The Ultimate Akureyri Travel Guide: 20 Best Things to See and Do

Mette Kousholt

Mette Kousholt

Looking for a new adventure in Iceland? Discover the beauty of Akureyri with our comprehensive guide, featuring the best sights, activities, and more!

Table of Contents

So, you’re planning a trip to Akureyri — or you’re here and looking for inspiration for what to do. Well, look no further. We will share our favourite activities in and around this charming town. But before we get into it, let’s get to know the place.

Introduction to Akureyri & Its History

A view of Akureyri Town in North Iceland, a mighty mountain in the background and the ocean in front.

Akureyri is located at the bottom of the Eyjaförður fjord in North Iceland. Its location on the shores of the Eyjafjörður fjord, surrounded by mountains, makes it a picturesque destination for travellers seeking natural beauty and adventure.

Initially, it functioned as a Danish merchant site before it became a full-time settlement in the late 18th century. It has since grown into a vibrant cultural and economic centre. Today, it is a hub of domestic and international tourist activity, with an international airport and cruise port.

A walking path in Akureyri, Iceland with Mt. Hlíðarfjall and Akureyri Church in the background.

The town takes its name from Akur, meaning “fields”, as the area’s motto is: “where the butter drips from every straw”. Today, there are a lot of dairy farms still in operation. So, in addition to the cows, when driving along the coast, you’ll also see loads of sheep roaming free.

It’s common to hear Akureyri being referred to as Iceland’s second-largest city, but technically, it’s not a city at all. In Iceland, Reykjavík is the only city. That being said, Akureyri is still a pretty big deal! As of January 2023, Akureyri was home to around 20,000 people, making it the fifth-largest municipality in the country.

Akureyri Weather: What to Expect Throughout the Year

An infograph with information about Akureyri's weather averages.

The weather in Akureyri is actually quite good. The North is more likely to get higher temperatures in summer — in fact, I’ve broken a sweat just from the outside temperature on visits up North, an experience Reykjavík has yet to offer me.

The flip side is that winter is very wintery. You’re also more likely to get much more snow and colder temperatures, and for longer, up north. This can result in road closures or generally rougher conditions on the road, which can impact your travel.

Akureyri from Reykjavík (and Beyond)

A red street light in the shape of a heart in Akureyri, Iceland
Akureyri has heart-shaped traffic lights

There are a few ways to get to Akureyri, depending on your starting point:

  1. Domestic flight: The easiest and fastest way to reach Akureyri is by taking a domestic flight from Reykjavík. Several daily flights operated by Icelandair connect Reykjavík’s domestic airport (RKV) to Akureyri Airport (AEY). The flight duration is approximately 45 minutes.
  2. Driving: If you prefer a scenic road trip, you can drive to Akureyri. From Reykjavík, take Route 1 (Ring Road) heading North. The drive takes around 4-6 hours, depending on road conditions and stops along the way. The route offers breathtaking landscapes, including waterfalls, mountains, and fjords.
  3. Bus: Another option is to take a bus from Reykjavík’s Mjódd Bus Terminal. The public transportation service, Strætó, provides scheduled services to Akureyri via bus number 57. The journey takes approximately 7-8 hours, with stops at various towns along the way.
  4. Cruise ship: During the summer, Akureyri is a popular port of call for cruise ships visiting Iceland. If you are on a cruise, check with your cruise line for specific details on arrival and departure arrangements.

5 Top Sights to See in Akureyri

A man in red sitting on a rock near a river in North Iceland at sunset.

Akureyri, the largest settlement in North Iceland, is known for its rich culture and history. With a population of around 20,000, the city has a small-town feel. Still, it offers a variety of cultural experiences for visitors to enjoy, not to mention countless natural attractions.

So, let’s dive into some of the top attractions you won’t want to miss in this vibrant town.

1. Akureyri Church

Akureyri Church in the winter time

With its distinctive stepped roof and towering spire visible from all over town, Akureyri Church stands as the area’s most recognizable landmark.

This Neo-Gothic structure was designed by Guðjón Samúelsson, one of Iceland’s most renowned architects, who also designed the famous Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík. Inside, you’ll find beautiful stained-glass windows and one of the largest organs in Iceland.

