyss. And it was…not as warm as I expected. We spent the next hour or so bobbing around the lagoon, exploring every nook, cranny and waterfall in search of heat (ok not that kind of warm spot, gross). Of course, there were also the inevitable silicon mask shenanigans that ensued…

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Swim up bar anyone?

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The Blue Lagoon is touted for the healing properties of the same minerals responsible for it’s unearthly blue hue. It was accidentally formed in 1976 when bathers began enjoying the heated pool created by the nearby Svartsengi power plant. Public facilities were officially opened in 1987, alongside a research and development lab that explores the production of algea, silica and the treatment of certain skin diseases such as psoriasis.

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A well deserved post-soak nap

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Perhaps it was the hype setting up unrealistic expectations, or the jet lag affecting my mood, or the $55 Canadian price tag cramping my style, but in my humble opinion the Blue Lagoon was a tad overrated.

Should you pay it a visit during your stay? Absolutely. I mean, YOLO right? But if by chance you have to miss out fear not! There is no shortage of steaming pools in Iceland within which to soak your weary bones. Enter Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Baths

Exhibit B: Laugarvatn Fontana

Conveniently situated in Laugarvatn along the famous Golden Circle loop, this hidden gem provided a much-needed break from the bitter winds that chased us around while visiting the obligatory sights of Gullfoss, Geysir and Þingvellir.

Walking through the doors I was relieved to see that the crowd of tourists that had accompanied us to other Golden Circle hotspots hadn’t yet caught on to Fontana. The change room was peacefully ours as we suited up and prepared to indulge. In the showers I couldn’t get enough of the Soley shampoo and its distinctive organic spa smell.

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Photo courtesy of Chelsea Brown

Photo courtesy of Chelsea Brown

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We floated from the various pools, steam rooms and sauna, testing out each of them before settling on a favourite. One of the more unique attributes of Fontana is that it sits on the shores of Laugarvatn lake, providing bathers with the chance to reap the supposed health benefits from alternating between hot and (really) cold. Call me Canadian, but I was pumped to jump in that lake. Ok, until I was actually in the lake and my feet started getting brain freeze. But we stayed in long enough to capture photo evidence of our stupidity bravery.

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C-c-c-old.

We topped the visit off with a post-soak snack of fresh trout on some of Fontana’s signature rye bread, baked underground in their geothermal ‘bakery’. Fact: bread tastes better when baked under ground!

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Fresh trout on geothermal-baked rye bread!

Our visit to Laugarvatn Fontana really completed our Golden Circle day. It was private and peaceful compared to the Blue Lagoon crowd, and at nearly half the price (2800 ISK or about $27 CAD) it will have you relaxing even more!

 

Laugarvatn Fontana was recommended to us by our friends at the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina, who generously arranged for our complimentary entrance to the baths.

PRACTICAL TIPS FOR MY FELLOW WANDERERS

Blue Lagoon:

Get there early. I really enjoyed our fleeting moment of relative solitude in the Lagoon before the crowds descended for the day.

We were warned extensively prior to jumping in that the minerals would do a number on our hair. Lather up with copious amounts of conditioner (provided in the showers) and leave it in while bathing in the lagoon and you are sure to leave with luscious locks.

Towels, house coats, sandals, you name it. Pretty much everything is extra so bring your own to save a few bucks!

Laugarvatn Fontana:

During our visit, at least one tour bus arrived at 2:30 pm and departed at 4:15 pm. Plan your visit accordingly and you could have the place blissfully to yourself!

Had I known about the tour of the geothermal bakery, I would have been all over it. Everyday at 2:30 pm guests can learn and watch as the deliciously sweet and rye bread is dug out of the steaming earth, ready to eat! 1500 ISK or $14 CAD.

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10 Comments

  • Reply Iceland's Golden Circle | Wannabe Wanderer April 7, 2014 at 1:56 am

    […] Thousands drive past this hidden gem on their way to complete their Golden Circle loop, however I wrote at length about how Fontana surpassed all expectations and even came in ahead of the famous Blue Lagoon in […]

  • Reply Nawar Danou April 8, 2014 at 12:23 am

    Mel,
    A quick not of thanks from a colleague of Reanne’s.
    Your beautiful pictures and blog should inspire more people to strive to be a Wannabe Wanderer.
    Experiencing this type of adventure makes all-inclusive type vacation pale in comparison.
    Our next family trip is Iceland!!!

    Keep Wandering.

    Nawar

  • Reply mbelore April 23, 2014 at 10:12 pm

    Nawar, thank you so much for the kind words! Reading that I have inspired someone else to explore a new corner of the world is truly the biggest compliment. Thanks for following along — keep in touch and happy travels!

  • Reply Love Where You Are | The Many Pages of Paige November 9, 2014 at 11:35 pm

    […] night tour called, “Warm Baths, Cool Nights.” The first part included a trip to the Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Baths, of which all I can say is “ahhhhhhh.” The baths were incredibly relaxing and exactly […]

  • Reply steve kokkins August 26, 2015 at 1:40 am

    Our family really loves Iceland & the Icelandic people. I have been here a few times but brought family this time (wife and active 30 yr old special needs daughter). Your comments re Laugarvatn make me sure to come here next time, since we went around the Golden Circle, knew about it but didn’t have time. Many thanks!

  • Reply mbelore August 26, 2015 at 2:13 am

    Steve, thanks so much for your comment. I also can’t wait to explore more of Iceland – I agree, such a beautiful country and culture. I hope you and your family have the chance to return soon!

  • Reply Michele October 6, 2015 at 6:40 pm

    Thank you for this review, I was really not sure about the Blue Lagoon as we are traveling with our children, we will definitely check out Fontana Spa instead, it seems it will suit us better and we love rye bread 🙂

    • Reply mbelore October 8, 2015 at 1:23 am

      Happy to provide some insight Michele! I hope you and your family have a great trip 🙂

  • Reply Rita Harris January 18, 2016 at 3:56 pm

    I have read and enjoyed your article and in April we will be putting your choice to the test. Last August we spent a day at the Blue Lagoon and were elated. I can’t imagine an even better spa. I was ache free for weeks afterwards and kept wishing we had one at home. Perhaps the photos don’t do it justice, but the Fontana doesn’t look as spacious or as deep as the Blue Lagoon. I just hope it it as hot. Thank you for the opinion.

    • Reply mbelore February 25, 2016 at 4:17 pm

      Hi Rita! I found that the Fontana was definitely smaller and has more of a swimming-pool feel than Blue Lagoon, but it was hotter and just as relaxing 🙂 Enjoy your trip, coming up soon!

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