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'.
Akureyri is Iceland's second largest city, after the greater Reykjavík area. 'City' may be too generous a term as its inhabitants' number at only 20-thousand, closer to that of a town elsewhere in the world. Akureyri is often branded as the 'Capital of the North', while Reykjavík is branded the 'Capital of the South', and they are separated by an approximate 5-hour drive.
Akureyri is a charming town in itself, with plenty of things to do for such a small place. It is also the gateway to the spectacular beauty of the north, most notably the Mývatn region, 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 breathtaking 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, 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 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.
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.
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.
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, made entirely from organic local ingredients. After dinner, you can have a soak in a hot tub or enjoy a leisurely stroll on a nearby beach.
Photo credit: Akureyri whale watching
The seas surrounding Akureyri and Eyjafjörður are teeming with sea creatures, most notably whales and other cetacean species such as dolphins and porpoises. Most common sightings are that of humpback whales, harbour 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 to take to the sea and search for its gentle giants.
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.
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. If you're into fitness or it's cold outside, Rocky Balboa it 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 sky for northern lights spotting and geothermal pools to sink into to hide from the cold. The nearby settlements, Hrafnagil for example, also offer warming winter experiences, both for kids and adults. If you're looking for things to do in Akureyri in winter, there's a handy list of you here below.
Photo credit: Visit Akureyri
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.
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.
Photo credit: Gísli Lórenzson
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, 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!
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.
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 here. It's possible to combine hunting for the Northern Lights alongside this delicious dip on this tour which departs from Akureyri.
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.
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. You can even board a boat and hunt for the aurora from the picturesque and peaceful Eyjafjörður fjord on this Northern Lights Cruise from Akureyri.