Can you visit Iceland on a tight budget?
The short answer is YES DEFINITELY!!
It has a reputation for being an expensive country, and it definitely is. However, if you're sensible and plan ahead it is very doable to have an amazing Iceland adventure with a small price tag.
Here are my best money-saving tips!
1. Travel during an international pandemic
Iceland is the perfect Coronavirus destination. So I'm not suggesting this is suitable for everyone, and obviously before you travel anywhere at the moment you have to check the Foreign Office advice on travel to that country, and everyone has to make their own decision based on their own personal circumstances.
But currently it is peak-season in Iceland and tourism is way below normal levels. Days are long, weather is good (ish- it is still Iceland!) and there are waaaaay fewer people at all the main tourist spots (several countries like the US and China aren't allowed to travel there at all currently).
Because tourist numbers are down, there are lots of deals to try and incentivise people into coming, be that almost half price tickets to the blue lagoon (£30 instead of £60), cheaper accommodation, or cheaper flights (I payed £150 for my August flights when I booked in December but my friend just booked the same flights for less than £70).
Bargain flights for August!
If you're worried about safety, Iceland is one of the safest countries to be in currently! At posting, there are currently 24 cases of Coronavirus in the whole country (all considered mild), everyone is tested upon arrival, plus one of the best parts of a holiday to Iceland is that so many of the activities are outside so it is easy to keep a safe distance from others.
2. Travel out of season
In Iceland, there are benefits to travelling in every season. Days are longer in the summer and weather tends to be better, so it's easier to fit more in and nicer to be outside. Autumn and spring have better weather than winter, moderate length days and still have the possibility for you to see the Northern Lights. Winter has short days, but longer nights for Northern Lights spotting and there is a beautiful snow covering.
My last trip was in winter and I would highly recommend it. I went mid-December, which my host told me is one of the quietest and cheapest times to visit in the whole year. The days were light from 11.00-15.00ish but the light in these hours was like non-stop golden hour, there was loads of snow and I spotted the Northern Lights!
The non-stop golden hour winter lighting at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon.
The weather wasn't always great, but the prices were soooo much cheaper!
I got a single Air BnB room for £38, £34 for a hostel room (I was meant to be in dorms but it was so quiet I had the room to myself every night), and 5 days hire of a 4x4 was £124- the same car for 5 days in August is £256 (even more for non-COVID summers).
As you can see from my bargain winter prices above, accommodation in Iceland is expensive!! If you want to go in the summer, the best option is camping. Unlike the rest of Scandinavia, Iceland no longer allows wild camping due to the number of tourists and damage to the environment. However, there are loads of campsites all over Iceland, mostly with excellent facilities and affordable price- around £20 a night in peak season.
You can either pay for luggage in the hold with your flight, or there are places near the airport/Reykjavik campsite where you are able to hire all the equipment you need.
Trialling my super-light tent for Iceland, the Vango Knoydart 200 (3.89kg)
One of the benefits to camping is the location; there are some amazing Icelandic campsites, including one directly under the massive Skogafoss waterfall, Thakgil campsite with a cave for a dining room, and various campsites with their own thermal hot pools to bathe in.
4. Cook for yourself
Eating out in Iceland is extortionate! Seriously, even a cheap lunch of soup in a budget place can be £13!, so it's much better to cook at least some of your own meals. Obviously it depends on where you're staying, but hostels usually having a shared kitchen you can use and you'll most likely have your own cooking equipment or be able to use communal cooking facilities if camping.
Even if you're staying at a hotel/guesthouse without kitchen access, popping into a supermarket and buying basics for breakfast and lunch can save you loads of money.
Having some Supermarket-bought Icelandic Skyr yoghurt for breakfast.
5. Skip the Blue Lagoon
Yes it's the most famous spot in Iceland! But there are so many amazing and totally free natural geothermal hot pots all over Iceland, many you will have totally to yourself. In peak season, the blue lagoon costs over £60 for the basic package and is full of tourists, so why not save yourself the money and have a much more peaceful, natural experience!
Taking a dip in the Landbrotalaug hotpot under the stars.
6. Come prepared
Make sure you bring all the outdoor clothes you might need (including a swimsuit and towel) as buying anything is Iceland is super expensive. Depending on your budget, you also might consider bringing:
Food- even Iceland supermarkets are expensive, I brought loads of snacks like nuts, energy bars, porridge sachets, pasta sachets, noodles, chocolates from ALDI at home as I was on a super tight budget.
Tupperware- you can make lunch at your accommodation and take it out for the day, you can also take food to the airport for additional savings.
Flask- I took tea and coffee with me and filled up my flask with hot water every day as I love my tea and coffee and these can be £5 or more in Iceland to buy in a cafe.
Waterbottle- buying water is a big waste of money, epecially when the quality of water is great in Iceland and there's plenty of places to fill up- plus plastic bottles are so bad for the environment!
ALDI's finest pasta packet for dinner at the hostel- and they say travelling is glamorous...
7. Consider not hiring a car/4x4
Hiring a car is a massive spend on any trip. Depending on your itinerary, if you are mostly visiting Reykjavik and the south of Iceland it is more than possible to rely on public transport to get around. Petrol is, like everything in Iceland, very expensive- on my last trip I spent over £100 on petrol in 5 days!
If you want the freedom of having your own car, then consider if a smaller car with good MPG will do- smaller cars tend to be cheaper to hire initially plus you'll save £ on the petrol. I got a 4x4 in the winter because the roads were covered in snow, and I wanted the 4 wheel drive function to help me in these conditions. You might also want a 4x4 to go into the highlands or on the F roads (rural roads in bad condition that normal hire cars aren't insured to drive on). Otherwise, if you're visiting in summer a normal car is definitely your best option on a budget.
My 4x4 in front of Stokksnes looking like a Car advert.
Also, I would recommend getting additional damage insurance because of the weather and conditions of the road in Iceland. However, the insurance policies the car hire companies try to sell you are wayyyyy more expensive. If you just have a look on a comparison website before you go, you can get additional insurance for a few quid (mine was around £3 for 5 days).
8. Go teetotal
With all those long dark winter nights, Iceland has traditionally had a bit of a problem with alcohol. It seems they got on top of this problem by being very strict with where you can buy alcohol (only in designated liquor stores) and only selling it during limited hours. On top of the difficulty you might have sourcing the alcohol to start with, it's expensive- a cheap bottle of wine is around £12 and a pint of beer in a bar will set you back £7.
If you definitely want a drink while you're there, considering buying it in duty free at the airport or bringing it from home if you have luggage in the hold.
I've got the ice, if only I could afford a drink.
9. Make the most of discounts
I'm a student and have been a non-stop student since 2013 so I've got used to always carrying my student card with me in case of a surprise discount. Iceland is no different! If you're a student, make sure you bring your ID you'll be surprised where you can get a discount.
The same applies for an OAP discount- you qualify for the senior discount if you're 67 or over!
10. Enjoy the outdoors
Iceland has natural beauty around every corner, so make the most of it! Almost all of the outdoor activities are free, with some charging car parking fees and the occasional attraction where you have to pay.
Here are some of the many FREE outdoor attractions:
Waterfalls- Gullfoss, Skogafoss, Seljalandsfoss to name a few of the big ones
Geysir geothermal area
Reynisfjara black sand beach with basalt columns
Solheimasandur plane crash
Kirkjufell mountain and waterfall
Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon
Me sat on the columns at Reynisfjara.
And a few you have to pay for:
The Blue Lagoon
Stokksnes mountain- small fee to drive onto peninsula to view it
Alone at Stokksnes.
Average spend- £50-60 a day