Discover the 13 best things to do in Akureyri and the surrounding area. Iceland's "Capital of the North" is the gateway to some of Iceland's finest and most unique experiences, such as whale watching, the best skiing in Iceland, and a one-of-a-kind spa where you bathe in (and drink) beer. Read on to learn about sights, activities, must-see tourist attractions, and other fun things to do in both summer and winter.
Akureyri is the second-largest city in the country after Reykjavik. Calling it a 'city' may be too generous a term as there are only 20,000 people who live there, which makes it closer to the size of what is considered a town elsewhere in the world. Akureyri is often referred to as Iceland's "Capital of the North."
A charming town in itself, there are plenty of things to do in Akureyri, especially considering it's such a small place. After spending a day or so in the town itself, you could go on day trips to some beautiful places nearby and use the city as your base.
If you're wondering what to see in Akureyri, the first thing you should consider is visiting some of the area's natural attractions. Akureyri is the gateway to the north's spectacular beauty, most notably the Myvatn region, Dettifoss waterfall, Godafoss waterfall, and Asbyrgi canyon, which can all be visited on day trips from Akureyri.
You could, for example, go on and see Myvatn and Grjotagja hot spring, where you get the chance to bathe at Myvatn Nature Baths at the end of an eventful day.
Hrisey lies in Eyjafjordur, the same fjord in which Akureyri is nestled.
Hrisey is Iceland's second-largest island after Heimaey in the Westman Islands on the South Coast.
Around 180 people live in Hrisey, in cute little houses connected by paved roads.
The island is a birdwatching paradise. When you're there, you should go on a tractor sightseeing tour in summer, or go for a little hike and taste the local delicacy, the blue mussel.
Grimsey marks the northernmost part of Iceland, and it's here that the Arctic Circle touches Icelandic terrestrial territory.
It's around 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Iceland's mainland, and less than 100 people live there.
To reach it, you can take a 30-minute flight from Akureyri or go on a 3-hour boat journey from Dalvik, which only runs on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
The Eyjafjordur fjords area is beautiful in the summertime.
The town comes to life with outdoor cafés, and people lounge at the poolside, totally ignoring the fact that they live just below the Arctic circle.
There are outdoor activities, hiking trails, concerts, and festivals to attend, and of course, ice cream to eat.
Here are some suggestions for a great day out in Akureyri in the summer.
Photo by Regína Hrönn Ragnarsdóttir
These turf homes in Akureyri, built in 1865, are some of the best-preserved examples of how Icelanders used to live in ancient times. They're one of the local visitors' favorite things to see in Akureyri.
Laufas was fully renovated with traditional tools from the early 20th century.
Since the building used to house more than 20 residents and is located only a few miles out of town, it's worth visiting. It promises to take visitors back in time, diving into Icelandic history.
When visiting Kjarnaskogur forest, you'll be amazed to know that back in the early 1950s, this area south of Akureyri had no trees whatsoever. That's when the first trees were planted in this 800-hectare area, aiming to create a green area around Akureyri.
Today, Kjarnaskogur forest is a leisure area popular among locals. There are several hiking trails, family playgrounds, BBQ facilities, and even a 6.2-mile (10-kilometer) long mountain biking trail.
Stunning nature surrounds Akureyri. After a short drive out of town, you're on a farm surrounded by horses and the relaxing Icelandic countryside.
This horse riding tour from Akureyri even includes a home-cooked two-course dinner made entirely from local organic ingredients. After dinner, you can have a soak in a hot tub or enjoy a stroll on a nearby beach.
Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Simone. No edits were made.
If it's a warm and sunny day in Akureyri, go check out the colorful flowers and listen to the birds sing in Lystigardurinn, Akureyri's botanical garden.
This public park was opened in 1912, but the botanical section opened in 1957. Entry is free, and it's a perfect place for a leisurely walk.
Also, grab a snack or treat yourself to dinner at Cafe Bjork, a reasonably priced and friendly restaurant in the garden.
Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by JRodSilva. No edits were made.
The iconic Akureyri Church is considered one of the must-see Akureyri attractions, and it's conveniently easy to spot, as it towers over the center of the city and dominates the skyline downtown.
It was consecrated in 1940 and, since then, has always been the most significant trademark symbol of this small city.
If you're into fitness or it's cold outside, just imagine you're Rocky Balboa and run up and down the dozens of stairs since it's a popular workout destination, too.
