Iceland, once regarded simply as a frozen island somewhere in the north Atlantic, has seen an absolutely massive boom in tourism over the past decade. This is largely attributed to North Americans en route to Europe taking advantage of the opportunity for an extended layover.
But, if there’s one thing Iceland is famous for, it would be its breathtaking scenery. Or its thousands of cascading waterfalls. Or its spirited Icelandic horses. Or…okay, there are a lot of things Iceland has become famous for, but one of the most notable might be how expensive it is.
But is Reykjavik expensive? Well, yes. However, the price of things in this majestic island nation shouldn’t deter you from visiting and it’s even possible to visit its capital city on a budget.
A number of people visiting Iceland only do so for a couple of days. While a good portion of the excitement of any short Iceland trip would be to see the amazing sites in the Golden Circle, Reykjavik is also very much worth exploring as well.
While the capital is one of the most expensive in the world, it is still a lovely, quirky city with many interesting things to do. So if you’re travelling on a tight budget, here is how you should spend one day in Reykjavik.
One Day in Reykjavik Itinerary
It can seem like a daunting task if you’re looking to visit Reykjavik on a budget, but let me assure you that it can be done! While Reykjavik prices can oftentimes prompt a double-take, there are still a lot of free or inexpensive things to do in the Icelandic capital. This one day Reykjavik itinerary is mapped out with the budget traveller in mind.
Free Walking Tour
The first thing you should do on your one day in Reykjavik is to go on a free walking tour of the city. I’m always a massive proponent of taking advantage of a free walking tour in any city as they are a fantastic way to get oriented, see the sights, and get some great local suggestions even on the smallest of budgets.
The general free walking tour run by CityWalk in Iceland’s capital is no exception to this and it a great thing to do if you’re visiting Reykjavik on a budget. The tour runs at multiple times every day and meets in front of the Parliament Building. And while you do have to book in advance (which you can do on their website), the tour is absolutely free. It is, however, good practice to tip your guide if you enjoyed the tour.
This free walking tour can also give you a lot of great tips to help make your Reykjavik itinerary and entire trip to Iceland a great one. They are run by local guides who are passionate about the history of their small county and it can give you great insight into the Icelandic way of life.
National Museum of Iceland
Though Iceland is famed predominantly for its incredible natural sites and this is the reason that most people visit, it’s important to understand at least a little bit about the history and culture of this incredible island nation, as well. And there is really no better place to do this then at the National Museum of Iceland.
This isn’t a free activity in the capital, but it is definitely still accessible to visit even if you are trying to visit Reykjavik on a budget. Adult entry is 2000ISK (about $15USD) per person, however, children under 18 can enter for free and there is a 50% discounts for seniors over 65 and anyone with a valid student ID.
At the museum, you can visit exhibitions that will walk you through the heritage and history of Iceland and help you gain a better understanding of this fascinating nation. So if you’re looking for a great place to visit when spending one day in Reykjavik (especially if the weather isn’t in your favour), then the National Museum of Iceland is a great option!
Admire the street art
For such a small capital, Reykjavik has an impressive amount of awesome street art and, if it’s not pouring rain, it can be a great budget-friendly to stroll through the streets and search for some stunning works of art.
If your feet aren’t too tired and the weather isn’t terrible (it can switch at the drop of a hat in Iceland!), the spend some time after the walking tour checking out all of the fantastic murals and art installations scattered throughout the city streets. Sometimes, there is no need to pay an entry fee to an art museum in order to get the most culture out of your Reykjavik itinerary.
National Gallery of Iceland
If you would rather experience some incredible Icelandic art in the comfort of a museum, then heading to the National Gallery of Iceland is an excellent addition to any one-day Reykjavik itinerary. Though again, this is far from a free activity, it is well worth it if you have an interest in art — especially modern and contemporary art — and how it translates in Icelandic culture.
This may not be the best museum to visit if you’re visiting Reykjavik on a budget as tight as a backpacker’s however, the entry won’t break the bank for an average mid-range traveller. The price for adult entry is 2900ISK (about $23USD) and it is 1900ISK (about $15USD) for students and seniors. Entry for children is free.
If your budget allows for it and you are a fan of admiring local art of cultural significance, then you’re sure to love including a visit to the National Gallery of Iceland on your one day in Reykjavik itinerary.
Visit the botanical garden
If you’re only in Reykjavik for a short time span and don’t have time to explore the Golden Circle or even more of South Iceland but are still craving a bit of nature, head to the botanical garden. Strolling around here is a great option if you’re trying to visit Reykjavik on a budget as entry is absolutely free!
This is also a great option to stop for a picnic lunch (that you packed yourself to save money!) if the weather is fine. The Botanical Garden is a favourite spot amongst locals because it showcases some of the best of Iceland’s scenery right in the capital.
Head to the pool
If you’re searching for a way to escape the tourist crowds and experience a more local side of Reykjavik, forgo the exorbitant cost for a day trip to the Blue Lagoon and head to a local pool. There are many pools around the city and they’re all geothermally heated and complete with saunas, which are perfect if you catch a chill in Iceland’s harsh climate. Spending an afternoon lounging in the hot tub at a local pool is one of the best things to do in Reykjavik on a budget.
Entry fees to the pools vary depending on which you plan to visit, however, you can expect them to be a little bit cheaper the further you venture from the city centre. Along with saving you your hard-earned money, heading to a more local pool will also ad an invaluable Icelandic cultural element to your one day in Reykjavik itinerary.
Where to eat in Reykjavik on a budget
at out in Iceland’s capital and it might be one of the most expensive meals you’ve ever had, even at a mid-range restaurant. However, if you don’t have a kitchen available during your one day in Reykjavik, there are plenty of places where you can go to eat in Reykjavik even on the smallest of budgets.
Head to a hot dog stand
While I’ve always considered hot dogs to be a very American food prompting images of summer barbecues and baseball games, they are perhaps even more popular in Iceland! And it’s no surprise, there are a number of hot dog stands scattered throughout the city and they can be a great option if you’re wondering where to eat in Reykjavik on a budget.
There is one particular hot dog stand in the Icelandic capital that has garnered international attention ever since former US president Bill Clinton ate there. However, that stand does get incredibly busy around lunchtime so it might be best to find another if you get hungry during your one day in Reykjavik. It might also save you some money!
Warm up with some Asian noodle soup
If you want to duck inside and sit down for a meal in Reykjavik but you still need to stick to a budget, head to the Noodle Station. This restaurant churns out delicious noodle soups at affordable prices and they’re the perfect way to warm up in the harsh Icelandic climate.
This is arguably a more healthy option compared to chowing down at a hot dog stand as well. They also have vegetarian-friendly soups which won’t be an option at a hot dog stand.
Get some free coffee refills!
If you’re not after a proper meal and would rather just duck into a cafe, chill out, and grab a cup of coffee, then head to Stofan Cafe. This cosy little cafe offers free refills if you order a cup of drip coffee and they also have a wide array of board games to pass the time if you’re waiting out a storm. Spending an afternoon here is a nice and mellow thing to do in Reykjavik on a budget.
Cook for yourself
While there are a few places to eat in Reykjavik on a budget, nothing can compete with how much money you’ll save if you head to a local supermarket and cook dinner for yourself. While groceries are certainly more expensive than most visitors will be used to, a meal cooked at home will be a fraction of the price of a meal eaten in a restaurant.
Where to stay in Reykjavik on a budget
Accommodation prices are incredibly high in Reykjavik, but there are a few budget options available. If you’re curious about where to stay in Reyjkavik, check out our top recommendations:
Loft HI Hostel — If you’re travelling solo or on a tight budget, then this hostel is an excellent choice for you! They have a range of both dorm and private rooms available along with great common areas to meet other travellers. It is also one of the most affordable accommodation options in Reykjavik. Click here to see their latest prices
Reykjavik Treasure B&B — If you’re looking for something a little bit more than a hostel without completely breaking the bank, then this cosy B&B is a great choice for you! They have a number of comfortable and clean rooms available (all with ensuite!) and a hearty breakfast included in the nightly rate. Click here to see their latest prices
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Reykjavik Hotels!
It can be difficult to visit Reykjavik on a budget, but it definitely can be done! There plenty of options throughout the city ensuring that even the most broke of backpackers can enjoy Iceland’s charming capital.
Are you planning a Reykjavik one day itinerary? Are you wondering how to visit Reykjavik on a budget? Let us know in the comments below!
Hi thanks for your info thinking of coming here with my 14 year old son on a budget . In December do you think I may see the lights at this time of year or do you have maybe some other ideas try to do some bonding
Thanks for your comment, Dean! There is a good chance of being able to see the Northern Lights in December, but you might have better luck if you head outside of Reykjavik where there is less light pollution. Make sure to chech the aurora forcast to find the best nights for viewing! Hope you guys have a great trip 🙂
I am traveling with one other person in March to Reykjavik. I was wondering how much an average budget is for a week. We plan to eat in the hotel as much as we can (grocery shop)- we don’t have a kitchen in our room so they would be things we don’t have to cook. We want to see the geysers, falls, black sand beach and possible the blue lagoon. Not sure the most affordable way to do this? We are going in March. I was planning on spending no more than $2k USD (excluding hotel and flight). Is this possible? Or am I underestimating the cost of this vacation?
Hey Emily, thanks for your comment! Sounds like you’ve got an awesome trip to Iceland planned! As for your budgeting question, I don’t think you are underbudgeting in the slightest for a week, especially if you’re excluding your hotel and flight costs. Most of the attractions you’re looking to visit are free of charge, which means that your biggest budget hits are going to be food and transportation. If you want to cut costs as far as possible, I would definitely recommend not drinking alcohol at all while there and avoiding eating out in restaurants. If you want a more detailed breakdown of costs in Iceland, I’ve written another article that might interest you: https://www.theworldwasherefirst.com/iceland-trip-cost/
Hope this helps!