Stop by and see who among you is the fastest to climb the 130 steps that lead up to this impressive landmark. These steps are the subject of several traditional town competitions, from a simple “who can get up there the fastest” to “who can stay on their BMX and not hurt themselves as they ride down the steps”.

2. Akureyri Botanical Garden

A walking bridge over a creek, surrounded by green trees and grass at a botanical garden in Akureyri, North Iceland.

No visit to Akureyri is complete without a trip to the Botanic Garden. This place is home to over 7000 plant species and a lovely café. On a hot day, the locals rush here to get shade under the trees.

One of my favourite things that happened to me in Akureyri happened right here. I was enjoying my day with the family when we spotted the president of Iceland, Guðni Th. Jóhanneson. He was just chilling on the grass, like all the other guests. This is a big reason to love Iceland and Icelanders – even the president can walk around safe and undisturbed.

3. Akureyri Art Museum & Hof Cultural And Conference Center

A boat at Akureyri's harbour near Hof Culture Centre in North Iceland.
Hof Cultural Center by the harbour in Akureyri

The Akureyri Art Museum and Hof Cultural Center are two of Akureyri’s most popular cultural attractions.

The Akureyri Art Museum is housed in a beautifully restored building and features a wide range of contemporary and modern art exhibitions. It showcases the work of both Icelandic and international artists, including paintings, sculptures, installations, and multimedia works. The exhibits change regularly, so there’s always something new to see.

The Hof Cultural Center, located in a modern building near the town centre, is a hub for cultural activities and events in Akureyri. The centre features a state-of-the-art concert hall, a cinema, a restaurant, and various exhibition spaces, including galleries showcasing contemporary art, photography, and design.

The centre hosts a range of events throughout the year, including concerts, film screenings, theatre performances, and art exhibitions. It’s a great place to experience the vibrant cultural scene in Akureyri and meet other like-minded travellers and locals.

4. Godafoss Waterfall

Colorful sunrise on Godafoss waterfall on Skjalfandafljot river, Iceland
Colorful sunrise at Goðafoss waterfall

Easily accessible by road from Akureyri is the stunning Goðafoss Waterfall, aka “Waterfall of the Gods”.

The waterfall is situated on the Skjálfandafljót River and is approximately 12 meters high and 30 meters wide. The water falls into a horseshoe-shaped canyon, creating a powerful and mesmerizing display of cascading water.

Visitors to the waterfall can enjoy stunning views from various viewpoints and hiking trails surrounding the area. During winter, the waterfall is also a popular spot for viewing the Northern Lights, adding to its already impressive natural beauty.

5. Jolahusid Christmas House

The Christmas House in Akureyri in the summer, painted red and decorated with candy.

Akureyri is an excellent destination if you’re travelling with children, and Jólahúsið is a must-see for all families. Jólahúsið, or “the Christmas House”, is, as the name suggests, a tribute to Christmas and all things related to this festive season.

Inside, you’ll find a variety of Christmas decorations and gifts, from traditional Icelandic sweaters to more modern items. The shop also stocks a selection of local delicacies, such as smoked lamb and leaf bread.

Although the shop is open year-round, the Christmas house really comes alive in December when it is filled with decorations and special events. It’s a great place to pick up a unique Icelandic souvenir or just enjoy the festive atmosphere.

5 Top Outdoor Activities to Do in Akureyri

Men hiking on rocky mountainside

If you’re looking for an outdoor adventure, Akureyri in Northern Iceland has it all. From skiing and snowboarding to whale watching and hiking, Akureyri offers a wide variety of activities that will keep you entertained while exploring the beautiful landscape of this unique city.

Here are 5 of the best things to see and do during your visit to Akureyri:

1. Skiing in Akureyri

Child skiing in mountains. Active teenage kid with safety helmet, goggles and ski poles running down ski slope.  Snowy landscape, sunny day in winter season.

Akureyri is the perfect destination for a winter ski holiday. It offers some of the best skiing conditions in the country, with plenty of snowfall during the winter months and a variety of ski slopes suitable for both beginners and experienced skiers. In addition, the surrounding mountains provide breathtaking views and ample opportunities to explore off-piste terrain.

