The first time I had ever heard of Iceland must have been back in 2010 in my GCSE geography class when the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull (otherwise known as E15) erupted, covering a large part of the European continent with a volcanic ash cloud. I hadn’t really thought much more about Iceland until university where it seemed to be ‘the place’ to visit. Up until then the only connection I had with it was a case study card for my geography exam and the the school trip we were supposed to go on but never did.
In recent years Iceland has no doubt made its mark on the international tourism market, with pictures of the northern lights, blue lagoon, and numerous foss littering the newsfeeds of all us wanderlusters. No doubt all these images had been fed into my subconscious as well and I too wanted to see firsthand a geysir exploding. The only thing stopping me was the cost.
As well as being well known for its natural splendours, Iceland also sits high in the ranks along with its Scandinavian neighbours for one of the most expensive tourist destinations in Europe. Everyone I had spoken to, as well as from the research I did online, confirmed that to travel around Iceland for a just a couple of days you would need at least £500, and you’d be lucky to have the price of flights included. As university students however, my friend (Viki) and I unfortunately didn’t have the £500+ spare to spend on our spring break get-away. We decided to take on Iceland the budget way.
So if you’re cheap like us, or just want to save yourself some extra cash, here’s how we did 5 days in Iceland for under £500 (each).
Flights: When it comes to flights, it’s actually surprisingly affordable to travel to Iceland. I’ve heard from friends that even from America flights are about $250 return. In our case we booked an easyjet flight from Edinburgh airport to Keflavik international airport for £68 each and our return flights from Keflavik to London Heathrow with BA costed us £58 each, totalling a £126 each for flights. I always use a search engine to hunt for the best deal and this time we used kayak search engine to snap up the best deals.
Accommodation: For our accommodation whilst we were in Iceland, we booked 2 nights in airbnb located 10 minutes from the centre of Reykjavik for £49.12 per night. This included a basic, private room with access to the kitchen. The other two nights were spent at a private dorm room at the Hostel Skogar, which we booked via Hostelworld for £128.61 for both nights. Again we had access to a kitchen, which was surprisingly fully equipped. This totalled £113.42 each for 4 nights.
Transport: Affordable transport is not Iceland’s strong point. When it comes to transport, public bus services are pretty much limited to Reykjavik. If you’re planning to explore the island and make pit stops at various nature scenes, using private tour bus companies can get very pricey. Just for a transfer from the Keflavik airport to the Blue Lagoon will cost you around £30 one way. If you can drive and feel confident driving, I would really recommend renting a car and as long as you’re two people or more it will definitely work out cheaper. We booked our rental car from Avis via Rentalcars.com for £180 for 4 days, including GPS rental. Petrol prices are a bit more steep compared to the UK at £1.50- £2.00 on average per litre (as of the date of this post) and so we ended up spending roughly £110 in total on petrol for the duration of our trip. That said, we did however manage to get all the way to Höfn on the Southeastern part of the Island and back.
Food: If you’ve already been thinking about travelling around Iceland for a while and have done a little research, I’m sure you would have heard by now that food is not laughing matter in Iceland, it’s expensive. To cut back on costs we decided to do a big food shop in the UK before heading over. This meant that we had instant oats for breakfast, packed lunched (sandwiches, breakfast bars, carrots, apples etc.) and pre-planned dinners of pasta and couscous. If you want to save yourself the load on the way there, we found that one of the more affordable supermarket chains, Bonus was dotted around the island. We had hoped to treat ourselves to at least one traditional Icelandic meal, however a lot of the traditional dishes were heavily meat-based (from looking around there were also quite a few fish dishes) and again, very pricey. We ended up in Nat, a little healthy cafe in Reykjavik where we each had a veggie burger with roasted sweet potatoes for 1,990 ISK (~£14.23), which I thought was pretty decent for Icelandic prices.
Free things to do: The good news is that practically everything else you probably want to do/ see is free. You can feast your eyes on all the natural beauty of the landscapes and waterfalls without having to spend a penny, but if you’re still looking for even more freebies, here’s what else we managed to get/do for free in Iceland:
-We managed to get our hands on free food at the hostel- in other words, the leftover food that travellers leave behind when they’re heading home. Porridge and pineapple chunks with a cup of coffee for breakfast in the morning tastes even better when it’s free.
-Exchanging money at Arion Banki in Reykjavik, also led to the pleasant surprise of a free coffee and chocolate as well. May seem like something small, but this gesture of hospitality can go a long way on a drizzly day.
-Why head to Italy to taste fresh and authentic pizza when you can you try world heritage without having to spend a penny? Quench your thirst with a chunk of ice from diamond beach and turn up your nose those Tremontiese who say ‘con la cultura non si mangia’ (literally: with culture one cannot eat)
-Parking in Reykjavik is free on residential roads so its worth leaving your cars in those areas and taking a 5-10 minutes walk into the centre.
-If you’re not wanting to splash out on the blue lagoon but still want some thermal pool action, you can check out the (not so) secret outdoor swimming pool in Seljavallalaug.
-Need a cheap souvenir for your friends? Bottle up some tap water as a present. Icelandic water is fresh, and pure from chlorine and other contaminants. Might need to warn them about the eggy smell though.
So all in all, despite a few learning curves here and there our Icelandic experience was a success, costing us a rounded figure of £400 each. Not bad, even if I say so myself.