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.
The price of things in this majestic island nation shouldn’t deter you from visiting, however, and it’s even possible to visit its capital city of Reykjavik 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 on a Budget
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 the prices in this small city often times 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 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.
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.
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
Eat 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 lunch time 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 not travelling solo, I would highly recommend getting a room through Airbnb, as the prices can be cheaper even than hostels. Click here to get $40 off your first stay with Airbnb!
Budget hotels don’t really exist in Reykjavik and it is next to impossible to find a decent place to stay that will cost less than $100 per night — and that is the absolute minimum. A good option to save some money, especially if you’re only spending one day in Reykjavik, is to maybe find accommodation outside of the city. However, if your total Iceland trip budget allows for more expensive hotel stays, you can click here to find the best hotel prices in Reykjavik!
There are also many hostels in Reykjavik to choose from and price of a dorm bed averages about €30 per night. Some of the best-rated hostels include Loft HI Hostel, Downtown HI Hostel and KEX Hostel. Make sure to book in advance during summer!
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!