Iceland on a Budget
Updated: Jan 31, 2020
ICELAND! Can I do it on a budget I hear you cry? The answer is of course, yes! In my opinion, you can do most countries on a (sometimes vague) budget. Sure, budgeting in Iceland is a hell of a lot harder than it would be in Asia. But that should be expected! Travel is never free, but you're paying for amazing experiences you will never forget. Sometimes you just have to put aside a little more than before. Simples!
James and I are pretty much full time 'budget' travellers. Half the time, we don't even really intend on it. I guess all those el skinto times in Aus made us a little bit stingy. Stingy in a good way. We are fairly sensible with our dollah, so that makes being 'budget' pretty easy for us. In this blog post I am going to cover everything I can about how we did the Iceland Ring Road for £1000 TOTAL! That's 10 days of insane travel for £1000, everything included, I haven't missed a thing for your benefit. So sit back and grab a cuppa, let's dive into this one!
!WARNING! Things to note before delving any further. Please be prepared to do the following by using my guide:
1. Nature pee's don't get much more scenic than in Iceland, so embrace the squat and enjoy the view!
2. Being stinky ain't all bad. Sometimes showering every day isn't an option, but that just means when you do shower it'll feel like a proper treat yourself moment!
3. Pasta, rice, noodles, rice, pasta, noodles, you know what I'm getting at. The stable and nutritious diet of a backpacker is now yours too! Your bank balance will thank you later.
1. Money saving tips:
Shop in Bonus and avoid petrol stations and 10/11 when buying essentials - they're a total rip off. Bonus is a discount grocery store and offers reasonable prices for most items that are essential on your road trip. Things like instant noodles are around 30 ISK (under 40p), and pasta and rice are also relatively cheap. It is possible to pick up everything to need to make simple and easy meals for similar prices to the UK, you just gotta...
Avoid that booze! I love myself a glass of wine, but I completely avoided alcohol during our trip to Iceland. Why? It's bloody expensive! Lots of bars offer happy hour which can reduce your costs a bit, but if you really want to stay budget stick to the water. Alternatively, buy yourself a bottle in duty free.
Bring the simple things with you! Avoid spending money on things like a jar of coffee or box of tea bags that you probably won't finish during your stay and fill up a wee zip-lock with your own. Same goes for toiletries. I always fill up small plastic containers with shampoo, conditioner and body wash. Not only does this reduce your weight but it just means you're not lugging around uneccessary amounts of crap you won't use!
Avoid unnecessary tours and seek your adventure solo! We were pretty gobsmacked at how much a tour to see the notorious Aurora was. To us, it just DID NOT make sense. Seeing the Northern Lights is something anyone can do, and spending £70 odd on a tour is (in my opinion) a royal waste of money. Save your dollah on things that you can do yourself! Simples.
Cut down on eating out! James and I are pretty good at this, mostly due to the fact we aren't fussed about going out for fancy dinners and drink every night. In fact, we didn't do this once during our trip. A lot of you may think this is silly, but if you really want to stretch your budget, consider cooking your own meals and cutting down on eating out. Even fast food isn't cheap in Iceland, so be prepared to fork out for an average takeaway meal.
Rent a campervan or tent it in summer. Hostels are expensive in Iceland, so consider renting a campervan or bringing your tent in the summer months. If anything, I found having a campervan gave us far more freedom. We didn't need to unpack and pack up everyday, none of those pesky check in and out times, and we could drive to within a few kilometers of our next day activities to camp.
Free camp when and where you can. This one is more aimed at the winter travellers. I don't want to actively encourage you to park up wherever, ALWAYS be respectful and safe. We spend most of our nights parked in picnic areas or more remote layby's and car parks. We made sure to avoid anywhere which clearly said 'no camping' and parked up while it was dark, and left before it was light. Like I said, I am not actively encouraging camping in places you quite clearly shouldn't. Be mindful!
2. When should I travel?
We chose to travel Iceland in early November which, for us, worked really well. You're just hitting the tail end of the busy season, meaning many of the attractions/restaurants are still open, but all the prices have dipped to 'off-season'. Furthermore, it is a hell of a lot quieter so you're more likely to get to enjoy some pretty epic spots with smaller crowds, if any. The only disadvantage? Your days are considerably shorter, and it's colder. It is easy to pack your days regardless, and we never found these factors a problem during our trip.
3. How much money will I spent?
Please note these prices are from our experience as travelling as a couple.
So, here's a rough break down on what James and I spend during a 10 day road-trip around Iceland.
