When visiting Reykjavik, you will notice the same street sign all over town: a head floating above two squiggly lines and an arrow. This is the universal symbol for “hot pot.”
This way to the hot pot!
In Iceland, the hot pot–their term for what others may call a pool, hot tub or public bath–is an integral part of the culture. Many Icelanders regularly visit hot pots to relax, catch up with friends, gossip and debate the latest political issues. Since the water is geothermally heated and not treated with any chemicals, visiting the hot pot is also considered part of a healthy routine.
No trip to Iceland is complete without at least one hot pot stop, and if you’re staying for more than a couple days it’s worth it to fit in a few. But if you only have time for one, it can be difficult to figure out where to go given that there are so many in Reykjavik alone and each offers a distinct experience.
On one end of the spectrum there’s the spa-like hot pots with huge pools, on-site cafes and additional services like massages and facials. On the other end are the no-frills municipal hot pots, which are closer to community pools. So which will give you the best hot pot experience?
Representing the municipal hot pots is Laugardalslaug, the largest in Reykjavik and considered by many to be the nicest. It has all the facilities you’d expect to find: six hot pots at different temperatures ranging from 37 to 42 degrees Celsius (98.5 to 108 degrees Fahrenheit), indoor and outdoor swimming pools kept at moderately warm temperatures, a sauna and a steam bath. Additionally, there are two water slides into the large outdoor pool, which are great fun for kids (and adults). Laugardalslaug is a favorite among Reykjavik residents, so no matter when you go, the residents outnumber the tourists and you feel like you’re truly joining in modern-day Icelandic culture. And with an entrance fee of ISK 500 (USD 4) for adults and ISK 120 (USD 1) for children, you can’t beat the price.
Blue Lagoon is usually listed as one of Iceland’s must-see sites and when you walk into the huge lagoon area, you’ll understand why. It feels like you just stumbled upon a grotto while hiking through the volcanic terrain. The lagoon is filled with geothermal seawater that is a striking opaque blue. When you step in, you realize that the murkiness comes from the silica that collects on the lagoon floor and walls. There are actually wooden boxes throughout the lagoon filled with silica and guests are encouraged to rub it all over their faces as it supposedly has a cleansing effect. The Blue Lagoon doesn’t have separate hot pots, but rather one contiguous pool and the water temperatures change within it, so you never have step out into the cold. There is even a bar in the pool itself that sells snacks and drinks. All this adds to the feeling that you are in a truly unique place, something you’d hope for given the EUR 35 (USD 44) entrance fee. For an extra price, you can also get a massage, manicure, pedicure, waxing and the ambiguously-named “cleansing,” all of which emphasizes that this is a place for a special occasion. Given the price and the environment, you are far more likely to meet a Italian than an Icelander while floating in the lagoon.
So which hot pot to choose?
The Blue Lagoon certainly is stunning when you enter and it’s exciting to know you’re about to jump into all that beauty. If you are into massages, that can help to fill up your time there, but if you’re just hanging out in the water, the allure starts to wear off after a few hours. And after spending so much money to get in, you want to make sure you stay for awhile.
On the other hand, going to Laugardalslaug isn’t an all day event. The price is so reasonable that you’ll feel like you got your money’s worth if you go for an hour at the start or end of a day of sightseeing. But putting money aside, the true delight of Laugardalslaug is the feeling that you’re participating in daily Icelandic life and spending time with the locals.
Honestly, both are worth a visit, but if you have to choose just one, go with Laugardalslaug.