Iceland is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever travelled to, with sweeping green volcanic landscapes, black sand beaches, powerful waterfalls, and wild horses. It’s easy to see why tourism numbers in the country are up nearly 600% since 2002. Tourists from the US and abroad all seem to have Iceland as a high priority for places they want to see. The one hangup many aspiring travelers find early in their planning is that a visit to Iceland can be very expensive.
Iceland is one of the world’s most expensive countries for tourists, and it can be felt immediately when booking accommodations, tours, and rental vehicles. Food is also very expensive, which can come as quite the shock to visitors who aren’t prepared. In this post, I’m going to give you seven ways to eat on the cheap and save yourself a lot of money when visiting Iceland.
1.) Pack A Suitcase Full Of Food And Snacks
Before you leave on your trip to Iceland, you can save money by packing snacks and other food items from home. This is especially important if you’re traveling as a family with kids. Focus on non-perishable items that pack small. We travelled with 10 days worth of low sugar Quaker’s Instant Oatmeal. This is a favorite of ours for backpacking trips like the John Muir Trail, as it tastes good with cold or hot water and is ready to eat right away. We also packed road trips snacks like beef jerky, Lenny and Larry’s cookies, Clif Bars, and an assortment of cereal puffs and squeeze pouches for our one year old.
*This tip hinges on whether you have the space to pack, and are allowed to check bags at no cost. Julia and I pack very light, and were allowed two checked bags. This gave us ample space to bring food along.
My advice: Leave an extra outfit behind and pack some food!
2.) Book Accommodations That Include Breakfast
Another great way to save money before you arrive in Iceland is to book accommodations that include breakfast. There are quite a few accommodations in Iceland that include an ‘all-you-can-eat’ breakfast. On the days we had access to unlimited food and coffee in the morning, we only needed a light midday snack before dinner. The photo below is from my favorite breakfast of the trip, a feast at the Gauksmyri Lodge in Hvammstangi.
My Advice: Book accommodations very early for travel in the busy summer months. The best low cost accommodations fill up quickly.
Most breakfast offerings aren’t as robust as the one found at the Gauksmyri Lodge. A typical hotel breakfast in Iceland consists of juices, coffee, water, cereals, lunch meats, fruits, vegetables, and breads.
3.) Book Accommodations With Microwaves and Kitchenettes
When booking accommodations, try to find rooms that come with a microwave or kitchenette. This is my third and final pre-booking money saving tip for food. This tip will also tie directly into tip #4, which is to shop at grocery stores and markets. Booking rooms with a microwave or kitchen will allow you to purchase fresh and frozen items at markets and prepare them in your room. We were able to save a lot of money eating this way, and were surprised by how many rooms were available with these options.
4.) Shop At Grocery Stores And Supermarkets
The best way to save money while in Iceland is to shop at grocery stores and purchase foods for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you have a hotel with a microwave, you can purchase frozen foods and other items that only require a little heat. We had two rooms on our Ring Road trip that had stoves and cookware that allowed us to make pastas and other dishes for around $5 USD per person. Below you will find a list of my three favorite supermarket chains in Iceland:
- Bónus: Budget friendly and very well stocked supermarket chain with a ton of locations.
- Krónan: This is another budget friendly and well stocked supermarket chain with a ton of locations.
- Nettó: This was probably our favorite supermarket in Iceland. Their locations tended to stay open the latest and had a lot of our favorite foods for competitive prices.
IheartReykjavik.net has a full list of Iceland’s supermarkets, as well as a map to help you find them.
- Be careful with the hours of supermarkets in Iceland. Many don’t open until 10 or 11AM. They also close pretty early, with most closing for business around 7-9PM.
- You can bring your own bags into the grocery stores or purchase them upon checkout.
- Shopping wisely at supermarkets can put your meal costs at around $5-10 USD per person. In restaurants, that cost can easily be closer to $20-30 per person.
Supermarkets in Iceland have just about anything you’d expect to see at a supermarket in Europe. Some locations are larger and have better selections than others. The larger the town, the larger the market.
Fruits and vegetables are pretty expensive in Iceland, so we didn’t eat as much of them as we do back home. Despite the long journey these fruits and vegetable take to Iceland, the quality was pretty good.
If you like yogurt at home, you’ll love Icelandic Skyr (~$2 USD)! Skyr goes very well with granola or cereal for breakfast. I don’t eat dairy, but Julia and Owen couldn’t get enough of this stuff.
My favorite part of the Icelandic supermarkets was their bakeries and selections of pre-made foods. We ended up eating a lot of bread and pastries from the bakeries. My favorite foods were pizza bread (~$1.50 USD) and kanilsnúðar cinnamon buns (~$3 USD)! As side dishes, we really enjoyed ‘nice n’ easy’ frozen dishes (~$2 USD). There were also pre-cooked standalone dishes like wraps, and plates of chicken and vegetables for those nights that we only had a microwave. These meals were the equivalent of around $8 USD.
5.) Eat At Gas Stations
This one is probably going to sound crazy to most, as gas station food is usually associated with toxic nacho cheese and food poisoning to those of us in the USA. The food served at gas stations in Iceland was surprisingly good. Quite a few of the gas stations had actual restaurants with menus and kitchens, others had fast food options like Subway and Quizno’s. My favorite gas station restaurant in Iceland was Grill 66 at Olis stations. You can get a burger and fries for around $14 USD there. That may seem expensive, until you realize that the same burger can easily reach north of $25 USD at sit-down restaurants.
The most popular and famous Icelandic gas station food is definitely the hot dog. The hot dogs only cost around $3 USD, which makes them a great option for a quick snack. You can also pick up baked goods and coffee at these gas stations if you need a quick ‘pick-me-up’ after a long day of driving. *Most places have ‘all-you-can-drink’ coffee!
Below I have included a menu for the Grill 66 inside of an Olis Gas Station. For those of us from California, it’s cool to see burgers named after cities like Azuza and Barstow…although I’m not quite sure how Barstow made the cut! As you can see, the prices range from around $11 USD to $18 USD. We looked at a few menus for restaurants where a burger and fries started at around $30 USD.
I’m not sure if it was all of the driving and hiking, but I found these gas station hamburgers and hot dogs to be pretty tasty. My heart probably wasn’t too happy with my choice of food, but I eat healthy the rest of the year. When I’m traveling, my food choices are centered around a budget. I would much rather use my travel budget for more exploration!
6.) Bring Bottles And Drink Tap Water
There is no need to buy bottled water in Iceland, as the tap water is pure and perfect for drinking. Make sure to bring along a non-disposable bottle, or purchase a bottle that you can refill at the beginning of you trip.
7.) Don’t Drink Alcohol Or Buy It Duty Free
I don’t drink alcohol, but I know a lot of people do. If you’re the type of traveler that likes to imbibe, your budget is going to get trashed. Iceland has very high taxes on alcohol, with the sale price of some offerings being made up of 85% in taxes. Your two best options to avoid the high cost of alcoholic drinks in Iceland is to refrain from drinking and stock up at the duty free shop at Keflavik airport. If you’re going to wait until you hit the Ring Road, make sure to follow tip #4 and buy your booze at the supermarket.
Read More On Iceland’s Ring Road: