No matter what time of year you visit Akureyri, there's always something fun to do. Here's a list of the best attractions and most popular things to do in Akureyri, the capital of Northern Iceland. 

Akureyri is Iceland's second largest city, after the greater Reykjavík area. In fact, you can't really call it a city, as the inhabitants are only around 20 thousand, it is more like a town. Akureyri is often branded the 'Capital of North Iceland', while Reykjavík is branded the 'Capital of the South'. Between the two cities is about a 5-hour drive.

Akureyri is a cute town in itself, with plenty of things to do for such a small place, but it is also the gateway to the spectacular beauty of the north, most notably the area surrounding Lake Mývatn, Dettifoss waterfall, Goðafoss waterfall and Ásbyrgi canyon. If you are going to Akureyri, you should spend at least a day in the town itself but then venture out and explore the nearby beautiful locations.

You could, for example, go on this Mývatn Sightseeing and Hot Spring Tour, where you get the chance to bathe at Mývatn Nature Baths at the end of an eventful day. If you'd like to explore the area on your own, you can rent a car or look at this 7 Day Self Drive Tour of the North.You might also want to hop on a boat and explore the nearby islands Hrísey or Grímsey.

Hrísey lies in Eyjafjörður, the same fjord that Akureyri nestles in. Hrísey is Iceland's second largest island, after Heimaey in the Westman Islands on the south coast. Around 180 people live in Hrísey, in cute little houses connected by paved roads. The island is a birdwatching paradise and when you're there you should go on a tractor sightseeing tour in summer, go for a little hike and taste the local delicacy, the blue mussel.

Here you can find a 3 Day Tour to Hrísey from Reykjavík. Or you can simply take the 15-minute ferry from Árskógssandur, just outside Akureyri. Here you can find Hrísey's ferry schedule.

Grímsey marks the northernmost part of Iceland, as it is in Grímsey where the arctic circle runs through. It is around 40 km north of Iceland's mainland and less than a 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 Dalvík, that only runs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Find out more about Grímsey here.

Top 5 things to do in Akureyri in the summertime

5. Visit the Laufás Turf Homes

Laufás turf house in Akureyri

These turf homes in Akureyri, built in 1865, are some of the best-preserved examples of how Icelanders used to live in ancient times.

Laufás was fully renovated with traditional tools from the early 20th century; and since the building used to house more than 20 residents and is located only a few kilometres out of town, it's worth a visit—a visit that makes feel like you're being transported back in Icelandic history.

4. Go Horseback Riding

Horseback riding in north Iceland

Photo credit: Horse Riding Tour and Dinner in North Iceland

Akureyri is surrounded by stunning nature. After a short 15 minute 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 2-course dinner, entirely made from local organic ingredients. And after dinner, you can have a soak in a hot tub or enjoy a leisurely stroll on a nearby beach.

3. Go Whale Watching

Whale watching from Akureyri

Photo credit: Akureyri whale watching

Akureyri lies next to the fjord Eyjafjörður, a long and narrow fjord that's in between some picturesque mountains. The most common local whales are the humpback whales, although you can also spot minke whales, dolphins, harbour porpoises, seals and even killer whales on rare occasions.

You can choose between a number of Akureyri whale watching tours, such as this Akureyri whale watching tour or this Akureyri whale watching and birdwatching tour.

2. Go to the Arctic Botanical Gardens

Akureyri's botanical gardens

Photo credit: North Iceland

If it's a warm and sunny day in Akureyri, go check out the colourful flowers and listen to the birds sing in Lystigarðurinn, Akureyri's botanical garden. This public park was opened in 1912 but the botanical section opened in 1957. Entrance is free and it's a perfect place for a leisurely stroll.

Also, grab a snack or treat yourself to dinner at Cafe Bjork, a reasonably priced and friendly restaurant in the garden.

1. Visit Akureyri Church

Akureyri church is beautiful both in summer and winter

This iconic church is the symbol of Akureyri, as it towers over the centre of the city. Climb the steps to the Akureyri Church, a beautiful building towering over downtown. It was consecrated in 1940 and since then, has always been the biggest trademark symbol of this little city, the capital of the North. If you're into fitness or it's cold outside, then run up and down the dozens of stairs, since it’s a popular workout destination too.

Top 5 things to do in Akureyri in the wintertime

5. Visit the Christmas House, Jólahúsið

The Christmas House in Akureyri

Photo credit: Visit Akureyri

This Christmas House is a quaint little gift shop that gets you in 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, painted red with candy and Santas hanging all over the place.

It's always counting down the days to Christmas, but no matter how far away the festival is, you can always buy Christmas gifts, decorations and even traditional Icelandic Christmas food.

4. Get to Know the Local Culture

Hof Cultural Centre in Akureyri

Photo credit: Hof menningarhús

If you want to immerse yourself in the local culture, then Akureyri has a number of galleries and museums to check out. Hof Cultural and Conference Centre was opened in 2010 and hosts multiple musical and theatrical events as well as exhibitions of all sorts. 

You can also get information about all the cultural events taking place in Akureyri in Hof. Find out who's playing in the town's bars and cafés, which theatre productions are taking place at Akureyri's Theatre Company and which exhibitions are taking place in Akureyri Art Museum or the Art's Alley.

3. Visit Akureyri Swimming Pool

Akureyri swimming pool, image by Gísli Lórenzson

Photo credit: Gísli Lórenzson

This outdoor, geothermal swimming pool is right behind the church, and for a few hundred krónur, you can treat yourself to a relaxing hot tub soak or a steam room cleanse.

It is one of Iceland's most popular pools, as it boasts two 25 m 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 (used for sunbathing in summertime and can be used for rolling around in the snow in wintertime!)

The pool is open all year round - but it's especially nice to soak in the hot tubs in the cold winter days!

2. Go skiing at Hlíðarfjall

Hlíðarfjall in Akureyri by Fancy-cats-are-happy-cats from Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Anyone from Reykjavík will complain about the unstable ski season in south Iceland, where the lack of snow can result in the local ski resort Bláfjöll only being open for a handful of days in a season.

However, Hlíðarfjall in the North can be open up to 180 days a year, covered in a blanket of white, and it's right next door to Akureyri. This is arguably the best ski resort in the country. The 700m high slopes and a new, big, fast ski lift named Fjarkinn makes this a winter dream for any skier or snowboarder.

A day pass costs 4900 ISK for adults and you can rent skis or snowboard gear for 5500 ISK for the day. (Prices from winter season 2016-2017).

1. Find the Northern Lights

Norhern Lights in Iceland

Since Akureyri is located further north than Reykjavik, and the city only has 20,000 residents, the light pollution is not as bad and the longer nights make it perfect for northern lights spotting.

The Northern Lights are only visible when it is dark and the sky is clear, so you can only search for them during wintertime, as the summers in Iceland are very bright - especially in Akureyri. 

The further north you go, the greater the contrast between summer and winter, meaning Akureyri has longer days in summer than Reykjavík - but longer nights in wintertime.