How not to blow all your money traveling in Iceland

iceland travel budget

Check out my buddy/fellow blogger/blog helper Jessica of Curiosity Travels latest post about how to travel Iceland and not blow all your money. It’s been over a year since I was in Iceland with Tiny Iceland and I can safely say, I put plenty of these tips into practice when I was there in order to not break the bank!

There’s no way around it, Iceland is an expensive country. While I was planning my trip, I didn’t have the cash to be splurging– I was visiting on the tail-end of savings while making a less than desirable amount freelance writing.  Still, I knew I had to visit before I left Europe.

To make it work, I forced myself to find budget solutions wherever possible.  Luckily, this strategy worked and when I checked my bank account at the end of the trip it wasn’t as devastating as I thought it would be.  In fact, the amount was comparable to any other week long vacation around Europe.

So if you want to visit but are afraid it will be completely out of your price range, fear not! Here are a few foolproof strategies to make your Iceland dreams more attainable.

iceland travel budget

1. Visit through a stopover

One of the easiest ways to reduce the costs of visiting Iceland is to not buy a flight at all.  In order to do this, visit during a time when you’re already planning on flying between Europe and North America. While this might not be feasible for everyone, it’s a great solution for those of us who travel often.

Icelandair offers great prices for flights in between the two continents, and also allow free stopovers in Iceland for up to seven nights. Woo!

iceland travel budget

iceland travel budget

You can also create your own stopover like I did.  I flew from London to Reykjavik for only $80 via Wizz Air, then 7 days later I flew from Reykjavik to Los Angeles with a stopover in Seattle with Icelandair.  In total, the flight cost me around $700, which was about the same price as other routes during the month of December.

An added plus to all of this? Flights from Reykjavik to North America fly over the Arctic, making them strangely short. A flight from Iceland to Seattle has a flight time of only six and a half hours!

iceland travel budget

2. Visit during the winter

Detailed in this article I’ve written for Liz, visiting Iceland in winter has many benefits. Luckily, one of them is the lower costs.  From tour prices to accommodation, you can save a fair percentage by just visiting in the off-season.

Although you’ll trade the moss covered landscapes for snow and less hours of light, you’ll get epic sunsets, less crowds and (hopefully) the Northern Lights in return.

iceland travel budget

iceland travel budget

3. Sacrifice your healthy eating habits

Although this isn’t optimal for most people, if you can let go of healthy foods while in Iceland, you’ll be able to save a lot.  Eating in restaurants and buying fresh food can be very expensive, and you’ll reach and then exceed your budget fast.  In order to eat inexpensively, you’ll have to opt for fast food or supermarket frozen meals, sorry.

For a quick meal, the typical Icelandic gas station hot dog is a popular choice, and it isn’t bad. Trading a sit-down lunch for a hot dog could mean a savings of $20.  Also, if you have a kitchen available, frozen pizzas might be the most cost efficient meal, especially if you split it with one other person or save the leftovers.

iceland travel budget

iceland travel budget

Of course, not many of us can survive on frozen pizza and hot dogs for an entire week. I found the Noodle Station in Reykjavik to be both delicious and cost efficient. I also wanted to try some of Iceland’s traditional dishes while in the country so I did so by ordering them in the form of an appetizer. This allowed me to have something unique without surpassing my budget for the day.

Of course, an hour or so later I was hungry again and chowed down on a cheap snack.

iceland travel budget

4. Fill all the seats in your rental car

There’s no better way to see Iceland than by car. Renting a vehicle and taking on the open road leads to astonishing views that you’d swear weren’t real.  Still, especially if you are driving the entire ring road, the cost of petrol adds up quickly.

In order to cut costs, split the trip with as many people as possible. While this might be difficult for solo travelers, it is a benefit to traveling to the country in a group.  If you do happen to be alone, you might get lucky and meet someone who wants to join like I did.

iceland travel budget

iceland travel budget

5. Don’t drink alcohol

Even though Icelanders love a good drink (or 5), the price of alcohol in the country is enormous. Carrying up to a 50% tax, you’ll be hard pressed to find a beer for under $3.50 per bottle from a liquor store. Head to the bars for a big night out and you can easily walk away with a $100 bar tab.

Although Reykjavik is one of the best cities for nightlife in Northern Europe, it’s just something you’ll have to skip if you are short on cash. While I enjoyed a few drinks at a pub and purchased a variety of Icelandic beers from the liquor store one night, that’s as far as my drinking in the country went.  If you cut out drinking completely, you’ll save yourself loads.

iceland travel budget

6. Bring a reusable water bottle

Iceland has some of the cleanest water in the world. For that reason, why not take advantage and drink from the tap?

While the hot water comes from the hot springs and may have traces of sulphur in it, resulting in an eggy smell, rest assured the cold water is very clean.  If you pack a reuseable water bottle with you on your trip you’ll never need to waste money on the bottled version!

iceland travel budget

7. Couchsurf

A website designed for travelers to meet locals and stay in their house (usually on their couch) for free, I was always nervous to try it out Couch Surfing in other countries. It was when I noticed the high accommodation prices in Reykjavik that I was finally motivated to try it out.

