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THE COST OF INCREDIBLE (EXPENSIVE!) ICELAND: FOOD EDITION

Mary Kujawski
cost of iceland

“Isn’t Iceland really expensive?”

I’ve heard this question a lot.

I heard it when I told people I was going to Iceland and I hear it when I tell people I went to Iceland.

Yes, whether or not Iceland is expensive is indeed the Million Dollar Question!

If you too are wondering if Iceland is as spendy as you’ve heard, wonder no more, for I am here to tell you!

And I am not one to beat around the bush!

The answer is easy, and I’m afraid it requires all caps:

HECK YES.

Iceland is EXPENSIVE.

It’s true. Iceland is one of the most expensive places to travel to in the world. It is a well-documented fact!

But you might be looking for specifics.

You might be thinking, “Okay. You say Iceland is expensive…but what exactly are we talkin’, here?”

Well, let’s talk food.

I visited Iceland in May 2018. We budgeted a rough $100/day for food for two people.

The truth?

This was a tough goal to achieve, despite allowing ourselves just one restaurant-style, sit-down-meal meal per day.

But it can be done…ish. You just have to decide where you are willing to cut back (no dessert?) and where you wish to splurge (all the beer?).

It’s all about choices.

Our $100/day food “plan” consisted of the following:

We stayed in comfort-style accommodations that included breakfast. Our strategy included eating our faces off at the breakfast buffet every. single. morning.

You think I exaggerate.

Oh no.

We went for seconds and thirds. Fourths, even?

(Who am I kidding? I’m positive fourths happened.)

Yes, we probably bankrupted our poor hotels with our robust appetites. But this helped offset our food costs tremendously! And we stayed full well past lunchtime most days!

cost of iceland
Trip to the breakfast buffet, Take 1!
All of the hotel breakfast buffets we encountered had a nice mix of meats, cheese, eggs, fruit, skyr, and breads/pastries. This was at Fosshotel Baron in Reykjavík.

Plan ahead!

We packed snacks with us to get us through our busy days exploring. A stop at a local grocery store (word on the street is that Bónus is the most budget-friendly) is worth it when you first arrive to Iceland to stock up. Protein bars, trail mix, and beef jerky were a few items that got us by.

And truth be told, we were so busy most days, we wouldn’t have wanted to take the time to stop for lunch even if money were no object. Snacking through the day saved us some Icelandic Krona and we got to stay the course and continue slaying our ambitious itinerary.

Beware the alcohol. This is where a lot of your money can end up circling the drain. Our travel agent gave us a great tip: buy your alcohol at the duty-free shop upon arrival in Iceland. But, if you want to go to the bars and pubs in Reykjavík or order adult beverages while dining out, prepare to pony up.

For example, we went to Sæmundur í Sparifötunum at KEX hostel in Reykjavík for drinks and spent almost $15(!) per craft beer.

Ouch.

I am sorry to be the bearer of bad (beer) news, friends!

But, knowing is half the battle. Yes?

I hope?

General Rule of Thumb:

We found that food in Iceland cost 2-3+ times as much as the equivalent in the United States. It helps immensely to prepare for this fact going in, but it will still take your breath away.

Trust.

That said, it’s important you know this: the food in Iceland is beyond delicious!

Every single thing we had in Iceland was so fresh. In America we have become accustomed to fast food, preservatives, added sugar, and a host of other unhealthy additives in our food.

In Iceland, the concept of farm-to-table and using local ingredients is just a way of life. It’s not the new trendy restaurant offering that it is in the United States.

It’s just how Icelanders roll, and it’s so refreshing.

So yes, you will be paying more for your food than you would back home. But the quality? The quality is outstanding. In nearly all cases, we found every single extra ISK to be worth it.

And now! For some specifics!

(Note: at the time of our travels in May 2018, the approximate conversion rate was $1 USD = 100 ISK.  Costs below have been liberally rounded and are reflected in dollars.)

SNACKS IN ICELAND

Dried fish

This one is gonna cost ya, I’m afraid. Hardfiskur (dried fish) is a very popular snack in Iceland and as such we knew we had to try it, price tag notwithstanding.

I wish I could say we loved it so as to soothe our sticker shock woes.

Wish being the key word.

We purchased this at a gas station and looked forward to enjoying it on the road.

First, we opened the bag, which quickly permeated the air with a pungent “fish smell” inside our small car.

Delightful.

Then, we took one bite only to discover?

We could not stand it.

(Is our lack of Nordic roots showing?)

I regret to inform you we then disposed of said dried fish as quickly as humanly possible.

RIP, Bita Fiskur.

RIP, $13 US dollars.

cost of iceland

Skyr Smoothie @ The Blue Lagoon (around $10/each)

This was one high-end smoothie, I’ll give you that!

The Rolls Royce of blended cultured dairy drinks!

But we did purchase it at highly popular tourist attraction Blue Lagoon, so I’m not sure what I was expecting, exactly?

A bargain?

Oh Mary. Such a novice you are.

Pro Tip: Save yourself from the guaranteed price gouging you are sure to encounter at tourist hotspots. Eat ahead of time and/or purchase your food/snacks elsewhere.

The good news in this otherwise cautionary tale?

We got our first taste of Skyr (Icelandic yogurt) here, and loved it.

cost of iceland
Yeah. We aren’t too happy about the cost of the smoothies.
The fact was that it was downright delicious was a salve to our receipt woes.

Cinnamon Rolls @ Brauð & Co. (around $5/each)

We were pleasantly surprised at the prices here! Not only is this a well-known, highly recommended spot right in the heart of Reykjavík, but you can taste a number of its treats without murdering your wallet! Cinnamon buns from a whimsical local bakery for the win!

cost of iceland
A menu whose prices won’t make you faint or sell a kidney! Eureka!
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The colorful storefront of Brauð & Co.

Ice Cream @ Efstidalur Farm (around $5/cup)

This was another reasonably-priced treat at a fantastic stop along the Golden Circle  route. And with ice cream being popular with Icelanders, you can say you’ve tried a favorite among locals without breaking bank!

Come to think of it, if you’re on a strict budget, why not just eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?

You have my explicit permission.

It just makes monetary sense!

cost of iceland
Which flavor would you choose?

Pylsurs/Hot Dogs (about $4-5 dollars each)

If you’re looking for fast, cheap, and tasty, you’ve come to the right hot dog stand!

One can find hot dogs being sold all over: we enjoyed them everywhere, from the famous Baejarins Beztu Pylsur stand in downtown Reykjavík to the parking lots at Reynisfjara beach and Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, two highlights in South Iceland. They make a great snack or lunch option so you can save your moolah for a restaurant splurge later in the day.

In fact, let’s give it up to hot dogs everywhere for single-handedly making affordable travel in Iceland possible.

Dear Pylsurs: you are a national treasure and we are forever indebted.

cost of iceland
This fella is holding less than $10 worth of deliciousness. A steal by Iceland standards!
cost of iceland
Another pylsur cart stands ready to save the day and our hungry stomachs! Phew!

RESTAURANTS IN ICELAND

There’s no question here…once you start sitting down for a meal in Iceland, you’re going to start seeing dollar signs.

Or ISK signs, as it were?!

Below you’ll see some of the meals we enjoyed and their accompanying costs.

Friðheimar/Reykholt

We knew we wanted to go to the “tomato restaurant” if it was the last thing we did!

Dining in a greenhouse?

Yes, please!

Not only was this about the food, it was about the experience!

We enjoyed an endless tomato soup and bread buffet here for lunch and burned through almost 80 Benjamins in the process!

As such, we dined on the freshest of Icelandic air for dinner to make up for it.

You know.

Just off-setting costs and what have you.

Gotta get thrifty and creative!

Ordered:

Bloody Mary ($17)

Tomato Juice Drink ($10)

2 Tomato Soup Buffets ($46)

Total: $77

cost of iceland
Soup and bread for over $20 per person. That’S a tough tomato to swallow!

The Barn Restaurant @ Hotel Fljótshlíd /Hvolsvöllur

Remember what I said about the quality of food in Iceland?

Well, I went my whole life thinking I don’t like lamb.

And then I went to Iceland and tried Icelandic lamb.

Turns out?

I freaking love lamb.

In other words?

The food will knock your socks off and have you questioning everything you think you know about yourself.

Mouth-watering food served with a side of existential crisis!

