By Brad Benson
Iceland can feel a world away. With cascading waterfalls, snowy mountain vistas, and barren lava fields its landscapes are unlike any most people have ever seen. And its cosmopolitan capital city of Reykjavik offers a great coffee culture, vibrant music scene, diverse sights, and a surprising array of restaurants.
Fun fact: the Capital region’s population of 220,000 includes roughly 3 out of 5 Icelanders!
The country is safe, public transportation is far-reaching, English is widely-spoken, and with surprisingly short flights from the States (New York: 5hrs, LA: 7hrs), Iceland makes an excellent escape even for a long weekend. With Iceland Air’s well-known stopover option and discount airline WOW Air’s quickly expanding footprint, it’s now as inexpensive as ever to get there; however, Iceland’s high prices are notorious among travelers (e.g., drip coffee: $5 USD, mixed drinks: $25 USD, a 5-min cab ride: $20 USD, burger & fries: $30 USD) …but an Icelandic vacation doesn’t have to be cost-prohibitive. Here are a few tricks I’ve used to save money without compromising an authentic and exhilarating adventure.
1. Explore Lodging Options: From luxury hotels to hostels, options abound to fit an array of budgets in Reykjavik so know what’s available and what you’re willing to compromise for a lower cost.
2. BYOB: This is one place that I would advocate swinging-by Duty-Free en route. All alcohol is notoriously expensive, and having a small supply on-hand to supplement a night out will definitely soften the blow.
3. Self-Cater: Meals at restaurants add-up quickly. Stock-up at the local grocery (“Bónus”) or convenience store (“10-11”) for intermittent snacking, pre-dinner appetizers, and even the occasional full meal so you can devote more funds to the splurges.
4. Have a Restaurant Strategy: Reykjavik sustains a wide range of restaurants, both with regard to cuisine and price. If you hit-up a pricier restaurant one night (my favorites: “Icelandic Fish & Chips” “Saeta Svinio”), hit up a cheaper spot the next (my favorites: “Noodle Station” and “Baejarins Beztu Pylsur”). When you do hit a more expensive spot as a group, split a combination of mains and appetizers to keep costs down and sampling up!
5. Opt for Combination Tickets: Many operators offer combination tickets that reduce prices for multiple museum admissions and tour excursions. The most popular is probably the joint Airport-and-Blue-Lagoon transportation ticket (which saves you money AND time too!).
6. Take Public Transportation: When you can, use public transportation. The round-trip airport bus ticket (around $50) is efficient and a fraction of the cost of a private car.
7. Take a Dip in a Public Pool: Iceland is known for its geothermal activity and the resulting recreational facilities it fuels. The Blue Lagoon is an amazing experience, but Reykjavik maintains a number of public pools and recreation centers too, and daily admission is only around $10 (one-sixth that of a Blue Lagoon entrance). Check out “Laugardalslaug,” just North of the City.
8. Walk: Reykjavik is a beautifully-quaint city! Grab a coffee to go and wander the charming streets, multi-colored houses, and ubiquitous street art.
9. Hit up the Market: The weekend flea market (“Kolaportio”) offers a glimpse into local life with second-hand goods, homemade crafts, and culinary delicacies (and a few free samples!).
10. Live the Slow Life: The pace of life in Iceland is refreshingly slow: take advantage! Snag a window seat at one of the excellent Reykjavik coffee shops and watch the World go by. Alternate between hot and cool soaks at the local spa. Strike-up a conversation with a bar mate or better yet, head to your place and chat-up your crew over a bottle of Brenivin. After all, these are the moments that typically cost very little monetarily, but offer an invaluable experience personally.
Iceland is one of my favorite destinations due to its uniqueness and accessibility. It can be pricey, but don’t let that prevent you from experiencing this exotically beautiful and friendly country!
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