A Guide To Akureyri - The Capital of North Iceland


blog authorBy Johanna Sigurðardóttir shield verificationVerified Expert

Nestled in the heart of Iceland's majestic landscapes, Akureyri stands as a beacon of culture, history, and natural beauty. Often hailed as the capital of North Iceland, it's a treasure trove of experiences waiting to be discovered. From the enchanting Eyjafjörður Fjord to the cultural tapestries woven by its rich heritage, Akureyri offers something for everyone. 

Whether you're seeking outdoor adventures or culinary delights, our guide dives deep into the best of Akureyri. Join us as we explore everything this northern oasis has to offer, ensuring you make the most of your Icelandic escape.

A Tapestry of The History of Akureyri

Let's dive into the heart of Akureyri, shall we? Imagine a place where every cobblestone and corner tells a story. From its Viking roots to its bustling present, Akureyri isn't just a city; it's a living museum. 

You'll walk the same paths as ancient settlers, marvel at art that bridges times, and visit landmarks that have stood the test of time. Here's a glimpse into Akureyri's captivating history and culture.

Viking Roots and Historical Beginnings

Akureyri's roots reach deep into the saga of Helgi Magri Eyvindarson, an Irish Viking known as 'Helgi the Slim' or 'Lean' due to childhood hardships. 

With an Irish mother and a Norse father, Helgi embodied a blend of cultures. Despite being a devout Christian, he paid homage to Thor during sea journeys, a practice echoing the complex meld of beliefs in early Icelandic society. 

Helgi chose Akureyri using the Norse method of casting wooden pillars ashore, signifying a fusion of faith and tradition. His legacy as Akureyri's founding father is a fascinating tale of resilience, belief, and the intertwining of Christian and Norse customs.


Akureyri Through the Ages

Diving into Akureyri's rich tapestry, historical snippets from 1562 reveal its mention in legal documents related to social scandals, marking its early presence in Iceland's annals. By the mid-16th century, Danish shops and warehouses dotted Akureyri, signaling Iceland's status under Danish rule and its burgeoning commerce despite seasonal operations due to harsh winters.

It wasn't until 1778, following the Danish king's initiative to boost living conditions, that Akureyri began its transition towards a permanent settlement, officially receiving its municipal charter in 1786. This period heralded significant agricultural advancements, notably in potato cultivation around 1800, propelling Akureyri towards self-sustainability. 

Despite a temporary revocation of its municipal charter in 1836 due to slow population growth, Akureyri rebounded by 1862, flourishing in agriculture and fishing. By 1900, its population had swelled to 1370, reflecting steady growth amid challenges. 

The 19th century also saw visitors like Ethel Brilliana Tweedie captivated by Akureyri's exotic allure and the stark realities of its living conditions. The 20th century ushered in wartime developments, infrastructure improvements, and cultural shifts, particularly during WWII, profoundly shaping Akureyri's trajectory.

Akureyri church

Historical Landmarks That Tell a Story

Akureyri is adorned with landmarks that are not just structures but narrators of its storied past. Each site offers a unique glimpse into the epochs that have molded this city into a cultural beacon in the North. Here's a peek at some of these historical treasures:

  • Akureyrarkirkja (The Church of Akureyri): A testament to modern architecture yet steeped in history, this church overlooks the city, offering tranquil views and a serene ambiance.
  • Old Town: Walking through the Old Town, with its charming houses and historical buildings, is like stepping back in time.
  • Nonnahús (Nonni's House): Once home to the beloved Icelandic author Jón Sveinsson, this museum captures the essence of early 20th-century life in Akureyri.
  • Akureyri Museum: Chronicling the city's history from settlement to the present day, this museum offers a comprehensive look at the region's heritage.
  • Akureyri Botanical Garden: While not a historical landmark in the traditional sense, it's a living museum of Arctic flora, reflecting the city's focus on nature and conservation through the ages.
  • Akureyri Art Museum: Housed in a former slaughterhouse, this museum showcases contemporary art and exhibitions that highlight the city's artistic evolution.
  • Aviation Museum: An ode to Akureyri's pivotal role in WWII and its aviation history, this museum is a must-visit for any history buff.

akureyri iceland

Akureyri In Modern Times

Fast-forward to today, and Akureyri shines brightly as Iceland's northern capital. It's remarkable how this city has evolved, emerging from its quaint origins to become a beacon of culture and development in the land of fire and ice. 