Ordered:

2 course menu (including lamb, potatoes, and grilled vegetables)

Hamburger with fries

2 Einstök beers

1 Rum and Coke

Total: $120

cost of iceland
cost of iceland

Ölverk Pizza & Brewery/ Hveragerði

We paid handsomely for their craft beers, but everything else was priced according to what we had come to expect in Iceland:

Double the cost.

Double the fun?

But sincere question: can you really put a price tag on beer and pizza?!

I mean, beer and pizza = priceless.

This was one of our favorite meals. Comforting carbs after a hike and soak at Reykjadalur Valley never tasted so good!

Nom nom!

Ordered:

Pretzel/Beer Cheese Dip Appetizer ($13)

Margherita Pizza ($19)

Specialty Pizza w/ added ingredients ($26)

5 beers (@ $12/each)

Coke ($4/each)Total: $95

cost of iceland
The face of contentment. Me love pizza. And bjór!
cost of iceland
Hot pretzel. Hot cheese. Hot damn!

Narfeyrarstofa, Stykkishólmur

We went pretty simple here and ordered a couple of their specialty burgers. As you can see, their entrée specials will cost you $40+.

It’s rather difficult to leave a restaurant in Iceland without spending at least $50/person.

Somehow, someway, we managed on this day.

Maybe we were starting to get rather good at this sticking-to-a-budget exercise!

Success!

(Pats self on back.)

Ordered:

Two Hamburgers ($40)

Two Ciders ($20+)Total: $68

cost of iceland

Fosshotel Reykholt, Reykholt

The prices for this particular meal, in my mind, most closely reflect what we encountered on a regular basis.

Note that cocktails and/or wine can be upwards of $15+/each.

The price of that Prosecco was steep, y’all.

And while we didn’t take pictures of all our meals, I really wish we had.

The presentation of the food in Iceland was always on point.

Just look at those works of art!

Gorgeous!

Ordered:

Cheese Appetizer ($19)

Parsnip Entrée ($29)

Chicken Entrée ($37)

Glass of Prosecco ($18)

Alcoholic Beverage ($14)

Total: $117

cost of iceland

A WORD ABOUT BEVERAGES

Water

Please, do not buy bottled water in Iceland! I repeat: do not buy bottled water!

Iceland has some of the cleanest water in the world and you can save a bundle on your H2O needs while being kind to the environment: pack a reusable water bottle and fill it up on the fly with Icelandic tap water.

In theory you won’t need to spend a single red cent on hydration if you stick strictly to water!

Soda

But c’mon. You’re on vacation. Sticking to water is just not a likely scenario.

Amirite?

If you’re in search of caffeine, a 20 oz. Coke is going to run you around $3-4 dollars in Iceland. Not terrible. Especially if caffeine is your drug of choice!

(Speaking of Coke, check out this commercial that the company came out with last summer when Iceland represented in the World Cup. Chills.)

Alcohol

Now, if you’re in search of a good time and a buzz, the bottom line is this: alcohol is where your pocketbook will indeed start to hemorrhage.

I’m sorry.

I’m just stating facts!

A couple tips if you’d like to partake?

Buy duty-free and take advantage of happy hours.

It will make a discernibly smaller dent in your wallet!

I HAVE A TIGHT BUDGET. IS ICELAND FOR ME?

If going to Iceland is your dream, please: don’t be scared away.

I truly believe that with some careful planning and budgeting it is a doable destination for even the tightest of purse strings. The important thing is to do your research in order to avoid sticker shock and unpleasant surprises.

Be willing to sacrifice things that aren’t as important to you and get creative and resourceful.

I joke that travel is so important to me, I don’t care if you have to throw me in the cargo hold of a plane. Just get me there. I’m happily willing to forgo a lot of comfort and the finer aspects of travel in order to make it financially doable and a part of my life.

So, when you wonder if Iceland is for you given your budget, I want to say this:

Absolutely.

Make a budget. Make a plan. And make it happen.

Iceland is for everyone.

Let Nordic Green Travel know the budget you have in mind for your Iceland travels! They can make adjustments to and suggestions for your itinerary to arrive at a price point that works for you. Peruse their various tour options and get in contact with them here.

About the author

Mary Kujawski