Iceland is a wild, beautiful island of active volcanoes and breathtaking glaciers. It justly deserves the nickname of ‘The Land of Fire and Ice.’ In recent years it has become more affordable to visit this safe, friendly, country so it is an ideal destination for families as well as independent travellers. But it still retains a reputation for being an expensive destination – so is it possible to visit Iceland on a budget?
1. If possible, carefully choose the time of year you visit. We visited Iceland in Autumn – the weather was cold but not freezing, daylight hours were good and sightseeing and road conditions were excellent. Travelling to Iceland in winter in undoubtedly beautiful but days are short, very cold and there may be difficulty getting around due to the weather and driving conditions; you don’t want to miss the beautiful scenery because it is dark or snowing heavily. Cold weather tends to put pressure on a budget with demands for hot drinks and somewhere inside to warm up. Bad weather means moving tourist activities indoors which inevitably means entrance fees. In the summer, Iceland is busy with tourists which increases accommodation cost as well as demand. Travelling in shoulder season or off peak times will help with budgeting.
2. Icelands’ national parks are free; you do not need a ‘parks pass’ as in other countries. If the weather is favourable, sightseeing days can be very affordable. Spend your time outdoors and your budget will thank you.
3. Search for good flight deals. Icelandair offers free stop overs in Iceland on its transatlantic routes. Budget airlines fly to Iceland from many European destinations. (We flew with Easyjet and, to save money, flew hand luggage only).
Play around with flight comparison sites to find the cheapest airport to depart from, the cheapest day, time etc. Sign up to alerts for airlines seat releases and book well in advance for very cheap fares.
Consider flying unsociable times; we flew on a late arriving flight but were rewarded for our money saving by seeing a fabulous display of the northern lights from the plane window (if coming from the U.K, sit on the right hand side of the plane facing the cockpit).
4. Use public transport where possible. There are quick, cheap connections with the airports. Cities are small and navigable on foot or by bus. Avoid taxis (very expensive in Iceland)!
5. Stay self catering. Cooking for yourself will save a fortune. Airbnbs abound throughout Iceland and are very affordable for families or groups. The further away you stay from a tourist attraction or area, the cheaper your accommodation will be.
6. If you are a family or group, consider hiring a car rather than booking a tour. Driving is easy due to a simple road network, roads are in great condition and well signposted. Car hire is very expensive so shop around for the best deal. Wait until you have completed your city centre sightseeing before hiring a car. We hired a car from SADcars; a very basic car but one quarter of the price of other agencies.
7. Buses are reliable and efficient. Always have the correct change for the bus- you won’t be given change. Bilingual timetables and fares are displayed on bus stops. Children under 6 yrs travel free, 6-17 years are half the adult price.
8. Don’t dismiss tours as being too expensive. Children under 11 are free on some tours and it may work out cheaper than expensive car hire if you are a small group or couple. Plus, everyone gets to sit back, relax and savour the stunning views! Tours are a good choice for a night time chasing of the Northern Lights as you will be driven by people who know where good light spotting is and you can snooze between stops!
9. Bring as much packaged food as you can. Our hand luggage was crammed with porridge, cereal bars and pasta. Eating out is very expensive and even supermarket prices will make you dizzy. And don’t even think about drinking alcohol! The Bonus chain was the cheapest supermarket we found.
10. Bring a small flask of hot water out and about. If, like me, you need caffeine every two hours, carrying a small flask of coffee (or hot chocolate for the kids) will save you a fortune. Also, if you travel some of the long day trips from Reykjavik there are few places to stop to get a hot drink on route.
11. If you are not a vegetarian, learn to like Icelanders most popular snack – the hot dog. Available on the street or over the counter in grocery shops, it is cheap, hot and filling; cheaper than buying food to make sandwiches.
12. Use a toilet when you see one. There aren’t many public toilets.
13. The iconic Blue Lagoon is expensive and always very busy. There are other outdoor thermally heated pools around Iceland (though not silica rich like The Blue Lagoon) plus lots of local, outdoor, heated public swimming pools. These public pools are open to all and very good value for money. Read our post on Akranes for our experience of an outdoor public pool.
14. If The Blue Lagoon is a must do, book well in advance. You will have to commit to a day and time slot – and stick to it. You will not get in if it is full. Early morning or late evening slots are cheaper and will save you around 20 Euro’s. And this is one of the rare places where families are not penalised – children are free up to the generous age of 13! All three of our children got in for free. And make sure you use the free hair conditioner to protect your hair form the silica; ours was like straw for weeks afterwards.
15. There are lots of money saving tips for Reykjavik in our ‘How To Visit Reykjavik On a Budget’ post.
16. Get to know your Icelandic krona notes and coins and the current exchange rate. Mistakes are easily made and will be very costly. I speak from experience…
And finally….when arriving late at night into Reykjavik airport, try to get through customs and immigration before the obligatory, time consuming family trip to the toilet. Otherwise you could end up (like us) knocking on a deserted glass door at immigration shouting “Hello! Could someone let us into Iceland please?”
We loved our family trip to Iceland and would love to return one day to complete the ring road! If you have any tips or tricks for visiting Iceland on a budget, please get in touch and share them with us!