Just how expensive is Iceland?
Updated: May 5
Iceland is notorious for its high prices and there is a lot of truth behind that notoriety. The costs involved in providing goods and services to such a remote corner of the North Atlantic do mount up. Fuel can be pricey, as can hotels, restaurants and bars. So yes, it can indeed be an expensive country to travel in. But it is also the most beautiful country in the world (ok, we admit to a little bias there!). So it is little expensive, but there are ways to keep your costs down when you visit Iceland. In this article we will run through the many areas where you can save money on your travels. We have all sorts of tips and ideas for you here whether you choose to rent a car, camper rental or explore by public transportation.
Our number one money saving tip
Hire a camper van and take a road trip around Iceland. Again we might be biased here. But it really is a top money saver if you want to explore Iceland’s natural beauty on a budget. If you are travelling as a pair or more and are happy to share your space then this really is a no brainer. You will have your accommodation, meals and transportation all rolled into one fabulous camper rental. If you travel this way you can really budget your trip in advance too. If you are visiting Iceland solo then a small converted camper van could be ideal for you.
Day tours or independent travel?
Guided day tours can be really worthwhile experiences. You will gain further insight into the places that you visit and can ask questions. If you are taking a short city break in Reykjavik then a guided tour of the Golden Circle could well be a good option. This is certainly the more expensive option though. If you have more time then hiring a car or renting a motorhome and exploring on your own is much more cost effective. It will also give you the freedom to take your time and plan your own itinerary. There’s a lot to be said for having the freedom to be spontaneous and visit places as and when you like.
There are certain times when it will be essential to take a guided tour though. You can choose these tours wisely and weave them into your independent travel itinerary. These include activities such as ice caving and glacier walking where it is essential to have an experienced guide with you. Also things like whale watching boat trips or snowmobiling. If you have your own camper or car then there is no need to join a Northern Lights tour. As you tour Iceland’s campsites you will have ample opportunity to catch sight of the lights.
Saving money on eating and drinking in Iceland
One of the great things about hiring a motorhome is that you will have a full kitchen and fridge. You will be able to cook or throw together many of your meals yourself. Then you can save your food budget for a few choice meals in some special places. Food in Iceland isn’t cheap, but you can easily stock up on staples in the local grocery stores. It could be a good idea to bring a supply of your favourite energy bars with you. This way you can fuel your adventures without having to buy expensive snacks in remote places. Bringing a basic cooking kit is also a good idea with salt and pepper and some of your favourite spices. If you are eating on the go then hot dogs are a good cheap snack. Hot dogs are really popular in Iceland and kiosks can be found in all the towns and villages and at events.
When it comes to staying hydrated water should never be one of your costs in Iceland. The tap water here is the best in the world. Pure glacial water runs freely from the taps and is fresh and delicious. Simply bring your own bottles and top up wherever you can. Campsites and cafes will all fill up your water bottles for you.
Alcohol is another concern altogether. Drinking in Iceland can be a very expensive habit so a visit to the duty free shop is a very good idea. Alternatively you might pack a bottle of your favourite spirit and buy mixers at the grocery store. If you have your own motorhome you can keep them cool. Many Icelandic people will enjoy a glass or two at home before an evening out. Once you do get to a bar then beer is probably the cheapest option open to you. Beer in Iceland is often very strong, so you may only need a round or two to get merry. If you are buying alcohol in Iceland then you need to go to the special government-run shops called Vínbúdin. If you see cans of beer in the grocery store they will have an almost non-existent alcohol content.
National Parks and attractions
Visiting Iceland’s stunning national parks is entirely free. Seeing and experiencing the country’s natural wonders is the main reason for any visit to Iceland. Glaciers, beaches and waterfalls in Iceland are all free to see, which is great news for budget travellers. Spending time outdoors hiking and seeing the sights and avoiding tours and paid for attractions is really easy. Base yourself at one of the national park campsites and explore on foot from there.
Attractions such as Iceland’s natural hot springs come in all shapes, sizes and prices too. Of course everyone has heard of the famous Blue Lagoon and it is a spectacular spot. However, there are many more hot springs and pools right across the country. Many of these are completely free to enjoy. Wild swimming in a thermal river or lounging in a remote hot pot are incredible free experiences in Iceland.
If you are visiting the towns and cities especially on rainy days then you are likely to spend a little more money. If you spend some time in Reykjavik then consider buying a Reykjavik City Card. This card gives you access to many of the capital’s top museums and galleries. It also includes restaurant discounts and bus travel within the city. It could be a good option for you if you’d like to visit both the National Museum of Iceland and the National Gallery of Iceland.
The best time of year to visit Iceland on a budget
The high season in Iceland is June to August and this is probably the most popular time to travel. This does mean that tourism related prices are a little higher. Costs of renting a camper van or car will be at their maximum and campsite prices will also be higher. However, all this is with good reason. The weather at this time of year is great for camping and spending time outdoors. With the midnight sun shining in the sky there are so many more hours for sightseeing. As mentioned hiking, walking, swimming and seeing the sights are all free. Spending time outdoors doesn’t cost a thing and you will also be more inclined to cook, eat and picnic outdoors.
In winter the costs for hiring motorhomes and campers goes down. However, with short nights and rougher weather you will likely spend more on indoor attractions, restaurants and bars. Winter activates although great fun can be expensive. The cost of hiring ski or snowboard gear or taking guided ice caving tours can hit your budget.
The months either side of winter and summer are perhaps the most budget friendly times of year to travel to Iceland. These months are late April to May and September to early October. During these times the rental prices for vehicles and campsites can be much lower. At the same time the weather in Iceland is not as harsh as in full-blown winter. In fact closer to the summer months the weather may be just as camping friendly as it is in the height of summer.