Shopping for Groceries in Iceland

Where should you buy food in Iceland? Where will you find the best prices? Where can you find the best fresh food variety and which stores should you avoid at all costs? Read more to find out everything you need to know about grocery shopping in Iceland. 

The first thing you will notice when you visit an Icelandic grocery store is that shopping there is in all probability going to be quite an expensive undertaking.

Sadly, there's no legal way of avoiding the high food prices, but doing your homework beforehand will always go a long way toward minimising the size of your grocery bill and save precious holiday time and energy. 

Reykjavík is home to a relatively large selection of supermarkets, varying in size, selection and price, but the farther you venture from the capital, the more limited your options become. 

Most Icelandic grocery stores sell plenty of fresh fish, meat, fruit and vegetables, but the rule of thumb is that the cheaper the store, the lesser the variety; the upscale stores make up for what the budget stores lack in selection and service by adding to the price. 

Often the food items on offer in Icelandic supermarkets are labelled both in English and Icelandic, but most stores only accept Icelandic currency and, of course, most major credit and debit cards. The table below shows a price comparison of basic food items on offer in Iceland's major supermarkets. 

Shopping for Groceries in IcelandThe table shows the prices of various food products according to a survey conducted by the Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ) in May 2016. Marked green are the lowest prices; marked red are the highest prices.

Budget Stores

Operating around 30 stores nationwide, Bónus is by far the most visible supermarket in Iceland.

Shopping for Groceries in Iceland

Due to minimal customer service, a raw industrial interior, and the size of the conglomerates market share, Bónus can underbid all of their competitors and surveys almost always find it to be Iceland's cheapest grocery store. 

Bónus stores are open on weekdays and weekends and operate under a yellow banner showing an obese cheeky piggy bank that is probably meant to symbolise the overgrown monopoly happily taking all your hard earned money away. 

Good: price, a large variety of basic food items, accessibility.

Bad: service, fresh fish, and meat.

Shopping for Groceries in Iceland

Krónan is slightly more expensive than Bónus but offers a considerably larger variety of food items, including an impressive selection of organic and preservative-free groceries, so expensive that you'll feel guilty for buying them, but so healthy that you'll feel guilty if you don't.

Krónan runs around 20 stores nationwide that are open from morning to evening on weekdays and weekends.

Good: Price, healthy food, basic food products, accessibility.

Bad: Service.

Shopping for Groceries in Iceland

Nettó is a borderline department store that is home to a strange array of everyday items, ranging from yarn to transparent toilet seats, as well as relatively cheap groceries and a magic fruit and vegetable stand that never includes what you're actually after.

The stores are open both on weekdays and weekends, and some are even open 24 hours, making Nettó the world's best place to buy Icelandic yarn, should you run out in the middle of an all-night knitting marathon.

Good: opening hours, accessibility, variety. 

Bad: service, fresh fish, meat, magical vegetable stand. 

Mid-range stores

Because of the never-ending flow of anaesthetic background music, hypnotising enough to lull you to sleep in the frozen goods department, shopping in Hagkaup somehow feels like being stuck in a really big elevator, forever.

Shopping for Groceries in Iceland

An incredibly wide range of goods, from cheap clothes and overpriced cosmetics to a large selection of food items, makes Hagkaup Iceland's only chain of upscale hypermarkets. 

The stores are considerably more expensive than the budget shops, but most of them are open 24 hours and the staff can even almost be a little bit friendly and helpful sometimes.

Good: service, accessibility, variety, opening hours, fresh meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables.

Bad: price, haunting elevator music.  

Shopping for Groceries in Iceland

Nóatún was once one of Iceland's largest chains of supermarkets but has downsized considerably in recent years and now maintains but a single shop in Austurver, Reykjavík.

Although Nóatún is definitely quite expensive, they come a long way towards maintaining an intimate corner store atmosphere, offering quality services and warm meals at lunch time. 

Good:  service, accessibility, variety, opening hours, fresh meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables.

Bad: Price, location. 

Expensive Supermarkets

Shopping for Groceries in Iceland

By offering a large variety of fresh fruit and vegetables and specialising in a wide range of healthy dietary options, Víðir has definitely managed to make itself stand out among Icelandic grocery stores. 

Víðir, however, remains considerably more expensive than the budget stores and whether or not its products make up for its sometimes obscenely high prices is up for debate. 

There are three Víðir stores in the greater Reykjavík area and all of them are open every day from 10am-11pm. 

Good: service, fresh fruit, and vegetables.

Bad: price. 

Shopping for Groceries in Iceland

Shopping in the hospital green 10-11 stores will add at least 50% to your grocery bill and it almost looks as if the franchise somehow takes pride in topping any conceivable list of the most expensive grocery stores in Iceland. 

In fact, the three 10-11 stores in central Reykjavík have actually been found to secretly alter their electronic price tags in the shelter of night, increasing the prices of their already overpriced assortment of junk food by an average of 8% every single evening. 

Shoplifting in 10-11 usually seems like a far more rational course of action than making an actual purchase, which might explain why the entire staff—from the cashiers to the deli workers—consists solely of overworked security guards.  

Good: accessibility. 

Bad: price, selection, service.

Corner stores

Melabúðin, Sunnubúðin, Pétursbúð, and Kjötborg are the last leaves of a dying tree; these Reykjavík corner shops are the closing echoes of a world that is slowly fading into nonexistence, where businesses were owned and run by individuals rather than major corporate conglomerates. 

Each shop has a charm uniquely of its own, where friendly personal services and authentic atmosphere outweigh the above average prices that the monopolised modern corporate environment has forced upon every small enterprise. 

Should you long for sincerity, fair trade, and a glimpse into Iceland's economic and cultural history, you would do well to take your business to the endangered species that is the Reykjavik corner shop. 

Kjötborg is located on Ásvallagata 19
Melabúðin is located on Hagamelur 39
Pétursbúð is located on Ránargata 15
Sunnubúð is located on Mávahlíð 26