Whether it’s the lure of experiencing the Northern lights, the fantastic landscapes or Reykjavik’s diverse and vibrant culture, a winter break in Iceland will not disappoint. This article outlines how to experience Iceland in winter on a budget.
I had dreamt forever of visiting Iceland. The raw natural, unspoilt and uncluttered beauty of this island was more of a draw to me than anywhere else on the planet and particularly so during winter. The sticking point was always cost, Iceland has a reputation for being expensive. Dining out, attraction admissions and like for like purchases are generally expensive when compared to other European destinations. The good news is since the currency crash in 2008 Iceland has embraced tourism fully and with a collective of budget airlines flying to the island, travel and accommodation is really quite reasonable.
Package Travel Or Not?
The most economical short break will be over three nights leaving Tuesday returning Friday. Look for an early flight out and late return. You’ll come home tired but you’ll have at least two full days and two half days sightseeing. Travelling mid-week is obviously much cheaper than weekend travel.
You’ll see bargain flights to Iceland advertised from as little as £49GBP and you maybe lucky enough they suit your travel plans. These bargain flights are generally the scraps which will often mean compromising your trip to tie odd times/dates together. Realistically, you need to budget £250 per person for wintertime flights, these usually include 5kg of carry on luggage. ‘WOW Air’ offer an additional 7kg of ‘carry on’ weight for £11GBP each way or 20kg of ‘check in’ baggage for £22GBP each way.
I’ve looked at a range of packages and as with the flights there are deals to be had but generally means a compromise somewhere. As an example I’ve put a ‘no thrills’ package together consisting of flights from London Gatwick – Tuesday morning out, Friday afternoon return, transfers to and from the airport, a three star Reykjavik self-catering hotel stay and a Northern Lights evening guided tour. Total cost £523.77 per person
Let me be clear, I usually avoid holiday voucher sites like the plague but one such website offered an Iceland break for a price I couldn’t ignore. For an advertised £239 GBP per person the company in question would arrange flights with ‘Ifly’ (from a choice of UK airports including London Gatwick), three nights accommodation at ‘The Arctic Comfort’ three star hotel in Reykjavik and a guided trip in search of the Northern lights.
Voucher sites are famous for baiting the proverbial sprat in attempt to catch a mackerel. They lure you in with a very attractive price (on the surface) only to then bulk the cost out with so-called ‘extras’ after the voucher has been redeemed. The advice here is to read exactly what’s included and if it’s not clear then ask. Flight times are a favourite, the tour operator buys a bulk of undesirable flight times and it will be one of these included in your voucher price. You will have a chance to select better flights but this of course will come at a premium. All of a sudden the mega voucher deal you purchased isn’t looking quite so good!
All of the above considered, occasionally a genuinely good voucher deal will pop up. In my case, the initial voucher price was great, I then held out for a deal on my ‘extra’ charges. For an additional £90GBP I got upgrades for early leave / late return flights with WOW Air from London Gatwick, airport transfers which weren’t included in the original deal and also a room upgrade to a superior suite (unnecessary but nice). Total voucher + upgrades £329GBP.
Iceland has over thirty hostels offering great value accommodation with prices from £12GBP per night, down town Reykjavik hostels average £22GBP. Joining Hostelling International will entitle you to discounted stays and bringing your own sleeping bag avoids bedding hire charges.
Iceland will never be a dirt cheap destination but getting there is more reasonable than ever before, there is a variety of accommodation choices to suit all budgets and the best bit is this country offers the most stunning natural beauty absolutely free of charge.
Prices quoted as of February 2015.