money-saving-tips-iceland

How to visit Iceland without breaking the bank

Iceland has a reputation for being expensive, but that didn’t stop tourism from increasing by nearly 30% year on year in 2015. It is fair to say that the tourism industry is booming and that is partly thanks to the many low-cost flights that are now available.

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Source: Iceland Tourist Board: Number of visitors to Iceland per year

However getting to Iceland is just the beginning of the puzzle because once you are there, you also need a budget for your actual stay. To give you an idea of the cost of living in Iceland, here are some examples of what we paid:

How much do things cost in Iceland?

Item Cost in ISK (Icelandic Krona)

At the supermarket

Digestive biscuits 129 ISK
Loaf of bread 275 ISK
2 litre bottle of Coca Cola 209 ISK
1 share size packet of potato crisps 300 ISK
Bananas 259 ISK/kg
Red peppers 429 ISK/kg
Tomatoes 398 ISK/kg
Packet of ham 375 ISK
Packet of salami 398 ISK
10 hotdog sausages 359 ISK
1 pack of 7 chicken drumsticks 800 ISK
Pack of bacon 500 ISK
Icelandic cheese 600 ISK

Other

Unleaded petrol 199 ISK per litre
Filter coffee/tea in a café 300 ISK
Loaf of bread at a bakery 600 ISK
6x50ml cans of Beer (4-5%) at Duty Free 999 – 1699 ISK
1 pint of beer in a bar 645 ISK (during happy hour) to 1200 ISK

Depending on what you buy and what activities you do, Iceland does not have to be expensive to visit. How did we visit Iceland on a 60 euro budget per person, per day – flights, car, petrol and food included? Read all of our money-saving tips here:

Go camping

Camping is an obvious choice if you are looking to save money in Iceland. There are many hostels and hotels in Reykjavik, but a lack of them elsewhere in the country means that prices are high. And even with plenty of accommodation in the capital, you still pay significantly more than in Central Europe.

We mainly did wild camping during our road trip. As we do a lot of wild camping around Europe anyway, we already had everything we needed. However, even if you don’t have the required equipment, investing in some would still work out cheaper than a couple of night’s accommodation. Better still, there are some companies in Reykavik that rent good-quality camping equipment.

Having a bit of experience in wild camping really helped us this time, because although you are legally allowed to wild camp in Iceland, actually finding somewhere to pitch your tent is a real challenge. There is a lot of private land that you obviously can’t stay on and in areas surrounding camp sites you find many strategically placed ‘no camping’ signs. What’s more, camping in national parks is also prohibited, except under certain conditions. Nevertheless, with a lot of effort we did succeed and you can read more about our camping spots in our Iceland itinerary series: click through to read Part 1: South Iceland road trip.

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If wild camping sounds a bit daunting, the good news is that Iceland has more than enough campsites for you to stay on at an affordable rate. We stayed at 2 campsites during our stay costing 1200 ISK and 1600 ISK per person. There are a few things to bear in mind when camping on official sites:

  • Do a bit of research if you can because some sites have absolutely no facilities, while others have access to showers included in the price. Then there are others where you have to pay from 300-500 ISK extra for a shower. It is worth bearing this in mind, because over a week or so this will significantly impact your budget.
  • Some sites also charge a ‘tent tax’. We paid 100 ISK extra at one campground.
  • If you arrive late at night, there will be no one to welcome you, but you can still pitch your tent. In the morning someone will come to collect your money.
  • Campgrounds are generally closed from mid-September, however some do leave the gate open so you can still use the land 🙂
  • The best campsites also have barbecues that you can use. If you plan on going to a few, it might be worth getting a bag of charcoal for a yummy dinner!

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Shop at discount supermarkets

Shopping at supermarkets obviously only applies if you have access to cooking facilities. As we just mentioned, many campsites have barbecues so you can cook that way, otherwise you will need to bring a gas camping stove (you can buy the canisters in petrol stations).