Akureyri is home to the largest ski resort in northern Iceland, Hlíðarfjall Ski Resort. Hlíðarfjall offers various skiing and snowboarding opportunities with 24 slopes and 8 lifts, and 5 cross-country tracks. The resort also features a terrain park and a ski school, making it an ideal spot for families and beginners.

Skiing in Akureyri typically runs from November to May, with the best snow conditions usually occurring from December to March. The ski season is also a great time to visit Akureyri. The city is transformed into a winter wonderland with festive lights and decorations, cosy cafes and bars, and a range of winter activities and events.

2. Akureyri Northern Lights Hunting

Northern Lights over Akureyri Town and the snow-capped Mt. Hlíðarfjall in North Iceland,
Northern Lights over Akureyri

Akureyri is a beautiful place during the wintertime. Aside from its festive lights and snowy landscapes, Akureyri offers excellent opportunities to witness the dancing lights of the Northern Lights.

Northern Lights hunting in Akureyri is an exhilarating adventure that takes you into the heart of North Iceland’s wilderness. Guided tours are available to take you to optimal viewing spots away from city lights, increasing your chances of witnessing this natural phenomenon.

On clear nights, the vibrant ribbons of green, pink, and purple illuminate the dark sky, creating a magical spectacle. The expert guides provide insights into the science and folklore surrounding the Northern Lights that only enhances the experience.

3. Hiking Around the Countryside

Akureyri is an excellent destination for hiking enthusiasts, with plenty of stunning trails and hiking routes. The city is surrounded by mountains and valleys, and the nearby Mývatn Area offers some of the most breathtaking landscapes in Iceland.

One of the most popular hiking routes in Akureyri is the Súlur Trail, which takes you to the summit of Súlur, a prominent mountain that rises over the city. The trail is challenging but rewarding, with stunning views of the fjord and the surrounding mountains. The local authorities advise setting aside 4.5 to 6 hours for the trip if you drive to the foot of the mountain. Add about 2 more hours if you plan to start the hike in the town.

Other popular hiking destinations in the Akureyri area include the scenic Goðafoss waterfall, the otherworldly Hverir geothermal area, and the Kjarnaskógur Forest, an excellent spot for a relaxing stroll or a family picnic.

4. Whale Watching from Akureyri

A whale tail breaching the ocean in North Iceland, a mountain in the background
Photo: Whale Watching Tour from Akureyri in North Iceland

Whale watching is a popular activity in and around Akureyri, thanks to the abundant marine life in the nearby waters.

Several companies offer whale-watching tours from Akureyri’s harbour or nearby towns, taking visitors onto the fjord to search for humpback whales, minke whales, and other species that call these waters home. In the summer, you may even spot a puffin or two.

5. Geothermal Bathing in North Iceland

A woman relaxing in blue waters at the Mývatn Nature Baths in North Iceland
Photo: Entry to the Mývatn Nature Baths in North Iceland

Akureyri is famous all over Iceland for its public swimming pool. This place is a must-visit for anyone, with or without kids. If you dare, try the water slide that my family has dubbed “the toilet”. You’ll know why once you’re in it: it’s a round, hollow shell where you’re swirled around the inside until you are “flushed” out through a drain in the bottom.

Another popular option is the Mývatn Nature Baths, located outside Akureyri in the Lake Mývatn area. However, a new addition to the local bathing scene is the Forest Lagoon, which has a quirky history.

While digging a tunnel through a mountain, workers accidentally struck a natural water source and thus created a new waterfall. The water came from a natural geothermal spring, making the waterfall perhaps the warmest in the world. Now, the water has been diverted to a spa with two geothermal pools, a Finnish dry sauna, and amazing views!

5 Best Off-the-Beaten-Path Adventures in Akureyri

A silhouette of an Icelandic Horse at sunset

Akureyri and its surroundings are filled with hidden gems and off-the-beaten-path adventures you won’t find in any tourist guide. From exploring the stunning islands of the Eyjafjörður Fjord to exploring the charming turf houses at Laufás, there’s so much to discover. You can even visit a petting zoo or dog sledding and enjoy the region’s natural beauty.

I highly recommend getting off the tourist trail and exploring these 5 lesser-known places. You won’t regret it!

1. Boat Tours to the Arctic Circle

Puffin on a ledge with flowers in Iceland

If you have time to commit to exploring North Iceland, you can visit the beautiful islands of Hrísey and Grímsey. The former is a short sail away, while the trip to Grímsey is approximately 3 hours long. Both islands are accessible by ferries or boats from Akureyri or nearby villages. You can even take a plane to Grímsey from Akureyri Airport.

Hrísey Island is well known for its incredible beauty, stunning landscapes, diverse wildlife, and abundant natural resources. Grímsey is better known as the only part of Iceland located within the Arctic Circle, which is marked by a line that visitors can cross to officially enter the Arctic. Grímsey also features stunning natural beauty and unique wildlife, including a variety of seabirds such as puffins and arctic terns.

2. Diving in Geothermal Waters

Wolffish at Strytan Iceland
Photo: 10-Day Diving & Sightseeing Adventure in Iceland with Glacier Hike

If water is your element, there’s a lot for you to do and see in Akureyri. From fishing in the fjord (even ice fishing in winter months) to white water rafting, there’s something for everyone in and on the water. At Traveo, we even cooperate with a world-record-holding kayaker to offer small-group kayaking trips.

However, if you are looking for a truly unique water-based adventure, a diving trip might be just the thing for you. Diving in North Iceland offers a unique opportunity for experienced divers to explore a world of subaquatic scenery. You’ll see underwater hot springs and geothermal vents, not to mention an abundance of wildlife, including wolffish, redfish, and colourful anemones. Dive in North Iceland’s waters on this Amazing 10-Day Diving Tour!

3. Dog Sledding near Akureyri

Happy people on a dog sled in North Iceland
Photo: Dog Sledding on Snow in North Iceland

Dog sledding in North Iceland is a thrilling adventure that allows you to experience North Iceland’s winter landscapes in a unique and exciting way. With a team of energetic and friendly huskies leading the way, you’ll glide through snow-covered trails, surrounded by breathtaking scenery.

The dogs’ enthusiasm and the sound of their paws on the snow create a truly immersive and unforgettable experience. Expert guides provide instruction and ensure your safety throughout the journey. A typical tour lasts anywhere from 1-2 hours, taking you through the wild and remote areas of North Iceland.

4. Daladyrd Petting Zoo

A little boy in a rain coat looking up at an Icelandic horse.
Icelandic horses are very friendly

Another major hit with children is the Daladýrð Petting Zoo, located just outside Akureyri. Visitors of all ages can interact with the animals and learn about their behaviours and habits from knowledgeable staff members.

In addition to the petting zoo, Daladýrð also features a café that serves homemade cakes, coffee, and other refreshments, as well as a gift shop that sells a variety of souvenirs and local handicrafts. The petting zoo is open from May to September and is a great way to experience the charm and hospitality of rural Iceland.

5. Laufas Turf Houses

Icelandic turfhouses with a cart in front of them near Akureyri, North Iceland, in the summer
Traditional turfhouses at Laufás Museum

If nature and history appeal to your family, then the historic turf houses in Laufás are the perfect stop. This open-air museum is located just a short drive from Akureyri, in the scenic countryside. It features a restored turf farm that dates back to the 19th century, providing visitors with a glimpse into traditional Icelandic rural life.

Visitors to Laufás can explore the museum at their leisure, with knowledgeable guides available to provide insight into the history and culture of the area. The museum also offers traditional Icelandic refreshments, such as homemade bread and lamb soup, which are served in the café located in the main house.

5 Best Places to Eat and Drink, Including Local Specialities

A man feeding a piece of bread to a woman outside in the Icelandic nature.

Akureyri and its surroundings have a lot going for it in terms of unique food and cultural experiences. There are some amazing local eateries and restaurants here that offer delicious Icelandic cuisine with a twist. From fresh seafood caught right from the nearby waters to hearty lamb dishes and unique local delicacies, you’re in for a treat.

Exploring the culinary delights of Akureyri is a must-do for any food lover, and here are my 5 favourite places to eat and drink. Bon appétit!

