As I’m sure most people are aware, Iceland is one of the most expensive travel destinations, but also one of the most beautiful. And definitely the most amazing place I’ve ever visited. When I think back to this trip it feels like some kind of magical dream, I’ve just never been anywhere like it before and I think that makes it worth every penny. However we did do it on a budget, and tried to save wherever possible. As we quickly discovered, it would be far too easy to accidentally spend all of your budget on one food shop! (not even joking) I’ll put prices next to everything in this post to give a better idea of how much to budget, as this was something we’d tried to research before going. We spent 4 days in Iceland which felt pretty perfect.
Where to stay
We booked our Airbnb before we decided to rent a car, so we'd chosen somewhere were quite central to Reykjavik. I think if we did it again we’d stay somewhere a little cheaper that’s further away, as we were driving out of the city most days. The place was really beautiful and we decided to pay a little extra as the trip was for Jack’s birthday. I think getting a self catering place in Iceland is essential for saving money, the prices of eating out and in the corner shops are extortionate, so if you’re on a budget you really want to prepare as much as you can! We stayed here.
Stay in an AirBnb so you can make your own food and save LOTS of money.
£560. For 4 nights for 2 people.
What to pack
Since it was still very much winter time, a lot of our budget was spent before we left, on proper cold weather clothes. Since Jack and I aren’t very outdoorsy people we didn’t have any of these things already, so it’s worth taking that into consideration if you’re the same. I’ll do a separate post on what to pack for Iceland as this was something we weren’t sure how extreme to go with it (waterproof trousers - yes, crampons - no).
Tours or a car?
Originally we’d decided that booking tours would be best, as we were very apprehensive about driving in a foreign country, on snow etc. But honestly, renting a car was one of the best decisions we made, and actually worked out a similar price to doing the tours, but SO MUCH more fun. The roads are very well maintained (there was no ice on them, and you have winter tyres as standard if you do have to) and very easy to drive on as they are mainly just straight roads that stretch out for miles. You don’t need a 4x4 or anything. The Golden Circle is busy with tourists everywhere, so you never felt stranded. It was amazing to drive along this amazing scenery (with Alt-J, Moby and The XX as our soundtrack) pull over to take photos in a lay-by, and spend as much time as we wanted at the different spots. This also maximised our time in Iceland as we weren’t waiting for coaches, stopping for other people’s loo breaks or having to lug our stuff around everywhere! You also don’t have to pay for parking on most streets in Reykjavik and all the tourist spots are either free or very cheap. The rental company we used was Lagoon Car Rental who were absolutely lovely, and very reassuring (we were so worried about scratching the car or something but they were very laid back about it - they said in Iceland you can’t avoid scratches from the gravel and are used to it!). We drove to and from the airport, the golden circle, around Reykjavik, to Diamond Beach and back, and used about 2 tanks of petrol.
Make sure you use the prepaid amounts when you fill up. If you select ‘full tank’ then it’ll charge your card a set amount of £160 and you won’t get a refund for a few days!
Hatchback Rental with all of the insurance and protection & full tank of petrol - £280
2 tanks of petrol - around £150
When we arrived, Bonus (the cheapest supermarket chain) was closed so we stocked up on a few things for breakfast and lunch the next day in a corner shop. Jack almost had a heart attack when we left and realised we’d spent £80 on one small shopping bag of food!!! We were in Iceland for the scenery rather than the food, so after that we made sure to be a little more savvy about it. If you shop in Bonus it’s pretty much normal UK prices. Funny thing was just after the corner shop heart attack we had another one. We’d arrived (at 11pm), got into the Airbnb, then driven for 10mins to find some food. I’d left my phone in the flat and when we got out of the corner shop we realised we’d only saved the address on my phone so couldn’t use google maps to get us back as we had no idea where it was! I then had a 10 minute panic trying to log into Airbnb on Jack’s phone when I couldn’t remember the password. I had planned absolutely everything to a tee (that’s just the way I like to travel!) so it seemed hilarious that we were now in this situation! Luckily after a while I found the right password and we managed to drive away. We then got stopped by a policeman doing routine checks and Jack (driving) got breathalysed. Was a very strange half an hour, especially having only just arrived!
ONLY shop in Bonus if you don’t want to spend a million pounds on supermarket food. The opening times are 11am-6:30pm, so make sure you stock up as soon as you get there so you don’t have to shop anywhere else!
Remember to bring a lunchbox, water bottle and flask. We didn’t and had to buy some foil (and trust me, you don’t want to buy anything you don’t need in Iceland - that roll of foil cost about £8!)
Around £250. For 2 people (mainly living off homemade pasta, sandwiches and snacks)
What we did
We crammed so much into our 4 day trip so I’m going to split this into 3 posts. On the first day we did the Golden Circle tour which was a great introduction to Iceland and absolutely stunning. It made me so excited for the next few days and a lot less worried about the driving (as it was so easy). Everywhere along this trip is free or you pay very little for parking (which you can pay by card) so it’s a really great way to get a taste of what Iceland has to offer.
The 4G around where we travelled is very good, so we didn’t have to worry about being stranded without Google Maps. (Although being the worrrier/planner that I am I’d bought a map of Iceland AND a GPS sat-nav just in case. We didn’t need either.)
So we just did the circular route and stopped off at places along the way, I think it took us around 8 hours but the longest drive was about half an hour between stops. Naturally some places were more interesting to us than others so it was nice having the flexibility of the car to decide ourselves.
We got back to the flat at around 7pm, enough time to quickly have some dinner and head out for the Northern Lights Tour we’d booked. We layered up in all our warmest clothes and headed out to meet the coach. I think this is the only thing I would do differently about our trip, as it was a little underwhelming. We did the Reykjavik Excursions tour, the guide was very good but it was a shame that because we were the last stop (Hallgrímskirkja church) the bus was very busy and so Jack and I couldn’t sit next to each other. We drove for about an hour, and stopped in a car park. There were lots of other coaches around and I think we were near the airport so there was lots of light around from that which didn’t help. We couldn’t see much at all but once we set the camera to a long exposure we managed to get a few good photos. It’s quite strange as we couldn’t see anything at all with the naked eye.
It was absolutely FREEZING, I had never experienced anything like it and the wind was insanely strong and so it was tricky to keep the tripod still. There were people everywhere so we were all tripping over each other in the dark and we kept having to pop back into the coach to warm up every 5mins! I wouldn’t do this tour again, it must be so much nicer to see them in a more natural way. I’ve seen that there are rural hotels that offer to wake you up if the lights are spectacular, that must be pretty magical. But at least it was something that we ticked off the list and I was glad that we had tried!
This first day made me so excited to explore more of Iceland! My next post will be about what to pack for winter (as I was so unsure when we went!) and exploring Reykjavik.