“Beer is HOW much?” intoned my co-worker in disbelief. “Is it the best beer on the planet??”
Well, I’m not really a beer person, so my answer was no, but for those of you that imbibe often, it was about $9 for a pint. Soup and bread at another restaurant was around $25. I would say on average, most dishes cost about twice as much as I would expect to pay for them in the United States.
Why is it so expensive? Well, it depends on a number of things. Alcohol is expensive because it is highly taxed, service is included in all restaurants, and (being an island) many things we take for granted have to be shipped in, adding to the cost considerably.
It can definitely add up quickly, but even though Iceland can have it’s high price tags it isn’t inaccessible even to the most budget conscious travellers. It all depends on how you travel.
Are you the type of person who want’s to fly first class, stay in luxury hotels/resorts, eat out every meal and have guided tours of the hottest places?
Are you the sort of person that will fly the cheapest airline, stay in the cheapest hostels, never eat at a restaurant, and hoof it solo on all your own adventures?
I am personally somewhere in between.
I don’t like sharing my room with other people. I love eating local food. I don’t need a checked bag, but I want my carry on. I’d much rather take my time (on back roads, hikes, and eating) than spend every minute rushing to the next activity. Outlining what is important to YOU before even spending a dollar will go a long way in giving you an awesome vacation that fits into your budget.
Here are a few tips on finding that balance between enjoying the relaxation of an Iceland vacation without a headache of an excessive credit card bill.
1. Go in the shoulder seasons.
If you’re not really a fan of dark, cold weather but you also detest throngs of summer crowds, pick a shoulder season (Spring/Fall) to visit instead. The weather will still be milder, but the crowds will not be overwhelming at some of the top spots. We visited in May and had sunlight from almost 3:30am to 11:00pm so it never really got dark. We also lucked out with some gorgeous, sunny weather (as you can see from the photos!) though we did hit a couple foggy/misty spots. Picking April/May or September/October would yield similar results, just makes sure you check the standard weather for the season and pack accordingly!
2. Fly the cheap days.
This varies from airline to airline, but typically Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursdays are good time to travel. In addition to costs being lower, airports are much less crowded and it’s security is quicker to navigate. We opted for departing on a Tuesday from Seattle (which is known for being busy with long security lines). Even though we arrived 3 hours early for our flight we sailed through security and even had time to enjoy a delicious, pre-flight lunch together as a family.
3. Eat like a local
Do you eat out every meal at home? Probably not. The same goes in Iceland. Restaurant food is expensive and the best way to eat like a local is a quick trip to the grocery store (Bonus is one of the main ones). Eat Skyr; an Icelandic yogurt similar to greek yogurt, fill up your water bottle with tap water (it’s delicious!), and find some tasty smoked meats and bread for a delicious picnic.
Plan on eating just one meal out (or if you’re like my husband, coffee +one other meal). If you aren’t much for alcohol, skip the booze while you’re here. If you’re set on trying some of the local offerings though, try 64* Reykjavik Distillery or hit up happy hour at the Skúli – Craft Bar for some homegrown brews.
The picture above was taken at my personal favorite restaurant – Hofnin , which is 150% worth it if you’re willing to spend a bit on a nice meal.
4. The best things in life are free (or close to it)
Petting horses, hiking a trail to a waterfall, and standing in the Hallgrimskirkja as the organ played didn’t cost me a penny, but gave me some of my favorite memories. Even just spending time with family as we explored a new place together created experiences I will cherish the rest of my life. You don’t have to go to the fanciest restaurant, or have the itinerary go perfect to really enjoy your trip. It doesn’t mean that stuff is bad, but as long as you don’t pin all your enjoyment on those types of experiences you will have a wonderful time no matter what gets thrown your way. Or, if you’re like my husband, you might have a great trip just by finding cool, tall things to stand on.
So how expensive is Iceland? It’s a little pricey. But if you plan ahead and spend smart you’ll find the memories, however, are worth every krona!