One of the biggest and cheapest supermarkets in Iceland is Bonus and can be easily recognised because it is bright yellow with a pink pig for a logo. The majority of Bonus supermarkets are around Reykjavik and in the North West (Akuyeri), but once in the east you are more likely to find Netto. This alternative is also a cheap supermarket in Iceland, but it is slightly more expensive than Bonus.

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Buy alcohol in the duty free

If you were planning on drinking anything alcoholic in Iceland, get your thinking cap on! We had already heard that it was expensive, but nothing could have prepared us for the actual cost. Here are some examples:

  Cost as of September 2016
6x50ml cans of Beer (4-5%) 1449 ISK
A bottle of beer in a hostel (overheard) 1100 ISK
1 can of beer in a supermarket (2.5%) 200 ISK
1 pint of beer in Reykjavik 645 ISK (during happy hour) to 1200 ISK

As you can see, buying alcohol in the duty free is still expensive, but it remains significantly cheaper than buying elsewhere. We ended up spending over 8000 ISK (eeek!) on beer at the airport, which bought 4 people enough for 1 beer each per day. After all, we were on holiday and we didn’t fancy going cold turkey.

The duty free shop is located just opposite where you collect luggage in Keflavik airport. Don’t make the same mistake as Freckles’ brothers, and start exploring the departures area!

Visit during the low season

Iceland is cold by nature, so it comes as no surprise that the majority of tourists visit during the warmest months. This also means that June-August are also the most expensive to visit! The prices dropped significantly in September, so we decided to fly out on the 2nd.

Our theory was that it would be the very beginning of the Northern Lights season and the weather wouldn’t be that bad. This worked out well for the first couple of days, but after that it just felt like someone turned off the summer switch, and down came the rain. We knew that would be a risk, but it felt like a good compromise given that we would be camping too. Going any later than October would be risky if you want to camp – we were already freezing at the beginning of September!

Compare car hire companies carefully!

We always compare several websites when hiring a car, but more than often we find that www.autoescape.com is the cheapest (they are not paying us to say this!). However, it is still worth comparing carefully even once you have found the right website. We needed an additional driver for the car and the cost of adding one varied significantly from one company to the next.

For example, the cheapest car rental on the list was charging an extra 12 euros per day for an additional driver, whereas the next company on the list only wanted a 20 euro fixed fee for the entire duration of the rental, making it the cheapest option overall.

In the end we went for a roomy estate car that was just perfect for the trip. We could have rented a cheaper vehicule, but we wanted a bit more boot space. Considering that we were transporting camping equipment for 4 people, we didn’t regret it!

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Consider if you really need a 4×4

Renting a 4×4 rather than a 2-wheel drive will significantly increase your budget. You should carefully consider your itinerary and if you really need such a big car. The main ring road is in very good condition and a 2WD is more than enough to go around Iceland. However, you are legally required to have a 4×4 if you want to go into the highlands and drive on ‘F roads’.

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Take some friends to share the cost

Originally we planned the road trip for just us two, but when Freckles’ twin brothers said that they also fancied visiting Iceland, it just seemed obvious to go together. This also meant that the cost of our rental car – our biggest expense – was divided by 4 rather than just 2! If you have some friends that want to visit Iceland and you think you can put up with them during your precious time off, invite them!

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Hitchhike

We were surprised by the number of hitchhikers in Iceland. This is a great option if you are travelling solo because renting a car on your own would be hugely expensive. Is it a free option? We will let you decide – it can often be courteous to offer some petrol money at the end of a journey.

Ask for a refill!

Coming from England and France, we would never have thought about asking for a refill of coffee, but this is common practice in Iceland. If you order filter coffee or a cup of tea, you can often get a free second cup. It also suddenly makes 300 ISK feel a lot cheaper for a hot drink! However, these rules do not apply to fancier drinks such as cappuccinos and hot chocolate.

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Do you have any other money saving tips you have for Iceland? We would love to hear about them in the comments!

Quick facts

Where: Iceland

When did we go?: September 2016

Currency: Icelandic Krona (ISK)

Language: Icelandic, but English widely spoken

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