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 the North,’ and information about how COVID-19 may impact your trip.
Akureyri is Iceland's second-largest city, after the greater Reykjavik area. 'City' may be too generous a term as there are only 20,000 people who live there, closer to that of a town elsewhere in the world.
Akureyri is often called the 'Capital of the North,’ while Reykjavik is branded the 'Capital of the South.’ An approximate 5-hour drive separates them. It is important to note that Iceland is open to visitors from approved countries, and after testing and quarantine, you will be free to explore.
Visitors are instructed to go directly from the airport to their quarantine accommodation, where they have to stay for the full quarantine period. You can find more information on testing and quarantine requirements in our comprehensive COVID-19 guide.
Iceland has worked hard to control the spread of the virus with vigilant testing and contact tracing. The health authorities released a set of guidelines for the public and local businesses. The gathering ban limits the number of people who can be together at one time, and the social distancing guideline keeps people 2 meters apart.
While these guidelines felt inconvenient at the beginning of 2020, local businesses and people adapted quickly. Local shops and restaurants limit the number of people inside the buildings at one time, and tours take fewer people on each trip.
It has become more important than ever before to book tours and accommodations well in advance due to these guidelines. Not only are fewer people allowed on each tour, but many businesses have also reduced hours during this time as well. This gives visitors a unique opportunity to take advantage of smaller tours than ever before.
70% of the Icelandic population lives within the Reykjavik area. Although Akureyri is labeled as the ‘Capital of the North,’ it will still be possible to distance yourself from others.
Luckily, the best part of Iceland is the vast and unique landscapes and natural wonders. None of which have been impacted by COVID-19. You will still find businesses operating as normally as they can and tours running daily. There are many natural wonders in Akureyri’s area, making it a great place to lay your head at night and escape from the crowds during the day.
A charming town in itself, there are plenty of things to do for such a small place.
If you are going to Akureyri, you should spend at least a day in the town itself, perhaps even using it as your accommodation base, but then venture out and explore the nearby breathtaking locations on day trips.
You could, for example, go on and see Myvatn and Grjotagja hot spring, where you get the chance to bathe at Mývatn Nature Baths at the end of an eventful day.
Hrísey lies in Eyjafjörður, the same fjord that Akureyri is nestled 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 bird-watching 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.
Grímsey marks the northernmost part of Iceland, and it is here that the Arctic Circle touches Icelandic terrestrial territory.
It is around 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 Dalvík, which only runs on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
The Eyjafjörður 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 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.
Laufás 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 kilometers out of town, it's worth visiting. It promises to transport visitors back into Icelandic history.
Stunning nature surrounds Akureyri.
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, 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.
The seas surrounding Akureyri and Eyjafjörður are teeming with sea creatures, most notably whales and other cetacean species such as dolphins and porpoises.
The most common sightings are that of humpback whales, harbor porpoises, minke whales, and dolphins.
Encounters with rare species such as blue whales and orcas are much more commonplace in the North of Iceland, making it the perfect destination for taking to the sea in search of its gentle giants.
Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Simone. No edits made.
If it's a warm and sunny day in Akureyri, go check out the colorful 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. 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 made.
This iconic church is the symbol of Akureyri, as it towers over the center 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 most significant trademark symbol of this little city.
If you're into fitness or it's cold outside, make like Rocky Balboa and run up and down the dozens of stairs, since it’s a popular workout destination too.
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 things to do in Akureyri in winter, here's a handy list for you.
Photo from Regína Hrönn Ragnarsdóttir
This Christmas House (Jólahúsið) 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.
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.
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.
This outdoor, geothermal swimming pool is right behind the church, and for 1000 ISK, you can treat yourself to a relaxing hot tub soak or a steam room cleanse.
It is one of Iceland's most popular pools. It has two 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 (used for sunbathing in the summertime and can be used for rolling around in the snow in wintertime).
A visit to the Iceland swimming pool is both a typical Icelandic experience and an ideal family-friendly 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 made.
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 spot is arguably the best ski resort in the country.
The 700-meter high slopes and a new, big, fast ski lift named Fjarkinn makes this a winter dream for any skier or snowboarder.
Check the prices of day passes and ski and snowboard hire in advance.
Hop into a bath full of hops!
This novel experience is available all year round but becomes even more tempting when the weather outside may not be the best for sightseeing or hiking.
Bjórböðin ('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 are guaranteed to leave feeling rejuvenated.
Although you cannot sip the suds you're sitting in, you can enjoy a cold beer straight from a draft tap that sits adjacent to every tub. Book your admission to this unusual spa experience, and don’t miss out.
Since Akureyri is located further north than Reykjavik, and the city only has 20,000 residents, there is little light pollution 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.
There is plenty to do and see in Akureyri, the capital of North Iceland. We hope our list of the best things to do in Akureyri helps you plan your trip. Let us know in the comments what your favorite thing to do in Akureyri is.