The word "hotel" generally signifies the most luxurious choice in town, but not all hotels are superior to or more expensive than guesthouses, and not all "hotel" rooms even have private bathrooms. Expect to pay at least 10,000kr for the most basic hotel double with a private bathroom, 8,000kr for one without a private bathroom, or 20,000kr for an average business-style room.
International chains have few footholds in Iceland. Icelandic chains are more common. Icelandair Hotels (tel. 444-4000) has nine three- and four-star hotels around the country. Its subsidiary Edda Hotels (tel. 444-4000) has eight summer-only hotels, mostly in student housing. Kea Hotels (tel. 460-2000) has 11 two- to four-star hotels.
Gistiheimilið (guesthouses) are a time-honored Scandinavian institution closely related to the bed-and-breakfast. Rooms, usually in private houses, are most often cheaper than hotels and range in quality from the equivalent of a two-star hotel to a hostel. Private bathrooms are rare, but most guesthouses are likely to have cooking facilities, sleeping-bag accommodation (see below), or a family-size apartment fitting four to six people. Because Icelanders have a highly developed sense of personal privacy, the proprietors often live in a separate house. Standards of cleanliness are usually very high.
Prices vary; a double with a shared bathroom ranges from 6,000kr to 25,000kr. About half of Icelandic guesthouses include breakfast in the room price, and the rest usually offer breakfast for an extra 1,200kr to 1,800kr or so per person.
Small timber cabins for travelers are sprouting up all over Iceland, usually in conjunction with an existing hotel or guesthouse. Some travelers seek them out for their comparative privacy, quiet, and convenience. The cabins are often designed for family groups of around four, with private bathrooms and cooking facilities. Prices are comparable to regular doubles.
Staying at farmhouses is the classic Icelandic way to travel. Every farm has its own road sign, and farm names are often unchanged from the Age of Settlement.
A farm stay is simply a guesthouse in farm surroundings; comforts are similar to those of a European bed-and-breakfast. Hey Iceland lists more than 60 farm holidays.
For hardy visitors on a budget, the Icelandic custom of svefnpoka gisting, or "sleeping-bag accommodation," can feel like a gift from the travel gods. In many guesthouses, farm stays, and even some hotels, travelers with their own sleeping bags can get around 35% to 50% off on room rates. For the most part the beds, rooms, and amenities are the same; you're simply sparing the management the trouble of washing sheets.
The Case for Hostels
Iceland’s dozens of youth hostels are hardly the exclusive domain of young backpackers. All have good basic standards of service and cleanliness. Some are almost indistinguishable from guesthouses or farm stays. Some offer doubles, though most rooms sleep three to six; private bathrooms are rare. All hostels give you the option of sleeping-bag accommodation or sheet rental and have guest kitchens; some offer meals and self-service laundry. In some remote destinations, hostels may be your only option for lodging and dining, and an excellent source of tourist information.
All youth hostels in Iceland can be booked through one convenient central office (tel. 575-6700). The website includes good deals on adventure tours and a popular car-rental package with hostel vouchers. Hostels tend to fill up even faster than hotels and guesthouses in high season, so plan ahead. Many hostels close in winter. Children ages 5 to 12 usually stay for half-price.
A Youth Hostelling International membership, which gives you a 20% discount on rates, can be purchased before you leave home.
Iceland’s heavy winds and rains present a serious challenge for campers, but Iceland’s many campsites make the country far more accessible to visitors of limited means, provided they have the appropriate equipment. Camping typically costs only 800kr to 1,600kr per person per night, and a few municipal campsites are free. Icelandic campsites are safe, conveniently located, and plentiful: Virtually every village has one. Some have washing machines, electricity, hot showers, and kitchens; others have only a cold-water tap and toilets. Most campsites are only open June through mid-September.
The Camping Card grants you (plus spouse and up to four children under the age of 16) up to 28 nights in more than 40 campsites across the country for the entire summer for only 15,500kr. The website has a list and map of participating sites. The card can be purchased online or in Iceland at Olis stations and post offices. Nordic Adventure Travel also has a helpful map of the sites. The free directory Tjaldsvæði Íslands is available at tourist information centers.
Reykjavík Center takes it up a notch by indicating availability of rooms or sleeping spaces within a specified time frame. Despite its name, it covers the whole country.
- Book rooms with access to a kitchen. Restaurants are particularly expensive in Iceland, and you can save money by cooking for yourself.
- Ask about apartments and “family rooms” if you are in a group of three or more. These types of rooms are very common in Iceland, but not always well advertised.
- Act noncommittal. Many Icelandic guesthouses quote different prices to different people. Always ask for a price before committing, even if the guesthouse has a published rate. They could quote something lower to snag your business.
- Be wary of packages and group tour rates. Icelandic guesthouses often quote a higher rate to a travel agent than to an individual calling directly, especially outside of Reykjavík.
- Ask about special rates or other discounts. You may qualify for corporate, student, military, senior, frequent flier, trade union, or other discounts. Children’s discounts are very common in Iceland.
- Book online. Internet-only discounts are very common in Iceland; many places have a standard discount every time you book online. Some supply rooms to Priceline, Hotwire, or Expedia at rates lower than the ones you can get through the hotel itself.
- Remember the law of supply and demand. You can save big on hotel rooms by touring in Iceland’s off-season or shoulder seasons, when rates typically drop, even at luxury properties
Landing the Best Room
Visitors often assume they want a room with lots of natural light. In the nonstop daylight of Iceland’s early summer, however, you might want to request a room with less sun exposure and/or good blackout curtains.
If you’re a light sleeper, ask for a quieter room away from vending or ice machines, elevators, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. Icelanders have a well-earned reputation for late-night partying on Friday and Saturday nights.
Note: Top sheets are generally not even an option in Iceland. Also, filter coffeemakers are rare: coffee/tea-making facilities usually consist of an electric hot water kettle, instant coffee, and teabags.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.