Iceland is a country like no other to visit. It is a land of glaciers and volcanos, hot springs and freezing wind gusts. More people would probably visit this small island of 325 000 inhabitants if it wasn’t of its reputation of being such an expensive place.
Though it is true that it be one of the most expensive countries to visit, it recently became accessible for budget vacation, given you’re ready to do some compromise.
Budget vacation in Iceland are not for everyone. Namely, you have to fit in those four categories :
1. You are comfortable in dorms
Because, like everywhere else, that’s the way to save on accommodations.
If you’re ready to deal with this, get ready to spent one of the most pennyworth adventure of your life!
Still not convince that I traveled Iceland for a week for less than 1000$?
2. You can travel light
The cheapest flights you’re gonna find include only 5kg (12lbs) of hand luggage. You better choose wisely what you want to bring with you.
3. You like winter
To get the lowest price, you need to travel off-season, so roughly between mid-september to the end of April. That means winter, cold, snow, icy roads, but also awesome winter landscapes and possibly some northern lights.
You better have warm clothes and be good to drive in winter conditions.
4. You love hiking
Hiking will be your main occupation during your trip. It’s free, and it’s also one of the best activities you can do during a trip in Iceland.
(Prices are accurate based on exchange rates as of April 2015)
How’s that even possible?!
A new low-cost airline, WOW air, links Iceland with major European cities, Boston and Washington for ridiculously low prices.
Airline tickets can actually go as low as 99$ per trip from London or Boston!
I personally paid 249$ for my round trip from Boston. These cheap seats are mostly available in April and September. The only drawback is that it includes only 5kg (12lbs) of luggage.
Look for hostels that are members of the HI hostels network. During off-season, they offer dorm space for about 25$ a night, or rooms with two single beds for about 40$. Prices are even lower if you are a HI member.
Please note that Icelandic hostels don’t provide bed sheets, so you must bring your own.
In Reykjavik, I would recommend to rent a place on Airbnb to get a similar price, with better comfort.
Reykjavik City Card: 40$
This card gives you unlimited use of mass transit, unlimited access to all museums, and, most importantly, free access to all Reykjavik thermal pools for 3 days. It is one of the best deals to visit the capital for cheap.
Getting to the airport: 100$
I assume you don’t necessarily live close to an airport where WOW air operates so you’ll need a bus or a train to get to the closest airport. Buying your tickets in advance assure you the best price. I paid around 80$ for my two Greyhound bus tickets between Montreal and Boston and I calculated some extra for food.
Car Rental: 150$ (and 150$ of fuel)
This price is calculated for a 5 days off-season rental of a 3-doors manual compact car from SADcars, the cheapest company I found to rent a car in Iceland.
Why is it so cheap?
Car rental usually rent you new cars, but this company rents cars that can be around five years old. Don’t expect to have the last trendy car, but their cars work, they are clean and they’ll take you where you want to go, which is all you really want.
Food: 100 $
If you want to visit Iceland for cheap, you must avoid restaurants at all cost. A regular hamburger meal costs about 20$!
Get your food from groceries such as Bonus, Kronan or Netto (Look for them on this map) where you’ll get food for similar prices than American or Canadian groceries.
Travel Insurance: 50$
Because, well, we all need that.
If you’re traveling alone, that all sums up to 1100$.
Okay, this is a bit of a cheat on what the title of this article pretends. Sorry not sorry…
If you travel with someone else, you can split the cost of car rental and gas, and save a bit on hostels and food. You and your friend would then pay around 900$, which leaves you 100$ to spend on some nice activities, given that you adopt a 1000$ budget.
What to do for free in Iceland
- Hit the ring road from Keflavik towards the west and tour the Golden Circle (Pingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss).
- Visit Skogar and Vik, two villages in the south offering amazing landscapes.
- Make sure to visit all the foss (waterfalls) along the way. You’ll see, there’s a lot in Iceland!
- Hike along your way. Mount Esja and Glymur are two awesome places close to Reykjavik.
- Tour around the Snæfelness peninsula and explore the hiking trails at the bottom of the famous Snæfellsjökull glacier.
You have money left?
Cheap activities to do in Iceland
If you want to spend some extra money on cheap activities, you should consider the following four suggestions. Each one will offer you an authentic Icelandic experience.
- Visit the Skogar Folk Museum (about 15$). If you have only one museum to visit, it should be this one. It presents the history of life in Iceland and a reproduction of an old Icelandic village.
- Explore a lava cave (about 25$). There are plenty of tours you can join to explore lava caves around Reykjavik. I went with Vatnshellir Cave Tour.
- Relax at the Blue Lagoon (about 35$ for basic admission). The most touristic place in Iceland worth a visit even if it’s a bit expensive.
- One hour of horse riding (about 80$). This is another genuinely icelandic experience. Icelandic horses are small, gentle, steady, and will walk you through awesome landscapes. I personally chose to go to go with Laxness horse farm, open all year-long and offering to pick you up in Reykjavik.
If you have more time to travel in Iceland, you can take a look at this 14 Days Itinerary in Iceland.
So, what’s your excuse to not travel to Iceland?
This post has been written by Stephen Coderre, a friend of mine who constantly sent me pictures of Iceland in winter for the last few weeks. Stephen is a literature student, a walker (not as in Walking Dead, you know), and one of those genuinely authentic human beings. Last summer, he drove a group of teenagers across the USA without having a nervous breakdown and he walked 1000km from Montreal to Gaspé, all by himself.