Flights: £80 including one hold bag 26kg with EasyJet (look out for cheap flights on Skyscanner)
Campervan Hire: £525 total
Daily spending: £101.80 (£50.90 per person) Not including the van hire £20 per day per person (roughly)
TOTAL SPENDING: £1018
4. Our Itinerary:
Now on the the order of events! Below I have included our fantastique intinerary for you to follow which was crafted by none other than my wonderous boyfriend, James. I am truly rubbish at working out how much we can do in one day, but James is extremely good at it. So he tends to take the reins when it comes to planning our trips. We managed to complete the whole ring-road on day 8 of our trip, leaving us two full days fo relaxing and exploring Reykjavik. It is all down to how far you like to go each day, but this timescale is very possible as long as you're willing to have a few long drives here and there. However, with two days spare, we could have taken longer if needed. So there you have it!
If you want to learn more about what we did day-to-day James has a detailed guide on his brand spanking new website, alongside many more helpful guides, tips and stories from all over the world, check it out here!
Reykjavik → (128km) Seljalandsfoss → (20km) Selvajavallaug Pool → (8km) Skogafoss → (11km) DC3 Plane → (17km) Dyrhólaey → (20km) Reynisfjara Beach → (11km) Vik → (105km) Lomagnupur → (30km) Svartifoss → (58km) Jokusarlon Glacier Lagoon → (Across the road!) Diamond Beach → (80km) Hofn → (16km) Stokksnes → (205km) Seydisfjordour → (187km) Dettifoss → (63km) Hverir Geothermal Fields → (12km) Hverjfall → (52km) Godafoss → (260km) Hvitserkur → (37km) Kolugljufur → (199km) Kirkjufell → (50km) Arnarstapi → (20km) Budir → (172km) Reykjavik → (43km) Reykjadalur
5. Our top ten spots enroute:
Choosing a top 10 in Iceland is an impossible task. Nothing we did on this trip let us down, in fact, almost everything is better than we expected. When people ask me what my favourite thing was I really, REALLY struggle. How can I possibly rate all of the beautiful natural wonders from best to worst? Well, I have tried my hardest to pick my absolute top 10 from our Iceland trip. It would porbably change tomorrow if you asked me again, but here it is for now!
This wee gem HAD to be on my top 10! You can't go to Iceland without doing some kind of hot pool experience. On a budget however, there are fewer options. The famous Blue Lagoon is beautiful, but varies from £50+ per person for entry. We also passed a slightly cheaper option in the North, called Myvatn. We were seriously tempted by this bad boy, sitting at about half the price per person (£25 ish). However, we still decided against it setting our sights on a completely free option - Reykjadalur. It lies just outside Reykjavik, around 43km away to be precise. There is a spacious car park, toilets and a small coffee shop at the bottom. From there it is, admittedly a steep walk to the thermal pools. I would not class myself as fit, but I am definitely not unfit and I did find it quite hard work. The path itself is very well kept, gravel and even all the way up with a few small rocky patches. The only thing that makes it hard work is the fact it is very steep for around 3km up. Regardless, it is totally worth it. By the river there are new wooden walkways alongside the river with small seats and 'changing areas' (wooden posts...if you're shy I suggest wearing your swimwear underneath your clothes!). The further up the river you go the warmer it is. I have to admit, it felt a bit weird getting into my swimmers in the freezing cold to be greeted by, what looked like, a very average river. BUT IT IS WORTH IT. The water is so warm and relaxing, plus you are surrounded by hills and beautiful scenery. Winner. Please stick to the path on your way up here, as there are several dangerously hot thermal pools off the path before the river itself. They can be over 100 degrees so yeah, probably best to avoid them! Make sure you take any rubbish home with you and keep this lovely place clean and beautiful for everyone.
A Iceland classique! If you're planning on visiting the land of fire and ice you will almost definitely have heard of or see this lovely spot. Situated on the South coast is the quaint town of Grundarfjörður and towering over is the impressive Kirkjufell (translated as Church Mountain). The beautiful mountain may be recognisable, as are many locations in Iceland, for Game of Thrones fans. This one is known in the series as Arrow Mountain. From every angle Kirkjufell appears to change form. Driving into the village, the mountain appear wide, tall and completely different from many of the most famous images. As you drive round, the mountain slowly narrows down into the pyramid shape it is best known for. Just outside of Grundarfjörður you will find a small parking area which is a short pathed walk to Kirkjufellfoss (pictured above), the perfectly located waterfall making this location even more magical! When we visited we got some seriously moody weather which looked awesome, giving the moutain a pretty menacing look.
