Reykjavik may be the renowned urban area in Iceland that most visitors want to explore but we would argue the northern town of Akureyri is equally gorgeous with plenty of things to do to keep you occupied for a few days. We want to share some of the best things to do in Akureyri and why we think anyone visiting Iceland should consider adding this northern town to their itinerary.
We spent an amazing 48 hours in Akureyri and used this as a base to explore some of the other top things to do in North Iceland, such as the spectacular Godafoss waterfall and the quirky coastal town of Husavik also known as the “whale capital of the world.” Akureyri may not be the first location on the tip of your tongue when thinking about the best places to visit in Iceland but following our recent visit, we are convinced that this needs to be on everyone’s radar.
Whether you are sampling delicious Icelandic ice cream or taking an evening stroll along the harbor front, Akureyri is a vibrant, lively town with plenty of attractions to spark your interest. It’s one of those urban areas that you can quickly fall in love with and it’s fair to say, Akureyri certainly has our hearts!
Where to Stay in Akureyri
Before diving into the plethora of things to do in Akureyri, let’s take a look at some of our recommended accommodation options in this town. During our Iceland road trip, we noticed that many parts of the country have very little in terms of accommodation choices and you have to be prepared to sleep under canvas or even in your car (we did both!).
However, neither of these options are required once you arrive in the town of Akureyri because there are a number of alternatives available. For those of you that are on a budget and have brought your tent along, don’t worry, Akureyri is home to a camp site located in the heart of the town – Tjaldsvæðið Akureyri.
If you are willing to live the life of luxury and book a hotel for a night or two while staying in Akureyri, be sure to consider one of these options.
- Icelandair Hotel Akureyri – The Icelandair Hotel chain is prominent throughout Iceland and we can highly recommend staying at any of their hotels. We found a great last-minute deal through Booking.com at the Akureyri location and this was ideal given the location, amenities and overall comfort of this hotel. Check out the latest rates and availability here.
- Hotel Kjarnalundur – Looking for something with a little more Icelandic remoteness? Just 5-10 minutes from downtown Akureyri is Hotel Kjarnalundur which was our accommodation option for our second night. Awesome breakfast, affordable rates, comfortable room, and great customer service. Check out the latest prices and availability here.
Best Things to Do in Akureyri
So what exactly is there to do in Akureyri? How about a combination of the following:
- Sample delicious, local cuisine;
- Enjoy an Icelandic botanical garden;
- Explore a gorgeous harbor front;
- Visit an iconic landmark church;
- Experience an art museum;
- Stroll around the old town of Akureyri;
- Use Akureyri as a base to explore other iconic attractions – Godafoss, Husavik, Dettifoss and Lake Myvatn.
Are you convinced yet that Akureyri is the place to visit in North Iceland? Let’s take a look at some of the things to do in Akureyri along with our favorite dining options that we enjoyed during our two days in this part of Iceland.
When you start exploring Akureyri, you will immediately notice how steep some of the streets are. This town started as a small harbor village but as it started to grow, well there was only really one direction it could go – uphill!
Akureyri is the cultural heart of the north of Iceland, often known as the capital of the north.
Another fun fact about Akureyri, it is only 60km (37.2 miles) south of the Arctic circle! Various cruises are available from the town for those wishing to “cross” the Arctic circle but for those looking to enjoy the town, if you are visiting in the middle of summer, this is the perfect location to enjoy the “midnight sun.”
Be sure to take a look at the traffic lights scattered around the town. You may be a little surprised at what you see!
Where to Eat in Akureyri
Akureyri Fish and Chips
Looking for a great place to eat local cuisine? Head to the historic old town area which is just a short walk from the gorgeous Akureyri Church and enjoy the best fish and chips in town. Akureyri Fish and Chips is located directly across from the harbor and with plenty of parking options nearby, this is a convenient option for those ready to sample the best catch of the day!
Walking into this restaurant, you will notice ample amounts of seating options (high-top tables and regular tables are available) and a pretty wide selection of cuisine options. You may think it’s a little on the expensive side but remember, you are in Iceland and trust when we say, it’s well worth the price.
I opted for the traditional fish and chips while Heather decided to try the chicken sandwich. Glass bottled drinks are available and we didn’t have to wait long before our meal arrived. I consider myself to be a pretty good judge of fish and chips and I have to admit, this was delicious. You have to go a long way to beat fish and chips in England but Iceland certainly was a very close second!
Heather thoroughly enjoyed her chicken sandwich and perhaps the best part of this restaurant aside from the food was the overall atmosphere. This is clearly a popular spot for tourists and locals alike and definitely a great spot to interact with some local Icelandic folks who are always friendly and willing to give you some recommendations on the best things to see while you are in the area.
After spending a few hours in Akureyri, we quickly learned that there was one place that EVERYONE (and I mean everyone!) visits in this town – Brynja! If you are ready to experience traditional Icelandic ice cream, this is undoubtedly the best place in the country to sample the delicious taste.
It’s not uncommon for the lines to be pretty long at Brynja so we opted to visit late in the day, shortly before closing. Be prepared to see everything on the menu listed in Icelandic but the reality is, it’s pretty obvious what you are ordering and the selection of toppings is pretty standard across all corners of the globe.
I’m sure you waiting to hear about the ice cream itself…well, we don’t want to spoil it too much for you but let’s just say it didn’t disappoint! Ok, who are we kidding…it was AMAZING and definitely some of the best ice cream we have sampled anywhere in the world. It really was that good.
If you take a stroll around Akureyri’s historic old town, you cannot help but notice the gorgeous building on the corner of Hafnarstræti and Kaupvangsstræti. The Bautinn Restaurant is yet another popular choice among locals, particularly with the extensive salad bar being one of the best available throughout Iceland.
If you want to sample some local Icelandic soup, anyone placing a main order at Bautinn will receive a bowl in addition to your food. Fish, burgers, pizza, pasta and a few specialty items are available, including a peppered roast Icelandic lamb which sounds delicious (this is one of the most expensive items on the menu but I’m sure it’s worth it).
One of our favorite experiences was to explore the Akureyri Harbor and enjoy the gorgeous scenery surrounding this part of the town. Akureyri has become a regular stop for cruise ships visiting Iceland so you never quite know what you may see during your visit.
The Hof Cultural and Conference Center is the focal point of the harbor but this area is definitely popular among tourists that are perhaps interested in booking a tour to the Arctic Circle or other excursions available from Akureyri.
The Akureyri Art Trail also heads to the harbor district with “The Flight” by Petur Bjarnason being an iconic sculpture overlooking the fjord.
Old Town District
Just a short stroll from the Icelandair Hotel Akureyri where we stayed the first night, the Old Town District was a great area to explore. The oldest building in Akureyri dates back to 1795 and the history of this town can be found on the narrow strip of land between the water and the mountains surrounding what we can see today.
Several of Akureyri’s iconic museums can be found in this part of the town, including the former home of author Jon Sveinsson and poet Matthias Jochumsson.If you love learning about Icelandic history and folklore, Akureyri is definitely a place where you can capture a lot of information with the plethora of museums open to the public.
However, the best part of Akureyri is that you can quickly transition from the historic part of the town and wander into the modern day town where the hustle and bustle of daily life can be enjoyed.
Whether you are enjoying the sight of the colorful residential areas or simply taking a stroll around downtown Akureyri, there will always be opportunities to reflect on days gone by in this historic town.
The heartbeat of Akureyri is the downtown area where a variety of shops, restaurants, and cafes are available for locals and visitors to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere that reverberates around this urban area. That may sound a little contradictory but after spending a couple of days here, this is exactly how we felt.
Enjoying a latte in the early morning while watching the locals go about their day to day lives was certainly an eye-opening experience but one that enabled us to catch a glimpse of how relaxing life is here.
The majority of the retail therapy outlets and restaurants can be found on Hafnarstræti and Skipagata but should you head a little further away from this, you may stumble across more residential areas that have smaller shops, bistros, and art galleries.
Perhaps the iconic landmark that everyone visiting Akureyri will remember is the towering church that stands above the downtown area. The “Akureyrarkirkja” or “The Church of Akureyri” is a prominent Lutheran church that dates back to 1940 when construction was completed.
The gorgeous architectural design of this church has a slight resemblance to Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik, at least in terms of the unique construction and composition. However, that’s where the similarities end and Akureyri can be proud to have a church that possesses such distinctive features and certainly helps visitors remember this part of Iceland.
When you think about enjoying the best things to do in Akureyri, our top recommendation is to think about what the locals would do! Enjoy delicious local fish and chips, devour the best Icelandic ice cream on the island and just enjoy the gorgeous scenery and architecture surrounding this town.
After spending an amazing week exploring Iceland and covering over 1600 miles, we are now starting to reminisce on the highlights of this trip. Every time we talk about this, there is one place that is constantly on the tip of our tongues – Akureyri. I can’t pinpoint one reason why we enjoyed our time here so much but there is an inherent “feel good” vibe about it.
We thoroughly enjoyed our 48 hours in Akureyri and we are already looking forward to returning to North Iceland, just so that we can spend more time in this town. Perhaps hopping on a flight from Reykjavik would be a feasible alternative but the scenery between the two is breathtaking so it’s a win-win situation either method you take.
Have you spent time exploring Akureyri?
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