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For many travellers, Iceland is a bucket-list destination — the land of volcanoes, stunning scenery, dreamy geothermal lagoons and colourful puffins.

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[Rocking out at The Icelandic Punk Museum]

On my recent trip to Iceland, I had a few days to explore its capital city, Reykjavík, ahead of a Holland America Line cruise. There are numerous ways to explore the island, from multi-day independent exploration with a rental car to day- or multi-day bus tours. If you’re like me, you tend to break up the days with local trips, walking tours and cafe stops to take in the general vibe of a new place.

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[Spot the cheeky puffin behind the grassy top! Puffin-spotting in Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland]

Icelandia launched as an alliance of individual entities (Reykjavík Excursions, Flybus, Icelandic Mountain Guides, Dive.is, Activity Iceland) to serve travellers. With a deep shared passion for the island’s diverse and untamed beauty, Icelandia connects travellers via a collection of tours. Iceland is a stunning place to explore and with that, we selected a couple of easy activities while in Reykjavík, easily accessible from within the capital and via Flybus transfers.

While researching tour options online, I discovered a unique live lava show and the Sky Lagoon. As an alternative to the more famous Blue Lagoon, Sky Lagoon is closer to the capital (note that Blue Lagoon is more easily accessible from Keflavik Airport en route to town, and there are plenty of options for a bus transfer, including onsite luggage storage).

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Sky Lagoon

The Sky Lagoon is a geothermal spa in southwestern Iceland, located at Kársnes Harbour, in Kópavogur. It’s literally where the sea meets the sky (immediately conjuring up British Columbia’s Sea to Sky Highway).

I arranged a round-trip transfer from my hotel to Sky Lagoon with Flybus. Reykjavík has several bus stops, and tours take those stops into account when organizing trips, so that passengers have a convenient meeting point.

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Sky Lagoon captures the salty scent of the Atlantic Ocean, the sounds of the tide surrounded by black rock and nature, the soothing, warm geothermal water plus stunning views from the 75-metre infinity pool.

There are a few packages to choose from here: Sky, Pure, and Pure Lite, each at different price points with various options. The Sky package includes a private shower and changing area, while Pure has shower cubicles and a shared changing area. Once here, you can decide how long to spend (the average visit is listed as between 1.5 and three hours).

At check-in, I’m given two wristbands: One for a locker and any purchases (via a major credit card), the second, for gaining entry to the seven-step ritual (the Lagoon serves as entry and exit point).

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From the locker room, you enter the warm pool for a soak and views. This week has been particularly windy, and created a steamy effect at the surface, made even more enjoyable with the infinity edge overlooking the whitecaps of the ocean.

There’s a swim-up bar for a glass of bubbly, wine, or soft drinks and juice, and a waterfall off to the far side. Take a quick plunge into the (10-12º C) glacial pool by the ritual house, to help stimulate the immune system and rejuvenate the senses.

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[The Sky Lagoon gift shop is stocked with locally-sourced products]

A large sauna with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out at the sea is a highlight here. Several other guests found the temperature a bit on the hot side (myself included), so grab one of the towels here to protect your feet! After the sauna, walk through the fog-mist area for a quick cool-down (at -5º C).

Next up, it’s time to exfoliate. An attendant hands out small ceramic cups of almond- and sesame-seed-infused Maris Sal scrub, meant to be rubbed in from the neck downwards. Then it’s off to the steam room to allow the pores to absorb the scrub. Once melted into the skin, it’s time for a warm shower to wash it off before heading back into the lagoon.

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[Smakk Bar]

Dining options include the Sky Cafe with sandwiches, soups and dill-infused smoked salmon, and Smakk Bar, offering five unique tasting platters served on black slate and piled high with Icelandic cheese, cured meats and fresh bread.

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[Amazing cinnamon buns at the Sky Cafe!]

Northern Lights enthusiasts can plan a visit between September and April (on a clear night) to enjoy the relaxing warm water while gazing at the dancing Auroras above. Alternatively, arrive in time for the evening light! The Lagoon is open year-round (until 11 pm in summer).

As mentioned above, Sky Lagoon is close to Reykjavík (7 km away). If you’re up for a long walk, you can reach the lagoon in about an hour, 15 minutes. Renting a bike in town is also an option. Visit Sky Lagoon at Vesturvör 44-48, Kópavogur, Iceland.

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Lava Show

Imagine a live lava show that recreates a volcanic eruption by superheating real lava up to a molten state of 1100°C (2000°F) then pouring it into a lava tube just feet away from your seat! Guests can clearly see, smell, hear and feel the lava’s intense heat from up close. Welcome to the world’s only live lava show (launched in Vik in 2018, and in Reykjavík in 2022).

Volcano view from bus to town!
[Cue the B-52’s “Hot Lava”! Live volcanic action as seen on the ride from the airport]
 
Iceland – “The Land of Fire and Ice” – is clearly evidenced on the bus ride from Keflavik airport to the city capital: Located just 11.2 kilometers due south of the road we’re on, our bus driver points out the country’s currently active volcano inside Sundhnúkagígar crater, its bright orange fires raging in frequent sparks.

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The Lava Show is the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Júlíus and Ragnhildur, after being mesmerized by the 200-meter-high Fimmvörðuháls eruption, the predecessor to the Eyjafjallajökull eruption a few weeks later. They wanted to provide the public with a way to safely view molten lava up close.

A short introduction video explains the history of Icelandic eruptions (all volcanos on the island are constantly monitored); our host then starts the live lava portion of the show!

The lava used originates from 1918’s Katla eruption. The source material is basaltic tephra — the basaltic sand that covers the black sand beaches on Iceland’s Southern coast.

As 1,093 degrees C (2,000 degrees F) molten lava flows into the lava slide (over blocks of ice), the rapid cooling process of the lava results in the formation of exquisite volcanic glass with a striking obsidian-like appearance. The same lava is heated to a brilliant orange and cooled, year after year, in the spirit of true recycling.

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There are two levels of tickets: Classic (5,900 ISK) and Premium (9000 ISK). The premium package adds an aperitif upon arrival, VIP premium lounge access, an “extra hot” balcony view, backstage furnace room tour, and gift bag containing a piece of lava from the show.

There’s a café and gift shop onsite and security goggles are provided for downstairs spectators. The molten lava gets HOT! This sensory/immersive experience can be found at FISKISLÓÐ 73, Reykjavik. Their original lava show location is in Vik (Víkurbraut 5), 190 km (118 miles), a two and a half hour drive from Reykjavík.

I was a guest of both Sky Lagoon and the Lava Show for the purpose of this feature. Transportation to/from Sky Lagoon was provided by Icelandia’s Flybus. Opinions, as always, remain my own.

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