Visiting Iceland: budgeting for one of the most expensive countries in the world, some random thoughts on my visit and a little bit of Politics


It will come as no surprise to most people that Reykjavik is not a budget destination.

I met someone in a bar who claimed to have done a 10-day trip for €95. Obviously couch surfing (you clearly wouldn’t get a hostel bed out of that budget), he bought two kilos of dried pasta with him and cooked up a portion of that every night (having said that, he didn’t look particularly healthy, so maybe plain pasta every night for dinner does not a healthy body make).

He also talked of stealing toilet paper whenever he came across it. He’d be really great to host on Couchsurfers wouldn’t he? Stands in your kitchen boiling up his little bit of pasta on a night and then steals your loo paper on the way out.


My four days (well three-and-a-half really) came in considerably more expensive than his ten, at around £150 (USD 240), excluding the guesthouse and a ‘golden circle’ day-trip that I put on my credit card.

The trick with travelling is to find a balance that suits you so that you can still enjoy yourself but are not needlessly spending money on things that don’t interest you or are not so important.

It depends what your priorities are. I stopped off in little cafes, bought a beer in a bar with some live music and visited a spa, which all cost money. I didn’t go shopping for souvenirs or eat out in restaurants or stay in a bar drinking all night or get taxis everywhere, because those things don’t matter to me. So it depends what you like, or need, to do.


Thai/noodle restaurants are a good place to eat in Reykjavik if you are on a budget. There is a small but significant Asian population in Reykjavik and Thai restaurants are often cheaper than Icelandic ones (not as cheap as in Thailand of course but a good deal for Iceland nevertheless).

Another option is to get food from one of the numerous convenience stores and to go eat in the park or in your hostel if they allow it/have eating space (my guest house had a tiny little ‘kitchen’ area; no cooking but there was a fridge and a little table to sit at).

Some graffiti we drove past on the bus.  I have no idea where this is or what the building is

Some graffiti we drove past on the bus. I have no idea where this is or what the building is.

There is no expectation on you to tip in Iceland; the person serving you or driving your bus is already earning a fair wage. For someone who finds tipping endlessly confusing (who to tip, how much to tip, when to hand over the tip is an endless worry for me when travelling) this can make life a lot easier.


Anyone who thinks socialism doesn’t work needs look no further than Iceland. It stands as a testament to free medical, free university education, a living wage and equality of opportunity. There is very little crime (just one prison on the island, housing around 500 people, mostly for crimes connected with drugs) and low unemployment. People work for a fair wage, pay high taxes, yet know that this buys them many advantages.

There is no military to pay for; Iceland does not have an army. This obviously frees up more of their taxes for the stuff that actually matters, such as health and education. They have a police force, unarmed, who are responsible for keeping the peace.

A photo display in a park.  This one summed it up for me...

A photo display in a park. This one summed it up for me…

When the financial crisis hit Iceland, the savings of ordinary working people were protected. Instead, the banks were renationalised and the bankers went to jail.

Some art at City Hall

Some art at City Hall

With a relatively low population Iceland is looking to entice more people, in stark contrast to most of the rest of Europe where our main preoccupation seems to be how to keep people out. About eight percent of Iceland’s population is foreign; prospective immigrants are put off by the difficulty of the language (although I suspect the weather doesn’t help either).


13 replies »

  1. How interesting is this, 500 and one prison fascinating. I did chuckle (again) at the guy with the pasta and loo roll. I am sure I have been on a date with him since arriving in London 🙂 It does make you wonder about fairness for all and socialism, but I guess this is working due to the small population. Interesting point also about immigrants. I am with them. As lovely as it looks (and it does) its too bloody cold for me. And yay for Thai noodles, how boring life would be without them x

  2. Yeah the guy reminded me of several bad dates actually. I meet a lot of people who are infatuated with getting everything cheaper and cheaper but there is a balance between saving money and enjoying your travels, which is what I was trying to say.
    No the weather would ruin it for me. I did think ‘wow I love the lifestyle here’ and the place was very liveable in that sense, but not with the rain.

  3. I promised myself I would make it to Iceland next year! I’ve been to Oslo earlier this year where everything was really expensive too! I tend to pay a bit more for an AirBnB accommodation and then make breakfast and lunch in the kitchen, it helps keeping the costs down + you meet the locals!

  4. I meant to leave you a book recommendation the other day: Arnaldur Indriðason (I had to copy and paste that 😉 ), Icelandic popular crime writer, of the Scandi crime writing family. His stuff is cold and terse and sparse. I’d read him long before we knew we were going to Iceland, but after spending a few days there, I really appreciate his style even more. I think his first was Jar City, but you can pick them up at any point (they feature the same lonely, depressed detective).

  5. It certainly is an expensive destination. When we went, we spent about 25% more being there than other cities, traveling in the same manner. The food and drinks are all considerably more expensive, it being an Island and all – so if you can cut down on your food costs, you’ll be doing pretty good.

  6. I really like that photo at the top! And that is hilarious about that man carrying a ton of pasta around with him, I guess he does what he must to travel cheaply.

  7. I wouldn’t want to go somewhere and have to steal toilet paper, live on plain pasta or expect others to host me for free. However, as you point out, there are ways to save based on your priorities.

  8. I wouldn’t want to travel to a place where I’d have to steal toilet paper, eat plain pasta brought from home or mooch free places to stay just to make ends meet. As you said, there are plenty of ways to save on expenses based on your priorities.

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