If you’ve heard that Iceland is one of the more expensive countries to visit, we regret to inform you that you heard correctly. The island nation offers some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world, but it will cost you an arm and a leg to explore (and, with all of the great hiking, you’ll need both of those!). Something as simple as a sandwich, for example, might cost you as much as $15 (USD).
Don’t let the prices intimidate you, though. As with any country, there are ways to traverse Iceland without stretching your wallet too much. Here are some tips, tricks, and experiences to seek out if you’re planning to tackle Iceland on a budget.
Take a Walking tour of Reykjavík
Some of the most meaningful and memorable travel experiences are the ones not found in guidebooks — those moments when we shut our laptop, strap on our pack, and simply get out and let the city take hold of us. Reykjavík is a rustic harbor town, and there is plenty to explore without dishing out the big bucks. All you need is a map (or an app) to navigate, a camera, and a comfortable pair of walking shoes.
Some notable spots to add to your itinerary include the Tjörnin Pond, which is laid out in front of the architecturally brilliant city hall, and the Einar Jónsson Sculpture Garden, which features 26 of the native artist’s bronze casts. For more architectural wonder, make sure to check out the Harpa Concert Hall and Perlan — a futuristic, glass-domed fine dining restaurant (just to admire, of course). To get a panoramic view of the city, head to the top of the ominous Hallgrímskirkja Cathedral, where admission will cost you just under $7 (USD).
Save some time to explore the Old Harbor as well. This colorful and fast-growing area offers the quaint atmosphere of a small fishing village, which allows you to walk the misty streets and breathe in the salty sea air while enjoying the stunning view of Mount Esja across the bay.
Hike and Camp
Iceland is a land of visual wonder, with every horizon decorated by volcanic mountaintops, glacial lagoons, cascading waterfalls, and sprawling valleys carved by eons of natural forces. There’s no reason to spend a penny on an organized tour when the entire countryside is at your fingertips, itching to be explored.
Entrance to Iceland’s national parks is free, so all you’ll need is a backpack and hiking boots. Check out our hiking guide for tips on some of the best treks in the country. If you’d like to camp, it will sometimes cost you, though never more than $10 to $20 (USD) a night. Not only is this the cheapest accommodation option, but it will allow you to wake up immersed in Iceland’s breathtaking countryside.
Renting a car and traversing the island on four wheels is one of the best ways to explore Iceland, but if you’re not looking to spend money on a rental car, hitchhiking is one of the best alternatives. Worry not — Iceland is one of the safest and easiest countries to hitchhike in. It’s especially easy to find a ride during the summer, though not impossible during the off-season. You can ask around for rides in hostels or request a ride on the Carpool in Iceland website. Or, if you want to do it the old-fashioned way, you can stand on the side of the road and thumb it. Just make sure to bring a jacket!
Bring a Water Bottle
A single bottle of water in Iceland will cost you around $3 (USD). Even if you’re only there for a week, that’s really going to start to add up. You’ll save a shocking amount of money if you bring your own reusable bottle and fill up at hostels and restaurants — all tap water in Iceland is safe to drink! You can even pull over on the side of the road to grab fresh water from the rivers and streams, since all Icelandic water comes straight from glaciers, making it pure and delicious.
Look, we get it — you want to have a good time, and sometimes the best way to do that is to grab a beer … or four. But, drinking in Iceland is going to add a few digits to the overall cost of your trip. The average beer in Iceland costs $10 (USD), while a bottle of wine will cost you around $20 (USD) — and that’s just in a store; at a restaurant, you’re looking at a minimum of $30 (USD) per bottle.
So, what are your options? Well, if you can hold off on the booze for just a couple weeks, you’ll be able to save a pretty penny. And that shouldn’t be too hard — the breathtaking scenery and countryside should offer enough of a natural high. If you can’t, try to stock up on supplies when you arrive at the airport, where the duty-free prices will save you from breaking the bank.
If you’re not looking to stay at hotels or hostels, Couchsurf offers a cheaper alternative for accommodation. Iceland has a bustling Couchsurfing community, so you’ll rarely struggle to find somewhere to stay. The app offers other benefits as well. You’ll meet people you wouldn’t have otherwise, and the people you’re most likely to stay with will be happy to show you around and provide you with local insights — the community is filled with welcoming travelers!
Eat hot dogs
Iceland is not only the land of magical countrysides and wondrous adventure, but it’s also the land of hot dogs. That’s right — Icelanders are oddly obsessed with hot dogs, and almost every town and city features roadside stalls offering these lunchtime treats. Whether you like it or not, hot dogs will be one of your cheapest meal options. At an average of $3.50 (USD), they’re much more affordable than normal sandwiches, which tend to run $10 to $15 (USD) each. If fine dining isn’t a major component of your ideal Icelandic adventure, then learn to develop a taste for hot dogs!
Head to the Icelandic Phallological Museum
For the linguistic enthusiasts among you, you already know that the Icelandic Phallological Museum offers an array of … arousing experiences. The museum is one of the only penis exhibitions in the world, featuring the preserved male sexual organs of hundreds of different species of all shapes and sizes (though we hear size doesn’t matter…). All jokes aside, it’s actually an impressive, one-of-a-kind look into the field of phallology, and admission is only 1500 ISK, or $14.56 (USD).
Header photo by Angely Dub.