How to Eat Cheap in Iceland | Less than $8 a Day
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Iceland is expensive. It is the 4th most expensive country in the world based on consumer price indexes. High food costs are a large part of it. There are certainly ways to keep your costs down if you strategize. During our 11-day trip around Iceland, we spent less than $8 a day per person on food. You go to Iceland for the beautiful landscapes and thrilling experiences, save your money for accommodations and activities rather than food. Here are practical tips for eating cheap in Iceland.
How much we spent:
Groceries from Bonus/Kronan: $125
Eating out at Friðheimar: $41
Ice Cream: $9
Food Total: $175 for two people, $87.50 per person
All of our meals but one came from the grocery store. Iceland has a few popular grocery store chains. The more budget-friendly of those are Bonus and Krónan. You can typically find one or the other in all of the larger towns throughout Iceland. We made three separate grocery store trips (Krónan in Vík, Bonus in Akureyri, and Bonus in Reykjavik). We had brought a soft-sided foldable cooler to keep groceries cool as we drove around and then put them in the fridge at each new Airbnb.
The one meal we did eat out was at Friðheimar, a restaurant inside a greenhouse near the golden circle. They serve tomato-centered dishes, including all you can eat tomato soup and bread. It was absolutely delicious and very filling. Easily the best tomato soup I've had.
We did also enjoy Ice Cream in Reykjavik at Valdís. While great, it does not compare to some of the ice cream or gelato we have had elsewhere in the world.
What we ate:
We had brought 3 boxes of granola bars we had from home for breakfasts and the occasional snack. The granola bars were not included in the amount spent above. For breakfast we also occasional had muffins, bread, or apples that we bought from Bonus or Krónan.
All of our lunches were the same. We ate PB&Js while enjoying the amazing scenery of Iceland. We ate in our car if it was pouring raining, but most of the time we were outside at one of the many picnic spots throughout the country. In addition to sandwiches, we also had apples, chips & salsa, or Doritos.
Our dinners had a (tiny) bit more variety. We either had pasta, ramen, or pizza. As a side, we typically had roasted or boiled potatoes. What we had for dinner changed based on what appliances we had available at the airbnb we stayed in that night. Just microwave = ramen. Only a hot plate = pasta. Oven = Pizza. For dessert, a chocolate swiss-roll from Bonus.
Tips for saving money:
Bring Snacks from home
We had very limited packing space, but we were able to bring 3 boxes worth of granola bars shoved into random spaces. While the same granola bar brands were available in Iceland, they are double the price. If you have more space in your luggage consider bringing additional snacks. Other easily packable snacks include ramen, coffee/tea, nuts, dried fruits, cereal, microwaveable meals, instant oatmeal, etc. You are allowed to bring up to 3 kg of food in your luggage.
Buy alcohol at duty-free if you drink
If you can't avoid drinking while in Iceland, buy your alcohol before leaving Keflavik Airport. The alcohol at duty-free will be the cheapest you find in Iceland. Having a beer with your dinner can add an extra $10+ to your bill.
Cook as much as you can and Avoid Restaurants
While groceries in Iceland might be a bit more than you pay at home, it is still so much cheaper than eating at restaurants. The only way we were able to get our food costs so low was from avoiding restaurants. We did not cook any elaborate meals – just boiling water for potatoes or pasta or popping in a frozen pizza in the oven.
While we love enjoying the local cuisine while we travel, Iceland is not known for its food. Iceland does not have the land for farming so they import almost everything. Their delicacies all include seafood or meat. As vegetarians, we saw no advantage to getting an average meal at a restaurant for 5x the price of our homemade PB&J or tomato pasta.
To give you a relative idea of restaurant prices: a standard hamburger is around $20, fish and chips around $28. That is for a moderately priced restaurant, a cheap restaurant will still cost $15+ per person. Our grocery bill for 11 days was $125 for two people.. which would have only gotten us 2-3 meals out at a restaurant.
We spent less than 30 minutes a day preparing food. And most of that time was spent either in nature or in a kitchen looking out the window at the Icelandic scenery. Not waiting for food at a restaurant gave us much more time outside – the reason why we came to Iceland.
Limit your produce, meat, and cheese
Only about 1% of Iceland's land is arable (compared to 25% in the European Union). A lot of food has to either be imported or grown in greenhouses, greatly increasing prices.
The only produce we bought was apples and potatoes. Unfortunately, if you are trying to eat cheaply in Iceland, you might not be eating the most healthy foods. Strawberries, for example, were $1 per strawberry. Yes, $1 for a single strawberry. You can get cheaper fruits and vegetables if you buy frozen as they are easier to import. We did not have access to a freezer every day, so frozen vegetables/fruit was not practical for us.
Cheese is my friend, but I, unfortunately, had to go without while in Iceland. A small single serving of cheese cost around $7.
The only livestock they have in Iceland are sheep, horses, and some cows. You will likely see meat from all three on the menu. Just because the livestock came from Iceland, does not make them less expensive. Land and raising animals is more costly in Iceland than elsewhere.
Stay at Airbnbs
To be able to cook your own food in Iceland.. you need an Airbnb or accommodations with a kitchen. When booking Airbnbs we chose ones that had at least a refrigerator and a hot plate. All of the kitchens were also stocked with basic cooking equipment (pots, pans, etc) and silverware. Most also had pantry staples like salt, pepper, vegetable oil, spices, etc available. We would often find extra food in the fridge or cabinets that the previous guest(s) had left behind (jam, sauce, eggs, milk, noodles, etc).
Airbnb rates can be cheaper than the standard price for a kitchen-less hotel room throughout Iceland.
Or book places that includes breakfast
Many hotels in Iceland include a buffet breakfast. Make the most of this and eat as much as you can in the morning and skip lunch.
The best website to look for hotels and local B&Bs in Iceland is booking.com.
Drink Tap Water
DO NOT BUY BOTTLED WATER! Iceland has the best drinking water in the world. You can get fresh glacier water straight from the tap or even from most streams. Bring a reusable water bottle and fill it up from the tap. Icelanders will laugh at you if you carry around single-use bottled water.