Iceland on the Cheap?
A Long-Time Resident Says It's Possible
Flights to Iceland
Icelandair has a virtual monopoly on flights into Iceland, so it's no good checking other airlines for prices. See the Icelandair web site for special deals. But unless the package is a very cheap fare and hotel combination, avoid booking a hotel through them; the hotels they offer are expensive and not central (www.icelandair.com).
Iceland has a wealth of inexpensive accommodations, especially in summer. The least expensive provide you with a bed or mattress; you bring your own sleeping bag. Guesthouses may also provide kitchen facilities. In Reykjavik, guesthouses in this category include: Salvation Army Guesthouse, Kirkjustraeti 2, 101 Reykjavik (011-354-5613203); Guesthouse Aurora, Flokagata 24, 101 Reykjavik (011-354-552-5515); Reykjavik Youth Hostel, Sundlaugarvegur 34, 105 Reykjavik (011-354-553-8110). The first two are very central. The youth hostel has Internet terminals and is across the road from the largest swimming pool in Reykjavik.
Other options for inexpensive places to stay in Reykjavik are private homes and apartments. Check out the accommodations links on www.accommodationiniceland.com for details.
Food in Iceland
The three main vegetarian restaurants, all near each other, are very reasonably priced. At Sufistinn, the cafe above the big Mal og Menning bookshop, a large burrito and salad costs about $9. Other cheap places include the Thai restaurant Nudlahus (Noodle House), and Louhreidar, above Bonus supermarket in Laugavegur. Another food option is to help yourself to salad or hot food at the larger supermarkets.
Getting Around in Iceland
Getting around Reykjavik is easy: you either walk or take the bus. You can travel throughout the greater Reykjavik area for 200 kronur (about $2). Have the exact change, or buy a ticket in advance. If you need to take more than one bus to get to where you need to go, just tell the driver that you need to change buses and you'll be given another ticket to use for the next bus. If you intend to be in Reykjavik for more than two days, it is probably worth buying a set of discounted tickets at one of the bus stations.
Hitchhiking is easy and safe-I have hitched at 1:30 a.m. in mid-summer and got delivered to the door. Flying is usually expensive and so is renting a car. You will need a 4 by 4 if you intend to cross the uninhabited highlands rather than using the ring road. For car rentals try www.randburg.com/is/tourism/carrental.html.
A Full Circle pass allows you to travel one way on the ring road around the country, getting on and off as you please. The bus stops at touristy spots for at least 30 minutes. The pass is also available with vouchers for youth hostel or other sleeping bag accommodations. The Omnibus pass gives you access to more bus routes and also allows you to backtrack. The bus will stop and pick up on request (www.bsi.is).
A Taste of the Country
If you intend to stay mainly in Reykjavik, you can get a taste of the country and the people by taking an excursion with one of the two Icelandic hiking groups: (www.utivist.is) or (www.fi.is). Other than camping, youth hostels and farmhouse accommodations (www.farmholidays.is) are good options. If the farm or hostel is remote, the hosts will normally pick you up from the nearest town for a reasonable fee. If you are hiking the interior, you can stay in a hut owned by one of the touring clubs for about $12. Check with the organization to make sure the hut is available.
Work and Study in Iceland
Casual work is most plentiful during the summer months in the construction and tourist industries. Citizens of EC and EFTA countries do not need work permits. Citizens of other countries should check regarding rules for living and working in Iceland (new.ahus.is/?lang=en).
Many foreign students come to Iceland, and a number of University courses are taught in English (www.hi.is).
Leisure Activities in Iceland
Swimming is one of the main pastimes for Icelanders. Pools are cheap, about $2 a visit. Alternatively, you can go to the new Reykjavik beach, Nautholsvik, which also has a hot pot, a paddling pool, and changing rooms.
If you come in winter, you can skate on the lake in the middle of Reykjavik, weather permitting, or go skiing at one of the no-frills skiing areas. Skis can be hired at some ski resorts, and special buses will take you there. There are also a number of walking/cycling paths around Reykjavik.
In the plethora of nightclubs and stylish cafes-cum-bars that have sprung up in Reykjavik in recent years you can experience the nightlife for which Reykjavik is becoming renowned. Alcohol, though, is very expensive in Iceland.
Information on excursions to tourist spots can be found on the general Iceland web site: www.icetourist.is. Start here to stimulate your interest in Iceland: lots of links to tourist information and skiing, but not good on restaurants. To experience the power of Icelandic nature you should at least visit some of the following: Geysir, Gullfoss, Thingvellir, Myvatn, Skaftafell National Park, Landmannalaugar, and Thorsmork. You will not be disappointed.