The Sky Lagoon is Iceland’s newest attraction – a sensory experience that embodies the best of Icelandic bathing culture. Here’s why you need to go.
It’s no secret that I have fallen head over heels with Iceland – a country where nature is so drastic that it feels mythical – where the Northern Lights light up the dark nights and long hikes lead to rolling panoramas dotted with stunning waterfalls.
Let’s face it, Iceland is not a country that needs hyping up, yet hype it up I have – raving about hidden gems, glacial lagoons and black sand beaches along the way.
Still, even though my recent trip was my third to the country, there was an element of Icelandic life that I’d only flirted with on previous trips – that of bathing.
Icelandic Bathing Culture
Bathing sits at the heart of Icelandic culture, with today’s bathing customs the result of the slow evolution of local practice.
Look back through Icelandic history and you’ll find this culture intertwined within it: there are even records of the Vikings bathing in the country’s prolific geothermal waters.
Similarly, one of the country’s most famous historians – Snorri Sturluson, whose 12th century writings have helped to preserve Icelandic history – built a private pool in which to bathe, setting off a fashion that lasts to the present day.
Yet, like many local customs, it can be difficult for those visiting to get a true sense of this culture and to immerse themselves in the rituals Icelanders take for granted.
Of course, you’re welcome to visit the local pools, those central hubs of Icelandic social life. There are more than 200 of them across the country. The catch? Unless you’re visiting with a local, it can be difficult to know the intricacies, to follow the rhythms Icelanders have built over centuries of experience.
Until Sky Lagoon stepped onto the scene.
The Sky Lagoon draws on this deep-seated Icelandic bathing tradition to create a fully immersive experience.
Picking up elements of the social and physical benefits of bathing, they’ve created a seven step Sky Ritual that brings all of the benefits of bathing culture to visitors – in the midst of a jaw-dropping location.
It opened in April 2021 and has already built a loyal following of locals, no small feat in a country where bathing is sacrosanct. Now it’s easier for travellers to visit, word is slowly spreading about the country’s newest must-try destination.
The location is stunning. From what used to be a stretch of bare land in the Skerjafjörður fjord – they’ve created a place of wonder. It’s a maze of dark rocks, turf walls, smooth wood and crystal clear waters – not to mention the vast views that no doubt gave the Sky Lagoon its name.
In a world where the visual aesthetic reigns supreme, it would have been easy to leave it there – but the Sky Lagoon is about much more than visuals alone.
Instead, they take the mysteries of Icelandic bathing culture and make it accessible through the Sky Ritual, which begins with time in the lagoon before moving through the stages of a cold plunge pool, sauna, an energising mist, scrub, steam and finishing with a shower.
Quite frankly, it sounded delightful and I was very eager to give it a try.
The Seven Step Sky Ritual
It’s no accident that the Sky Ritual starts with time in the lagoon.
Ever had that experience where you’ve booked in for a massage then ended up in such a rush to get there on time that by the time you collapsed onto the massage bed, you were a hot and flustered mess?
That’s not going to happen here.
Time in the Sky Lagoon
Beginning the ritual with time in the lagoon is a deliberate choice – doing so forces you to disconnect from the outside world as you pass through the waters, baptised in an aura of calm contentedness.
From the moment I stepped in, the cosy embrace of the lagoon waters chipped and chipped away at the hurries and stresses of day to day life.
Taking the Plunge
After the lulling warmth of the lagoon waters, the next step – a 10-degree plunge pool came as something of a shock to the system. Icelanders believe you should stay as long as you can bear as it helps fortify the system and shows your inner strength.
The fact that my inner strength only seemed to extend to 10 seconds is probably telling of something, though I don’t care to dwell on what.
Sauna With a View
From one extreme to another, the heat of the sauna was a welcome change from the plunge pool – as were the views that came with it.
The sauna’s crystal-clear floor to ceiling windows were a welcome break from the normal cloying closeness you find in others – swapping the familiar gloomy darkness for panoramic views of the fjord that invited me to stay a fraction longer than was comfortable, just so I could soak them all in.
Bathing in Mist
After the sauna came what was to be my favourite part of the experience – an open-air enclosure where you’re bathed in an energising (and cold) mist.
While other steps in the ritual thus far had been familiar, this felt new – although it’s actually meant to emulate the natural coolness of the chilly fogs that often shroud the island and which locals have to wade through as they make their way between different parts of the bathing experience.
The shock of the coldness forced me into the present, but it came with a sense of almost childish delight – the glee of surprise set my skin atingle as it washed me in the refreshing chill.
The Finishing Touches
It’s not a spa ritual without a good scrub – and the Sky Lagoon’s – a custom blend of sea salt, with almond oil, sesame and grape that’s paired with local botanicals – felt simultaneously indulgent and wholesome.
If any remnant of the outside world had managed to cling to me thus far, the scrub finished it off until I headed, still coated in the salty mixture, into the steam room for one of the final stages of the process.
Where the sauna had been about soaking up the exterior views, by contrast the steam room was a retreat into myself: the steam so dense I had to feel my way to my seat where I sat, shrouded in the scent of the botanicals from the scrub as it melted into my skin.
After a brief shower, I’d finished the Sky Ritual and felt all the better for it. All that was left to do was to return to the lagoon, lazing around as we watched the sunset then the darkening skies before I emerged into the outside world.
Visiting the Sky Lagoon: Practical Tips and Map
- The unique filtration system and pure geothermal water at the Sky Lagoon means that they don’t have to chlorinate the water to the same degree you might encounter in other places, which is a real plus when you’re staying in the water for long periods of time.
- Address: Vesturvör 44, 200 Kópavogur, Iceland
Sky Lagoon Iceland: Packages
There are three kinds of package you can choose when booking the lagoon:
- The Pure Lite Package which includes Sky Lagoon admission, public changing facilities and a towel (ISK 6,990 / around £40 / $55 at the time of writing)
- The Pure Package, which includes everything in Pure Lite, plus the complete seven-step Sky Ritual (ISK 7,990 / around £46 / $62 at the time of writing)
- The Sky Package, which includes everything in Pure, plus private changing facilities with signature Sky Lagoon amenities (ISK 11,990 / around £70 / $93 at the time of writing)
This trip was hosted by Pursuit and Sky Lagoon – as ever – all trips and opinions are my own.