Where can you buy cheap groceries in Iceland? Does Reykjavík have a wide range of supermarkets? Where can you find the best fresh food variety and which stores should you avoid at all costs? Is it possible to shop ethically in Iceland? 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. The main exception to this, as will be hammered into you throughout this article, is 10/11, which is both expensive and lacking in range.
In some Icelandic supermarkets (usually those tailored to tourists and thus more expensive), products are labelled both in English and Icelandic; in the larger ones in the suburbs, this is often not the case, but staff are more than likely to speak English and be happy to help.
Most stores only accept Icelandic currency but, of course, will also take most major credit and debit cards.
It’s 2019, and as a result, many travellers (and, of course, locals) are increasingly concerned about the origins of their food. Thankfully, Icelandic groceries are, by and large, sourced sustainably. The majority of fruit and vegetables are grown year-round in local greenhouses, powered by harnessing the abundant geothermal energy here, and most meat is raised free-range (throughout summer, of course, as in winter it is far more cruel to keep most animals outdoors than in).
Vegetarianism and veganism are increasingly popular ways of life in Iceland, and as a result, many supermarkets cater for such diets. Unfortunately, however, the country remains rather hegemonic in terms of religion, so those seeking kosher or halal food may have to look a little harder (or simply have a meat-free holiday).
Those who do eat meat will want to check the labels of what they are buying or ask a staff member to translate them to ensure they don’t cross a personal, ethical boundary. Just because something looks like beef or pork doesn’t mean it is; Icelanders have quite the adventurous palette, and puffin, whale and horse are all widely available.
Iceland is an incredible country to take a holiday to, but it is well-known that it can be rather expensive. Smart travellers, however, can minimise the impact on their holiday by researching the cheapest places to buy groceries prior to arrival. You can literally save tens of thousands of krona by purchasing your food at the locations listed below, rather than spending at expensive restaurants or predatory supermarket chains that target unknowing visitors.
Of course, the low prices come at a slight cost. Budget supermarkets often only label their products in Icelandic and have a sparser staff, meaning it is a good idea to know a few words for the foodstuffs you want prior to arrival. This will shorten the time you spend shopping and thus increase the time you get to spend enjoying Iceland.
Operating around 30 stores nationwide, Bónus is by far the most visible supermarket in Iceland.
Due to minimal customer service, a raw industrial interior, and the size of the conglomerate's market share, Bónus can underbid all of its competitors. 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. Unfortunately, however, they close sooner than most supermarkets, usually at 18:30.
Street addresses of Bónus in Reykjavík:
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.
Krónan runs around 20 stores nationwide that are open from morning to evening on weekdays and weekends. They usually close a little later than Bónus, at 20:00 or 21:00.
Street addresses of Krónan in Reykjavík:
Nettó is a borderline department store that is home to a strange array of everyday items, ranging from wool to toilet seats, as well as relatively cheap groceries.
The stores are open both on weekdays and weekends. Many are open 24 hours, making Nettó the country's best place to buy Icelandic yarn should you run out in the middle of an all-night knitting marathon.
Street addresses of Nettó in Reykjavík;
Iceland's mid-range supermarkets are great for travellers looking for a diverse range of products, which often extend beyond foodstuffs. They are also a great option for picky eaters, as they are far more likely to have products from home than stores at either end of the price range.
An incredibly wide range of goods, from cheap clothes and cosmetics to a large selection of food items, makes Hagkaup Iceland's only chain of upscale hypermarkets. The interiors often feel more like a mall than a simple store.
The prices of foodstuffs are considerably more expensive than the budget shops, but most branches open until midnight for convenience, the exception being the branch at Kringlan.
Street addresses of Hagkaup in Reykjavík:
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. It closes at 20:00.
Street address of Nóatún in Reykjavík.
Iceland's expensive supermarkets are numerous, conveniently located, inviting with their glowing signs and English labels, and often predatory on unsuspecting tourists. If you are travelling with little concern for budget, then they are fine for nipping in to grab some confectionery or a frozen pizza. Those who want to spend their money wisely, however, or simply want to get decent products, should do their best to avoid the options below.
Shopping in the hospital green 10/11 stores will add at least 50% to your grocery bill and it almost feels as if the franchise takes pride in topping any conceivable list of the most expensive grocery stores in Iceland.
In fact, the 10/11 stores in central Reykjavík actually alter their electronic price tags in the shelter of the night, increasing the prices of their already overpriced assortment of junk food by an average of 8% every single evening. Even so, if you have just, say, returned from a Northern Lights tour in winter and don't want to traipse across the city, they will prove convenient as most are open 24 hours a day.
Street addresses of 10/11 in Reykjavík:
Kvosin is a small supermarket located conveniently in downtown Reykjavík. Though not as cheap as the larger stores, it is still more affordable than 10/11 in regards to most products, and often offers very cheap meal deals. Also, for an expensive supermarket, you can take some solace in knowing that if you are shopping there, you are not supporting a massive conglomerate chain.
It also has a wide range of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Kvosin is open until 11 pm, making it great to head to after a late return from a tour particularly if you are exhausted and are not inclined to head further afield.
Street address of Kvosin in Reykjavík:
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 corporations.
Each shop has a charm uniquely of its own, where friendly personal services and authentic atmosphere. Of course, by necessity, they are more expensive than most supermarkets (although not 10/11), but shopping at one is great for the local economy and easily justifiable for those with a bit more money to spare.
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.
See also: The History of Iceland
Did you find this guide to grocery shopping in Iceland useful? Where did you purchase your groceries, and did you find it expensive? Did you find that Iceland's supermarkets catered to your tastes? Let us know in the comments section below.