What to See, Do and Eat in Akureyri: Iceland’s Capital of the North

What to See, Do and Eat in Akureyri: Iceland’s Capital of the North

James Taylor James Taylor
17. Aug 2019 ∼ 12 min. read

Visiting Akureyri: What to See and Do 

Explore the enchanting city of Akureyri, Iceland's Capital of the North, with a myriad of attractions awaiting your discovery. From captivating landmarks to delectable culinary delights, Akureyri offers a wealth of experiences. To make the most of your visit, consider the convenience and flexibility of a camper van rental in Iceland. With your own mobile haven, you can seamlessly navigate the scenic landscapes surrounding Akureyri and explore its surrounding wonders at your own pace. Discover the botanical wonders of the Akureyri Botanic Garden, take in panoramic views from the Akureyrarkirkja church, and savor local delicacies at charming cafes. Embrace the freedom afforded by a camper van rental in Iceland, ensuring that your exploration of Akureyri is as comfortable as it is memorable.

Akureyri, known as Iceland's "Capital of the North," is a charming town nestled in the beautiful Eyjafjörður (The Island Fjord). With its vibrant arts scene, lively atmosphere, and stunning natural surroundings, Akureyri offers a wide range of activities and attractions for visitors to enjoy throughout the year. 

Whether you're interested in outdoor adventures, cultural experiences, or simply soaking in the breathtaking landscapes, Akureyri has something for everyone.

Getting to Akureyri With Your Campervan

Before we dive into the best things to do in Akureyri, let's talk about how to get there. In a campervan, you’ll be approaching via the ring road from either the east or west. For most campers, Akureyri comes toward the end of the trip, as many will do the ring road counterclockwise. In our opinion this makes the most sense as you will visit the busiest areas of Iceland first before the crowds drop off around East and North Iceland.  

Coming from the west, the ring road now goes through a tunnel with a toll, the only toll road in Iceland. At 1,650 ISK per campervan, it’s quite expensive. If you don’t feel like paying the toll,  you can still use the old road that skirts around the mountain by heading to the north. 

Tunnel North of Iceland

The Best Things to do in Akureyri During Summer

Summer is the most popular time to visit Akureyri, with the ring road having no trouble staying open due to bad weather. Like the rest of Iceland, there’s plenty to do during this time. Here are some of the best things to do in Akureyri during summer:

1. Hiking in Akureyri

Akureyri is surrounded by plenty of gorgeous mountain ranges with lots of fantastic hiking opportunities to immerse yourself in nature. One of the most popular trails is to hike to the peak of Mount Súlur, rising southwest of the town. This six-hour hike takes you through majestic mountain scenery, rewarding you with breathtaking views from Súlur's two peaks at 1210 meters. To reach the start of the trail, follow Þingvallarstræti, Súluvegur, and Miðhúsavegur out of town, and you'll find the car park at the trailhead.

You’ll also find some nice trails in Glerárdalur, which we’ve listed below. There’s also a long but easy trail to the small village of Hrafnagil, and plenty of trails in Kjarnaskógur, the woodlands south of Akureyri where you’ll also find the town’s fantastic campsite. 

2. Visit Akureyri’s Old Town (Gamli Bærinn)

Akureyri is home to a charming old town, with plenty of Scandinavian charm and historic buildings. Your best bet to explore this part of town is to wander down Aðalstræti, which weaves its way between the fjord on one side and a forested hillside on the other. Here are some very authentic houses, and plenty of great photo opportunities. 

Afterward, head further north and you’ll find yourself in the compact downtown area of Akureyri. Walk along Hafnarstræti and you’ll see some more historic buildings, as well as plenty of restaurants, bars, and cafés to enjoy. 

Akureyri Old town

3. Dive into History: Akureyri Museum

If history is your thing, then back on Aðalstræti street south of the downtown area is the Akureyri Museum. The permanent exhibition here showcases local life throughout the years, while the changing exhibitions offer insights into the various aspects of Akureyri’s heritage, from contemporary art to fashion exhibitions. 