Another one for the Game of Thrones fans, Reynisfjara beach is an absolutely MUST on your trip to Iceland. The black sand beaches of Iceland are truly breathtaking, and this bad boy is definitely one of the best. With a vast array of basalt-columns and caves, deep black sand, and amazing needles rising from the waves...really what more can you ask for? This was one of the busiest spots we visited on our whole trip, but we were pleasantly surprised to find most of the crowds seemed to stick by the caves at the very edge of the beach. Walk a few metres down towards these amazing rock formations and you'll find yourself almost alone.
DC3 Plane Wreck
One of the more bizarre places to visit while in Iceland, nonetheless DO NOT miss this spot! In 1973 a US Navy plane was forced to crash land on this remote Icelandic beach after a fuel problem. Thankfully, everyone onboard survived and after a rather long walk they made it back to safety. Now it is a tourist spectacle on the South Coast of the Island. There is a huge parking area and from there it is a 4km walk to the plane on a flat but sandy surface. The carpark is not very well signposted, so if you're travelling at night make sure you dont miss it! The path to the plane is very obvious so you don't need to worry about getting lost in the vast black sand. I recommend getting up bright and early to hit this spot to avoid the floods of tourists, especially if you're travelling in peak season. Other than that, prepare to spend a good few hours here snapping away and enjoying the weirdly wonderful sight.
Need I say anymore? Skogafoss is perhaps the most famous waterfall in Iceland, and it is quite easy to understand why. This towering waterfall sits very close to the main road so is hard to miss. There is a large parking area and a restaurant and cafe to fuel up afterwards. If you want to beat the crowds, you'd be best to head there early, but this spot is always going to be pretty packed given it's fame and location. There are several great viewpoints including a staircase that will take you up to the top to look over the falls.
Diamond Beach is one of those spots that doesn't quite look real. The contrast between the deep black sand and white and blue icebergs is quite astonishing. We wandered around this spot for quite some time in awe as the icebergs and beach both stretch on for miles. A wonderful spot to explore at sunrise/sunset, or really at any time of day. There is a large car parking area right next to the beach itself, and conveniently across the road from Jokusarlon Glacier Lagoon. Walk further along the beach to get away from the crowds and enjoy the bobbing icebergs.
This was a bit of a pain in the arse to get to (only because the paths were sheet ice and I didn't have spikes, warning for those travelling in Winter) but it was definitely worth falling on my arse multiple times. Although the actual waterfall is fairly small, the basalt columns surrounding it give the whole area a new dimension. When we arrived the sun was hitting the falls giving it a wonderful warm glow. They're are two main viewing platforms but it's possible to get a photo with no fencing if you head down the river a little and set up on some of the larger rocks.
One of my personal favourite waterfalls, Godafoss is like a miniature Niagra falls and seems to be far more underrated than some of its siblings. We popped passed Godafoss in the evening which seemed to be the best time to go as it was pretty quiet. The light was perfect and the whole place looked magical. There are two main viewing platforms, one on either side. This gives you a great opportunity to photograph the falls from two very different angles, bonus! Both viewpoints are well paved and easy to access. You won't miss this stop as it's right by the main road. There is a large carpark on both sides, plus a small cafe to warm you up after your mission.
Jokusarlon Glacier Lagoon
Almost directly across the road from Diamond Beach (heading North) you will find this absolutely gem. There is one main viewing point, but before the turn off you can find several unmarked area's to park where you can get a more exclusive view of the lagoon. From the main carpark you can wander and admire the lagoon from several angles, as well as enjoying a boat trip out onto the lagoon itself to truly appreciate the size and scale of some of these icebergs. Watch as new icebergs are pushed into the lagoon, and old make their way back out with the change of tide. One of the most magical things about this spot is it can look completely different every day, as the icebergs move around the lagoon freely. There is a large carpark and small cafe onsite.
Seeing the Aurora
Technically it isn't a specific spot...but I HAD to put this in my top ten. Seeing the aurora is something I have always dreamed of, and seeing it on our Iceland trip was truly magnificent. I have never seen anything quite like it and it knocked me for ten. Watching the sky dance is the most magical experience, and boy did we get a good show. Spotting the aurora in Winter is fairly easy in this part of the world o make sure to be vigilant and keep your eyes on the sky. I would also recommend downloading an Aurora watch app which will update you if the KP levels and conditions are looking good. We were so lucky to see this astonishing display, luckier still as we were just away to go to bed in preparation for an early start.
SO there you have it! My guide to doing the notoriously expensive Iceland, on a decent wee budget. Let me know what you think and what YOUR favourite spots are on this amazing island of fire and ice. Stay tuned for more guides, coming soon!