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The Ultimate Guide to Akureyri in Iceland

Akureyri is known as the capital of the north here in Iceland, and as is the case with its southern counterpart, Reykjavik, it’s a pretty big city that offers visitors plenty to do and see. Most visitors who do a road trip around the island, or fly domestically, will end up in Akureyri.

If you will be visiting the island soon or just want to know more about this major city on the island, this is the article for you. We tell you exactly what you can expect from a trip to Akureyri.

Akureyri in Iceland

Quick facts about Akureyri

  • Pronouncing Akureyri is fairly simple compared to some of the other Icelandic names here on the island; A-khyr-ei-ri.

  • Akureyri is the second-largest city in Iceland.

  • This statement may be misleading to some when one takes into account that Akureyri has a population of less than 20,000.

  • Akureyri lies at the foot of Iceland’s longest fjord, Eyjafjördur.

  • Akureyri is a major cruise port and one of the oldest towns here on the island (Akureyri was first mentioned as early as 1562).

  • The Akureyri Airport is just minutes away from the city and is one of the few airports on the island that offers both domestic as well as international flights.

  • The fishing industry in Iceland has always been a large part of Akureyri’s economy. In fact, 2 of the 5 largest fishing companies in the country are headquartered here. This is also why it’s easy to understand that the other major industries at play in the city are woodworking, ironworking, and shipbuilding.

  • Akureyri is just 90 kilometers from the Arctic Circle.

  • Because of its northern position, it offers the best opportunity to experience one of the island’s famous natural phenomena; the Midnight Sun. In Akureyri, the sun doesn’t set at all during a Midnight Sun!

  • The poet who wrote the country’s national anthem, Matthias Jochumsson, lived in Akureyri.

  • Akureyri is well-known for its red lights. That’s because their red lights are in the shape of hearts!

  • Akureyri’s botanical garden is extremely impressive. Here you will find virtually every plant species that are known to grow here on the island, as well as a few others that come from countries such as Greenland.

  • Technically, Akureyri was leagues ahead of the rest of the country when it came to women’s rights (even though unintentionally). Fifty years before women in Iceland were allowed to vote, a woman cast her vote in Akureyri’s 1863 municipal elections. The reason why this was allowed in the first place was due to a loophole that was created because of a translation error in the original Danish law.

Facts about Akureyri

Is Akureyri Worth Visiting?

Akureyri is not just the so-called capital of the north, but the gateway to some of the most beautiful places and most exciting things to do in the northern regions of the country. Unfortunately, it is sometimes Iceland's overlooked north.

The city, resting on the banks of the fjord, also has its own charm to it. When visiting Akureyri, we recommend that you stay for at least 2 days/3 nights in order to experience what the city and its surroundings have to offer.

Getting around Akureyri is also incredibly easy. Since the Akureyri airport is just a 5-minute drive away from the city, it’s easy to catch a bus, shuttle, taxi, or rent a car to get to Akureyri. Once there, the public buses are free to use, and you can explore the city to your heart’s content.

If you are planning on using Akureyri as a base and making some of the surrounding attractions and activities day outings, our recommendation is that you rent a car in Iceland, although you can also opt for booking spots on guided tours. If you’re still wondering what to do in Akureyri or what some of the attractions near Akureyri are, then read on – we give you the lowdown on some of the best things to do that are not to be missed!

The one thing that you’ll need to keep in mind when planning your trip is the Akureyri weather. It’s important to note that northern Icelandic weather conditions are much colder and harsher than that of the southern parts of the island.

Akureyri weather

The northern regions are also plagued with road closures due to weather conditions during the colder months on the island, and some roads/routes, especially the F-roads in Iceland, are generally kept closed throughout the colder months of the year.

As you can imagine, these weather conditions make even the paved and most well-maintained roads tricky to navigate, especially if you are a nervous driver or simply not used to driving in such conditions. This is why we generally recommend that, unless you intend to stick within the city borders and close by, you plan a trip to Akureyri and the surrounding regions during summertime in Iceland.

The 10 Best Things to Do in Akureyri in Iceland

The following are some of the best things to do and see in Akureyri, and we recommend that you include these in your upcoming trip itinerary:

Go on a Whale Watching Boat Tour

Except for Husavik, Akureyri is the go-to destination for whale watching in Iceland. When taking all the marine life in the Eyjafjordur fjord into account, it’s no surprise that these gentle giants of the ocean can’t refuse such a generous buffet.

