A Budget Traveler In Iceland: Part One

How I traveled to Iceland on a budget. #Iceland*I was not compensated for the links in this article. 

Back in October, I was sitting at my desk working, when an email from Travelzoo.com popped up, and I saw a great deal for a 4-day trip to Iceland through IcelandAir.com called, the Northern Lights Package.

It included airfare from cities where IcelandAir flies, hotel room (that included breakfast), a Northern Lights Boat (or bus) tour, a Blue Lagoon Comfort Experience Package, and transfer from the Blue Lagoon to the airport.

Iceland was not the first place on my international travel list, but it was definitely high up there, and seeing the Northern Lights is on my bucket list, so I decided to go for it. In case you weren’t aware, 2013/14 were “atmospherically” great years to see the lights.

I added a transfer via the Fly Bus from the airport to my hotel, which cost me an additional fee, but that’s really the common way to go from the airport, which is located about 45 minutes from Reykjavik. So my total for the package was $895.

I started my trip in Denver for a couple of days, but I’ll leave that out of the equation for this article. It turned out to be damn near free as I had points on Southwest to get me to Denver, and between my cousin, Michelle from The Shop My Closet Project, and my friend Luke, I only paid for one breakfast for Michelle and I. She even took care of all my bus and train fares, and gave me some awesome snacks and water.

Michelle and I in Denver

Michelle and I in Denver

I left Denver at 5pm on Friday. I was lucky enough to score an emergency exit row, so my flight was nice and uneventful.

We arrived around 6am Saturday morning to rain and wind. One thing I read ahead of time about Iceland was that the food and drinks there are incredibly expensive, and that if you want alcohol, you should stop by the duty free shop before you leave the airport. You literally can’t miss it. It’s HUGE and open very early, and you almost have to go through it on your way to baggage claim. I picked up a bottle of red wine for $13. Nothing makes you feel like more of an alcoholic than buying wine at 6am.

Getting to the Fly Bus is very easy. There just isn’t a whole lot going on at the airport, so it’s hard to miss. Although in general the people of Iceland are incredibly friendly (albeit somewhat stoic), I did find the bus drivers in general (and this pretty much seems universal throughout the world) to be a little grouchy.

According to Fly Bus, if you have a “Plus” ticket written on your voucher, you are taken straight to your hotel, but if you don’t, you transfer at the main bus depot. Get used to the bus depot, as you will be there a lot to transfer for excursions, and it times felt a little chaotic.

My ticket said “plus” right on the voucher, yet I was told I had to transfer, by the grouchy bus driver. It seemed easy enough, so I didn’t feel like pushing the issue, and I transferred to a smaller bus to take me to my hotel.

I had also read in reviews that most people were not able to check into their hotel right away. Makes sense being so early. I thought I would leave my bags and wander around Reykjavik, but looking around at that time of the morning, the city was DEAD.

My hotel was the Center Plaza Hotel. Center has a bunch of hotels in the area, so make sure you know which one you have for sure to let your bus driver know.

They told me if I wanted to, I could do an early check in for $34, which would include breakfast. Considering normally I wouldn’t be able to check in until 2pm, I thought it was TOTALLY worth it, since if I went to a cafe and got something to eat, it would cost me about half that anyway. It was a no-brainer since I was so tired!

My room was very simple with a single bed (awe sad). :) But it was very clean and spacious. I went down to breakfast and was surprised to see what a big room it was, and what a huge spread they had for food.

Reykjavik, Iceland

My hotel & views of Reykjavik

After breakfast I decided to just keep going with my day. I asked the front desk about city walking tours or excursions, and they told me about one called the Reykjavik Grand Excursion, which was a three-hour guided tour on a bus for around $48.

Travel Tip: The hotel front desk is your best way to organize your excursions. Between the airlines, the busses, and the tourist attractions, they are a well-oiled machine, where they all communicate with each other. It’s not like New York where there is a million things to do…this is a very small country in regards to tourism. 

Aside from wanting to doze off a lot in the bus, and freezing my ever-loving ass off outside (it was in the 30’s but the wind was blowing around 50mph, common in Iceland), the tour was cool, and gave me a great sense of where everything was in the city, and also a great history lesson about the country.

We visited Hallgrímskirkja Church, The Pearl, The HarborHöfði (the place where the Cold War ended), and my personal favorite, Harpa. Harpa looks like a place that Frank Gehry could have designed. The inside was just too cool.

