Visiting Reykjavik on a budget is not easy – but it is possible.
Reykjavik has a reputation as an expensive destination but there are many money saving ways to visit the worlds most northern capital city.
Free things to do in Reykjavik
Reykjavik is a small, compact city despite the fact over 60% of Iceland’s population live in the city.
Iceland’s capital city is easy to explore on foot and is buggy friendly. Plan your sightseeing to avoid criss-crossing the city.
Join a free walking tour in Reykjavik
We travel with three children so joining a walking tour doesn’t always work for us! We have left many tours before they have finished but not in Reykjavik!
There are several free walking tours in Reykjavik but we joined a local guide from City Walks . It is one of the best things to do in Reykjavik.
Our engaging guide led us to the principal cultural and historical sites of Reykjavik providing information and insightful anecdotes about each location. He was knowledgeable, entertaining and answered every question we asked about Iceland’s history, food, education and culture.
It was the best introduction we could have had to Iceland and Reykjavik.
We expected to drop out once our children got restless but even our six ear old listened to every word of the two hours tour. Our kids favourite part of the tour was the explanation about Iceland unique patriarchal name system. Once we worked out our names, our kids insisted on using them for the rest of our stay in Iceland!
A free walking tour is a great way to orientate yourself and to give you ideas of what to see in Reykjavik but I found this tour most useful for its detailed information about Icelandic culture and history.
These tours are free so are perfect for budget travellers. However, the guides work hard so please donate appropriately!
Reykjavik City Centre
Reykjavik is easy to navigate and is packed with interesting, colourful buildings and narrow winding streets. It is perfect for a wander.
Visit the 19th century Parliament House, or Alpingi, which boasts Iceland oldest public garden. You cannot go in but you can walk right up to the front door (rare access in todays world).
Take a break from the bustle of the city centre and walk around the centrally located Tjornin Pond. Or if the weather is good, visit the tranquil Botanical Gardens.
If you are visiting Reykjavik on a weekend, pop along to the popular flea market, Kolaportið. You will be sorely tempted to break your budget…
Stroll along the harbour to see the iconic statue, Sólfar or Sun Voyager. This emotive 1990 sculpture (by sculptur Jón Gunnar Árnason) is based on the design of a traditional Viking ship and was created to convey freedom and hope.
Visit the free to enter Harpa concert hall, also located on the harbour. This impressive concert hall – famous for its geometric windows – is well worth visiting, especially when it is cold and wet outside. It also has a public toilet; a scarce commodity in Reykjavik.
No visit to Reykjavik would be complete without visiting the modernist Hallgrimskirkja cathedral.
The imposing cathedral was built to resemble a geyser shooting heavenwards. Unlike many other capital cities, this national cathedral is free to enter and is a lovely (and warm) building to visit. For a small fee, you can climb to the top of the tower for an excellent view or Reykjavik.
Museums in Reykjavik
Reykjavik has several excellent museums but none are free to enter.
However, some museums – such as the National Art Gallery and the Punk Museum – offer free admission to children.
We chose not to visit any museums in Reykjavik as our budget was so tight. Plus, although we heard excellent reviews about the Viking Saga museum, we live in a Viking city so felt it would not add anything new to our trip. Watching your budget can sometimes mean banishing the FOMO (fear of missing out)!
If you wish to visit several museums in Reykjavik, a budget conscious option is to buy a City Card.
Reykjavik City Card
A Reykjavik City Card is a sightseeing card for tourists that can either be purchased in person on arrival or in advance online.
With careful planning, a Reykjavik City Card can provide good value for money.
The cards cover different time spans; the cheapest is a 24 hour card. But this 24 hour card can be used over two consecutive days as long as you use it within 24 hours. So you could have a very busy afternoon, followed by a very busy morning. This is an excellent option for families who often need to stagger their sightseeing.
The card allows free entry to city centre museums, swimming pools, public transport plus discounts to restaurants and other independent museums.
Before purchasing the card, decided what you would like to see and do, then price compare against individual entrance costs. Don’t buy the card and then exhaust yourself trying to make it worth its value.
Swimming in Reykjavik
Rain or shine, snow or sun, Reykjavik’s heated outdoor swimming pools are always open and are a great budget friendly activity.
Swimming in Iceland is more than just swimming; it is a taste of Icelandic culture. The heated pools are sometimes thermally heated and often have an array of hot tubs.
There is a strict etiquette in changing proceedures and using the pools. Make sure you read the bi lingual signs.
The excellent Guide to Iceland has a helpful post on visiting swimming pools in Reykjavik.
Where to stay in Reykjavik on a budget
Accommodation will be a major expenditure in Reykjavik – where and how you stay will have a massive impact on your finances.
Self catering accommodation
Self catering is the most affordable way to visit Reykjavik.
Try to choose accommodation that is either within walking distance of the city centre or on a bus route. This means you can avoid hiring a car (which you do not need to explore Reykjavik) or using expensive taxis.