Visiting Mount Sulur is one of the many things to do near Akureyri. It's located 5.6 miles (nine kilometers) from the city center and is a popular destination for hiking.
Mount Sulur rises at 3,980 feet (1,213 meters). The hike is considered moderate to difficult and is best done with a guide and in good weather.
It can be extra challenging in wet weather because of some marshlands that can slow you down. It also gets quite steep in some parts. But once you get to the summit, you'll be rewarded with spectacular views of Akureyri, the surrounding mountains, and Eyjafjordur fjords.
Whale watching is one of the most popular things to do near Akureyri. The seas surrounding Akureyri and Eyjafjordur fjords are teeming with sea creatures. A popular activity in North Iceland is whale watching in Akureyri. Apart from whales, it's also possible to spot dolphins and porpoises.
The most common animals to see include humpback whales, harbor porpoises, minke whales, and dolphins.
Encounters with rare species such as blue whales and orcas are much more commonplace in North Iceland, making it the perfect destination for taking to the sea in search of these gentle giants. So, it's not surprising that sea life is one of the best-known Akureyri attractions.
Despite all the natural beauty in the area, whales usually top the list of things to see in Akureyri for visitors.
If you're wondering what to do in Akureyri during winter, you have plenty of options. Akureyri is a winter wonderland with easy access to great ski slopes and skating rinks, open skies for northern lights spotting, and geothermal pools to sink into and hide from the cold.
The nearby settlements, such as Hrafnagil, also offer warming winter experiences for both kids and adults.
If you're looking for the best things to do in Akureyri in winter, here's a handy list for you.
Photo from Regína Hrönn Ragnarsdóttir
This Christmas House (Jolahusid) is a quaint little gift shop that will get you into the Christmas spirit any time of the year.
It looks a bit like a cross between a typical Icelandic fisherman's house and a gingerbread house. It's painted red with candy and features Santas hanging all over the place.
Regardless of the time of year you visit, you can always buy Christmas gifts, decorations, and even traditional Icelandic Christmas food.
If you want to immerse yourself in the local culture, Akureyri has many galleries and museums to check out.
Hof Cultural and Conference Center was opened in 2010 and hosts multiple musical and theatrical events and exhibitions of all sorts. At Hof, you can also get information about all the cultural events taking place in Akureyri.
Find out who's playing in the town's bars and cafés, which theater productions are taking place at Akureyri's Theatre Company, and which exhibitions are taking place in Akureyri Art Museum or the Art's Alley.
This outdoor geothermal swimming pool is right behind the church. It's a great place to treat yourself to a relaxing hot tub soak or steam room cleanse.
It's one of Iceland's most popular pools. It has two 75-feet (25-meter) outdoor pools, water jets, water slides, a splash pool, an indoor pool, four hot tubs, a steam bath, a sauna, and an extensive outdoor area. Locals use the outdoor area for sunbathing in the summertime and for rolling around in the snow in the wintertime. A visit to this swimming pool is both an authentic Icelandic experience and an ideal family trip.
The pool is open all year round, but it's especially nice to soak in the hot tubs on the cold winter days.
Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Sergejf. No edits were made.
Anyone from Reykjavik will complain about the inconsistency of the ski season in South Iceland, where the lack of snow can result in the local ski resort Blafjoll only being open for a handful of days in a season.
However, Hlidarfjall in the North can be open up to 180 days a year, covered in a blanket of white, which makes it one of the most popular things to do near Akureyri in winter.
It's arguably the best ski resort in Iceland. The 2300 foot tall (700 meter tall) mountain has a new, big, fast ski lift named Fjarkinn, which makes it a winter dream for any skier or snowboarder.
Hop into a bath full of hops! This novel experience is available all year round but becomes even more tempting when the weather outside isn't the best for sightseeing or hiking.
The Bjorbodin ('Beer Bath') Spa opened in 2017 and offers visitors the unique opportunity to soak in a relaxing bath of young beer and live beer yeast.
The beneficial effects of yeast on the body and skin are well-documented, and with a follow-up relaxation session, you're guaranteed to leave feeling rejuvenated.
Although you can't sip the suds in which you're sitting, you can enjoy a cold beer straight from the draft tap that sits adjacent to every tub. Book your admission to this unusual spa experience. Don't miss out.
The northern lights are only visible when it's dark, and the sky is clear, so it's best to view them during the wintertime. Summer in Iceland is too bright to see the northern lights - especially in Akureyri.