Rick Steves Says This Iconic Tourist Attraction In Iceland Isn't Really Worth The Cost

In the Land of Fire and Ice, Iceland's natural beauty is legendary, drawing nearly 2 million travelers eager to experience its iconic volcanic landscapes, majestic waterfalls, and mystical northern lights each year. Among these, the Blue Lagoon appears across the board in travel brochures and Instagram feeds, considered a must-visit destination. However, acclaimed travel expert Rick Steves suggests that this famous geothermal spa may not be worth the hype — or the hefty entrance fee.

The Blue Lagoon, situated in a lava field near Grindavik on the Reykjanes Peninsula, is a naturally heated human-made lagoon fed by water from the nearby Svartsengi geothermal power plant. In fact, you can see the infrastructure, pipes and all, of this massive factory right from the Blue Lagoon (not the most attractive view). Over the years, it has become one of Iceland's top tourist attractions, known for its healing milky-blue waters and silica mud masks. But according to Rick Steves, the lagoon's commercialization and high costs might not offer the value many travelers seek.

So, what's the damage? Entry to the Blue Lagoon starts at around $70 per person. This "Comfort" package entry fee includes a silica mud mask, towel, and one drink, but extras like spa treatments, dining, and additional beverages at the lagoon's swim-up bar can add up quickly. The "Premium" or "Signature" packages include more perks but can cost over $100 depending on when you visit. For many travelers, these costs can be prohibitive, especially considering the already high price tag of traveling in Iceland — a $300 average daily budget.

The Blue Lagoon: smoke and mirrors?

Another point of contention is the overcrowding that notoriously and regularly plagues the Blue Lagoon. With the growth in Iceland's tourism, especially in the post-pandemic era, the lagoon sees upwards of 4,000 visitors on an average day! The photos of people floating in the lagoon with not a soul in sight? Either photoshopped or cropped to exclude literal hordes of tourists. As you try to relax and enjoy the waters, there will be people all around you — families with crying children, backpackers on their fourth beer, large tour groups, and so on. This can lead to a pretty stressful experience as guests jostle for space in the warm waters and queue for amenities.

Speaking of queues, be prepared to line up for everything: food, sauna, drinks, shower, wristband, locker, etc. The irony is that your visit to Iceland's Blue Lagoon must be pre-paid and pre-booked, explains Rick Steves. Walk-ins are not accepted. The arrival time slots are strict, with only an hour of wiggle room — if you miss it, your ticket is forfeited. This inconvenience leaves no room for flexibility or spontaneity. The commercial atmosphere of the Blue Lagoon is a departure from the tranquil, natural settings many visitors expect. While the spa does offer a unique experience with its steamy waters and silica-rich mud, what you get is more like a well-marketed luxury resort. According to Rick Steves, this aspect might diminish the sense of adventure and authenticity many seek when visiting Iceland.

Other alternatives in Iceland

For those who wish to bathe in Iceland's geothermal waters but are turned off by the Blue Lagoon, there are other options. How about a less crowded and just as unforgettable destination dupe? The Secret Lagoon in Fludir and the Myvatn Nature Baths in North Iceland come at a fraction of the cost and with fewer crowds. Moreover, numerous free, wild hot springs dot the Icelandic landscape, though they lack comfortable amenities and require more adventure to reach. Hrunalaug, Laugarvellir, and Reykjafjarðarlaug are a few among countless others.

Rick Steves points out that much of Iceland's allure comes from its unspoiled nature and the thousand-year-old legends locals have about every element of the country's landscape. Places like the Gullfoss waterfall, the black sand beaches of Vik, or the quiet majesty of the Westfjords offer equally stunning experiences without the high price tag. What is especially telling about the Blue Lagoon is that you will likely only see tourists there — the only local Icelanders are the employees. 

With all that said, the Blue Lagoon is a quintessential Icelandic destination. The experience is a memorable one, and many travelers cannot imagine a trip to Iceland without dunking in its 100-degree milky-blue waters — which are perfectly safe. Conveniently, it's located only 20 minutes away from Keflavík airport. Rick Steves recommends combining the visit with your flight in or out of Iceland — baggage storage is available. Just make sure to reserve well in advance on the Blue Lagoon website.