If you want to go on a whale watching boat tour in Akureyri, we suggest that you book a trip between April and September, since this is our official whale season here on the island and when many migratory whale species call the island’s coast their home. Some of the whales that you might spot in the water include Minke Whales, Orcas, Sperm Whales, and even the biggest of the whale species – the Blue Whale!

 best things to do in akureyri iceland

Visit the Akureyri Botanical Gardens

As we already mentioned earlier, the Akureyri Botanical Gardens (or Arctic Botanical Gardens as it’s also known) has a wide array of plantlife on display. As an outdoor venue, taking a stroll through the Botanical Gardens is best done during the warmer months and preferably on sunny days.

The Gardens were opened in 1912, so it’s no surprise that more than 7000 plant species can be seen there today. And if you’re scared that you won’t have enough time to take it all in, the park is open from 09:00 in the morning till 22:00 at night during the summertime.

The plantlife also attracts a variety of interesting birdlife, so if you’re an avid birdwatcher, the Gardens will be a sort of 2-for-1 special (even though the initial 1 is completely free, and you don’t need to pay entrance to the Gardens). If you get peckish, there is a Café where you can grab a quick bite.

Akureyri Botanical Gardens

Hunt the Northern Lights

This is the one activity that you’ll actually need to visit Akureyri during the wintertime here in Iceland, since it will require cold and dark conditions. Akureyri is, therefore, the perfect location to go hunting for the Northern Lights. Well, you should probably head out of the city and all its lights, but it’s very possible to spot the Aurora Borealis on the outskirts of the city.

This is because the northern part of the island is particularly cold and can get particularly dark due to the region being so remote. Since the Northern Lights appear under very specific conditions, we recommend that you book a spot on an Aurora Borealis tour departing from Akureyri if you’re not sure when or where to look for this natural phenomenon yourself.

Northern Lights in Akureyri

Have a Soak in the Myvatn Nature Baths

The Myvatn Nature Baths are hot springs near Akureyri, or more accurately, geothermal pools that utilize some of the natural hot springs here on the island. Hot springs are a common thing here in Iceland due to the volcanic activity heating up the underground water supply.

When it comes to geothermal pools such as the Myvatn Nature Baths, you will find all sorts of added amenities, such as Icelandic spa treatments, restaurants, and, of course, changing rooms. There is also a bus traveling from Akureyri to Myvatn, so check it out if you need a lift. Visiting the pools and soaking in the warm, healing waters is a favorite amongst Akureyri shore excursions.

Myvatn Nature Baths

Visit Godafoss Waterfall

Visiting the Godafoss Waterfall is one of the free things to do when in Akureyri, even though it’s so spectacular that you almost feel like you had to purchase a ticket somewhere for this front-row seat to the show. But Godafoss is not just one of our most breathtaking falls; it also has cultural significance to the island.

It is believed that Godafoss is where one of the chiefs threw all his Norse god idols in as a symbol of the island’s official conversion to Christianity. Whether the legend really is true, we’ll never know, but the falls will always be Godafoss, aka “waterfall of the gods”.

Godafoss Waterfall

Check Out the Laufas Turf Houses

You’ll be forgiven for thinking that these are fairy-tale-themed playhouses, but these are actually well-preserved examples of the houses Icelandic people used to live in before the 20th century.

Whilst extremely well-maintained, the Laufas Turf Houses were actually built in 1865! Today, the houses are the property of the National Museum of Iceland and serve as an immersive educational tool where people from modern-day can time travel to the Iceland of old. The Turf Houses can be found just a few kilometers out of Akureyri.

Laufas Turf Houses

Spend Some Time in Kjarnaskogur Forest

Kjarnaskogur Forest is a favorite amongst visitors and locals alike, especially families. This is because the forest offers a wide variety of activities that can be enjoyed completely free of charge. You can go on a hike, take on one of the mountain biking trails, have a nice picnic at one of the grilling facilities, or have the kids run wild on one of the playgrounds.

But it’s not just these amenities that make Kjarnaskogur so special. It’s the fact that this forest forms part of Iceland’s reforestation attempts after the island was almost left completely barren after the first round of settlers were done with it. This included the region south of Akureyri till as late as the 1950s. Thereafter the first trees were planted in the 800-hectare area that we all now know and love as Kjarnaskogur.