Unlike its southern counterpart Reykjavík, Akureyri offers a blend of unique cultural experiences and landscapes that you won't find elsewhere in Iceland. With a cozy population of around 19,000, it's a community where modernity meets tradition. The surge in Iceland's tourism has spotlighted Akureyri, showcasing its distinct flavor to the world. 

Whether it's the vibrant arts scene, historical gems, or breathtaking natural wonders, Akureyri stands proud—a must-visit destination that tells a story of remarkable transformation and resilience.

Adventuring in the Heart of North Iceland

Ready for an adventure that'll make your Instagram followers green with envy? Picture towering glaciers, rugged coastlines, and you in the middle of it all. Whether you're whale watching or hiking through landscapes so stunning they seem otherworldly, Akureyri is your gateway to the extraordinary. Let's explore the must-see natural wonders and thrilling outdoor activities in and around Akureyri.

Unveiling the Beauty of Eyjafjörður Fjord

If you're pondering what to do in Akureyri, voyaging through the majestic Eyjafjörður Fjord should top your list. Stretching over 60 kilometers (40 miles), it's not only Iceland's longest fjord but a spectacle surrounded by towering mountains that kiss the sky, many soaring above 1,000 meters (3281 feet). 

The essence of tranquility and the richness of marine life make Eyjafjörður a sanctuary for nature lovers. Along its serene waters, sleepy towns offer charming cruises, painting a picture of serenity. Don't miss the Sævar ferry service from Árskógssandur to Hrísey Island, where a modest 15-minute journey unfolds panoramic vistas and the untouched beauty of this Icelandic jewel.

Eyjafjordur fjord

Majestic Glaciers and Rugged Coastlines

Akureyri is a treasure trove of natural wonders, with its vicinity offering some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes Iceland has to offer. From majestic glaciers to rugged coastlines, here are some must-see destinations:

  • Glerárdalur outdoor area: This vast expanse is home to the Vindheimajökull glacier, with altitudes ranging from 1,100 to 1,400 meters (3,609 to 4,593 ft). It offers spectacular views and challenging hikes.
  • Kerling Mountain: Standing at 1,538 meters (5,046 ft), it's the tallest peak in the area and a testament to the area's rugged beauty.
  • Mt. Tröllafjall: Known for its imposing presence, it marks an iconic silhouette against the landscape.
  • Skíðadalur and Víti Volcano: Near Lake Mývatn, this area showcases the dramatic Skíðhadalsjökull Glacier amidst the iconic landscapes of Víti and Hverfell volcanoes, offering a glimpse into Iceland's vibrant geothermal activity. 

Kerling mountain

Whale Watching Encounters and Wildlife Safaris

When listing things to do in Akureyri, whale-watching tours comfortably top the chart, offering an irreplaceable thrill of encountering these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. Imagine the awe-inspiring moment when a humpback whale breaches the ocean's surface, a spectacle that's both humbling and exhilarating.

But the adventure doesn't end there; the waters around Akureyri are teeming with diverse marine life, including dolphins and porpoises, providing a unique window into the rich tapestry of the Arctic's ecosystem. It's a profound experience that not only highlights the beauty and majesty of these animals but also underscores the importance of preserving their natural habitats. 

A Symphony of Nature: Hiking Trails and Natural Wonders

When exploring things to do near Akureyri, immersing yourself in the serenity of nature should be at the top of your list. This region is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, boasting breathtaking natural attractions and hiking trails that cater to all levels of adventurers. Some must-visit sites include:

  • Godafoss Waterfall: Often termed the 'Waterfall of the Gods,' its captivating beauty is a sight to behold, with waters cascading gracefully in a horseshoe shape.
  • Lake Mývatn: An otherworldly destination with volcanic landforms, lava pillars, and diverse bird species.
  • Hrísey Island: Connected by a short ferry ride from Árskógssandur, this unspoiled island offers nature trails with stunning views of the fjord. 
  • Súlur Mountain: For experienced hikers, this challenging trail rewards with breathtaking panoramic views of Akureyri and the fjord. 

Akureyri natural wonders

Culinary Delights and Urban Charms In The Capital of The North

Foodies, rejoice! Akureyri's culinary scene is a treasure trove of flavors waiting to be discovered. From mouth-watering seafood caught hours before it hits your plate to traditional dishes that tell a story of Iceland's heritage, every meal is an adventure. And let's not forget the craft beer scene; it's like a love letter to hops and barley. Let's take a peek at what Akureyri has to offer for your taste buds.

