13 Best Things to Do in Akureyri (and Nearby)

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The church in Akureyri, North IcelandDiscover the 13 best things to do in Akureyri and the surrounding area. Iceland's "Capital of the North" is a 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 beer. Read on to learn about sights, activities, must-see attractions, and other fun things to do in both summer and winter.

Akureyri is the second-largest settlement in the country outside of the Capital Region. Calling it a 'city' may be too generous a term as only 20,000 people live there, which makes it closer to the size of what is considered a town. However, Akureyri is often referred to as Iceland's "Capital of the North."

To get to Akureyri from Reykjavik, you can easily rent a car in Iceland and drive there yourself. Make sure to book your accommodation in Akureyri in case you're hoping to stay there. Explore the wide variety of Akureyri tours that are available and find out what the north has to offer.

Day Trips From Akureyri: Great Places to See Nearby

A charming town in itself, there are plenty of things to do in Akureyri. 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. 

If you'd like to explore the area on your own, you can rent a car in Akureyri or even take a 7-day self-drive tour of the north to take in all the sites.

Myvatn Lake is well-known for the blue and green colors in the lake

You might also want to hop on a boat and explore the nearby islands, Hrisey or Grimsey.

Hrisey lies in Eyjafjordur, the same fjord in which Akureyri is nestled. It is Iceland's second-largest island after Heimaey in the Westman Islands on the South Coast. Hrisey has a population of about 180 people, and the town has distinctive colorful houses with beautiful views in every direction.

The island is a birdwatching paradise. When you're there, you can go on a tractor sightseeing tour in summer or go for a hike around the island and taste the local delicacy, the blue mussel.

Puffins are common in Iceland's summer

You can even take a three-day tour to Hrisey from Reykjavik. Or you can take the 15-minute ferry from Arskogssandur, just outside Akureyri. If you have interesting in taking the ferry to Hrisey, you can find Hrisey's ferry schedule here.

Grimsey marks the northernmost part of Iceland, and it's the only land area that's inside the Arctic Circle.

It's around 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Iceland's mainland, and fewer 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.

Top 7 Things To Do in Akureyri During Summer

The Eyjafjordur 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 various outdoor activities to engage in, such as going on hiking trails, attending concerts and festivals, and of course, ice cream to eat.

Here are some suggestions for a great day out in Akureyri in the summer.

7. Visit the Laufas Turf Houses

Laufas turf house in Akureyri, IcelandPhoto 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 before the 20th century. The houses are in pristine condition and serve as a time capsule of a bygone era.

Laufas belongs to the National Museum of Iceland, which has provided the houses with early 20th-century farming tools, making the experience of visiting there highly immersive.

The turf homes used to house more than 20 residents and are located only a few miles out of town. It's definitely worth visiting if you are interested in taking a step back into the past and learning about the history of Iceland. 

6. Visit Kjarnaskogur Forest

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 near Akureyri.

Today, Kjarnaskogur forest is a popular leisure area among locals. There you can find several hiking trails, family playgrounds, grilling facilities, and even a 6-mile (10-kilometer) mountain biking trail.

5. Go Horseback Riding

Horseback riding is a popular activity in Akureyri, Iceland

Beautiful untouched nature surrounds Akureyri. After just a short drive out of town, you can visit a stable and be surrounded by horses in 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.

4. Go to the Arctic Botanical Gardens

These botanical gardens are the northernmost of the world and one of the best things to do in Akureyri, IcelandPhoto from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Simone. No edits were made.

On a warm and sunny day in Akureyri, it's the perfect time to admire the colorful flowers in Lystigardurinn, Akureyri's botanical garden.

This public park was opened in 1912 and has over 7,000 species of plants. Entry is free and is open between 9 AM and 10 PM in the summer. It's a perfect place for a leisurely walk, learning about Arctic plant life, and listening to the birds sing as they fly from tree to tree.

While at the park, you can grab a snack or treat yourself to dinner at Cafe Bjork, a reasonably priced and friendly restaurant located in the garden.

