Visiting Iceland is high on the list of many travelers and with good reason. It’s an amazing country with tremendous beauty, lots of nature, and . . . interesting cuisine. Lately, some low-cost airlines have begun offering some very inexpensive fares for travel there, as well.
Icelandair not only offers very decent fares but a cool stopover program. With this program, you can plan a route with a layover in Iceland lasting up to 7 days at no extra charge. When we were planning our return to Europe from the US, going through Iceland was the cheapest route. We flew with Icelandair and were pretty pleased.
Transferring to/from the airport
If you don’t plan on renting a car and want to save some money on airport transfer, check into using FlyBus. The bus ride from the airport to the bus terminal is about 45 minutes depending on traffic. If you’ll be using this bus to return at the end of your trip, make sure to buy a roundtrip ticket. You’ll save some money this way, and the return ticket is an open ticket so you aren’t bound by a specific date or time.
The bus terminal is within walking distance of downtown Reykjavik. If you don’t mind a short walk, then stick with the basic ticket (about $26 USD roundtrip). Otherwise, for an extra fee you can get a shuttle from the bus station to your hotel.
The buses are very comfortable and offer free WiFi. You won’t have to wait long for a bus from the airport either.
You can buy tickets online or at the airport near the exit where the buses are waiting.
Getting around Reykjavik
The capital city is not that big and is quite walkable. There is a public bus system, but we never used it. If you decide to download their app, just be aware that at least the Android version is in Icelandic. Not very helpful if you don’t speak the language. However, their online planner is pretty useful and is in English.
Taxis are fairly pricey. We paid about $10 USD for a 1.8-km (just over 1 mile) ride. Why did we take a taxi for such a short distance? Read this before you judge.
Iceland is not a cheap country, and lodging definitely can definitely be a challenge if you’re trying to keep expenses down. Airbnb has a lot of pretty good choices, and I would encourage you to go this route as it means you’ll have a kitchen to use to prepare meals, and this will save you a lot of money. More on that below.
Another option if you’re a bit more adventurous is Couchsurfing. We often do this when traveling, and we’ve made some great friends and have had some wonderful experiences through it. This also gives you a deeper look into life as a local, which is something I always enjoy.
Almost every business accepts credit/debit cards. Unlike many places in Europe, the US non-chip cards work quite well. We never had an issue. Even the hotdog stand accepts cards.
Getting Around Iceland
While there are reasonably priced intercity buses, you might want to do ridesharing. This is quite popular in Iceland and is pretty safe. It can save you a lot of money as well as give you time to spend with a local.
Few places in the world are as safe as Iceland. Crime, especially the violent kind, is very low in the country. There is perhaps 1 murder a year, and it took about 50 years for Iceland’s police to actually have to kill a suspect; something that the whole nation grieved about together. The Icelandic people and their approach to life and society are definitely very special.
Eating out is much more expensive than buying groceries. A couple of exceptions are the infamous Icelandic street food of hotdogs made from lamb. They are pretty darn good and cost under $3. We visited the hotdog place multiple times because we enjoyed them so much.
I’ve also been told that the Noodle Station is a good option for a filling, cheap meal, although we didn’t eat there.
One handy trick to know is that when you order soup and bread in restaurants, you’re entitled to refills. We did that during our tour of the south coast, and it really helps reduce your costs.
Iceland’s tap water is really quite good and clean, so save yourself some more money by bringing along a reusable water bottle.
As I mentioned above, groceries are going to be much cheaper than eating out. For buying groceries, the cheapest store is Bónus (look for the pig logo). Krónan has similar prices and offers a broader selection, and its stores are less crowded. We liked Krónan better.
Both stores have a nice selection of prepared meals you can take back home and reheat. One of these meals is probably about one third or less the cost of a typical restaurant meal.
