Reykjavik is the northernmost capital city in the world and over 60% of the small population of Iceland live there. It is more like a town than a city and is compact, friendly, walkable and made for wandering. It is renowned for being an expensive destination though there are ways to visit on a budget.
Use the airport -city bus to travel to the city centre; it is a comfortable coach that departs from outside the arrivals terminal. The schedule matches incoming flight times and can be pre booked online or at a desk in the arrivals terminal. As we were staying at an Airbnb property it was not possible to be dropped to the door of our accommodation but the bus did drop us at a taxi rank in the city. It is possible to pick up a rental car at the airport but make sure your accommodation in Reykjavik has free parking available. Parking in the city is expensive and at a premium! Otherwise, it may be best to do your sightseeing in Reykjavik and then hire a car from the city centre.
Accommodation will be your major expenditure in Reykjavik. Self catering is the most affordable way to visit Reykjavik and there are a variety of hostels, apartments and Airbnb’s to choose from. Although staying a little outside of the city centre will mean time and money spent getting into the city, a fringe location gives access to larger, cheaper supermarkets and parking will be easier and more plentiful. We stayed in an Airbnb on the edge of Reykjavik, which gave us easy access by bus to the city centre and to the main highway out of the city; this proved useful as we spent more time out of Reykjavik than in it. With a large budget chain supermarket close by we were able to self cater as well as wash and dry our limited clothes. Our children had lots of space and we were opposite a small playground. we even managed to se the Northern Lights from our kitchen window!
Dining out is expensive (prohibitive for a family!) and going out drinking will completely shatter the budget; if you want alcohol, buy some at the airport duty free. Look for lunchtime deals or early bird specials in the city. If your budget cannot stretch to a restaurant -ours couldn’t!- learn to love Reykjaviks’ most popular snack- the hot dog. There are street vendors and counters in grocery shops selling them and costing around £2.50, it was cheaper to buy a hot dog than buy food to make sandwiches.
If you can fit one in your luggage, bring a flask. Carrying hot water around to make coffee or hot chocolate will save a small fortune.
For self catering, use local supermarkets; Bonus was the cheapest we found. Interpret the pictures on food labels carefully, otherwise you might be surprised by what you have actually bought! bring sandwiches out with you for lunch.
Reykjavik has an extensive bus system, which though expensive by U.K standards, was still cheaper for our family to use and stay on the edge of the city, than it would have been staying in the city centre and paying for the in demand zoned parking spaces. Make sure you have the correct money to use the bus. Bi lingual timetables and prices are posted on bus stops and we found the buses to be reliable and efficient. Children under 6 years are free and children up to age 17 years are half the adult price. As Reykjavik is so compact, you only need to get a bus TO the city, once there you are able to cover the city on foot. Avoid taxis, they are expensive.
Sightseeing in Reykjavik On A Budget
Explore Reykjavik with a local guide from one of the several free walking tour companies (pre bookable online). If you choose, you could walk for free but these expert guides work hard and deserve a donation for their time and effort.
Our guide took us around the main cultural and historical sites thoroughly explaining each location. He was informative, entertaining and answered every question asked about history, food, education and culture. It was the best introduction we could have had to Iceland. We fully expected to drop out once our children got restless but even our six year old listened to every word for two hours. (Our kids had fun working out what their names would be using the confusing and unique Icelandic naming system. We had to use them for the rest of our stay)! These tours are a great way not only to learn about the city and its history and culture but to orientate yourself and give you ideas for places to revisit.
Reykjavik is easy to navigate and full of interesting, colourful buildings and narrow, inviting streets. The main downtown area is compact and you can walk right up to the front door of the parliament building.
Break from the city bustle to walk around the central Tjornin Pond. Another pleasant stroll along the waterfront leads you to the harbour and the impressive geometric Harpa concert hall; well worth visiting especially when it is cold and wet outside. (It also has a rare public toilet)!
No visit to Reykjavik would be complete without visiting the modernist Hallgrimskirkja cathedral, built to resemble a geyser shooting heavenwards. Unlike many major cities, this cathedral is free to enter. If you are lucky, you may catch an organ recital.
There are various museums in Reykjavik but as we visited in dry weather on a very tight budget, we chose not to visit any. (We also live in a Viking city so chose not to do any Viking museums here!).
Museum entry is not cheap but a budget conscious option is to buy a City Card (either in person or in advance online) and with careful planning the card can be good value.
The cards cover different time spans with the cheapest being a 24 hour card. This 24 hour card can be used over two days so you could have a very busy afternoon, followed by a very busy morning which is a good, split – sightseeing option for tired feet. (At current 2018 prices, the card would cost a single person around £26, and a family of four around £75). The card gives free entry to city centre museums, swimming pools, public transport plus discounts to restaurants and other independent museums.
I would recommend deciding what you want to do first, price compare entrance and any additional costs versus the card, rather than buying the card and trying to make it worth its value.
For a comprehensive guide on Reykjavik, written by a local, visit the excellent, www.iheartreykjavik.com. Anything you need to know is there!