Iceland: a stopover on a budget – introduction and tips

The land of the northern lights, volcanoes with unpronounceable names, glaciers and waterfalls. Supposedly one of the least budget-friendly countries in the world, and we didn’t even seriously consider visiting because of this. But then my brother got engaged, and since he lives out in Seattle, we were all of a sudden faced with the option of a stopover. Over the past few years, Iceland has exploded in tourism because several airlines have been offering cheap flights connecting Iceland with North America and Europe. Iceland-air offers layovers in Reykjavik for 1-7 days long for no additional charge. Stopovers usually mean dull airport lounges, but taking a couple of days to explore Iceland is anything but dull!So very un-like us, we did all of the research, pre-booked accomodation, planned a full itinerary and made it work. It can be done in a small time-frame and on a budget, no more excuses to skip this dream adventure destination. Iceland for 5 days in November with two people for €400,- each (excluding flights)! Here are all of our tips, tricks and plans to help you to see this beautiful island on a budget!


We don’t want to say that 5 days is even nearly enough to see all of Iceland. We would love to come back some day (in Summer) to explore the West and North, but we don’t feel like we missed out too much because of the budget. No eating fancy meals out or cool activities such as guided glacier walks or whale watching. But enough free activities to fill our time and really enjoy our 5 nights on this magical island.

Many thing on Iceland are dependent on the season and climate. Our visit was in November, so days were already short, the weather cold and possible activities limited. Read more about our detailed itinerary, plan and adventure here.

  • Book accommodation in advance

    Accommodation will probably be your biggest expense, although in comparison it’s not crazily expensive. Apart from Reykjavik most villages are quite spread out and signs are very poor. Just going out and looking for something nice (like we normally do) would therefore be complicated and expensive. Booking ahead (use or Airbnb) and shopping around will inhance your chances of finding something affordable, sometimes even with a hot tub on site! Most places we found had kitchens, but double check that anything you book has one so you can…

  • Cook your own food

    Food is probably the most expensive thing in Iceland. Eating out, even on the cheap, costs about $15 USD or more per meal. On top of that, we heard that most food is quite bland and the portions are usually small. So instead of paying a lot for food that isn’t very special and might not be enough, cook!

    We usually love the experience of local food wherever we go, but Icelandic food is going to have to wait for us to have fuller wallets. For this trip, we ate basic meals with rice, pasta and potatoes. We never eat a lot of meat but skipped it all together for this week. Gluten free was a bit of a challenge though.

    If you’re even more tight on a budget and have a chance to prepare: bring stuff with you. You can bring up to 3kg of food into the country. For instance cheese, meat (not raw), dried fruit or chocolate are expensive on Iceland but easy to bring.

  • Bring a water bottle

    The water in Iceland is incredibly clean and drinkable. A plastic bottle of water from a shop costs about 3EUR so bring your own bottle with you and refill from the tap. It will save you a lot of money and help the environment at the same time. We actually always carry around a fantastic purifying bottle from Grayl, which allows us to make potable water anywhere!

  • Think about transport

    There are not trains on Iceland, but plenty of buses. Organized tours could take you around most popular places. Loads of people have cars so you can hitchhike. We booked early and like the flexibility, so we got a cheap little rental car. There is only one ‘highway’, called Route #1 or Ring Road, and it goes all around the island. The weather can suddenly change and it can be slippery, so only rent a car if you can handle the circumstances of the season!

    If you do rent a car, look out for paid parking! It pays off to look around and park a bit away.

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