One food to definitely give a try while in Iceland is minke whale. These whales are not threatened or endangered so no worries there. Minke meat is quite tasty. We went to the a small restaurant by the harbor called the Sea Baron as they had a sampler size for less than $3. Tigger liked it so much he wanted the minke steak. It’s definitely worth a try and is much better than some of Iceland’s other unusual offerings.
Also check out the flea market which has some really great deals on food, including what would be some more exotic meats (such as horse) to most of us. If you want to save money on Icelandic souvenirs, this is a great place for that, too. It is open on weekends.
Visiting Iceland in Winter
The idea of visiting a country so close to the Arctic Circle may have you second guessing a trip, but surprisingly Iceland is actually not that cold. I have found Bucharest and even Denver to be much colder. We met up with a friend visiting from New York City who confirmed Iceland was warmer. So it isn’t as bad as you might imagine.
You will want winter shoes, and dressing in layers is key. Iceland can have some serious winds, so having a layer that is more wind resistant will be very helpful.
Iceland’s weather is hilariously mercurial. In one day we seriously went from being in sunshine and being warm enough with just a hoodie to dealing with a big dump of snow in a matter of minutes. They aren’t kidding when they say if you don’t like the weather, just wait about 5 minutes.
Visiting in winter gives you four big benefits: airfares are lower, the northern lights are more active, accommodation and tour prices are lower, and the tourist crowds are much smaller.
The downsides are snow and ice to deal with and about 4-6 hours of daylight. Then again, it’s nice to be able to not miss a single sunrise without having to get up before 10 AM.
Make sure to visit one of the many swimming pools in town. These are heated geothermally, and you’ll find pools with different temperatures. Some of them have great slides and structures for the kids to enjoy. These offer cheap admission and free lockers. These are a big part of the Icelandic culture, so it’s a great local activity to participate in, and nothing beats sitting in 40C water after a day in winter spent exploring.
What other things would you like to know, or what tip do you have to offer that I didn’t include?
September 1, 2016
Hmm. Might be skipping the whale and horse—not to mention the fermented shark. When we’re in sticker shock at food prices, we usually go and look for a restaurant with spaghetti. It will be interesting to see if that’s an potion in Iceland.
September 1, 2016
Not “potion”—-option. Damn you autocorrect.
September 1, 2016
It will be an option but may not be as cheap as you’d hope. 😉 The Noodle Station (mentioned in the post) is a great alternative, though. Also, if you order a stew/soup or salad in any restaurant, you get free refills (also applies to the bread served with the meal) so that can be a big cost savings there, too.
April 30, 2016
Our family ate in Ikea after visiting in Blue Lagoon. It is similar to Ikea in other places and affordable. It is the most visited restaurant in Iceland according to the newspaper article title I read on the way.
May 2, 2016
Ikea is definitely popular there.
December 13, 2015
Iceland is such a beautiful place! You really don’t have to spend a fortune if you think a little about what you’re spending. I tried to grab lunch items from the supermarket, they weren’t cheap but cheaper than a cafe that’s for sure.
December 13, 2015
Definitely cheaper than a cafe or restaurant.
March 7, 2015
We’ll have to remember this the next time we fly to Europe. Our son and daughter-in-law took advantage of the layover. They spent a week in Iceland before flying to Slovania for their honeymoon and they loved both destinations.
March 8, 2015
I’ve heard a lot of good things about Slovenia as well. It’s definitely on my list. I’d like to go back to Iceland when it isn’t winter as well. I’d love to see the scenery without all the snow, too.
March 4, 2015
Great post – and I’m going there in August as a stopover with Icelandair from Seattle.
Thanks for showing us that Iceland can be done ‘on the cheap.’ I have booked an AirBnB so I shall look out for the pig!
March 8, 2015
You can’t miss that pig either. It’s always huge on the building. LOL August should be a GREAT time!
March 4, 2015
Are the restaurant menus in English? If not what are some useful translations for ordering food? We’re going there in May for 3 nights
March 4, 2015
Definitely no worries there. Menus are in English, and almost every Icelander speaks a good amount of English as well.