Grocery shopping in Iceland may seem like a daunting task, but this guide will tell you everything you need to know so you can get the best deals and best food for your Icelandic adventure! Read on for our best tips, favorite stores, and stores to avoid.
A common concern for first-time and seasoned travelers alike is the high cost of living in Iceland. It is true that compared to the US and even many European countries the prices in Iceland are high, comparable to other Nordic countries, and eating a meal in a restaurant in Reykjavik will set you back a pretty penny. However, there are ways that you can still enjoy Iceland on a budget, and smart grocery shopping is one of the main ways!
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. Planning ahead and doing most of your shopping before you leave Reykjavik is helpful if you want to stick to a tight budget.
Some general tips for shopping in Iceland are as follows:
Google Translate is your friend! In some of the budget supermarkets the products will only be labeled in Icelandic. Make your life easier and be sure you’re getting the food you want by using the Google Translate app, where you can either type in the product name or scan it with your phone camera, where the app can directly translate what is in the picture.
Bring your own bag with you or prepare to pay a few krona for paper bags. Iceland is very focused on sustainability, so plastic bags aren’t available at most grocery stores.
Read the label on meat very carefully. Icelandic people have a wider palate compared to Americans, and unique meats such as horse, whale, and puffin are readily available in supermarkets. If that isn’t something you want to try, then double check your meat products.
Don’t expect to buy your alcohol at the grocery store. Supermarkets can only sell alcohol below 2.25%; all other alcohol is sold through state-run liquor stores called Vinbudin’s.
Cash is not king in Iceland. Like many places in western Europe, credit cards or contactless payments are the most typical in Iceland. Some grocery stores don’t even accept cash, especially if you go to the self-checkout.
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 covered in more detail later in this article, is the store 10/11, which is both expensive and lacking in range.
In this day and age, travelers to Iceland and locals alike are increasingly concerned about the origins of their food, and sustainability is a huge focus in Iceland. Due to regulations from the government and the desire of consumers, most of the food in Icelandic grocery stores is sustainably sourced. Many of the fresh fruits and vegetables are locally grown in heated greenhouses, harnessing the abundant geothermal energy that Iceland is well known for, and livestock is mostly free-ranging. Additionally, grocery stores no longer offer plastic bags, instead requiring customers to either bring their own reusable bags or paying a few kroner per paper bag.
Vegetarian and vegan diets are increasingly popular in Iceland, and as a result, many supermarkets and restaurants cater for such diets. It is not difficult to find a wide array of fruits, vegetables, and meat replacements when you are shopping in the main supermarket chains. However, those seeking kosher or halal food might have a little more work ahead of them, so keep this in mind when planning your trip. The supermarkets Kronan, Bonus, and Netto carry some kosher and halal products, though kosher and halal meats will be more difficult to find.
Iceland is an incredible country to take a vacation to, but it is well-known that it can be rather expensive. Smart travelers, however, can minimize the impact on their wallet by researching the cheapest places to buy groceries prior to arrival. You can save hundreds of dollars by purchasing your food at the locations listed below, rather than spending at expensive restaurants or pricy supermarket chains that target unknowing visitors.
The supermarkets that offer the lowest prices do have some downsides; the budget supermarkets often only label products in Icelandic, and they have fewer staff members, meaning lines can be longer or it could be more difficult to find help if you need it. A good tip is to use your translation apps and/or memorize the Icelandic words for some of the most common items you might purchase. 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 a chubby piggy bank. 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 combination grocery and department store that is home to an interesting 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 travelers looking for a diverse range of products, which often extend beyond foodstuffs. They can also a great option for picky eaters, as they are far more likely to have products from home than the 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 are open until midnight for convenience, with 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 more expensive than the major chains, they have succeeded in 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 created an unpleasant surprise for the wallets of unsuspecting tourists. If you are traveling with little concern for budget, then they are fine for a quick shop for snacks or a pre-made meal. For those on a more careful budget or who want to get better products, avoiding the stores below is advisable.
While being incredibly convenient and easy to find, shopping in the bright green 10/11 stores will add at least 50% to your grocery bill. It's pretty well-known that these convenience stores are the most expensive place to shop in Iceland, while also offering a very limited selection.
The 10/11 stores in central Reykjavík tend to alter their electronic price tags at night, increasing the prices of their already overpriced assortment food by an average of 8% every single evening. However, for travelers who have perhaps just returned from a Northern Lights tour and are just looking for a quick snack without traipsing across town at midnight, 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. And while expensive, shopping at Kvosin means supporting a local business.
Kvosin offers a wide range of fresh fruit and vegetables, so for travelers looking for the best fresh produce this store is worth a visit.
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 some of the last corner shops left in Reykjavik, remnants from a time when most of the shops were these family-owned stores where guests had a much more personal experience.
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.