Icelandic saga – stunning scenery comes at a cost

Our personal finance editor, Julian Knight, finds that this island is no place for bargain hunters

I have always wanted to go to Iceland but have been put off by the expense. Not how much it costs to get there – flights are usually a modest £200 – but the cost of enjoying myself once I'm there.

I'd heard horror stories of the £10 sandwich, £40 main course and, worst of all, the £6 pint of beer. But, late last year, when the Icelandic banking system went pop spectacularly, along with the currency, the country was being touted as a cheap destination. The tourist board was quick to cotton on that one of the island's biggest black marks – the expense – had suddenly become a bit of a selling point.

Iceland was suddenly being sold as "half-price land". But was this really true? Was it now possible to enjoy Iceland without fear that the credit card statement would land with a thud rather than a flutter on my return?

Sadly not. Anyone thinking that Iceland is now a super-cheap destination will soon be disappointed. Realistically, you can't expect it any other way as the island has to import most of what it eats. A coffee in Mokka on Skolavordustigur street – one of Reykjavik's oldest cafés – costs £2.50, accompanied by a bland cheese and ham toastie – served with a vat of mustard – that sets me back £4. A lunchtime meal for two with a couple of glasses of wine in one of the numerous trendy city-centre restaurants costs around £40 to £50. As for an evening meal for two at Vox, rated one of the best places to eat in Reykjavik, don't expect much change out of £120 with wine. And for the ultimate currency test, the pint of beer, you can expect to fork out close to £4. Iceland is a long way from being a bargain basement; when it comes to price it's more big British city.

Hotel rooms are only a little cheaper than they once were as tourist numbers, bolstered by promises of cheap deals, have held up after the banking collapse. Part of the reason is that a sizeable chunk of Iceland's hotel and leisure industry started charging in euros either just before or after last autumn's economic crisis. Take the iconic Blue Lagoon, the spa where the waters are heated by Iceland's permanently raucous volcanic activity. Entry into the spa is €20 per person, and that's before you've even hired a dressing gown or bought refreshments.

As for purchases, designer shopping on Laugavegur street is a little cheaper than, say, New Bond Street and the sales seem permanently to be on. The shops, however, remain empty even around Saturday lunchtime. If you want to hunt for a true bargain, follow the locals to the Kolaportid flea market on Geirsgata, across from the harbour, packed with everything from dried fish to the warmest winter coats you'll ever see.

But it takes more than a harsh climate, economic or otherwise, to keep an Icelander down. I head out on a Saturday night, in the midst of a blizzard ("a bit of sleet" in local terms), and the capital is packed with late drinkers looking to take full advantage of the bars, which stay open until 5am. They now have a phrase in Iceland for any act of extravagance: it's called partying like it's 2007, before the "banksters", as they call them, screwed it up for everyone. Big names from Iceland's financial sector were sponsors of Iceland's renowned music and arts festivals, but the city insists that they will go on regardless.

But really you don't go to Iceland to see a once-bright economic star burning up, or even for the guaranteed late drink. It's the scenery, and when you get out of Reykjavik you'll quickly realise that, minus the cost of a car, the best things on the island are free. Even weekend visitors would do well to drive for the hour or so that it takes to get to the famous "Golden Circle" route to see some of Europe's most spectacular and downright strange natural phenomena – anything from the stunning, bluer-than-blue crater lake at Kerid, to the awe-inspiring Gullfoss waterfalls or the spectacular geysers.

A little further afield you can see the settings for some of the Icelandic sagas with a circular drive in the shadow of the Mount Hekla volcano, taking in eerie rock formations and the picturesque Seljalandfoss waterfall on the way. Then there are the Northern Lights which can punch through the skies of Iceland for nearly nine months of the year, and the good news is that we are about to enter a high period of solar activity (which causes the lights) lasting until 2014.

So, don't come to Iceland expecting a dirt-cheap break. But the stunning scenery in this remote outpost of Europe is still well worth it.

Compact Facts

How to get there

Discover the World (01737 218800; discover-the-world.co.uk) offers the four-night, self-drive, Iceland Golden Circle Explorer from £500 per person, including accommodation with breakfast, return flights from London to Reykjavik and car rental.

Further information

Icelandic Tourist Board (020-7259 3999; visiticeland.com)

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
    Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

    The end of an era across the continent

    It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
    Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

    'Focus on killing American people'

    Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
    Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

    Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

    The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
    Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

    Same-sex marriage

    As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
    The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

    The Mafia is going freelance

    Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable