Iceland may not top the charts as a budget destination for most people. Soup can cost 2000 ISK (US$18) and a beer in the local pub, 800 ISK (US$7). Hostels and hotels alone can break a healthy travel budget. But as Neil and I have found out, there is light at the end of the glacial chamber. Good deals can still be found and in the world’s northernmost capital, many things are free.
Free Tour Reykjavik
Our third “Free Tour” style introduction to a city, (including Santiago and Montevideo in Uruguay), the Free Tour Reykjavik meets daily at 1pm on the pier next to the world’s smallest information center and winds travelers through Rekjavik for over 90 minutes of city history, political commentary, and plenty of dirty jokes. Jonas is the brainchild of the tour and a local artist with experience living in several countries. While the tour is free, tips are appreciated. Make this a priority on your first or second day because he has good recommendations on restaurants, bars, shopping, and public pools.
Free Tours from Reykjavik City Library
Calling all bookworms! Literature meets city tour on Reykjavik City Library’s summer schedule of tours. This year, Thursday is the day when they have literary tours at 5pm and City Safari tours at 8pm. We attended the 5pm tour which included great spots around town that were not included on the Free Tour Reykjavik. Library staffers take turns explaining the significance of different buildings and their connection to Icelandic literature. Before moving to the next sight, an excerpt from a novel is read which directly relates to the location. It’s really interesting and locals often stop and listen.
Information, Town Concerts, and Films
At the Trip information shop by our homestay on Laugavegur Street, we found an amazing plethora of helpful tips. It was by far our favorite info center and we booked a car and a glacier tour through them. The staff was very nice and gave us a schedule of free events for our week in town. On our second night, we went to Bio Paradis for a free showing of a musical documentary. The film was called Glastonbury and centered on a three-day concert and the camping and shenanigans the event entailed. The event was sponsored by Beefeeters and the company generously supplied viewers with complimentary gin and tonics. After the show, we enjoyed sets by a group called Ahma Music and a twenty minute mix by an energetic DJ.
Then on Sunday, we went to the pond for a free concert by the group, Of Monsters and Men. About 80,000 people attended the show, providing a warm welcome for this hometown band who’d just returned from their debut international tour. The late show was packed with young couples, parents, and tons of kids scrambling to the top of a pyramid of ropes. Dogs, backpackers, and even a Yellow-headed Amazonian bird also attended the event which featured three rock outfits.
Free Coffee around Town
The most random places offer free coffee in Reykjavik. As we walked and wandered, Neil and I loved free cups of joe and macchiato served by the Icelandic Travel Market (ITM) as well as at Bonus Supermarket, both located in the 101 (downtown district). The ITM even serves lattes and cappuccinos. They provide free maps for roadtrips as well as provide tips for driving in Iceland. So if you’re here during winter, it’s a great place to read some maps on couches and sip hot java.
Second Helpings of Icelandic Lamb Soup
I have to admit. I was tempted by soups in Iceland. I suppose with the cold long winters, Icelanders have truly perfected the art of soupmaking. They are rich and hearty and fill you up. Restaurants serve large bowls of creamy seafood soups with crusty bread and Icelandic butter. These bowls are excellent for any day of the week or any time of the day. For a great treat on the Golden Circle, you must stop at the Gullfoss Visitor Center where the café inside serves up daily soup specials alongside its standard fan favorite, an incredible lamb soup. They ladle out the goodness, encouraging you to take as much bread as you want and reminding you to come back for your free refill. It is a delicious break from sightseeing with nice views over the Icelandic plains.
Fresh-off-the-Glacier Tap Water
Who buys water in Reykjavik? Only tourists do. Everyone knows that the stuff from the tap is high quality, ice cold and loaded with minerals. Neil and I even went to a convenient store which did not have large bottles of water, only seltzers and sodas. That’s because you can easily fill a bottle from any tap and walk away knowing you’ve done your body and wallet a great service. Drink up and hydrate!
On paper and the internet, Iceland can seem like a money pit. But with a little digging, things start to fall into place. As with any well-planned trip, our first stop in Reykjavik was at the local tourist information booths. Staffers are highly trained and knowledgeable about what’s going on in town. English is widely spoken and many people are willing to help a traveler with a smile. So even though you may be dumping US$50 into an 8-bed dorm, at least you’ll bounce to some freebies to ease your budgetary woes.