Are you dreaming about visiting Iceland – the land of fire and ice? But every time you dare mention to your social circle and work colleagues that you are dreaming about going the dreaded “It’s sooooooo expensive” rings in your ears?
Worry no longer, as you may well be aware I love travelling but I also like saving for responsible things like a house, a cat and soft furnishings – because who doesn’t love plush blankets and white company candle right ?! You may also feel that finding the balance between saving and travelling can be a difficult tightrope to navigate, hence why my ‘on a shoestring series’ was created – let’s banish those myths that some destinations in the world are toooo expensive to dare visit without eating baked beans for weeks on end!
Follow my tips for visiting Reykjavik on a budget* and can then experience the most beautiful country in the world without taking out a mortgage or putting a dent in your credit card. Your sense of adventure and wallet can thank me later…
Budget Reykjavik Flights
The first place to look when you are searching for budget Reykjavik flights is skyscanner. If you have the luxury of travelling at any time of the year you will be able to pick up some real bargain plane tickets by using the graph to determine when is the cheapest time of year to visit. Many people argue that booking flights last minute is cheaper but I beg to differ, in my opinion the further in advance you can book the better off you will be – airlines often raise the price closer to departure.
With 3/5 of my family working in Education we were fixed on travelling to Iceland during one of the school holidays (which we all know instantly causes prices to rocket). Keen to have the chance of seeing the Northern Lights we settled on the February half term holiday. Using skyscanner we were directed to flights from opodo and after discussing the options booked return flights from London Heathrow to Keflavík International Airport including 23kg baggage allowance each. Opting to add a hold bag on for a trip to Reykjavik is essential as you will need to pack a lot of layers especially for a winter holiday.
We flew with Iceland Air and I was incredibly pleased with their service and aircraft design. Focussing heavily on stopover travel the aircrafts are fitted with free Wi-FI, personal entertainment systems and quality catering on board. The seats are surprisingly comfortable and the airline gives off a aura of long-haul travel carrier as opposed to the notorious short haul budget airlines.
Bring your own headphones if you fancy watching a film on board or face having to purchase some from the airline – I dare not find out how much that was!
Total: £300pp (Return flights and baggage)
Budget Reykjavik Accommodation
To truly enjoy Reykjavik on budget you need to ditch the idea of staying in a five star hotel (they are currently building the first 5 star property in Iceland) or a luxurious lodge with a hot tub. Instead you need to consider booking a self catering apartment on booking.com or AirBnB. I love the flexibility that having your own house or apartment affords you, giving you chance to cook for yourself and thus saving money whilst having your own space to do whatever you like.
Enjoy £25 off your first AirBnB trip by following this link.
Looking for an apartment that could fit five of us, give us room to prepare our own meals and have a central location whilst staying in Reykjavik for a budget of £300 each for five nights was actually surprisingly easy. We booked Luna Apartments via booking.com. Simple yet stylishly decorated with a Scandinavian modern design our apartment was light and spacious. Set in the fashionable 101 district with numerous bars, shops and restaurants just a 5 minute walk away.
There are several options for apartment sizes ranging from a 1 bed studio apartment to a two bedroom apartment with balcony all set within a town house. Step outside and you will find an array of street graffiti on the main Laugavegur street. From artistic takes on the childhood fairytale classic ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ to rainbow coloured houses, bengal cats and eagles.
I came across my namesake ‘Elle’ who after a quick google search is I discovered one of the top touring street artists in the world. Elle focuses on creating artworks that represent powerful females, flora and fauna and give crucial messages to the world about important topics such as global warming.
Total: £250pp (five nights)
Budget Reykjavik Eating In
I highly recommend renting a self-catering apartment like the one we stayed in (mentioned above), bringing food from home with you and then topping up on fresh produce when you settle into your new surroundings. Having the option to dine in and prepare pack lunches for your day trips will save you a lot of money and mean you don’t always have to dine out (the restaurants can be pricey… but more on that later).
