Iceland: picturesque, chilly…and expensive. This year, the Europe Backpacker Index listed Reykjavik as one of the least budget friendly cities for traveling. The money travelers keep in their wallets when purchasing low-cost airfare can disappear quickly upon arrival— especially when it comes time to eat. Going into my trip to Iceland armed with the knowledge that of the low-cost dining options are not the most vegan friendly, I was nervous about how I might eat without breaking the bank. When we arrived, we quickly realized just how easy eating vegan on a budget in Reykjavik can be!
While at times we did eat a bit more extravagantly (such as our discovery of the best vegan brunch spot in Reykjavik), here are some of our favorite vegan budget dining locations, as well as a few tips we used to get the most calories for our krona.
All price below are accurate as of October 2016.
1) Don’t be Afraid To Split Plates
Note: I know in the U.S plate sharing is something that is often looked down upon, or something that incurs a fee at restaurants. While this was not my experience in Reykjavik, if you are unsure if this is okay in a restaurant of your choosing, definitely ask! Icelanders are extremely hospitable and will most likely answer any questions you may have.
Laundromat Cafe: One night, when out to dinner at Laundromat Cafe, a travelers staple in Reykjavik’s city center, I saw a group of ladies sitting next to us ask the waiter if they could have some extra plates, as they planned to share a few entrees. I wish I had thought of this myself, and much earlier in our trip! Laundromat Cafe has a few fantastic vegan choices for lunch and dinner and the portions are sizable enough that splitting a dish should leave both parties feeling satisfied.
Gló: Gló is a healthy (though not completely vegetarian) fast casual restaurant with a daily rotating menu and several locations spread throughout Reykjavik, and it afforded us one of the best vegan budget dining option of all. For 1850, they offer a soup and bread with a salad for 1850 ISK. This is an excellent option for sharing, because both the soup and salad are full sized portions. I do not recall the specifics of the salad, but the warm flavors of the carrot soup were an ideal companion to the rainy day that brought us to Gló. To top it off, the soup also comes with a free refill. They have some dessert options that I do not think are the most budget friendly (a raw chocolate cake and a raw tiramisu that were just okay), but otherwise the food is great. Two full sized bowls of soup, a large salad, and bread for less than 2000 krona is a fabulous deal!
2) Look for Lunch and Takeaway Specials
Shalimar: We adored the comforting Pakistani food at Shalimar, but wound up paying much more for it than if we had taken advantage of their amazing lunch deal. On weekdays, Shalimar boasts a takeaway lunch deal that consists of curry, rice, and naan for 990 ISK. Their dish of the day costs 1890 ISK if you choose to dine-in, so there is some significant savings to be had there.
Bergsson Mathús: Bergsson Mathús does not have the most innovative vegan offerings, but always have one or vegan main dishes available, as well as some salads. However, they are not to be missed for their lunchtime takeaway deal! According to the Bergsson Mathús website: “Our lunch menu is served between 11-19 every day. Between 16-19 we offer 2 for 1, as we do not like to waste food.” The lunches on their menu are typically priced around 2500ISK, making this a great way to eat vegan on a budget in Reykjavik.
Note: Both of these deals are not available on the weekends, so plan your meals accordingly! We made the mistake of trying to visit Bergsoon Mathús for takeaway 2 for 1 lunch on a Sunday, but these deals typically do not apply on days when brunch is being served instead of the regular lunch menu.
3) Self-Cater some of your meals!
Bonus: Bonus is the low-cost grocery store in Reykjavik, with multiple locations. There were two within a short walking distance of our AirBnB and we certainly took advantage. Here I was able to purchase non dairy milk, yogurt, peanut butter, and that cheesy vegan staple, nutritional yeast. They also have some Tofurky products and tofu at prices that will not break the bank. That said, their produce can be less than budget friendly, so be sure to check the prices carefully before you load up your basket with fruits and greens.
Towards the end of our trip, I also found some prepared vegan meals in the refrigerated section of Bonus. If you have an oven but are not too keen on cooking from scratch, this is also a great choice.
10-11: For pantry and other cooking staples, Bonus is the way to go, but I was pleasantly surprised at the vegan options in the prepared foods case at 10-11. If you are not staying in accommodations with a kitchen, this would be an excellent place to pick up some remade sandwiches or boxed salad before you head out of Reykjavik for the day! They also have some non-dairy milks and a few pantry staples, but you’ll pay more for these at 10-11 that you will at Bonus.
My Favorite Budget Friendly Locations in Reykjavik!
Bjornsbakari: A search on HappyCow is actually what me to Bjornsbakari, a small shop with authentic Icelandic pastries, breads, and coffee. A traditional pastry shop is not the sort of place I would normally go hunting for budget vegan options, but the reviews told me that I could find vegan iced sweet rolls— and oh, did this place deliver! What they serve is not simply an iced sweet roll. It’s a sweet roll, coated in either chocolate or caramel and it’s AS BIG AS YOUR HEAD. A perfect pastry to split with a friend for breakfast, or lunch, or a snack, or dessert, or whenever. The damage on your wallet? A mere 330ISK for this massive treat! If you are residing near a Bjornsbakari location, I highly recommend picking these up for a sweet breakfast to eat with a nice big cup of tea. But don’t buy a bunch of them at once; I guarantee you they will disappear fast!
Reykjavik Chips: Reykjavik Chips is about as casual as it gets. It’s a fries and beer joint…and that’s it. They serve crispy potato fries with a wide variety of dipping sauces to choose from, though there is only one vegan option: a savory satay sauce. But don’t let that stop you from checking this place out! That satay sauce? I could eat it with spoon, I swear. This is the kind of cheap comfort food you crave after a long day…or a hangover.
The fries come in three sizes, with the largest ringing in at 1400 ISK. If you are in a hurry and want to eat cheaply, split this with a friend for a quick 700 krona pick me up. A solo sized medium portion is 800 krona, so you don’t need to shy away from this joint if you are traveling solo.
What are your favorite ways to save money when you are traveling through another country? Leave a comment down below!