When I travel I usually spend way too much time navigating my way through unfamiliar grocery stores, figuring out the pricing and where on earth I’ll find what I need. I have all kinds of special needs when it comes to food so I tend to eat in more than out, even when I’m traveling. Eating in Iceland isn’t cheap, and if you’re shopping on a budget you can easily make one or two costly mistakes.
Here’s a compact guide for clueless grocery shoppers in Iceland.
First things first: Icelandic grocery stores do not carry alcohol. That thing you found called “pilsner” or “malt” that looks like beer, isn’t beer. It’s non-alcoholic pseudo-beer so put it back and head for Vínbúðin (state-run liquor store) or the nearest bar.
Bónus and Krónan (look for big yellow buildings and logos) are our two budget supermarkets. They usually have the lowest prices and carry the essentials but not much more. Bónus is usually slightly cheaper but I get more of what I need in Krónan. They have shops in most of our larger municipalities and are a good place to start. Plus Bónus’ logo of a smirking pink pig is nothing short of legendary.
My personal favorite is Nettó. It sits somewhere in the middle as far as pricing and selection go. They usually have a great selection of dairy and vegetables and an impressive health section but no fresh meat or fish section.
Hagkaup has great product selection, most of their stores in Reykjavík are open 24 hours and their larger stores have clothing and cosmetics departments. They even have an online shop and home delivery which I’ve often fantasized about having access to, after a long day traveling in a foreign country with no car.
Nóatún has similar pricing, a smaller selection but very good quality and the best fresh meat section.
10-11 is a large chain of convenience stores that vary in size and will sometimes operate within gas stations. They have long opening hours, convenient product selection (as in “I need something quick”) and are accordingly pricey.
While you will find all of these supermarkets and stores in Reykjavík, the further away from the city you go, the less of a selection you have. Smaller towns may not even have a store so it might pay off to plan ahead if you’re doing a road trip. That said, if you do find a quirky little corner store in that tiny town you’re visiting, do go in. It’s a cultural experience in its own right.
*A special note for hipsters: Obviously this list does not apply to you and obviously you’re staying in postal code 107 so head straight to Melabúðin. This delicatessen has an amazing product selection, awe-inspiringly packed into a small corner store. Head for downtown Kjötborg for the most authentic and old-school shopping experience Reykjavík has to offer and personal service that will knock your socks off.