Iceland is known for its natural wonder — and steep prices. And while the rest of Europe can actually be done cheaply, Iceland really does have fewer budget options.
Last July, we visited Iceland for what was supposed to be a week-long trip. It was a spur-of the-moment journey like many we’ve made to other parts of Europe, but one thing ended up being very different: It was significantly more expensive. It was so expensive, in fact, that we ended up cutting the trip short.
To put Iceland’s high cost of traveling into context, I compared it with our other trips to Europe in the last twelve months. Costs are calculated per day and cover two people traveling together.
On average we spent $160/day for our car rental and gas in Iceland (there’s comparatively little public transit.)
That’s twice as much as the average daily cost of traversing Poland-Hungary-Germany ($78). A trip that included airfare, trams, subways, buses, horse-drawn carriages, cars, and an overnight train with a private sleeper car.
Iceland was eight times more expensive than our average daily transit costs in Turkey ($28), and ten times more expensive than Paris ($15). Obviously all of these destinations are different — Paris is a city, Poland-Hungary-Germany is a region, and Iceland is a country — but the point is that transportation costs on a typical Iceland trip were much higher than on a typical trip to continental Europe.
Most of Europe has a wide variety of places to stay with a similarly wide variety of prices. However, Iceland is much less dense than the rest of Europe and has a significantly less developed tourist infrastructure, which means far fewer options for lodging.
We ended up spending on average $170 per night for two people, which is considerably more than we’ve spent anywhere else in Europe.
We only spent on average $45/night for two in Turkey; $50/night in Poland, Hungary, and Germany; and $78/night in the heart of Paris, France. In each case we approached the trip similarly, without making reservations beforehand, and in mainland Europe that works just fine; with some experience you can almost always find a budget room in a good location. In Iceland, however, that just didn’t happen.
To keep costs low during our 4 day 3 night stay in Iceland, we chose to only eat out at a sit-down restaurant once, a coffee house once, and a hot dog stand once. The rest of time we simply ate picnic lunches from ingredients we picked up at a grocery store. Even with that, on average we spent $40/day on food for two people.
This compares to only $20/day for two people in Italy and France; $22/day in Turkey; and $31/day in Poland, Hungary, and Germany. These numbers are just a little bit skewed in regard to Poland and Hungary, which are objectively the cheapest places for food. But because they were so inexpensive we ate out at sit down restaurants every night. Even with all the dining out, they were still cheaper than Iceland.
Exploring Iceland’s magical natural landscapes is the main reason to visit the country. You could spend a lot of money going on organized tours of some of the more spectacular sites, or you could spend almost no money doing a lot of it for free on your own. Because the rest of Iceland was so expensive, we opted to do a lot of hiking and exploring on our own for free.
We only spent on average $6/day for two people on “sites” which is actually less than what we typically spend per day on going to museums and historic sites in other European cities. On average for two people, we spent $19/day in Turkey; $14/day in Italy; and $10/day in Poland, Hungary, and Germany.
We spent no money on sites on our most recent trip to Paris because we had seen all the tourists sites on past trips and focused on having free adventures.
In the end, per day Iceland was twice as expensive as mine and Jim’s Poland-Hungary-Germany trip in October. It was also twice as expensive per day as my Italy-Germany trip in June.
Iceland was three times more expensive per day than mine and Jim’s January 2016 trip to Turkey, and a whopping four times more expensive per day than our trip to Paris last year.
Don’t get me wrong, we loved Iceland. It’s a magical place that is definitely worth exploring. In fact I can’t wait to get back.
Just know that it is in fact expensive. Next time we go, I will do more advanced planning to try and get good deals on car rentals and accommodations to help cut down the costs, as well as consider the option of camping.
— Laura Rowley