If Iceland isn’t on your bucket list, you’re doing it wrong. Between fjords, volcanoes, hot springs, Reykjavik’s legendary nightlife and its massive music festivals, the Isle of Leif Erikson continues to attract more explorers from around the world each year.
But exploration comes with a price tag, and in Iceland, that price tag can derail a trip in a hurry. Taxes on lodging and food are some of the primary culprits, as well as the fact that there aren’t too many alternatives on an island with a population roughly the size of Cleveland.
While no Icelandic adventure should be completely planned out, doing a little homework can go a long way. Using the capital city of Reykjavik as home base, here are some of our favorite ways to do Iceland, cheap and deep.
Skip the Blue Lagoon
We know your whole trip revolved around that mystical blue pool of water, but don’t do it — just don’t. Iceland is a geothermal paradise, so instead of dropping $60 to soak with a bunch of drunk Englishmen, hit up one of the country’s dozens of free alternatives.
Check out the Reykjadalur warm stream (yes, this is a stream of heated geothermal water) just 45 minutes from Reykjavik or the Grotta Hot Pool at the end of town. The latter is a bit small, but big enough to fit you and three of your dirtbag friends.
Buy your beverages at the airport
Avoid getting gouged for $10 beers in town and do as the locals do: Buy your booze right off the plane. Unlike the rest of heavily taxed Iceland, Keflavik Airport offers your favorite beverages duty- and tax-free, saving precious dollars for more important things, like scuba diving in between two tectonic plates.
Don’t know how to find the store? Just follow the flight crew — they’re probably headed there too.
For views, go to church
There is no shortage of views throughout Iceland, but if you want to score the best vista in the capital city, take a lift up Reykjavik’s largest church, Hallgrímskirkja. A cross between a concrete monolith and a “Star Trek” spaceship, the church is one of the highest structures in Iceland as well as one of its weirdest.
Scoring those sweet, sweet views will cost about $9, but with fjords and snow-capped mountains on the horizon, it’s worth the price of admission.
Ever heard of an Icelandic hot dog?
If you’re trying to save money, you should get acquainted with the Icelandic tube steak. Yes, that’s right, Icelanders loves their hot dogs, and they’ve put their own unique spin on it by adding chopped onions, fried onions, ketchup, mustard and a special remoulade to the mix.
Make sure to hit up the Baejarins Beztu Pylsur stand near the Harpa music center to score a dog for $3.50 or risk dropping $17 on a sandwich alternative. Your pride might be hurt, but your wallet will be happy. And hey, the hot dogs are pretty darn good.
Bring your own sheets
Even hostels are pricey at the top of the world, so be prepared to take a hit when it comes to sleeping. Camping is a cheap alternative, but if you’re around the capital city, it’s not the easiest to find.
To cut your daily expenses, bring your own sheets or sleeping bag and get a reduced rate at most hostels. At the popular KEX Hostel, for example, you’ll save $22 a night to pack in your own linens.
Nature is the cheapest thing in Iceland
Good news, folks: Despite high prices on nearly everything else, nature is always on sale in the Land of 1,000 Waterfalls. In fact, almost all of it — geysers, volcanoes, glaciers, rivers and waterfalls — is completely free to visit.
While buses are the cheapest transportation, rental cars aren’t far behind and offer freedom to stop and smell the hot springs. SADcars (aside from having the worst name in car rental history) has the best deals, starting at around $70 for a two-day rental.
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