1. Beer Spa

A man soaking in a tub filled with a beer, holding at glass of beer at the Beer Spa in North Iceland
Photo: Visit the Beer Spa in North Iceland

I recently discovered something really cool in Árskógssandur, about half an hour’s drive from Akureyri – a beer spa! Yes, you heard it right. It’s a place where you can relax and soak in a warm tub filled with beer. Not only is it incredibly relaxing, but the beer is infused with natural ingredients like hops, yeast, and barley, which are great for your skin. Do resist the urge to drink your bath water, though, and stick to the beer they serve on tap.

Afterwards, you can unwind in a cosy relaxation area and even enjoy a cold pint of beer. It’s a unique and rejuvenating experience that I highly recommend checking out if you’re in the area! Cheers!

2. Unique Fast Food

One of the more known dishes in Iceland is Akureyringur or “Akureyri Style”, a particular burger that stems from here. According to local legend, the residents of Akureyri were reluctant to take on board this new type of fast food when it first arrived in the 1950s. That is until someone suggested putting french fries between the buns. Later, they thought to add french fries to their hot dogs as well.

But they didn’t stop there. Akureyri is now famous around the country for its unique take on classic fast foods. Aside from an Akureyringur burger, deep-fried hot dogs are also quite common here.

And speaking of hot dogs, one of the most famous eateries in town is a humble hot dog stand, Pylsuvagninn. Icelanders have staked their claim on their version of a hot dog, but Akureyri has taken it to a new level. For adventurous eaters, you can try the Blue Cheese Dog, Tuna Dog, Hot Dog with Red Cabbage, and even an English Breakfast Dog.

3. Ice Cream

Hand holding chocolate and vanilla soft ice cream in waffle cone with blurred bright colorful amusement park at background.

When in Iceland, you have to have at least one ice cream. Akureyri is home to the country’s most famous ice cream store, Brynjuís. It is also Iceland’s oldest ice cream shop, with its original soft serve ice cream style, called “the old fashioned”.

If you’re up for the challenge, try a bragðarefur (which translates to “flavour fox”). This is soft ice, and lots of it, mixed with your choice of candy or fruit.

4. Vogafjos Café & Farm

Vogafjós farm and café is a unique destination located a short drive from Akureyri. This cosy eatery has gained popularity for its warm and inviting atmosphere, attentive service, and delicious culinary offerings. It is situated on a working farm, where visitors can experience the daily life of farmers and their animals.

The café serves delicious local food, including homemade cheese, smoked trout, and lamb dishes. While enjoying your meal, you can enjoy the beautiful views of Lake Mývatn or the farm’s cows while they are milked. You can even go into the cowshed to pet the animals and try fresh milk.

5. Græni Hatturinn

If nightlife and concerts are more your thing, the famous Græni Hatturinn is a must. Translated as “The Green Hat,” it is a café, bar, and music venue that showcases the town’s thriving cultural scene. Located in the heart of Akureyri, the Græni Hatturinn is known for its cosy and eclectic interior, adorned with colourful decorations and artwork.

The venue hosts a variety of events, including live music performances, DJ sets, poetry readings, and art exhibitions. It is a hub for local artists and musicians and a welcoming space for residents and visitors to enjoy a lively and diverse range of entertainment. So whether you want to unwind with a cup of coffee during the day or enjoy a vibrant night out, the Græni Hatturinn offers a unique experience in Akureyri’s cultural landscape.

Tips for Getting Around and Making the Most of Your Visit

Akureyri Church and the steps leading up to it on a sunny day in North Iceland.

Getting around Akureyri is easy with its compact size and walkable streets. A word of warning: Akureyri is hilly. Like, silly hilly. So no one will blame you if you choose public transport, which is free in the whole town.

While exploring, keep your eyes peeled! This charming town has beautiful murals, sculptures, heart-shaped stoplights, and a cosy high street. While you’re at it, keep your nose peeled as well, if that is a thing. You might notice the smell of the industrial coffee roasters or the hangikjöt factory.

If you want to explore further out, renting a car is a great option. It also gives you the freedom to visit hidden gems and off-the-beaten-path destinations that may not be easily accessible by public transportation. You can also venture further out and explore the Lake Mývatn area, Húsavík Town and the Diamond Circle.

Lastly, remember to embrace the unexpected and have a flexible mindset while exploring Akureyri. It’s often the unplanned moments and spontaneous adventures that make a trip truly memorable.

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