Harpa. Reykjavik, Iceland

Inside Harpa

The rest of the day I spent walking around the downtown area and hunting for a scarf, which I could have kicked myself for not packing. I ended up having to spend around $30 (ugh) for a SECOND-HAND scarf at a thrift store!

That night I had some wine in my room, and bought myself a simple ham and cheese sandwich and some chocolate at the grocery store next to the hotel. Aprox: $8.50.

Wine...for one...sniff

Wine…for one…sniff

Travel Tip: I mentioned this before, but the cost of food and drink is no joke in Iceland. I brought packets of tuna, peanut butter, and granola bars with me so I didn’t have to have every meal out. The upside to Iceland is the tap water is some of the cleanest in the world, so bring an empty water bottle with you, and just keep filling up before you head out each day. 

Food in Iceland

Some of the food I ate in Iceland

Read Part Two Here!

To see all the pictures from the trip, click here.


Tonya is a video editor/producer and writer living in Los Angeles who enjoys beach volleyball, playing ukulele, and running. To get the latest updates, be sure to subscribe. To support her fundraising efforts to produce more video for this site, please visit her crowdfunding page!

Latest posts by Tonya (see all)

  • http://nzmuse.com eemusings (NZMuse)

    Ow, pricey scarf!

    Were you there for the Saturday flea market? I got a leather jacket for equivalent of NZ$50.

    • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Tonya

      I did go to the flea market but on Sunday. I thought it was pretty cool. That’s where I tried shark. That will be in part 2. :)

      • http://nzmuse.com eemusings (NZMuse)

        Oh god, I remember how funky the fish part of the market smelled. No way was I going to try anything from there!

  • http://www.youngadultmoney.com/ DC @ Young Adult Money

    Sounds like an awesome trip, Tonya! I will have to reference this if I ever make my way to Iceland.

    • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Tonya

      Please do! I hope it helps!

  • http://deardebt.com/ Dear Debt

    I will never forget spending $50 on two orders of fish and chips and 2 beers. I was floored. Iceland is amazing, but damn it’s expensive! You are making me nostalgic, but I know I’ll go back when the time is right. I loved Harpa and the Blue Lagoon! So stunning! Glad you got to experience it and take a break.

    • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Tonya

      I’d like to see it when it’s warmer…I’ll bet it’s an entirely different experience.

  • http://wellheeledblog.com Well Heeled Blog

    I stayed at a Center Plaza hotel as well – right across the street from Harpa. It was lovely at night to see the lights changing every few minutes. Our early check-in was 35 euros, but it was for a double room (2 breakfasts) so I suppose it made sense to be a little more expensive. I ate a lot of Skyr in lieu of buying lunch on day excursions to keep the costs down.

    • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Tonya

      You must have been at a different one because mine was more at the center of town away from Harpa (but in walking distance). I never did try the Skyr.

  • http://www.makemoneyyourway.com/ Clarisse @ Make Money Your Way

    Congrats for having a very good trip Tonya! And oh that view of the top of The Pearl in Reykjavik, it’s pretty obvious that it’s very cold in there.

    • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Tonya

      I dont’ think that picture can even convey it enough. :)

  • http://nextbiteoflife.wordpress.com/ Kemkem

    Wow! The Harpa looks very nice. Cute picture at the top, and being a Cali girl, l am sure you were freezing. Glad you enjoyed it. Boy.. I thought London was pricy!!!!

    • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Tonya

      Yeah Harpa was neat and I was too cold to even take a picture of the outside. lol! Such a weather wimp I am!

  • Giulia Lombardo


    • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Tonya


  • Travis Pizel

    Sounds like a great trip, Tonya. Did you know ahead of time how expensive the food was (by doing research), or was it a bit of a shock to you when you got there?

    • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Tonya

      I did, thankfully!

  • http://Www.Plantingourpennies.Com/ Mrs PoP @ PlantingOurPennies

    Oh my gosh you must have been so cold! Even if the scarf was expensive, I’m sure it was totally necessary =)

    • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Tonya

      It was, and I’m kicking myself for having taken mine out of my suitcase. grrrr!

  • http://girlcountingpennies.com/ Eva @ Girl Counting Pennies

    Iceland is notoriously expensive, even more expensive than Scandinavia. This is one of the reasons I keep postponing my trip to Iceland, although I do want to visit one day. My friend went during Christmas and absolutely loved it. Your photos look lovely! I can’t wait to read more about your trip, especially a review of the Blue Lagoon.

    • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Tonya

      I heard it’s really beautiful at Christmas there, although I don’t know how the wind doesn’t blow all the decorations off everything. I don’t mind cold…but the wind…brrr.

  • Charles@Gettingarichlife

    Craziness that exchange rate and the cost of everything. Big reason why we decided to honeymoon in Asia instead.

    • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Tonya

      Gosh yes, Asia is dirt cheap in comparison. But hey, it makes shopping in LA seem like nothing in comparison. I can buy organic everything! :)

  • http://luke1428.com/ Brian @ Luke1428

    Looks like you had an awesome time and for not too much money all things being considered. Being a small island nation, I can understand how the food is expensive. We experienced that when we went to Hawaii…gas and food were through the roof.

    • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Tonya

      Yes the islands have it rough that way. But what’s odd is that fish is expensive too, and that’s their main industry!

  • John S @ Frugal Rules

    Sounds like a great trip Tonya! I’d love to go there as I’ve only been to the airport. That’s crazy the food is that expensive there, but it sounds like you made out pretty good in terms of planning around it.

    • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Tonya

      Yes I got the head’s up from reading other blogs and info. Kind of sad too because I would have liked to taste more gourmet cuisine.

  • Kali @ Common Sense Millennial

    I had no idea that food and drinks were so expensive there – knowing little things like that BEFORE you go certainly makes for a better trip! Looking forward to hearing about part 2 :)

    • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Tonya

      I was warned, thankfully!

  • Heather @ Run Like a G!

    Great post! Can’t wait for part 2!!

    • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Tonya

      Thanks Heather!

  • http://brokemillennial.com/ BrokeMillennial

    I fricken love Iceland! I didn’t get to see the Northern Lights on my trip so I’ll have to make another trip out of it and bookmark this because my parents won’t be paying for that one :P I can’t wait to read part 2 and hear you (hopefully) gush about the Blue Lagoon.

    • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Tonya

      Yes the Blue Lagoon was awesome! I wish I could have hung out even longer. It was so relaxing. Geez, I don’t think anyone who has gone there has seen the northern lights!

  • http://theheavypurse.com/ Shannon Ryan

    Wow! $30 for thrift store scarf is crazy! I would not have guessed food would be so expensive there, so it’s great you did your research beforehand. It’s fantastic you had a chance to visit with Michelle and I can’t wait to hear about the Blue Lagoon – very cool!

    • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Tonya

      I know. I could seriously kick myself because I took my scarf out last minute before I left. I though I had enough warm clothes but I didn’t know the wind would be that bad. The Blue Lagoon was awesome!

  • Kim

    Do you have any idea if wages are supportive of the high prices? Is everyone poor, or are there lots of government covered things that we’d have to pay for in the US? Can’t wait to read more. I’d love to go to Iceland but only during the summer:)

    • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Tonya

      It must, but even still I read that they like to go out late to clubs so they can eat and drink at home first. :) But before the banks bottoming out there, they were one of the richest countries. And unemployment rates were like at 0%.

  • Done by Forty

    What a trip! My wife and I missed out on a chance to visit Iceland for a wedding (budget constraints) but it’s still on the list. I can’t wait to hear more. And what a price! The airfare alone could cost much more than that.

    • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Tonya

      Hope you make it there someday. Yes, I managed to keep it at a decent price! whew!

  • http://www.thefrugalweds.com/ thefrugalweds

    Looks like you had an amazing trip in Iceland :-) Isn’t traveling so awesome!?!?!
    We might have to put Iceland on the “to-travel” list! If you can travel somewhere cheaply and find good eats – sign us up! Can’t wait to hear about the rest of your trip :-) Welcome back

    • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Tonya

      It is awesome, but next time it’s a relaxing getaway. :) I like to mix it up. It’s definitely worth putting on your travel list! Although I’d recommend going when it was warmer.

  • http://shopmyclosetproject.com/ Michelle

    Had so much fun hosting you! Am completely SHOCKED by the $30 scarf. What the? More pictures please. Did you hear anything about the Icelandic Bankruptcy while you were there? Can’t wait to read Part II.

    • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Tonya

      I have all the pics on the flicker site (address on the bottom of the post), but will add more to part two anyway. Yes, they talked a lot about the banks and the corruption that happened.