Staying outside of the city centre will mean time and money is spent getting into the city but a residential location gives you better access to larger supermarkets rather than having to shop at city centre convenience stores. Parking will also be easier and more plentiful.
As with any privately owned holiday rental, always read reviews carefully. Read our tips on things to look out for when renting an Airbnb or holiday apartment.
We stayed in this Airbnb on the edge of Reykjavik, on a bus route into the city centre. We were close to the main highway out of the city which proved useful as we spent more time out of Reykjavik than in it. We had laundry facilities and with a large supermarket close by, we were able to self cater easily. The apartment was opposite a small playground giving our children much needed space. We were lucky enough to see the Northern Lights from our kitchen window!
Hotels in Reykjavik
If you are visiting Reykjavik for a few days, you may not want to spend valuable holiday time shopping, cooking or travelling to and from the city centre.
A hotel may be your best option.
To save money, choose a hotel with breakfast included in the price. Eating a hearty breakfast (and carrying a snack for later!) will also cover your lunch also. This can make a big difference in Reykjavik!
If you have hired a rental car, choose a hotel with free parking on site.
We rarely stay in hotels as few hotels cater for a family of five. but when we do stay in hotels, we always choose the Radisson Blu.
The Radisson Blu allows five to stay in one room, the rooms are always clean and spacious. The breakfasts are amazing – lots of choice and great quality. We love them!
What to eat in Reykjavik on a budget
Dining out in Reykjavik is expensive – and prohibitive for a family!
If you must east out in Reykjavik city centre, look for lunchtime deals or early bird specials. Check out Icelandic Coupons. The coupons provide discounts in Reykjavik restaurants and cafes and are available to view before purchasing so you can decide whether it is a cost effective purchase or not.
A budget friendly eating out option is Reykjavik’s’ most popular snack- the hot dog. These are sold by street vendors or over the counters in grocery shops. The hot dogs cost around £2.50 each -we discovered it was cheaper to buy a hot dog than buy food to make our own sandwiches.
Drinking alcohol will completely shatter your budget; if you want alcohol, buy some at the airport duty free.
Consider packing a flask in your luggage. Coffee and tea is expensive in Iceland and carrying your own hot water to make coffee or hot chocolate will save a small fortune.
For self catering, use supermarkets rather than city centre convenience stores. The ‘Bonus’ chain was the cheapest supermarket we found.
Getting around Reykjavik on a budget
The best way to get around Reykjavik – and the best for your budget – is to walk.
The small city is compact and easily explored on foot. There are a few steep streets but all the roads we walked on were buggy friendly.
Car hire in Reykjavik
If you are solely visiting Reykjavik, you do not need to hire a car. The city is small enough to explore on foot and parking is limited with high parking charges.
If you are visiting Reykjavik before exploring the rest of Iceland, wait to hire a car until you are ready to leave Reykjavik. Car rental in Iceland is expensive and the less time you have a rental car, the better your budget! Before hiring a car to visit tourist hotspots such as The Golden Circle, price compare against coach tours, especially if you are travelling solo or as a couple.
We spent hours researching car hire in Iceland as the prices were so high. The cheapest car rental we found was SADcars.
SADcars proved to be one quarter the price other car hire companies; it was a massive saving.
As the name suggests, the car was basic. We did not have sun visors, foot mats or air conditioning but the car was roadworthy and reliable. We did however have a healthier travel budget as a result of hiring from SADcars!
SADcars have a rental facility in the city centre which means you do not have to return to Reykjavik airport to hire your car.
Buses in Reykjavik
Reykjavik has an extensive bus system which is expensive by U.K standards.
However, it was cheaper for our family to stay on the edge of Reykjavik and catch a bus to and from the city, than it was choosing to stay in the city centre. We found the buses to be relaible and efficient.
Buses in Reykjavik only accept the exact money for your fare and they will not give change; something we discovered on our first, very costly bus trip!
Download the app for the Reykjavik bus company Strateo. The app will allow you to pay for your fare on your phone, thereby avoiding the need for exact cash.
Bi lingual timetables and fares are posted on bus stops.
Children under 17 years old are half the adult price and children under 6 years old are free.
Avoid Reykjavik taxis at all costs. They cost a fortune!
Getting to and from Reykjavik from the airport
The most budget friendly option to get to Reykjavik from the airport is to catch the airport -city bus.
The bus is a comfortable coach that departs from outside the Reykjavik’s Arrivals terminal. The departure schedule matches incoming flight times.
The bus can be pre-booked online or at the company desk in the Arrivals terminal. Check before you travel where you will be dropped off as there are multiple stops in the city centre.
For a comprehensive locals guide to Reykjavik, visit the excellent I Heart Reykjavik. Anything you need to know is there!
Have you visited Reykjavik? What are your tips for visiting Reykjavik on a budget?