After a search through the website, I found a couple who was offering up their spare bedroom to couchsurfers.  I messaged them, and since we had a lot of travels in common, they invited me to stay. I was already grateful for a free room, but a few days before I arrived I received a surprising message.  They told me they were going on a last minute trip and wouldn’t be able to show me around.  Regardless, I could still stay at their house and they would leave the door unlocked. (Yes, really!)

iceland travel budget

For the next six nights, I had their three bedroom house in Reykjavik’s city center all to myself. When I left, I wrote them a note and gave them some saffron from Spain, a small price to pay for a week’s free accommodation!

While my story is a very lucky one, there are still loads of people in Reykjavik who would offer up their couch to help out a budget oriented traveler. You’ll also probably get a free tour guide with the deal, so you can’t beat that!

iceland travel budget

iceland travel budget

8. Or…stay in an apartment with friends

While of course this isn’t as cost effective as a free couch, staying in an apartment with friends in Iceland will save you money in a few ways.  For one, being able to cook your own food and split the costs with others will save a lot.

Also, staying at an apartment gives you a nice cozy place to retreat to at the end of the day. Instead of cruising the bars and continuously spending money, hang out with friends in your apartment for free.

iceland travel budget

9. Skip the Blue Lagoon

Most people who visit Iceland will be stopping by the famous Blue Lagoon at one point. While it is a nice place to spend a few hours, it comes with a 35 euro entrance fee (45 in summer).  This is the most basic fee, without drinks or towel rental.

Like most tourist attractions, they sometimes turn out to be overrated and aren’t for everyone. If you aren’t one to get excited about soaking and relaxing in a hot spring, don’t feel bad if you skip it.  If you do decide to go, make the most of your time there and make sure to stay for at least a few hours.

iceland travel budget

10. Something to remember

Of course, the last thing you want to do is visit Iceland and miss out on everything because you wanted to save money. Just choosing a few of the above could save you hundreds during your visit.  The key is balancing a few sacrifices with opening up your budget when you deem it necessary.

Still, in my opinion visiting Iceland on a budget is better than never having visited at all– it’s such an incredible place!

iceland travel budget

iceland travel budget

About the author: Jessica is Liz’s VA, an over-thinker, a spicy food lover and a serial expat. She has studied and worked in South America, taught English in Korea and Spain, and backpacked through Asia. Follow along as she balances travel and 20-something life all on her blog, CuriosityTravels.org. She also shares her current travel adventures on Instagram, Facebook & Twitter.

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87 Comments on “How not to blow all your money traveling in Iceland

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  1. With the influx of affordable airline options (and the increase of wanderlust-inducing posts like this) Iceland is the new travel trend- summer or otherwise. It is also one that I would very much like to take part in! I’ve heard mixed things about the Blue Lagoon, but I’d probably do it anyway if just to say that I did. Great tips, that I hope to use in the near future!

  2. Good tips! Though I personally think of winter as the best time to visit Iceland, it’s not always the cheapest, depending on your way of travel. The costs for a rental car will most likely rise: You need a bigger car, a 4×4, that means more gas etc.. Shoulder season like mid-September to October can be much cheaper and the prices of accommodations don’t vary a lot to winter season.

    I think eating in restaurants is by far the most stressful thing for your budget. Compared to Europe, maybe apart from Norway, Switzerland, and Luxembourg, the prices are astronomically high.

    I agree especially to your last point. A lot of great things in Iceland are free, others that are also great will cost you some bucks – but they’re worth it. A visit to a glacier cave or ice climbing is something you won’t forget your whole life.

    And a last thought: Regarding the rising tourism in Iceland and it’s consequences I wonder if it’s not a good thing that Iceland is still expensive. It’s not meant as some kind of exclusive thing, but it’s better for the country, for it’s people, and it’s economy, if it’s not crowded with millions of people. Many Icelanders already feel that their country is taken away from them, beautiful places are crammed with tourists, local people don’t visit the pools anymore during summer because there are too many visitors. In the long term, I think, prices will go up again to the level before 2008. Better visit now :=)

    1. great points, I think you can’t really equate the prices to the amount of tourists. tourism is exploding there, and now the question becomes how to keep things ethical and clean and promoting the “right” kind of tourism

  3. This is great advice! I had kind of stored Iceland away for later in life when I’m more financially stable. Perhaps I could give it a go earlier than planned.

  4. A very informative post! I’d heard that Iceland is very expensive, and had never even considered the stopover option, when it came to flights. Good choice on Couchsurfing. I’ve not used them, yet, but have my account ready to roll!

    Do you have any idea how friendly Iceland would be for someone who may want to get around by bicycle? That’s going to be my preferred mode of travel around the world. The only road I know about is the ring road, seen on many an episode of Top Gear!

    1. That’s how I’m planning to do it…with ‘wild camping’ (aka being able to stop off basically where you want so long as you’re not on someone’s personal property or right next to a paying campsite) so readily available, I’m planning on bringing my tent and pack and renting a bike from Reykjavik. It’s one of the most beautiful places on the planet and I wouldn’t want to miss seeing the northern lights through the sky window by being in a hotel.

      From what friends who have made similar journeys have told me, they are very welcoming to hikers, campers, and bicyclists, with the same general expectations of cyclists as you would find elsewhere– don’t be an idiot, don’t hog the road, and adhere to common road laws.

      Good luck!

      1. I am heading there in September, planning to wild camp, a bike around before ferrying to Scotland. 🙂

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