On my first day in Reykjavik, Iceland, it became obvious to me that I was in the second most expensive place I have ever visited. Oslo, Norway in 2013 was probably more expensive, before their currency meltdown of 2015. At that time in Norway, the cost of a Big Mac was over $19 USD. The Big Mac index in 2017 is currently $15 for Reykjavik, according to expatistan.com and about $12 in Oslo.
Food and Lodging in Reykjavik
There are several websites for estimates of the cost of travel.
PriceofTravel.com Backpacker Index places Reykjavik at #134 or 136 cities. Only New York and Zurich are priced higher. I have traveled to Zurich and New York in the past five years and my cost of travel was far less than prices I found in Reykjavik. New York has many affordable food options. New York tourist prices are inflated primarily due to cost of hotels.
Numbeo.com Cost of Living Reykjavik confirms my suspicion that Reykjavik is more expensive than Oslo. While hotel rates are high in Oslo, Choice Privileges points are your best friend for lowering the cost of a hotel there. There are several Nordic Choice Hotels in Oslo available for 16,000 points per night.
Expatistan.com Reykjavik prices look pretty accurate based on my observations during the two days I was in the city.
Basic lunch menu $21. The key to budget restaurant food is finding a daily special. I saw a few places where lunch was about $10 to $12 for a hamburger, burrito or Pakistani meal. Most places I saw had menu items starting at 1,700-2,000 ISK ($15-$17.75 USD) without beverage. Coca-Cola is big in Reykjavik and many places offered a combination meal with Coke.
Shalimar Pakistani Restaurant in the main tourist area of Reykjavik had the lowest priced meal I saw in the city at 990 ISK ($9 USD) for a lunch special curry 11:30-15:30, but take-way only. Lunch dish of the day is 1,690 ISK ($15 USD).
I lived two days on a Kronan supermarket visit, where I bought one roasted hot half-chicken (749 ISK/$6.65 USD), a head of broccoli (158 ISK/$1.40 USD), hummus (338 ISK/$3.00 USD), yogurt drink (180 ISK/$1.60 USD) one orange (65 ISK/0.58 USD) and one apple (49 ISK/0.44 USD).
Ice dining on a park bench by the waterfront in Reykjavik was kind of cold with the wind chill factor about 20F, but also kind of cool with this view. I was always fascinated as a child reading about Arctic explorers and I felt like one eating outdoors in Reykjavik.
Reykjavik lodging is a big expense. There are rooms in Reykjavik on Airbnb priced around 75 EUR in or near the city center tourist area. Most lodging is around 100 EUR per night or more on Airbnb.
I booked two hotel stays using loyalty points for Hilton and Radisson in Reykjavik. Radisson Blu Saga Hotel is 44,000 Club Carlson points. Hilton Nordica was 40,000 Hilton points at the time I booked my hotel stay.
Both of these hotels are about a 20 minute walk to reach the main tourist area of Reykjavik. Radisson Blu Saga Hotel is more convenient to FlyBus BSI station in Reykjavik for airport transportation.
A random check of rates shows a single room at Hilton Nordica for 38,000 points in May. Hilton eliminated their standard reward chart in March 2017 and now use a floating points rate relative to room rate. In May, Hilton Nordica is priced from 38,000 to 52,000 points per night, but rises to 60,000 points and higher in June, when rates approach $400 per night.
Kayak.com shows the price of 3-star lodging starts around $125 per night in mid-May for a place near central Reykjavik. There are lower priced 1 and 2 star places. In mid-June the price for a 3-star hotel rises to around $175 per night within 2 miles of downtown Reykjavik.
One of the news articles I read while in Reykjavik argued the tourism industry is unsustainable at its current pace of growth due to all the low cost airfares to Iceland. The budget airlines bring people like me to Iceland who want to travel on a budget and lodging is priced too high for many of these travelers. I flew from San Francisco to Iceland for $70 all-in. My ticket was for Copenhagen, but I skipped the onward flight and flew Wizz Air directly from Keflavik, Iceland to Vilnius, Lithuania for $71. My 10 day trip is focused on the Baltics.
