The city of Akureyri is known as Iceland's capital of the North. It's one of the country's major cities along with Reykjavik and others, and has plenty to see and do. From whale watching to the Northern Lights to skiing and even a beer spa, a visit to Akureyri Iceland will be a fun, unforgettable part of your Iceland road trip.
Akureyri: Iceland’s second city
With nearly 19,000 residents, Akureyri is the country’s fifth most populous city after Reykjavik, Kópavogur, Hafnarfjörður, and Reykjanesbaer. Akureyri is located at the inner part of Eyjafjörður fjord in North Iceland, approximately a 5-hour drive from Reykjavik. It enjoys a relatively mild climate thanks to its geography.
The area was first settled in the 9th century by a Norse viking named Helgi “Magri” (The Slim) Eyvindarson. The municipality and its ice-free harbor have become an important port and fishing center in Iceland
There are plenty of things to do in Akureyri, regardless of the time of year that you visit. From outdoor cafés, hiking and festivals in the summer to skiing in the winter, there’s a lot here. Let's take a look at all of the activities you have to choose from.
Top Things to Do in Akureyri
Fjords and Spectacular Views
There are spectacular views of the inner part of the inner part of the fjord from the harbor. The Eyjafjörður zone is beautiful in both the wintertime and the summertime. This is actually the longest fjord in Iceland. You’ll get a full scope the scenery if you take one of the boat tours available. This is just one of many wonderful suggestions for how to spend your time in Akureyri.
Akureyri Church (Akureyrarkirkja)
This is a beautiful and iconic place to visit, whether you come in the winter or the summer. The Lutheran church was built in 1940 and features beautiful stained-glass windows that show scenes of the history of Christianity in Iceland. As the symbol of Akureyri, the imposing church and its unique facade sit atop a hill and tower over the city.
If you’re feeling particularly sporty and want to do your best Rocky Balboa impression, running to the top of the steps and holding your arms high in victory could be a particularly fun activity.
Whale Watching Tours in Akureyri Harbor
When in Iceland, Akureyri is a wonderful place to go whale watching. Many of the gentle beasts of the Atlantic head here in the summertime. You can get up close and personal with one of the many whale watching tours on offer. There are tons of friendly sea creatures swimming in the waters around Akureyri and Eyjafjörður.
With over 20 species of whales and other cetaceans like orcas, dolphins, and porpoises, you’re sure to have a sighting. You’re most likely to spot minke whales, humpback whale, and harbour porpoises. The rarer species like blue whales and orcas also tend to frequent North Iceland. If you plan on seeing them, this is the place you want to be.
These beautiful creatures start to return to our shores around April and leave close to October. Peak season is during the summer months of June, July, and August.
Akureyri Art Museum
As one of the youngest art museums in Iceland, the Akureyri Art Museum has an interesting collection. It features contemporary works from both Icelandic artists and talent of other nationalities. The museum has two venues next to each other on Listagil (Art Street).
The buildings were originally home to the Mjólkursamlag KEA co-op dairy and you can see strong influences architectural in them. This style is considered a prime example of the Bauhaus school. There are also hints of the international Funkis movement.
The is a wide variety of exhibitions and the museum seeks to promote culture and visual arts while educating visitors on the merits of artistic expression.
The Arctic Botanical Gardens
On the west side of harbor just south of the museum are the Arctic Botanical Gardens (Lystigardurinn). The Akureyri botanical garden contains specimens from all across Iceland. It’s a public park that was opened in 1912 and the botanical garden opened in 1957.
It’s a lovely place to go for a stroll or listen to chirping birds. And because entrance is free, it’s the perfect way to save money in Iceland. If you get hungry, just head to the garden’s restaurant, Café Laut.
The Akureyri Geothermal Swimming Pool
Bathing culture is big in Iceland, and what better family friendly activity is there than hitting the swimming pool? The Akureyri geothermal swimming pool (Sundlaug Akureyrar) is open year-round and facilities include indoor and outdoor pools, water jets and water slides, a splash pool, as well as steam bath and sauna. And if you’re looking for a hot tub, they’ve got you covered, with four on-site.
While Akureyri is a charming town in its own right with plenty to do, it's also considered the gateway to the North. Spectacular places along the Diamond Circle route such as Lake Mývatn, Goðafoss, Dettifoss, or Ásbyrgi canyon make for unforgettable day tours. The power, might, and beauty of Iceland's less explored northern region are all within driving distance. Definitely spend some time in Akureyri but also make time for sightseeing some of the region's other gems with your Iceland car rental.
Take a trip to the Laufas turf homes
Turf homes are a traditional architectural style and give you a good idea of how Icelanders used to live. These turf homes were built in 1865 and are some of the country's best-preserved examples. They’re very close to Akureyri and warrant a visit. You’ll feel like you’re stopping back in time.
Other Things to Do in Akureyri
Whether you're looking for outdoor activities, nature, or culture, the list of Akureyri things to do is quite extensive. The town is located in northern Iceland along the Ring Road quite close to the Arctic Circle, and this directly impacts the number of daylight hours and the different activities you can do. Here are some wintertime activities.
Watching Northern Lights in Akureyri
One of Iceland's most spectacular natural wonders the Aurora Borealis. This dazzling show that lights up the nighttime sky is famous across much of the Northern Hemisphere and is a must-do if you come to Iceland during the darker months.
You’ll have a much better view from Akureyri because there is less light pollution than in a larger city like Reykjavik. You also have longer nights up north, which increases your chances of spotting them. If you can, it’s even better to get out of town completely. This way, you’ll have the clearest, brightest views of the Northern Lights. There are even boat cruises that sail out into the fjord. It makes for a truly magical evening.
Skiing in Hlidarfjall close to Dalvik
If you happen to visit Akureyri in the wintertime and are a skiing or snowboarding enthusiast, you are in for a special treat. It's time to head west to the nearby ski resort town of Dalvik and hit the ski slopes.
It's one of those perfect day trips for the North of Iceland when you're making your way around the Ring Road. People in the south know that ski season isn’t really predictable. Sometimes there are only a few days every season when you can go skiing due to lack of snow. But in the north, it’s a completely different story.
The area of Hlíðarfjall mountain is considered the ski capital of Iceland, and it’s open an average of 180 days per year. It’s quite close to Akureyri and some say it’s the best ski resort in Iceland. With the Fjarkinn ski lift and slopes measuring 700 meters (2,297 feet), you can easily spend all day outdoors. There’s skiing and snowboarding for both experts and snow bunnies alike.
Head to the beer spa for a beer bath
Some people love beer. And other people really, really love beer. If your affinity for hops and pale ale is strong, then perhaps a visit to Iceland’s beer spa is in order. This is definitely a unique experience and one that’s even better in the winter. Why spend your time outside in the cold with chattering teeth when you could be inside with a nice refreshing mug of your favorite brew?
The Bjórböðin (beer bath) spa has been offering visitors this unusual experience since 2017. Guests soak in the amber liquid of young beer along with live beer yeast. While this might sound unappetizing at first, yeast is quite beneficial to the skin and rejuvenating for the body. It’s actually quite relaxing and refreshing.
And of course, don’t actually drink the beer from the beer bath! They’ve thought of everything and provide a draft tap right next to every tub. Fill up with a nice cold one, sit back, and soak it all in.
Akureyri Iceland: the Capital of Northern Iceland
Akureyri is a great place to visit and should absolutely be included on your itinerary. You'll find lots of cultural activities here as well as fun outdoor activities for the whole family. Make some time during your road trip to make a stop in Iceland's capital of the North.