Inside Sky Lagoon, Iceland’s New Geothermal Spa

At Sky Lagoon, which opened in spring 2021, Icelandic bathing traditions are honored in style.

Inside Sky Lagoon, Iceland’s New Geothermal Spa

The infinity pool at the Sky Lagoon overlooks the ocean, and on a clear day, you might even see whales passing by.

Courtesy of Sky Lagoon by Pursuit

Right when I slip into the infinity pool’s naturally heated geothermal water, a fog obscures my view just enough to disorient me for a moment. It’s winter in Iceland, and the crisp air grabs my shoulders before I can submerge them. Soon, the wisps of fog float away, and the lagoon opens up, with the ocean beyond and the perfectly cone-shaped Mount Keilir rising in the distance. I settle in at the edge of the 230-foot pool. Work deadlines and grocery runs back home in Tampa feel worlds away.

I keep my body underwater as I float to the swim-up Lagoon Bar and order a glass of Moët & Chandon champagne; in my book, a day of complete and utter relaxation calls for bubbles. Soft murmurs and laughter bob across the water, but I am not annoyed by this perceived interruption of calm. Instead, the noises are a fitting soundtrack to the otherwise serene scene.

The lagoon is first of seven stops in the Ritual at Sky Lagoon, which opened in spring 2021 in Kópavogur, less than five miles from downtown Reykjavík. The multistep bathing ritual is intended to celebrate the best of Icelandic culture, combining the traditions of bathing, nature, and architecture into one memorable experience. After the lagoon it’s on to a cold plunge pool, sauna, cool mist, body scrub, steam room, and back to the lagoon. Each part of the Ritual plays with hot and cold to relax and stimulate the body.

From the Ritual to the design, every aspect of the Sky Lagoon experience was carefully considered by managing director Dagný Pétursdóttir and the Pursuit creative team, who took a mindful approach when it came to Sky Lagoon’s development. Well before the first shovel broke ground, the team created the sensory journey that they wanted their guests to experience, from touch and feel to acoustics, scents, and tastes. Lagoon flooring replicates walking on cooled lava, and the contrast of warm woods and metals creates inviting, intimate spaces everywhere from the steam room to the lagoon eateries, Sky Café and Smakk Bar. Another noticeable design touch: The same geothermal water that is piped into the lagoon from a spring about 28 miles away is used to heat interior floors and outdoor walkways to keep them free of snow and ice.

At Sky Lagoon, a visit to the sleek, wood-paneled sauna is all part of the seven-step Ritual.

At Sky Lagoon, a visit to the sleek, wood-paneled sauna is all part of the seven-step Ritual.

Courtesy of Sky Lagoon by Pursuit

In an effort to preserve and honor Icelandic tradition, heritage, and history, Sky Lagoon architects also drew inspiration from the traditional turfhouse building method that dates back to around 870. To build the klömbruhleðsla, or turf wall, craftspeople used swampy land that’s rich in volcanic ash to create nearly concrete-like tiles that they placed in a traditional herringbone pattern.

It’s far from the only nod to history present at Sky Lagoon: One of the oldest known man-made geothermal pools in Iceland is the Viking-era Snorralaug in Reykholt, named for historian and poet Snorri Sturluson, who is thought to have used the pool. Because of its historical significance, Snorralaug is no longer open for bathing, but it serves as the inspiration behind the design of Sky Lagoon’s cold plunge pool. As Step 2 in the Ritual, it’s meant to stimulate the immune system, decrease blood flow in the body, and tighten the skin, not to mention boost happiness. When I dipped my Floridian toes—and then the rest of my body—into the icy cold, 50°F water, the only sound I heard was my own laughter.

Without any time constraints or limitations, there’s no rush at Sky Lagoon and you’re welcome to stay as long as you like. I arrived just after sunrise and stayed to watch the sunset from the lagoon’s infinity edge. (Granted, sunrise was around 11:30 a.m., and sunset 3:30 p.m.) It’s easy to stay, too: back in the water, the swim-up Lagoon Bar serves local beers, champagne, water, soft drinks, and tea. As part of the lagoon’s COVID precautions, there is frequent and thorough cleaning in all shared spaces, and changing rooms and dining spaces adhere to social distancing recommendations. Excluding the lagoon itself and when seated in one of the dining venues, guests are also required to wear face masks covering their noses and mouths when in public spaces.

Icelandic bathing culture dates back more than 1,000 years to when Norwegian settlers arrived in the 9th century and discovered the island’s naturally warm geothermal waters. In the centuries since, pools modeled after Snorralaug were found throughout Iceland. After a fruitless gold rush in the early 20th century, drills seeking gold were instead used to access free flowing warm water from deep inside the Earth. Today, more than 200 public pools are enjoyed across Iceland.

And while comparisons to the well-known Blue Lagoon are natural, Sky Lagoon has two standout features that set it apart. First and foremost is its proximity to Reykjavík, less than 5 miles compared to 30 miles. Instead of being landlocked, Sky Lagoon is also oceanside with unobstructed views; if your timing is right, you may even spot a whale swimming by.

Some locals I met at Sky Lagoon shared that the bathing culture they grew up with is a way to disconnect from the everyday world and reconnect with loved ones, be it friends or family. Being by the sea releases their worries, they said, and they take in its energy. After my visit to Sky Lagoon, I too felt relaxed—and ready for whatever came next.

Admission to Sky Lagoon starts at ISK 6,990 ($56); passes that include the Ritual treatment cost ISK 13,900 ($110). Note: Children under 12 are not permitted at Sky Lagoon; children 12-14 must be accompanied by an adult.

>> Next: Steep Canyons, Crashing Waterfalls, and Whales Galore: Northeastern Iceland’s Ultimate Road Trip

From Our Partners
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
More From AFAR