As you’ll see from my Iceland Packing guide, I filled one section of my 23kg suitcase with dry packaged food items. By bringing pasta, packaged sauces, breakfast supplies, tea and biscuits your supermarket costs will be significantly lower, plus you can rest safe in the knowledge that when you arrive you don’t need to rush straight to the shops. Just make sure you remember to bring sandwich bags or pick up some airport plastic toiletry bags instead!
Our total dining in cost was significantly lower than I had anticipated with frozen pizzas actually cheaper than Norway at £2 each. Admittedly on the first day we hadn’t had chance to prepare pack lunch, so we ended up spending £12 on a panini at the Blue Lagoon Cafe (avoid at all costs if keen to save money) which I shared with my mum just to make the price sting a little less. I’d highly recommend
Bonus supermarket the prices are affordable and there is an excellent selection of produce including international brands and more local delicacies. There are some great souvenirs you can pick up here for cheaper prices as well! Purchase bread and fillings for day packed lunches, you can pick up pasta sauces and fresh meat and fish or frozen fast food for tasty dining-in ideal for visiting Reykjavik on a budget.
Budget Iceland Dining Out
You could visit Reykjavik and dine out every lunch and dinner as there are so many wonderful restaurants and local cafes to enjoy. Serving tasty Atlantic cod and chips and succulent lamb as well as many great vegan options (in fact I’d even go as far as to say Reykjavik is a haven for Vegans). But you haven’t come here for a luxury Reykjavik travel guide, I’m here to share my dining out in Reykjavik on a budget tips.
Pick up a visit Reykjavikguide from one of the tourism information centres and you’ll find discount codes for the restaurants and bars ideal for dining out in Iceland on a budget.
My sister-in-law found a 20% off food voucher for Bastard so after eating here one night and loving the food we returned. The menu provides a variety of dishes including ones suitable for Vegans as well! Offering everything from Tacos to burgers, all with ‘Bastard’ themed names e.g the Fat Bastard burger and the Skinny Vegan burger. During key match days you can even settle down with a burger and a pint to watch sporting events on the big projector screens.
To discover more places to dine out in Reykjavik on a budget make sure you subscribe to Elle Goes Global to read my 72 hours in Reykjavik post.
Budget Iceland Drinks
Again, following peoples previous experiences of Reykjavik and my trip to Norway I was quite doubtful that we would be able to drink out in Reykjavik on a Budget. But my brother discovered a helpful ‘appy hour’ app which you really need to make sure you download before you head out to the land of fire and ice.
The appy hour app was a god send and enabled us to drink out in Reykjavik on a budget on several evenings. In Reykjavik many of the bars operate happy hour where wine and beer are half the usual price, the timings with vary some bars operating it between 3-6pm others 5-7 and then happier hour can be known to run 9.30-10.30pm.
We filtered our search down to 600kr for a pint of beer which is £3.70 – a bargain considering normal hour prices for a pint of beer in Reykjavik can be £7.70 upwards.
If you are dreaming of drinking out in Reykjavik on a budget avoid spirits at all costs and stock up on a bottle of your spirit of choice at duty free before you fly out. I opted to buy a 1L bottle Botanist gin at £40, so your total drinking cost may be more or less then the one outlined below depending on whether you decide to do something similar or not.
If you are looking to sample traditional Icelandic craft beers, you are in luck with many bars now offering floats where you can try a variety of different types. However, in the early 20th Century you’d have found it a lot harder to drink beer in Iceland as it was considered unpatriotic to do so – with beer being he national drink of Denmark to whom Iceland were trying to gain independence from. So much so that beer was banned in the country until 1989 (thank goodness I wasn’t alive then!)
One particular favourite of mine was the award-winning Gull (which means ‘Gold’) It’s the combination of pure Icelandic water and Icelandic barley which make this beer taste so great – make sure you try some whilst you are out here.