  • http://reachfinancialindependence.com/ Pauline @RFIndependence

    It’s great you basically got the package for the price of a round trip ticket. I would be concerned about the jet lag to enjoy such a short trip so far away.

    • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Tonya

      It wasn’t too bad. Only a 6.5 hour flight, but yea it was a pretty quick turnaround.

  • http://thebrokeandbeautifullife.com/ Stefanie @ brokeandbeau

    $30 for a scarf? Ouch!

    • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Tonya

      Yeah, and USED!

  • Student Debt Survivor

    I had a friend in high school who studied abroad with a host family in Iceland. She always said how expensive everything was but I had no idea it was “that” expensive. Smart to bring some food so you didn’t get stuck paying an arm and a leg for meals. Look forward to reading more.

    • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Tonya

      Icelanders must think everything else is dirt cheap around the world! :)

  • Liz

    that seems like a great price for a whole trip. Your photos of Iceland are amazing. Looks like I’ll have to add Iceland to the list of places to visit! Looking forward to hearing more about your trip!

    • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Tonya

      Thanks Liz!

  • http://creditwalk.ca/ Daisy @ Credit Walk

    Wow, you got an amazing deal on that package!I have seen a few here and there (actually, one to Iceland on Groupon) that are amazing deals. If I had more vacation I would definitely take advantage of one.

    I have heard that prices in Iceland are nuts compared to here. You were smart to bring food and wine!

    • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Tonya

      yeah they really seemed to promote tourism this year. Funny because of all the people I went for the northern lights, no one actually saw them! :)

  • http://www.plungedindebt.com/ Catherine

    Sounds amazing! When I flew to Germany we used iceland air and flew via Keflavick (spelling?). The airport was beautiful! Pictures look amazing. I’d love to go back for a visit, being on the east coast of Canada you can get flights pretty reasonable.

    • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Tonya

      I still can’t spell Reykjavik..every time spell check has to correct me. The most difficult place to spell stuff. :) Hope you make it there someday!

  • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer

    Boy, they really held you over a barrel with that scarf, didn’t they! That’s terrible! Sounds like an awesome trip, though, and I didn’t know Michelle was your cousin – very cool! Can’t wait to hear about part 2. :-)

    • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Tonya

      Oh Michelle isn’t my cousin. I had to go back and make sure there indeed was a comma there. lol! I’ll have part two tomorrow.

  • Holly Johnson

    Love it! That’s so awesome! My cousins lived in Iceland for a few years and have so many awesome pics.

    • http://budgetandthebeach.com/ Tonya

      Interesting! Why did they live there? You don’t see too many people who live there who are not Icelandic.

      • Holly Johnson

        They were in the military and ended up stationed there with their 2 kids.

  • Ryan @ Impersonal Finance

    Iceland is definitely on my bucket list. It honestly sounds so amazing I want to start planning a trip today.

  • Cait Flanders

    Thanks for the link to all your pics! Reading your recap has been great so far, but I love seeing what people get up to on their trips. I haven’t taken many in the DR, mostly because everything I’ve done has been on the water… and I don’t need my iPhone to go in the ocean/rivers.

  • http://www.savvyfinanciallatina.com/ Savvy Financial Latina

    Pics are amazing!

  • Fit is the New Poor

    Iceland is at the top of our list as well! But the prices. Jesh! $30 for a scarf! I got a new, silk scarf in Paris for that cost!

  • http://abrunetteoutofdebt.blogspot.com/ Sharon Gilman

    What a great opportunity! I don’t have a vacation fund yet, but I sure can’t wait for one!

  • http://www.debtfreeguys.com/ DebtFreeGuys

    Congrats on taking advantage of this offer. We saw the same offer and gave it great consideration. We eventually passed on it. Looks like you were the smart one. Experiences like this are what life is about. Way to go!

  • http://www.uniquegifter.com/ Anne @ Unique Gifter

    Love it!!! Iceland is on my definitely-want-to-go-to list as well. Harpa looks amazing, that’s totally my kind of building :-)
    Now off to read part two :-D

  • Megan Michael

    I definitely would have paid for the early check in too- especially since it included breakfast!

  • Arman @ thebigmansworld

    So finally clicked that I subscribed to the wrong blog…..I was following someone else with a similar blog name but not you as I couldn’t find the Iceland recaps!

    So sounds like part 1 went relatively well and you didn’t go tooo overboard but DAMN. The scarf! I had to buy a scarf when I was in Europe but I sussed out a H + M….still crazy!