A Gastronomic Adventure: Savoring Akureyri's Culinary Landscape

When pondering what to do in Akureyri, Iceland, don't overlook a deep dive into its eclectic culinary scene. This charming town serves as a canvas for a vibrant palette of flavors, blending traditional Icelandic dishes with innovative, modern cuisine. 

Chefs in Akureyri take pride in using locally sourced ingredients, ensuring that every dish not only tantalizes your taste buds but also tells a story of the region's rich cultural and environmental heritage. 

From the freshest seafood plucked directly from the fjord to organically grown vegetables from nearby farms, Akureyri's food scene invites you on a gastronomic adventure that's as diverse as it is delicious.

what to do in akureyri

Fresh Seafood Feasts and Traditional Icelandic Fare

Akureyri isn't just a feast for the eyes; it's a haven for seafood lovers, where the catch of the day really means caught a few hours ago. The town's reputation for fresh seafood is legendary, and you'll find the best dishes at cozy harborside restaurants where the aroma of ocean bounty fills the air. But hey, don't stop at seafood! 

To really savor what Akureyri has to offer, you've got to dive into traditional Icelandic fare. Think fermented shark for the daring or perhaps more palatable options like robust lamb stew. It's an authentic taste of Iceland's culinary heritage and well worth venturing out of your comfort zone.

Immersive Culinary Experiences: Local Restaurants and Culinary Tours

Akureyri might be cozy, but its culinary scene punches way above its weight class. Múlaberg Bistro & Bar tops the list, where the view is as spectacular as the food. Imagine sipping on a local brew with a backdrop of majestic fjords.

For those who love a side of history with their meal, Bautinn Restaurant is a must-visit; it's like dining in a local history book. Now, if you're itching to roll up your sleeves, Akureyri offers culinary tours that are nothing short of a deep dive into the heart of Icelandic cuisine. It's not just about tasting; it's about understanding the lore behind the flavors.

things to do akureyri: food

A Taste of Local Flavor: Icelandic Craft Beer and Culinary Delights

Wondering what to do in Akureyri for a truly local flavor? Take a deep plunge into the burgeoning craft beer scene, a genuine testament to the town's vibrant culture. For enthusiasts eager to sample some of the finest ales, the Brewer's Lounge is a perfect spot.

Though not a brewery per se, it offers an intimate setting for tasting sessions where you can savor Einstök's renowned ales. Known as Iceland's leading craft beer with roots in Akureyri, Einstök stands out for integrating unique Icelandic ingredients, like chocolate malt and wild berries, into their brews. 

Tasting these ales isn't just about enjoying the flavors; it's an educational journey into the heart of Icelandic brewing. Interested in exploring more? Check out this list of the best breweries in Iceland, where every sip tells a story of tradition, innovation, and the pristine Icelandic environment. 

A Haven for Outdoor Enthusiasts

Calling all thrill-seekers and nature lovers! Imagine a playground designed by Mother Nature herself, from mountain biking on trails that challenge and exhilarate to glacier trekking where the air is as crisp as it gets. 

And when winter rolls in, the Northern Lights dance across the sky, turning night into a spectacle. Here's a glimpse into Akureyri's outdoor adventures for adrenaline junkies and nature enthusiasts alike.

Akureyri outdoor

Immersing Yourself in Nature's Embrace

For those compiling their list of things to do in Akureyri, don't miss out on the abundant green spaces this area offers. Encourage your inner explorer to visit spots perfect for picnics, leisurely walks, or simply soaking in the serenity of nature. The Botanical Gardens and Kjarnaskógur Forest are prime examples, offering a peaceful retreat and a chance to connect with the natural beauty of Akureyri.

Mountain Biking Trails and Hiking Adventures

Akureyri is a paradise for outdoor adventurers, offering thrilling mountain biking and hiking experiences. With trails that cater to both beginners and seasoned pros, there's an adventure waiting for every skill level. For those new to the sport or looking to level up their game, numerous local outfits offer bike rentals and guided tours. It's a great way to explore Akureyri's stunning landscapes and ensure a safe and memorable adventure.

Glacier Trekking and Waterfall Explorations 

When pondering what to see in Akureyri, gear up for the adventure sports scene. Glacier trekking and visiting the area's majestic waterfalls should top your list. Always prioritize safety—wear appropriate gear, like crampons for glacier hikes, and never explore alone. These activities are exhilarating ways to witness Akureyri's dramatic landscapes, offering an unforgettable experience for those brave enough to take on the adventure.

skiing in akureyri

A Winter Wonderland: Skiing and Snowmobiling

Winter transforms Akureyri into a sparkling wonderland, making it a must-see for those chasing the exhilaration of skiing and snowmobiling adventures. Wrap up warm and hit the slopes at popular resorts like Hlíðarfjall, where pristine snow awaits all skill levels.

