If you start searching for articles about eating on the road in Iceland, you’ll most likely come up with a lot of blog posts that tell you to get used to eating gas station hot dogs. Of course, if you’re a vegetarian, that’s not an option. I’m not actually a vegetarian, but I’m pretty picky about the meat I eat, and I traveled the Ring Road with a good friend who has been a vegetarian for a long time, so my diet ended up being mostly vegetarian throughout the trip. Roadtripping through Iceland involves a lot of isolation and long stretches without any gas stations or restaurants, so even people without diet restrictions need to plan ahead for meals.
Iceland is expensive. It is a small island, which means a lot of the food has to be imported into the country, which in turn leads to higher prices. If you’ve been traveling on a budget, the price tags at a grocery store in Iceland might catch you a little off guard. If possible, I recommend bringing in some staples such as your favorite brand of granola, bags of nuts, and granola or protein bars. Keep in mind that there are always limitations as to what food items you can bring from one country to another. Agricultural items such as fruits, vegetables, and cheeses will not be allowed. Stick to pre-packaged, non-perishable items. When it doubt, check with Iceland Customs before packing food.
My travel partner and I packed granola, nuts, and chocolate. The granola and nuts really kept us sane during long stretches of road without anywhere to stop for food. While the chocolate didn’t offer much nutritional value, it did make the long waits between meals more bearable.
In general, I rush through Duty Free, speed walking right past the perfumes and giant Toblerones. However, in Iceland, I recommend you make a pit stop at the Duty Free before you leave the airport. This is the cheapest place in Iceland to buy alcohol, and even some of the candies and snacks you might want during your upcoming long drives. Grab a couple of six packs of Icelandic beer and some trail mix. Trust me.
Whether you bring your own items in or not, you’ll still want to stop at a grocery store before you embark on a driving tour of Iceland. It’s very important to keep in mind that not all towns in Iceland will have a grocery store. The stores they do have may be smaller and have a more limited selection and/or hours of operation than you’d expect. My travel partner and I made the mistake of not checking the opening time for the local grocery store in Reykjavik. Our grand plan involved us stocking up on essentials in the morning before we headed out towards Geysir, which is part of the Golden Circle. We arrived at the store only to discover that it didn’t open for another hour and a half. Our schedule was too tight for us to wait around, so we had to begin our trip with the limited food we had. It led to a very long, hungry day. Be smarter than us. Check the hours ahead of time and plan accordingly.
My number one grocery recommendation for vegetarians (or anyone) is Skyr. It’s kind of like Iceland’s version of Greek yogurt. It’s light and creamy, but packed with protein, making it the perfect food for long travel days. My travel partner and I bought about 4 Skyrs at a time. Each day for lunch, we had a banana (or whatever other fruit we could find), Skyr, and granola. It kept us full until dinner. Thanks to the cold temperatures in Iceland, we were able to keep the yogurt, along with other items that generally require refrigeration, in the trunk of our car without worrying about them spoiling.
Other recommended grocery store items include things such as bread, pretzels, cheese, and fruit. All of these items will hold well over the course of several days, and also provide great snacks and makeshift meals.
For most of my trip, I stayed in Icelandic farmhouses instead of hotels, but all of my accommodations offered two very important things – a mini fridge and a free breakfast. If you’re trying to save money and eat with diet restrictions in Iceland, these two things will be your best friends. Remember that Skyr I recommended? Take whatever you have stored in your trunk and pop it into the mini-fridge. If you took my advice and bought Icelandic beer at Duty Free, put those in the mini fridge too. The cold temperatures will keep your perishable items at a safe temperature in your car for awhile, but since you’ll likely have the heat on in your car, it’s best to put whatever cold items you have in the fridge whenever you have one available.
Now for breakfast. Most farmhouses and hotels in Iceland will offer a large breakfast spread. Approach this breakfast buffet as if it will be your last real meal for the day because, to be honest, it will be. A typical Icelandic breakfast spread will have a variety of breads and cheeses, along with some hardboiled eggs. These are all ideal for vegetarians looking to fill up their bellies. For the non-vegetarians, there are plenty of lunch meats as well. Remember, lunch will likely be Skyr with granola, so eat as much as you comfortably can at breakfast.
Most establishments discourage taking food to go, but if you can manage it, try to save some of this food for later. You may even be able to simply purchase a to-go meal. If you are able to take food to go, save it for your dinner. Since a traditional Icelandic breakfast includes a lot of sandwich fixings, I recommend a nice heart vegetarian sandwich.
Again, Icelandic towns are small and offer very few amenities. Many of the towns we spent the night in only had a couple of restaurants, if any, and perhaps a mini-market. After our first day on the road, we arrived at the farmhouse starving and ready to go out to eat. My travel partner and I went into town and discovered that there were only 2 restaurants and neither of them had much to offer for vegetarians. We ended up at the mini market, where we purchased supplies to make cold cheese sandwiches, which we washed down with beer. It was sad and unsatisfying. For the rest of our trip, we packed hearty sandwiches, loaded with a variety of cheeses, tomatoes, and hard-boiled eggs. While it’s not exactly a gourmet meal, it was a lot better than the skimpy sandwiches we had on the first night.
I’m sure that somewhere in Iceland, there are restaurants that have great food for vegetarians, but you aren’t likely to happen upon them as you travel the Ring Road. I didn’t go to Iceland to enjoy their cuisine, I went to take in the scenery, experience the beautiful waterfalls, and see a country that is incredibly unique. Roughing it with my food choices for a week was a small price to pay for all of the amazing sights I got to see during my time in Iceland.