And here it is – your passport to a budget trip in Iceland. This is the third and last part of our guide. In this chapter you’ll get to know how not to lose your shirt on food.
How to cut down the expenses on food?
Discovering the prices of the Icelandic food might cause a little panic sometimes. But calm down, you can find discount markets in Iceland. The kings of them are definitely Bónus and Krónan, the cheapest supermarkets on the whole island. A bit more expensive is Netto, but it is still much cheaper than other shops. The prices of many products in these stores are not higher than in other European countries or U.S. When you come across them, stock up, as you might not see them for a few days. Smaller shops in Iceland are more expensive. Especially avoid 10-11 stores, which you can find in Reykjavík and some other towns. Your wallet will be grateful!
If you visit Bónus in the morning (it’s open from 11 and on Sundays from 12), then you have a chance for sizable discounts. The deal includes bread and pastries, which are really expensive here. These products are soon to be expired, that’s why they are several times cheaper. All of them cost just 59 ISK (0.46 EUR). Even a whole grain bread, which normally costs 3-4 EUR, then costs merely 0.46 EUR. It’s a great deal, isn’t it?
If you want to travel on a budget, you have to prepare all your meals by yourselves. You will always find a communal kitchen in hostels (sometimes also at campsites) around Iceland, usually well equipped, where you can spoil yourselves by cooking something delicious. Sometimes you can find free food left by other guests. Look for it on the shelves and in the fridge with a label “free food”. Once we found in a hostel in Reykjavík a six-pack of Einstök White Ale, our favourite Icelandic beer. Many times we came across pasta, rice, onion, canned tomatoes. You don’t have to be a great chef to make use of it. Just remember that the farther from Reykjavík, the harder it is with such finds.
Have a look at our original Icelandic fine art prints!
COOKING IN THE WILDERNESS
If you plan to camp and let’s say to traverse scenic mountain ridges with a backpack full of freeze-dried food, it’s better to buy them in advance before your trip. In Iceland, their prices are quite unpleasant. For those of you, who are uninitiated – freeze-dried food are meals (f. ex. chicken curry or vegetable risotto), which you just have to pour with boiling water, and they are ready to eat. The comfort of preparation is comparable to instant noodles, but freeze-dried meals are healthier, they give you much more energy, and last but not least, they are tastier. We always take them with us on multi-day hikes in the wilderness. One package weighs just 125 g, so our backs are really grateful.
Camping lovers can buy in Iceland gas cartridges without any problems. They are available not only in sports shops but also at gas stations and supermarkets. If you come to Iceland in the season, we recommend buying them in Bónus. For the same gas cartridge (Coleman) you will pay exactly twice less than in a sports shop. In the off-season, you won’t find it in the supermarkets, unfortunately. Choose a gas station then – it will be still cheaper than in a sports shop.
EATERIES, CAFÉS, PUBS
There is one sad thing to say – when you’re planning a budget trip you must forget about dining in the restaurants. It’s awfully expensive, no matter if it’s a fancy restaurant or a ‘greasy spoon’. A bowl of soup, not necessarily a tasty one, for around 10-12 EUR, is at least for us a lot. The cheapest street food snacks are hot dogs, just ubiquitous on the island. You can find hot dogs stalls in many places, and you can also get them at every gas station. Icelanders eat them with an incredible passion, so you should have a bite too (but let’s be honest, if you have one, you’ll want to have them every day). Remember to order pylsa með öllu, which is simply a hot dog with all extras.
There is one thing you definitely have to try, though, it’s a local delicacy, lobster soup (technically speaking it’s a langoustine soup, but Icelanders call them lobsters). We especially recommend one from Sægreifinn (Sea Baron) in Reykjavík. This tiny and visible from the distance (thanks to the charming blue facade) restaurant is located on the waterfront. We turn up there whenever we have a chance to stay for a while in the capital, because by far it’s the best lobster soup we’ve ever tried, and what’s more one of the cheapest.
And if you plan to visit the insanely beautiful Mývatn lake region, you should give a try the traditional bread called rúgbrauð. It’s dark, moist, a bit sweet and what’s so special – baked under the ground for almost 24 hours at geothermal areas. They serve it everywhere by the lake and it’s always served with butter and smoked arctic char (which in itself is another delicacy). That’s our favourite Icelandic snack, and it’s not expensive, not at all. In a word: yummy!
There is no Icelandic café without coffee in a thermos. You will of course also find a high-pressure coffeemaker, but if it is a budget trip for you, and you just want to stay in some cosy café (there is a great number of them, especially in Reykjavik), go for the thermos coffee. It’s definitely not a barista’s skills show-off, but it is much cheaper and what’s more you can usually refill for free.
The night life of Reykjavík has overgrown with legends. So if you visit the capital during the weekend, it’s really tempting to check out what’s the fuss all about. Just remember that due to high taxes, it’s really expensive to drink in Iceland. But if you want to taste some Icelandic beer in the pub and you have a limited budget at the same time, you should grab a glass of beer during “happy hours” (usually 4-7 p.m.) It is much cheaper, usually 30%. Specialities of local Icelandic breweries (some of them are simply outstanding) will taste as well in the open air, especially in one of the natural hot pots. Just find a stream to cool it down first, because Vínbúðin (a network of liquor stores) doesn’t have refrigerators. And remember that you can’t get alcohol in supermarkets in Iceland. You will find there only not so tasty (delicately speaking) light beer.
ICELANDIC WATER – PURE SAVINGS
Oh yes! In Iceland, you won’t spend any penny or actually krona on water. The tap water is unbelievably pure and tasty. It’s actually one of the purest on the whole planet. In some places, you might be repelled by its aroma (delicately speaking it smells like rotten eggs), but only hot water is like this. Cold water doesn’t have any smell at all. So do it like Icelanders do: take a glass and pour some cold and heavenly tasty stream of H2O straight from the tap. Forget about buying plastic bottles with water in the supermarkets during your journey – it’s exactly the same water. And you can have it for free!
We want to end our series with a bonus for you – Iceland Price Guide. You’ll find in it current prices of many basic food products and services. It’s a really handy thing for planning the budget of your trip. Just sign up for our newsletter, and you’ll get it straight in your inbox.
We hope that we managed to prove that in order to make your dream come true and visit this breathtaking island, you don’t have to break the bank. In fact, you can visit Iceland without weakening your household budget. If you find our guide helpful, let us know in the comments. We’ll be really glad if you share it with your friends. And maybe you know some other tips and tricks for budget travelling? We’d love to hear about them.
Here you can find the previous parts of our guide: