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aug 31 2011

Heading to Europe? Have a Blue Lagoon layover

The Blue Lagoon (Courtesy jeppe-photos/Flickr))

Some of the cheapest flights to Europe from New York City, Chicago, and Washington, DC., right now are on Icelandair and Iceland Express. For example, the lowest priced ticket for flights in mid-September between Dulles Airport and London Heathrow was recently on Icelandair.

The catch with these cheap flights is that they all make stops in Iceland, which lengthens the overall trip. Planes typically land around 6 or 6:30 in the morning, and then depart again around 7:45 or 8.

These layovers raise a question: Is there a way to take advantage of the time on the ground—say, until 4 p.m., or 7 p.m.—and enjoy Iceland a little bit before continuing your flight? Some travelers have found the answer is yes. They even deliberately pick a later departure out of the 34-year old Keflavik Airport to maximize their layover and have enough time to look around.

The most popular attraction to see is only a half-hour away: the milky Blue Lagoon.

We recently wrote about the Blue Lagoon in our story on affordable and picturesque public pools worldwide. Here's what we had to say:

The aptly named Blue Lagoon in Grindavik, Iceland, outside of Reykjavik, draws more than 400,000 visitors a year to its 1.6 million gallons of approximately 100-degree seawater. Steam rises from these sky blue hot springs across a surreal landscape of black lava mounds, and bathers slather themselves with silica mud, precipitated from the springwater and known for its relaxing (and purported healing) properties. Formed in the 1970s as a by-product of the neighboring geothermal plant (after the plant used the hot water, it was led back to the lava field and formed the lagoon), the Blue Lagoon spawned a wellness center in 1999. With a restaurant, a spa, a dry sauna, and steam baths, the facility draws visitors from around the globe. Accessibility: Year-round. Affordability: Day pass $42. Hours: Sept. 1–May 31, 10 a.m.–8 p.m.; June 1–Aug. 31, 9 a.m.–9 p.m. 240 Grindavik, 011-354/4-208-800; bluelagoon.com

So what do you need to know—practically speaking—to add a Blue Lagoon visit to your next overseas vacation?

Hopping a taxi is the easiest but also the most prohibitively expensive option, at up to $50 each way per couple.

Hopping a shuttle bus is easier and it only take 15 minutes to get from the airport to the spa. Bus lines leave daily from the main bus station close to the airport for a fare of ISK850 ($7.50) one-way per person. But Excursion buses stopping at the Blue Lagoon don't start until at 9:30 in the morning Sept 1 - May 31, so expect to have time to pass through passport control and enjoy a leisurely breakfast at the spacious and recently redesigned food court. (In the summer, there are more frequent, earlier departures, too.)

Returns are frequent as well, with the bus line Excursions running a 2:15 p.m. bus that arrives 15 minutes later at the airport every day all year round, with additional afternoon trips during summer months.

Rival bus companies to Excursions may have better schedules, so check NetBus and Gray Line for more info.

Remember to pack your bathing suit and flip flops in your carry on, as your checked luggage will be left at the airport.

A layover of about seven hours between flights is enough to get to the Blue Lagoon, relax, and then get back, without feeling rushed or panicked. But the capital city is a bit farther away to get to, and the downtown is a bit of a walk from the main bus station, so you are best advised to only explore the city if you're staying over for the night.

Would you include a stop at the Blue Lagoon on your next trip to Europe?

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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