3. Visit Akureyri Church

The church in Akureyri is a spectacular feat of architecture and one of the best things to do in AkureyriPhoto from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by JRodSilva. No edits were made.

The iconic Akureyri Church is considered one of the must-see Akureyri attractions. It's conveniently easy to spot as it towers over the center of the city and dominates the town's skyline.

It was consecrated in 1940 and, since then, has always been the most significant trademark symbol of the 'Capital in the North.'

The stairs leading up to the church are no less iconic than the church itself, and Icelanders commonly challenge each other to race up the stairs. There is even an annual 'church stair race' event in July, where locals compete in multiple categories of who is fastest racing up the stairs.

2. Hike Mount Sulur

Súlur is a rhyolite mountain found southwest of Akureyri in Iceland.

Just outside of town sits Mount Sulur, affectionately known as the 'town mountain', which is a great place to go hiking. It's located just 6 miles (9 kilometers) from the Akureyri and is a popular destination for locals looking to experience natural beauty without having to go too far.

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 nearby 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 the majestic fjord of Eyjafjordur.

1. Go Whale Watching

One of the best things to do in Akureyri during summer is whale watching

The fjord of Eyjafjordur is well known for its rich marine life, making Akureyri a great place to go whale watching. Whales are not the only aquatic mammals you might encounter, as the fjord is also a haven for dolphins and porpoises.

The most common animals to see during a whale watching tour in Akureyri include humpback whales, harbor porpoises, minke whales, and dolphins.

Encounters with rare species such as blue whales and orcas are not unheard of in North Iceland, making it the perfect destination for taking to the sea in search of these gentle giants.

You can choose between several Akureyri whale watching tours, such as our most popular Akureyri whale watching tour or an Akureyri whale watching and birdwatching tour.

Despite the natural beauty that surrounds Akureyri, whales usually top the list of things to see in Akureyri for visitors.

Top 6 Things To Do in Akureyri During Winter

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 fun 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.

6. Visit the Christmas House, Jolahusid

The Christmas House in Akureyri in summer.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 traditional Nordic house and a gingerbread house, with candy adorning the roof. It's painted red and features various Christmas ornaments 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.

5. Get to Know the Local Culture

If you want to immerse yourself in the local culture, Akureyri has many galleries and museums that are worth a visit. Despite being significantly smaller than Reykjavik, Akureyri prides itself of its rich cultural life as the 'Capital of the North'.

Hof Cultural and Conference Center was opened in 2010 and hosts multiple musical and theatrical events and exhibitions. At Hof, you can also get information about the cultural events taking place in Akureyri while you're there.

Find out who's playing in the town's bars and cafés and which exhibitions are taking place in Akureyri Art Museum or the Art's Alley. The Akureyri Theater Company regularly has staged plays in English that are worth seeing.

4. Visit the Akureyri Swimming Pool

This outdoor geothermal swimming pool is right behind Akureyrarkirkja 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 ideal for families.

The pool is open all year round, but it's especially satisfying to soak in the hot tubs when it's cold outside.

3. Go Skiing at Hlidarfjall

Hlidarfjall has many great ski slopes.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, making 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 recently renovated ski lifts which are easy to use, making Hlidarfjoll ideal for both experienced skiers as well as beginners.

2. Have a Beer Bath

Go for a beer bath in the North of IcelandPhoto from Unforgettable 1 Hour Bjorbodin Beer Spa Tour in North Iceland

Hop into a bath full of hops! This novel experience is available year-round but becomes even more tempting when the weather outside isn't ideal 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 soaking, 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 and feel your worries wash away in a tub of beer.

1. Find the Northern Lights in Akureyri

Seeing the Northern Lights is one of the best things to do in Akureyri, Iceland

Since Akureyri is located further north than Reykjavik, and the city only has 20,000 residents, there's much lower light pollution. The longer nights also make it perfect for northern lights hunting.

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.

There's 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. What are you most excited to do? If you've already been, what's your favorite thing to do in Akureyri?

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