This disparity in the tourism economy of Iceland might be the reason for this sign at Keflavik Airport.
Keflavik Airport Sign – Attention! Sleeping/camping and cooking is prohibited in the building or on the grounds.
Keflavik Airport to Reykjavik transportation
Keflavik Airport, about 50 km southwest of Reykjavik, is located on the most southwesterly peninsula of Iceland.
There are three bus services to Reykjavik from the Keflavik airport. FlyBus (2,500 ISK/$22.30 USD one way) or GrayLine (2,400 ISK/$21.37 one way) run at all hours there are flights. FlyBus and GrayLine include the option for hotel drop-off for an extra 500 ISK ($4.46).
FlyBus goes to BSI Reykjavik bus station, closer to main tourist areas of Reykjavik.
I have always used the names Reykjavik and Keflavik interchangeably when writing about Keflavik KEF, Iceland’s international airport, however, I now know that Reykjavik RKV is its own airport for domestic Iceland service on Air Iceland and Eagle Air, located next to the Reykjavik BSI bus station.
GrayLine goes to another location in Reykjavik a couple miles away. At the Reykjavik bus stations there are smaller shuttle vans waiting for passengers when the big bus arrives. Passengers are directed to a specific shuttle bus based on hotel location.
Or public bus 55 (requires 4 tickets at 440 ISK each for 1,760 ISK/$15.67 one way) will transport you from Keflavik to Reykjavik BSI bus station for a lower price than FlyBus or GrayLine with 12x daily weekday service and less frequent service on weekends. FlyBus and GrayLine take about 50 minutes. Bus 55 takes 75 minutes between airport and Keflavik.
Hotel service for the extra 500 ISK is a good value option, unless you walk to your hotel from the bus station, which I did.
In my mind I had a mental map of how to get to Hilton Nordica from BSI station since I had researched FlyBus directions to my hotel. However, I did not realize I was in a completely different part of Reykjavik when I got off the GrayLine bus and started walking to my hotel based on my mental map of directions from the BSI bus station. Amazingly, I still found the Hilton in about 45 minutes walk, but my sense of directions in Reykjavik were completely reversed.
This directional confusion resulted in my leaving Hilton Nordica about 30 minutes after checking in to hit the Reykjavik Happy Hours at most pubs from 16:00-19:00. I walked for about 45 minutes before looking at my iPhone maps to see that I had walked two miles in the opposite direction from the tourist area of the city. By the time I walked back to the pub crawl part of Reykjavik, Happy Hours had ended.
Reykjavik statue expressed my feelings after missing Happy Hour.
Price of Alcohol
The price of a beer in a restaurant/pub averages about 1,000 to 1,300 ISK ($9-12). Happy Hour prices I saw were about 750 to 850 ISK ($6.66-$7.55 USD). Some places advertised Happy Hour 2-for-1 wine and cocktails, but I did not see those 2-for-1 offers for beer. There are probably places with better deals, if you search.
Austerstraeti is the tourist location to know in downtown Reykjavik. This is the street lined with pubs and restaurants and Vinbudin, the government alcohol shop. If I return to the city, I want to be close to Austerstraeti. In my hours of walking around the city, this was the one lively place I found. Radisson Blu 1919 is one block away.
There are only two or three Vinbudin shops in central Reykjavik where regular alcohol is sold. Markets only sell 2.25% beer and it averages about $3.00/500ml can.
Vinbudin is expensive alcohol by standards for most places. The price of regular beer at Vinbudin is still around $3.00 per 500ml. Stella Artois 500 ml can is 399 ISK/$3.54 USD at Vinbudin.
Reykjavik is a trip I am glad I made alone. My budget travel stop in Iceland cost about $80 for expenses and $70 for the Hilton on a Points & Money stay. If I had been with my wife, expenses would have been more than double. She does not travel in my frugal eating and drinking style.
Iceland is a cheap place to reach with all the low cost airline deals available in 2017. Just be prepared for the real expenses of a stay in Priceland when you visit.