9 Tips For Visiting Iceland Without Spending All Your Money

Photographed by Claudia
There aren't many countries close(ish) to the UK that people fancy going on holiday to during the winter. Anywhere that's actually hot is too far away, anywhere that's only mildly warm feels like a disappointment, and anywhere Christmassy (here's looking at you Germany) is bound to be packed to the rafters with tourists drinking overpriced mulled wine from paper cups.
Iceland remains a solid winter holiday destination though. From the glory of the Northern Lights, to the purported wellness properties of the hot springs, to the achingly cool Reykjavik nightlife scene, it's easy to see what's drawing millennials there in droves – despite the fact that it's eye-wateringly expensive. Half a pint is likely to set you back about £7, while a meal for two in an average restaurant is estimated to be around £70.
Obviously, though, you still want to "do" Iceland. But is there a way to visit without spending all your savings? We asked the travellers in our Money Diaries Facebook group, who reckon that yeah, it's doable, but you've got to be aware of a few things first.
Here are their recommendations on how not to blow the budget in Iceland.
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Go Drinking Early

It’s really expensive but, if you drink, we found most bars had happy hours around 5pm – a fair bit earlier than the locals go out so it was quiet but two-for-one on drinks makes a big difference at those prices!

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Use Viator

Have a look on Viator for activities, I usually find they’re cheaper and often offer free pick up / drop off.

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Plan Ahead

Definitely book your trips in advance. The Northern Lights trip should be around £20. If you want to go to the Blue Lagoon then book the basic package – you don't need robes and slippers, they end up dumped in a pile as you enter the lagoon, taking your own towel or robe is sufficient and there are lockers which you get a key to. If you drive it's worth hiring a car to travel to the geyser and the national park – it's a straight route pretty much, and the hire costs with full insurance were approx £90 when the coach trip to visit these places costs about £200. Food and drink is expensive – a burger/chips with a bottle of cider was £20, so definitely consider taking your own snacks so you're not constantly spending on food.

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Use Local Guides

There are lots of free walking tours available, it’s a great way to find out about Reykjavik through the eyes of a local! At the end you just tip whatever you feel is appropriate. Go to www.freewalkingtour.is – that’s the one I did when I went to Iceland earlier this year!

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Take Advantage Of Duty Free

Make sure you buy any booze you want in duty free, it's practically impossible to buy it in a shop and bars can be expensive, there are plenty of happy hours early evening though! We hired a car rather than taking the expensive tours, which meant we could go where we want and see what we wanted, depending on the weather. Make sure you are comfortable driving in snowy/icy conditions, and get a 4x4 for that reason. We found a great lunch spot called Glo, it was cheap and delicious, mostly vegan but you could have meat if you wanted. All other meals were quite expensive. Have an amazing time, it's the best place in the world!!

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Rent A Car

Since there’s so many beautiful places to see (which are free or very cheap to park) it’s the cost of food and accommodation that puts the price up! Renting a car gives you SO much more freedom, I would 100% recommend. Maybe miss a Northern Lights tour as I think you often don’t see that much. Stay in an Airbnb and make packed lunches. Don’t shop for food anywhere other than Bonus! Prices are extortionate in most other supermarkets. Iceland was AMAZING though, and well worth the cost.

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Get Appy

Download Appy Hour, it shows you which bars are cheap and when. Also go on Trip Advisor and make a note of all the restaurants with one £ sign next to them.

1) Svarta Kaffid – soup in bread for around £14
2) Mai Thai – cheap Thai food
3) Vitabar – burger and chips £12-14
4) Saegreifinn – go at lunch for cheap two course special
5) Icelandic Fish and Chips

Activities I would recommend: book Blue Lagoon and Northern Lights in advance. For cheap things in the day go to the local swimming baths. There are loads and they cost £5-10 and normally have a sauna or steam room as well as heated pool and jacuzzi. The church observation tower (Hallgrimskirkja) is cheap too, with excellent views.

Perlan is amazing and less busy too. Great observation deck and costs about £4. Wine and beer in there is about £4 a glass too with lovely views.

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Skip The Blue Lagoon

Go to the public swimming pools in Reykjavik instead of the Blue Lagoon, they also have the famous geothermal waters you can soak in, affordably!

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Find Bonus Supermarkets

We went a couple of months ago and found Bonus supermarkets are pretty cheap and there’s at least one in the city centre. We took an extra suitcase full of food (going as a group of six) but we probably didn’t need to and were pleasantly surprised by the value at Bonus. Steer clear of the smaller mini-marts in Reykjavik though – I had to pay about a fiver for a bottle of water!


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