Kjarnaskogur Forest

Go Horseback Riding

This is probably one of the most unique things to do in Akureyri. Not just because you’ll be traversing over some of the most beautiful Icelandic terrains that only the Land of Fire and Ice can dish up, but also because you’ll be doing it on the back of the island’s own breed of horse, the Icelandic Horse.

These creatures are incredibly unique, despite their unoriginal name, and are known for looking more like ponies than the full-grown horses that they are. They also have incredibly friendly natures and can perform an extra gait called the tölt.

Akureyri short excursions

Admire the Architecture of Akureyri Church

There is absolutely no way for you to miss this architectural gem when visiting Akureyri. But this is in no way a hidden gem in Iceland; it towers over the city and dominates the skyline. And rightly so, as the Art Deco and almost cubistic design remind one more of a piece of art than a building. But despite its modern look, the church was consecrated in 1940 and has become synonymous with Akureyri.

To such an extent that Akureyri Church is not just admired for its architecture but has actually inspired an annual event called the Church Stair Race. This event is held in July, and one can participate in multiple categories, so this stair race doesn’t just consist of going up and down the steps as fast as possible.

Akureyri church

Summit Mount Sulur

Okay, it’s not quite as difficult or dramatic as it sounds. You don’t need to be a professional mountaineer to take on this climb. But the hike is categorized as challenging to difficult, and it is recommended that you only take this hike on with an experienced guide by your side. Mount Sulur is a mere 9 kilometers from Akureyri but can be seen from far away as it stands a staggering 1213 meters high.

This is also what makes the climb so rewarding, since the views from the top are simply breathtaking. Due to the difficulty level of this climb, and the fact that the trail is quite steep and situated close to marshland, it is highly suggested that you only attempt to summit on a fine summer day with no chance of rainfall. The latter will also help regarding the view from the top, of course.

Summit Mount Sulur

Getting to Akureyri

There are numerous ways of getting to Akureyri:

By Catching a Flight

This is by far the quickest way to get to Akureyri, so it’s a great way to travel if you don’t have much time on the island. Simply book a flight from Reykjavik Airport (not to be confused with Keflavik Airport). You will find numerous flights each day, and it will take you only 40 minutes per flight.

By Getting on a Bus

The 57 bus will take you directly from Reykjavik to Akureyri, although there are a couple of stops along the way. You can also catch the same bus back from Akureyri to Reykjavik if you intend to make a day trip out of it. This journey, one-way, will take you about 6 hours. For any/all of your public bus service needs (whether getting to or around Akureyri), check out the Stræto website.

By Going on a Guided Tour

You will find plenty of tours (especially those doing the Diamond Circle route) that have Akureyri as a stop. Most will depart from Reykjavik. Just keep in mind that if you are planning your visit during the summertime, it is our busiest time here on the island, and booking is essential.

By Renting a Car

This is by far the best way to explore the city and its more remote surroundings. Not only does it keep you completely independent from others, you also have full control over your time and trip itinerary. Try to add Akureyri as a stop on a road trip, and spend a couple of days there, so you can get to do and see all the things the city and surrounding areas have to offer.

Driving to Akureyri

To work your way to Akureyri, all you need to do is get on the Ring Road and start driving north. Just remember to keep an eye on the Iceland weather forecast, especially if you’re taking the route during the colder months here on the island.

Akureyri FAQ

What is Akureyri known for?

Akureyri is the second-largest city in Iceland and is known for its beautiful setting on a bay, its vibrant cultural scene, and its many outdoor activities.

What is the best time of year to visit Akureyri?

The best time of year to visit Akureyri is during the summer (June-August). This is when the weather is the most pleasant and there are many festivals and events happening. However, Akureyri is a beautiful city all year round.

What is the language spoken in Akureyri?

The official language spoken in Akureyri is Icelandic. However, English is widely spoken in the city, especially among tourists and students.

Akureyri; the Best Base for All Your Travels in the North

Akureyri as a city is an interesting place to visit due to its rich history and cultural attractions, but it also serves as a great base to explore the rest of the amazing wonders the northern regions of the island hold.

Just rent a car in Iceland and make your way up via the Ring Road, and discover the intimate nature of our second-largest city here in Iceland and why “the capital of the north” is considered the gateway to the rest (and best) of northern Iceland.



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