One moment of pure happiness for me was enjoying happy hour at Dillions on a Sunday evening without the threat of Monday morning work looming over me the following day! This bar is quite small so you might struggle to get a space if you are a big group or if you turn up late into happy hour.
If you are looking for a quirky bar to visit be sure to check out Bastard where you will also find tasty pub classics (as discussed above) . We stumbled across this place purely by chance and mainly went in because we loved the name! The interiors of this bar are charming with paintings decorated with humorous sayings as you can see from my 72 hours in Iceland guide. I loved the Hazy Bastard – for anyone familiar with Hogsback Brewery it tasted very similar to their Tea ale.
If you have chance be sure to pop into Kaffibarinn which is one of the oldest bars in town and renowned for its hipster charm – prices here are a little higher at 750ISK during Happy hour but the décor is a cool eclectic mix of traditional Icelandic and hipster vibes, you’ll also find great music here late in the evenings too (when alcohol prices are higher eek).
Of course, there are plenty of great bars to explore but those are my top three favourites. If you’d like to discover more about them or the other key bars in Iceland make sure you read my 72 hours in Reykjavik guide.
Budget Iceland Excursions & Outings
It’s always been on my wishlist to visit a glacier and even walk across one but when we looked at the prices of tours out to the glaciers and the amount of time we had in Reykjavik, it made more sense to visit the ice cave at Perlan. Where we also got to see a projection of the Northern Lights so it worked out a lot cheaper than walking through a actual ice cave. Find out more about my experience in my 72hours in Reykjavik guide.
We booked the rest of our tours before we travelled which gave us the chance to spread the cost across several months which fitted nicely with my £100 a month holiday savings budget. The cost of the tours ranged between £90 (private tour of the city with admission to Blue Lagoon) to £40 (Golden Circle) and £35 (Northern lights tour which was cancelled twice so refunded). Good company to consider booking with are Grayline who offer large group tours which are the most budget friendly way to explore Iceland on a budget. Explore more about my experiences in Reykjavik with my 72hours in Reykjavik guide.
Budget Iceland Souvenirs
Of course, buying souvenirs is optional and an additional expense that you can choose to opt out of. Personally, I love buying souvenirs not for myself but for other people which may seem strange as they haven’t been to the destination so why do they now want a mug about it?
The truth is I like doing things for other people and the tradition of buying souvenirs for others started at a young age when I would send postcards home and purchase gifts for my grandparents from my trip. Sadly this tradition with my grandparents is no longer something I can do so instead I’ve started up a little tradition of buying my boyfriend gifts instead!
Buy your souvenirs at the supermarket or duty free. Avoid purchasing souvenirs from major attractions and opt for local stores instead.
If you plan on buying souvenirs whilst you are in Reykjavik (whether they be for yourself or for loved ones back at home) I highly suggest you consider buying items in supermarkets or local shops as opposed to the airport, museum and attraction gift shops – where prices are notoriously higher.
Avoid the Blue Lagoon shop like the plague if you don’t want to burn a massive hole in your wallet! My reasoning behind this – I was keen to buy black lava salt for when I move in with my boyfriend, but all the souvenir shops were selling a small pot for around £8-15! A little stroll to the Bonus supermarket literally two doors down and I purchased a box for £2 something nice to use for cooking (which I need more experience of!).
All in all Reykjavik was one of the most incredible trips I’ve been on and much cheaper than I’d imagined it would be with our Total holiday cost: £1,027.35pp. This proves that visiting Reykjavik on a budget is completely plausible and I’ll definitely be back as its a country I’ve fallen in love with! Oh and those Elusive Northern Lights still need to be seen one day….
Let me know me in the comments if you manage to visit Iceland on a budget for even less!
*Disclaimer – these ideas are given as a guidance and flight prices will vary dependent on the time of year you visit. You may also wish to not purchase any souvenirs and decide to go on less excursions, not drink outside your apartment. *