Updated: Jul 12, 2020
You may have heard tell that Iceland can be a little on the pricey side. This can certainly be true. However, it does depend very much on what you do and how you do it. As with pretty much anywhere in the world you could go all out and max your credit card. There is plenty to spend your dollar on in Iceland if the whim takes you. However, there are all sorts of things that you can do to keep costs down. So if you are travelling on a budget there are many ways and means. In this article, we will take you through some of our best money-saving tips. We’ll share ideas on where to spend and where to save to help you make the most of your vacation.
What is expensive in Iceland and why?
A lot of the expense in Iceland is down to the cost of shipping in goods. Iceland is a relatively small island with a very small population. There is only so much those 330,000 people can get done in one day! Because of this many products are imported. Much of the land in Iceland remains uncultivated too. And the island does not have the ideal conditions for growing a great deal of fresh fruit and veg. Again this means that they import a lot of consumables as well as materials for building etc.
One look at the map and you’ll see what all this means. Iceland’s isolated location way up in the North Atlantic makes importing goods quite expensive. So most goods and services have to carry a higher price tag to cover costs. As a visitor, you’ll find that hotel accommodation in Iceland is quite high. Rental cars and restaurant meals can all add up. So it is in the bars, restaurants, hotels and shops that you’ll see the costs in Iceland stack up. Like we said though there are many ways to travel on a budget in Iceland. So don’t be disheartened and read on! High prices and good salaries for those who work in Iceland.
The ultimate money-saving tip
Ok, we admit that we might be a little bias here. But our number one money-saving tip is this. Hire a campervan! Simple but effective, and we’ll explain why.
If you’re hiring a camper or a motorhome in Iceland then you have your transport, accommodation and kitchen all rolled into one. This means that you can save money in multiple ways. It also means that you will be able to budget in advance much more easily. After the cost of hiring a camper, you can factor in around $10 a night per person to camp. So that’s your transportation and accommodation pretty much sorted. You will also need to consider the price of gas in Iceland and look at how much mileage you have planned. But the savings available to you from hiring a van are very real.
The best time of year for a budget trip to Iceland
Travelling in Iceland in summer
The tourism high season in Iceland is over the light-filled summer months of June, July and August. This is when most people choose to visit Iceland. Subsequently, the prices for most services like motorhome rental, campsites and hotels are a little higher.
There is a good reason for this being the most popular time to visit though. The weather in Iceland is notoriously wild and changeable. But in the summer months, it is generally much more settled. There is also the Midnight Sun shining in the sky during the summer. This makes it possible to drive and sightsee late into the night as well as bright and early in the morning.
The daylight and weather factors mean that you’ll be much more inclined to spend more time outdoors. Walking and hiking in the national parks as well as cooking on your camp stove and eating in the great outdoors. Spending time in the great outdoors is free so you’ll be saving money without even realising it!
Travelling in Iceland in winter
Visiting Iceland in winter has its own set of pros and cons budget-wise. This is the low tourism season and so the prices are a little lower all round. The big sights will have far fewer tourists visiting them too. So you’ll pay less for your rental and/or accommodation. You’ll also have a lot more space on the roads and at popular sights such as the Golden Circle.
The downsides are that there will be fewer daylight hours to move around and sightsee in. You will also be more likely to have cold and stormy weather. Often the weather could chase you indoors where you are much more likely to spend cash. Also, many of the fun things to do in winter have costs attached to them. If you would like to go skiing in Iceland then renting ski equipment and lift passes can add up. As can guided glacier tours or snowmobile expeditions. All of these activities are super fun and are guaranteed to tempt you.
Perhaps the most budget-friendly time of year to travel is during the shoulder seasons. These are the months either side of the high season. So we are talking September and into October as well as May and perhaps the tail end of April. If you visit Iceland at this time of year you could have the best of both worlds. Lower prices, more space but also plenty of daylight hours and hopefully some settled weather too. Although what the weather in Iceland decides to do can never be guaranteed.
Booking a tour vs. independent travel
There are many pluses to taking a guided tour but we recommend that you choose them wisely. If you are only in the country for a short time, say for a city break. Then booking on a day tour of the Golden Circle makes good sense. You can easily get around Reykjavik on the reasonably priced public transportation too.
If you are hiring a motorhome you’ll be able to explore independently though. There is a lot to be said for having the freedom to come and go as you choose. The same goes for Northern Lights tours. If you are touring Iceland by camper van you will have ample opportunity to see the Northern Lights in season. There is no need to book on a tour for this.
There are some tours that will be well worth booking onto though. And certain experiences that have to be guided. These are things like glacier lagoon or whale-watching boat tours. As well as ice caving, glacier hiking or horse riding.
Saving money on food and drink
Eating and drinking in Iceland can really stretch your budget. Having your own kitchen is one of the main things that is so great about driving a campervan. You will easily be able to put together a quick meal or snack. If you are somewhere quite remote there often isn’t a great deal of choice. Being able to hop into your kitchen means that you aren’t forced into forking out on high food prices.
Your best bet is to head to a supermarket in the cities or larger towns. Here you can stock up on more reasonably priced foods such as pasta, cans and rice. You can then use the local grocery store to top up your fresh goods. One easy and cheap convenience food that many Icelandic people rely on is hot dogs. Most towns, cities and busy areas will have a mobile hot dog stand dishing our tasty dogs. By saving money on most of your meals you can use your cash for some really special meals out. You don’t want to miss the opportunity of enjoying a freshly caught lobster or catch of the day after all.
When it comes to drinking the pure Icelandic tap water is free and delicious. Just bring water bottles and help yourself the best tap water in the world. If you are after something a little stronger then that’s a different matter. Alcohol in Iceland is much more expensive. You can only actually buy it in the bars and restaurants and in official government-run shops. If you’d like a few drinks on your travels then we recommend a visit the duty free shop on your way in. Stock up on your favourite tipple and enjoy a glass or two in your camper before heading out. If you are hitting the bars then look out for the happy hour offers.
Packing tips for making savings
When planning for your Icelandic trip it is important to be organised. One thing that you don’t want to do is realise that you have forgotten that battery charger or a spare pair of gloves. These are the sort of items that are quite high in price if you need to buy them in Iceland.
It is also a good idea to bring along a basic cooking kit to spice up your meals. Things like salt and pepper or your favourite herbs and spices. You might also bring some favourite snacks with you for fuelling your adventures. Bars of chocolate, cereal bars and packs of nuts all come in handy. And don’t forget a thermos if you are hiking in Iceland and a refillable water bottle for everyone.
Nature is free in Iceland!
When you visit Iceland the vast majority of your time is spent out and about enjoying the great outdoors. It is the country’s incredible natural wonders that will inspire you. From its glaciers and volcanoes to its lava fields, lakes and highlands.
Hot springs are another experience not to be missed and are integral to life in Iceland. Visiting the famous Blue Lagoon does come at a price. But there are many other hot springs in Iceland that are either free to enter or very reasonably priced.
Most importantly of all Iceland’s amazing landscapes are entirely free to explore and enjoy. All of Iceland’s national parks are free to enter and the Northern Lights don’t carry a price tag. So it’s true what they say. The best things in life (and in Iceland) are most certainly free.