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
  • Get to the point
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

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Assistant Manager

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This hotel in Chadderton is a p...

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

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

    Recruitment Genius: Content Assistant / Copywriter

    £15310 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

    £24000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Situated in the heart of Bradfo...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence