I’ve wanted to visit Iceland for a while, so when a layover became available for a long-distance flight, I snapped up the opportunity. Truthfully, I didn’t know much about Iceland but various bloggers warned me that it would be expensive. I shrugged it off, how expensive could it be? I’ve travelled to Norway, and THAT was expensive, so would Iceland be around this level? Well, I hate to break it to you but it was worse. Much worse. Want to know the damage?
Two days in Iceland went over what I spent for 4 whole days in New York City. Seriously.
A country being expensive wouldn’t be a factor which would put me off visiting. We only live once, right? However, I wanted to write this post to give future visitors a heads-up on ways to make Iceland more affordable.
You might be wondering, is Iceland possible on a budget? I’m here to tell you, yes BUT you need to plan it. Iceland isn’t going to be the best location for spontaneous travels, in my humble opinion. Spontaneous adventures lead to spontaneous decisions, and those moments aren’t always budget-friendly.
This post goes hand in hand with my latest piece on 10 things you should know if visiting Iceland for the first time. Over there, I debunk the myths surrounding Iceland, let you know how to increase your chances of seeing ‘The Northern Lights’ + tell you about the time I was catfished by a landmark.
Practical Travel Tips For Doing Iceland On A Budget:
When it comes to Iceland as an expensive destination to travel to, I somewhat understand it. The high reliance on imported goods and the sheer distance from neighbouring land aren’t going to bode well for a cheap trip. But, what’s actually expensive about Iceland for a tourist? From my personal experiences, I noticed the top three contributors to be accommodation, food and fuel. I do think, though, that you can work around these factors.
There’s multiple mistakes I made during my travels, which I put down to a lack of planning. I saw Iceland as a layover, so prioritised preparing for New York. I genuinely think you have a pretty reasonable chance of seeing Iceland on a budget if you do your research. Let’s walk through my fails to help make your next travel more affordable…
Only Look Up Accommodation AFTER You’ve Planned What You Want To Do. Don’t Book It First.
Opting to reside in Reykjavík is an obvious choice for many. It’s the capital city after all.
Although, the problem with this, which only really becomes apparent with hindsight, is that your interests could be located hours away. Everyone has their way of booking travel, and in my case it’s getting the flights and hotel sorted first, but I regret doing this for Iceland. If I had drafted up a list of places I wanted to visit before booking, I would have chosen accommodation at a better distance. When you’re within proximity to landmarks you naturally spend less on fuel. Read below to see why this is going to be a fundamental achievement.
Know Your Routes Inside Out, As Endless Roaming = Additional Fuel Expenses.
If you take anything from this post let it be this – PLEASE have a planned route, and narrow down places you really want to see. Some landmarks are simply not worth travelling far for. I would have saved 130£ of fuel if I wasn’t so spontaneous. Ouch.
On that note, it’s worth adding that some car rental companies will give you a discount card for certain petrol stations. I only realised this once the staff at Blue Car Rental handed me instructions to set this feature up. They honestly made the pick-up and drop-off process unbelievably smooth, so I’d fully back them as a good car rental option in Iceland. The best part? No deposit is required. Love to hear it.
Bring Food With You. Seriously.
The decision to bring snacks from the UK worked in my favour for budgeting, albeit indirectly. I figured this would be the best thing to do, as I was unsure of Iceland’s compatibility with gluten-free travellers. However, I didn’t realise how much this would save me until I made comparisons in a supermarket. A tub of Pringles in Iceland was close to 5£ you know…
Realistically, if you end up in Iceland purely for the nature aspect, you’re going to spend a whole bunch of your time travelling from one place to another by car. Due to this, the food choices you’ll make will align more with convenience, like destinations which are open until late or have a drive-thru. That’s not a bad thing, but consider that many food joints KNOW they are the only option within miles. Undeniably, this realisation leads to inflated prices. However, if you’ve got some sort of food with you then you can keep driving until you reach something affordable. You won’t feel pressured to spend 30 for a pizza when the hunger kicks in. If I total up everything, I spent 105£ for a meal, breakfast and a quick lunch in Iceland. Had I not purchased snacks from the UK, I’d be adding 40 to that number.
And When It Comes To Meals, Go Bottomless.
Seeking out bottomless lunch or dinner spots will be a game-changer. I mean, your options are quite literally endless. It’s also a practical way to sample local delicacies.
But, where’s the best place to find these bottomless food spots? My suggestion? Head into hotel restaurants. Yes, there’s a risk they’ll dish up frozen foods, to cater to international tourism, however a place with a solid review shouldn’t have this problem. If you’re still unconvinced, it might be reassuring to know most hotels have online menus. Browse before you venture out. Oh, and if there is salmon on the menu eat your weight in it. Icelandic salmon is truly next level.
Skip Paying Entry For Things Which Are Already Outside.
Many landmarks in Iceland won’t cost you a penny, but you’ll notice fees for things which can be seen outside.
Need examples? A fee for entering a museum despite clear views from the parking lot, or a fee to enter an observation deck for ‘The Northern Lights’. I have no doubt you’ll get an educational experience by listening to a tour guide, but if you’re trying to do things on a budget skip this. No enjoyment will be sacrificed. Skógafoss waterfall is going to be just as amazing if you attend yourself, with the help of Google Maps.
The pleasant thing about Iceland is that picturesque scenes can genuinely be found everywhere you look. That pink sunset? The horses galloping around the highways? The crystal-clear beaches? You get the idea! I can virtually guarantee you won’t miss out if you don’t participate in tour packages.
If I were to complete a two-day layover limited to Reykjavík, I would feel comfortable with spontaneous behaviour. However, to see the countryside in the space of 2 days isn’t long enough and I think this is what I didn’t fully grasp. As a result, I wasted time and money on locations I didn’t need to see. Although, some of my happiest memories in Iceland were also the moments where I simply appreciated nature. Catching a sunrise was sensational, but I didn’t need to drive 2 hours to find one. The next time I head back to Iceland on a budget, I’ll make sure I do some research. Don’t make my mistakes, and you’ll be on your way to exploring the island with a happier bank balance…
Want to see some visuals? Head over to my socials for various Iceland travel vlogs!