So I don’t know if you’ve heard or not, but Iceland is super expensive! It’s actually the 4th most expensive country in the world. Here’s some graphics from an article by the Huffington Post that show comparisons of the cost of living in different countries in the world.
Now, I’m not trying to deter you from going to Iceland. On the contrary, after our trip there we figured out some cool free things to do and some general tips for saving money and seeing Iceland on a budget.
Here’s some of my favorite free things to do in Iceland:
1. Sun Voyager
The sun voyager is a sculpture in the downtown harbor area that represents. It’s absolutely gorgeous and you can walk right up to it. It makes a pretty gorgeous setting for a sunrise picture too!
2. Hallgrímskirkja Church
You might recognize this church from postcards or pictures from Iceland, and believe me, it’s as grand as it looks in pictures. You can marvel at the church and see the inside for free. There is an option to go up to the top in an elevator for a view of the city for $10 a person. If you decide to do this, make sure it’s a clear day or you won’t really see much. I’d recommend going to see the church around sunset because the sun sets right behind it and makes for a beautiful setting and great photo.
3. Free Walking Tour
City Walk does this awesome free walking tour of the city. The tour lasts around 2 hours and covers 2km (1.2 miles) of distance. You walk around the heart of Reykjavik, learn about Iceland’s culture and history, hear about elves, vikings and food. The tour guides are also hilarious! It’s a very laid back, informal tour with lots of time for questions and silly stories from the guide. While the walking tour is labeled as “free,” you donate at the end whatever you think the tour was worth. It’s such an amazing time and well worth a few bucks donation. The tour does require reservations, which you can make online at their website.
Don’t worry if you’re visiting in winter. They modify the tour to have indoor stops to warm up during the tour. Our guide told us that when kids are in kindergarten, they tell them to rock back and forth onto their tip toes and it will warm them up. I tried it, and I was still cold. But I’m from Arizona..
3. Volcano Museum
The Volcano House is a really awesome exhibition that showcases the history of volcano activity in Iceland. There are a lot of cool displays where you can touch the lava rock and sand, see if certain types of materials float and read about the history and effects of the volcanoes. We actually stumbled upon this place by accident because it’s connected to a yummy fish restaurant we ate at. They also offer a volcano show every hour. If I remember correctly, the ticket for the show viewing was around $16, but the exhibition itself was free to walk through.
4. Sunday Flea Market
This was recommended to us by our guide during our free walking tour and I’m so glad it was! I hadn’t heard about this during my research, so I’m really happy we were able to find out about it and check it out. The Kolaportid Flea Market is a large indoor flea market with vintage items, clothes, coats, books and a whole food section where you can try Icelandic chocolate, pastries, shark and dried fish! The goods are still Icelandic prices, but they had a great food section with a lot of samples.
They had this divine Icelandic Christmas cake, which was a gingerbread layer cake with some sort of cream in the middle and it was so good! I almost got one, but it was about the size of a loaf of bread and I knew there wouldn’t be space in my luggage for it to make the journey home without getting squished. Dried fish is a big snack food among the Icelandic people, so you should give it a try! One of our guides said that the whiter the fish, the least fishy it will be, so try the white fish first. I’m not gonna lie, I was not a fan, but isn’t experiencing and getting a taste of the culture the whole point of traveling to new places?
5. Window Shopping
There is no shortage of adorable shops in Reykjavik. You will find a lot of places with hand made goods by local artists and craftsmen, quirky and silly souvenir shops and fun book stores. It’s so much fun looking at everything, that you won’t even feel sad if you don’t buy anything!
If you are in the market for something to take home, here’s a couple of places I would recommend:
- Icewear Store with an Outlet store on the bottom floor. This place is great! They even have a free espresso machine and little couch area for shopping customers. This place was on our route a for a lot of what we did in the city, so we would always stop in for a free coffee while we “shopped around”. 😉
- Penninn Eymundsson is a darling little book store and shop. They also have a coffee and pastry counter and a large community table to sit at and eat, read or do work on your computer. Connor even made a friend there. 🙂
- If you want to get away from the touristy stores, try out a second hand store! We found this place walking distance from the city (even in a snow storm) and it was such a great find! I got a hand made Icelandic wool sweater for $70 (normally around $300), a down coat for $2 and a couple of scarves for $4. It was also a bonus that most of the money we spent went to charity.
6. Petting the Icelandic Horses
You might have seen pictures of Icelandic horses, and they are even more beautiful in person. They are semi-wild, so they run free and are wild in the summer, then in the winter they rely on farmers for their food. They are a different breed than the horses you have probably seen before. They are stockier in their build and sort of look like ponies. They also have 2 special gaits that other horses do not do. One is called a tolt, which is similar to a gallop but smoother, and the other is the flying pace. We weren’t lucky enough to see them, but they say the flying pace is fast and smooth, you don’t even see the horse moving up and down! Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to see it.
The horses are accustomed to being around humans. If you are on any of the main roads in Iceland, it’s not hard to spot a few of them off the side of the road behind a fence. Stop and say hi! Even if you are on a tour, ask your tour guide and they will likely make a horse-petting pit-stop for you. Do be aware that they are still wild animals, and that they might bite you, especially if you have cookies on your hand. I might be talking from personal experience..
Other tips for saving money in Iceland:
- Buy food at the grocery store vs. eating out. The budget grocery store we used is called Bonus and there are several locations in Iceland. We rented an Airbnb and made a lot of our own meals to save money. If you’re doing day tours or renting a car and going out for the day, making sandwiches and to-go lunches is a much better option than eating out. Along the road of the popular sites, there are limited restaurants and the prices are quite high. I think we paid $15 for a cup of soup! Definitely the most expensive soup I’ve ever had.
- On that note, bring food from home! If you have extra room in your luggage (or can make some room), bringing some of your own food will save a lot of money. Some ideas of easy packable food include beef jerky, tuna packets, protein bars or trail mix.
- If you plan on purchasing alcohol while you’re in Iceland, buy it at the duty free store in the airport. In Iceland the alcohol is taxed 50% or more! You’ll save a lot of money if you buy it at the duty free store vs. a store in the city.
- If you are wanting to experience the geothermal pools, the blue lagoon is obviously going to be at the top of everyone’s list. I didn’t realize just HOW expensive it was. If you decide that the lagoon is out of your budget, don’t worry, because there is another option. There are thermal pools that you can still get the same great effects without breaking the bank-these are used a lot by the locals! A basic ticket to the blue lagoon is around $100. Some of the local baths cost $10 or less for entry. If you’re on a budget, check out this option!
Iceland is a beautiful place. I hope you have an amazing time. Happy travels!