Don't miss out on guided snowmobiling tours either, offering a thrilling way to explore off-the-beaten-path landscapes. In Akureyri, the cold season brings hot opportunities for winter sports enthusiasts.

Accommodation Options for Every Traveler

After a day of exploring, you'll need somewhere cozy to rest your head. Whether you're looking for the luxury of a boutique hotel, the charm of a guesthouse, or the camaraderie of a hostel, Akureyri has you covered. Let's take a peek at some of the best accommodation options for every type of traveler.

Find Your Perfect Haven: Akureyri's Diverse Accommodation Options

Akureyri's lodging landscape is as varied as its majestic landscapes, catering to every budget and preference. From the sumptuous indulgence of boutique hotels to the economic savvy of hostels, there's a perfect spot for you. 

Don't overlook the unique stays like cozy cabins or local guesthouses, offering that authentic Icelandic experience. It's all here, merging comfort with the adventure right at your doorstep.

Akureyri accommodation

Luxurious Hotels and Boutique Stays

For those seeking luxury wrapped in sustainability, Akureyri excels with hotels like Hotel Nordurland and Siglo Hotel, which are known for their top-notch service and intimate ambiance. These gems prioritize eco-friendly practices, offering guests a guilt-free indulgence. It's not just a stay; it's an experience that aligns comfort with the beauty of mindful living.

Charming Guesthouses and B&Bs

For a dose of homely charm sprinkled with local Icelandic wisdom, consider staying in one of Akureyri's guesthouses or B&Bs. These cozy retreats offer a warm, inviting atmosphere that hotels simply can't match. Benefits? Think fresh, home-cooked meals and invaluable tips from your hosts - insider advice on Akureyri's hidden gems that can turn an ordinary visit into an extraordinary adventure.

Convenient Hostels and Budget-Friendly Options 

For backpackers and those watching their wallets, Akureyri offers top-rated hostels and affordable lodgings that don't skimp on comfort. Places like Akureyri Backpackers stand out for their communal vibes, providing cozy gathering spots to meet fellow travelers. It's the perfect blend of affordability and community, ensuring you save pennies while enriching your travel experience with new friendships.

things to do near akureyri

Planning Your Perfect Akureyri Escape

So, you're ready to take the plunge and explore Akureyri? Let's make sure you've got everything you need. From the best times to visit to navigating the city like a local, consider this your ultimate guide. This isn't just trip planning; it's the first step on an unforgettable journey. 

A Comprehensive Guide to Planning Your Akureyri Adventure

Here's a handy checklist to ensure you're all set:

  • Travel Insurance: Don't leave home without it! It's your safety net.
  • Packing Tips: Layer up! Iceland's weather can be a tad unpredictable.
  • Visa and Entry Protocols: Check Iceland's official foreign affairs website for the latest on visas and entry requirements, especially for international wanderers. 

When to Visit: Akureyri's Best Times to Explore

If you're looking for the best time to visit Akureyri, here's a quick snapshot:

  • Summer (June-August): Peak daylight for sightseeing and hiking.
  • Winter (November-March): Ideal for skiing and snowmobiling under a magical snow blanket.
  • Spring and Fall: Perfect for those seeking fewer crowds and still plenty of adventure.

When to visit akureyri

Getting Around: Navigating Akureyri's Transportation Options

Akureyri's cozy streets are super walkable, making it a breeze to explore the city's hidden gems on foot. For farther flung adventures or getting to and from the airport, the public transport system's got your back - efficient and reliable. Yet, for ultimate freedom and exploring those breathtaking nearby attractions, renting a car in Iceland is by far your best bet. 

Essential Tips for an Unforgettable Experience

To fully enjoy Akureyri, brush up on some Icelandic phrases - locals love it! Always exchange currency at reputable spots for the best rates. Respectful and sustainable tourism practices are key; tread lightly to keep Akureyri pristine for tomorrow's explorers. Remember, understanding cultural etiquette opens doors and hearts. 

Why You Should Visit Akureyri

Akureyri isn't just another stop on your list; it's an unforgettable journey you'll cherish forever. Merging the majesty of Iceland's landscapes with vibrant culture and unique accommodations, Akureyri is an all-inclusive getaway. So begin planning today! From winter wonderland escapes to summer adventures, Akureyri awaits. What are you waiting for? It's time to explore!

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