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Akureyri Travel Guide: The Unofficial Capital of Northern Iceland

View of Akureyri across the water

The only Akureyri travel guide you'll ever need!

heart-shaped red streetlight

Akureyri is the second largest city in Iceland and is known as the unofficial capital of the North. It has been an important port and fishing center for centuries. Although the population is only 18,900, Akureyri feels like a bustling little city filled with plenty to do. I recommend spending at least a full day, if not two, exploring all that Akureyri has to offer. 

The city is extremely walkable and I recommend seeing it on foot. Keep an eye out for the little details, like small paintings of trolls hidden in shops and little hearts on the red lights at traffic crossings.

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Getting There

Akureyri lies on the Ring Road which makes it super easy to access by car or bus. Parking in most areas is free with a parking disc, which you can pick up at local shops or banks. There is a two-hour time limit for many of the parking spots in the central city. Akureyri Airport has daily flights to and from Reykjavik if you prefer to fly. Cruise ships touring the Arctic Circle also dock there for day visits. Once you arrive, the SVA city buses are free. Once you are in town, you can rent a bicycle at the souvenir shop The Viking in Hafnarstræti. 

street view in Akureyri, Iceland showing cruise ship in the port

Where to Stay

There are many options available including hotels, hostels, homestays, AirBnbs and parking spots for campervans. I stayed in a really beautiful Airbnb near the Botanical Gardens.  I also recommend the Icelandair Hotel Akureyri for great quality at a reasonable price point. 

Shopping

Akureyri is a great place to pick up local Icelandic goods and souvenirs. The main shopping street is Hafnarstræti. There you will find several small boutique shops and restaurants. Look for a unique statue of two large trolls, a great photo op!

Outdoor Activities

For outdoor lovers, walk along the shoreline of the fjord or the Glerá river. In the winter, you can often see spectacular Northern Light displays right from the city. On the Hamarkot rocks near the water, find a large statue of the first settlers Helgi Magri and Þórunn Hyrna, thought to have settled in the area of the city in 890 BCE. There are many hikes of varying difficulty in the area. At Sundlaug Akureyrar there are two outdoor geothermal swimming pools as well as hot tubs, play areas, and water slides. Akureyri is also home to the northernmost 18-hole golf course in the world. 

Me with a hot chocolate

Food and Drink

I tried the Blaa Kannan Cafe and Kaffi Ilmur for lunch the two days I spent in Akureyri. Both serve small plates, sandwiches, coffee, tea, and snacks. Some other suggestions to try:

  • Valdis – an adorable, small gelato shop
  • 1862 Nordic Bistro – local and Nordic food
  • Akureyri Fish – fish and chips
  • Greifinn – family-friendly pizza
  • Heitur Matur Hrísalundi – homecooked Icelandic meals
  • Víking/Einstök and Kaldi – local breweries
Turquoise and pink gelato shop

What to do & see

Akureyri Church (Akureyrarkirkja)​

Built in 1940, this landmark sits on top of a large hill in the central part of town. It features large stained glass windows with scenes from Icelandic Christian history. There are spectacular views of the fjord from the front steps of the church.

Akureyri Art Museum

Akureyri Art Museum and the Akureyri School of Art – located in the Listagil or Grófargil “Art Center,” known as the “focal point of culture in Akureyri.” The Akureyri Art Museum was founded in 1993 in a beautiful Bauhaus building. hosts both local and international artists. The Gil Society runs an artist residency and organizes art exhibitions, concerts, and cultural happenings. Around the area, you find artist studios and restaurants.

yellow and pink tulips

Akureyri Botanical Gardens

This was my favorite part of my visit to Akureyri. These gardens began as the first public park in Iceland in 1910, established by the women of Akureyri. The botanical gardens were added 1957. It is the northernmost botanical garden in the world and is an important place for scientific research regarding plants surviving at the edge of the Arctic. There are over 7,000 species of plants, 430 of which are native to Iceland. 

path with yellow flowers and green trees

The garden section is closed in the winter, but the park is always open to visitors any time of day, all year. Eyrarlandsstofa is a cute, little, black wooden house in the garden, and is one of the oldest homes in all of Akureyri. Nearby is the Nature Museum (Náttúrufræðistofnun Norðurlands). 

back of Cafe Laut

Also inside the garden find the incredibly cute Cafe Laut. Stop for a coffee or hot chocolate and enjoy a fresh pastry while you relax among the beautiful scenery. 

Into the Arctic

This is the newest museum in Akureyri and features Icelandic wildlife, settlement of Northern Iceland, explorers, and culture of the region. There is everything from dog sledding to local handicrafts.

Akureyri Museum (Minjasafnið á Akureyri)

This small museum displays art, historical displays and artifacts relating to Akureyri town life. There are maps, photos, and recreations of early Icelandic homes that would have been prevalent in the area. A nursery was established there in 1899, and next door is a timber church founded in 1846. The ticket price covers admission to the nearby Nonnahús. 

Other Museums

  • Nonni House (Nonnahús) which celebrates the children’s book author Jón Sveinsson
  • David’s House, a memorial site for the poet Davið Stefánsson
  • Akureyri Museum of Industry
  • Aviation Museum of Iceland
  • Motorcycle Museum
  • Toy Museum
  • There is a festival each summer at the medieval trading place of Gásir, about 11km north of the city.
beer spa wooden bathtub

Bjórböðin Beer Spa

The first of its kind in the world, this beer spa was launched by Iceland’s first microbrewery, Bruggsmiðjan-Kaldi. The spa and the attached restaurant focus on the health benefits of beer. The main event is taking a 25-minute beer bath in a huge wooden tub. There is also an outdoor hot pool with views of the fjord. Book your spa day here.

A street view of Akureyri

Walking Tours

There are four great self-guided walking tours, each offering in-depth views of aspects of Akureyri. You can find them at the Akureyri and the North Guide website. 

  • Historical Path (4.1km/2.5 miles)
  • The First Settlers and Town Architecture (2.9km/1.2 miles)
  • River and Gardens (5.1km/3.1 miles)
  • The Sea and Oddeyrin (1.9km/.6 miles)

Day Tours and Activities

Half-Day whale watching tourBook here or here.
Cruise through Torfunefsbryggja Harbor and head out to see majestic whales and a number of different bird species that call the area home. 

Horse Riding Tour in AkureyriBook here.
Ride a true Icelandic horse, known for its unique gait called tölt. Horses are ubiquitous on the Icelandic landscape, so experience riding one of the beautiful creatures yourself! 

Grímsey Island – Grímsey Island is about 40km off the coast of northern Iceland. A ferry runs from Akureyri to Grímsey Island three days a week. During the summer, you can see hoards of puffins making their nests, diving, and hunting for fish. 

White house with a red roof in Akureyri

Final Thoughts:

I enjoyed my visit and stay in Akureyri immensely. The weather was perfect and mild, with the sun shining nearly 21 hours the summer I visited. I spent most of the time walking the city, stopping at the Botanical Gardens and art museums for hours at a time. The people are friendly and welcoming and the community is very tight-knit. There aren’t as many tourists in Akureyri as there are in Reykjavik. Many people traveling to Iceland tend to stick to the southern part of the country, especially in the winter. Make sure you plan ahead if you’d like to see puffins or whales, tours only run during certain parts of the year.  

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