4. Immerse Yourself in Art: Akureyri Art Museum and 'The Artists Alley'

Akureyri’s other museum is its Art Museum, which hosts a range of exhibitions that are thought-provoking and captivating. Located in the main downtown area, it’s an easy addition to any time exploring Akureyri, and shouldn’t take more than an hour or so to go through the museum. 

The Akureyri Art Museum is located on the street Kaupvangsstræti, which is also known as ‘The Artists’ Alley’. Along this street you’ll find large old industrial buildings that have been taken over by various small art galleries, the Akureyri School of Visual Arts, and North Iceland artists’ studios. There are also studios for rent for any international artists who are looking to do a residence in North Iceland. 

5. Marvel at Akureyri Church

Akureyri’s other major landmark is its iconic, a true symbol of the city. Designed by architect Gudjon Samuelsson (the same guy who designed Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik) and consecrated in 1940, the church's size and majestic facade resemble the basalt columns of Svartifoss waterfall. Climb the stairs leading to the church for a panoramic view of the town and harbor. 

Akureyri's Church

6. Check Out Akureyri's Restaurants

Akureyri boasts a diverse culinary scene, offering a wide range of cuisines to satisfy every palate. From Icelandic seafood feasts to international delights like curry, Asian dishes, sushi, and more, there's something to please every food lover. 

Make sure to try the soup and salad buffet at Bautinn and treat yourself to a slice of cake at the best café in town, Kaffi Ilmur, known for their delicious offerings. Akureyri is the best place in Iceland for eating out behind Reykjavik, with some fantastic choices for a lunch or dinner in town. They even have their own hot dog stand, which does hot dogs that come with red cabbage on top as well as the usual ingredients of raw and fried onions, ketchup, mustard, and remoulade. 

7. Explore the Trails Along Glerá River 

For nature lovers, the trails around Glerá River provide a picturesque hiking experience. Follow the trails through the gorgeous uninhabited valley, with the city quickly dropping away and leaving you with views of mountains on both sides, including the tallest in the north, Mt. Kerling (1,538m). 

8. Discover the Beautiful Akureyri Botanical Garden

There’s also an easy nature escape right inside the city at Listagarðurinn, Akureyri's Botanical Garden. Established in 1912, this is the world's northernmost botanical garden. You can easily spend an hour or two here strolling through the gardens, overflowing with colorful flowers and shrubs. The atmosphere here is calm and peaceful, and there’s also a cozy coffee shop where you can enjoy some caffeine and a bite to eat. 

Botanical garden in Akureyri

9. Join a Whale Watching Tour

Akureyri sites on the western side of Eyjafjörður, one of the longest fjords in the country. With deep waters and plenty of room, it’s also a well-known spot for marine life during the summer. 

Whale watching tours leave from the harbor (as well as Dalvik further north on the coast), letting you get up nice and close to the gentle giants of the ocean. The waters are home to various whale species, including humpback whales, making it an ideal destination for a memorable wildlife encounter in Iceland. 

10. Go on a Day Tour to Askja and Viti Volcano

Located in the Northern Highlands, the Askja Caldera and Viti Volcano are one of the most spectacular, moon-like landscapes in Iceland. It was here that was used as a training area for Apollo 11 astronauts before their mission to the moon. The vast volcanic crater is beautiful and filled with milky blue water, not unlike the waters found in The Blue Lagoon. 

Getting to Askja and Viti is one of the most challenging tasks though. In summer, day tours leave from Akureyri, and will take up to an entire day getting there and back. Driving there yourself requires you to have a 4x4 campervan and to tackle some of the toughest F-Roads in the country. 

The Best Things to do in Akureyri During Winter

Even during the winter months, Akureyri offers a range of exciting activities and attractions. Here are some of the best things to do in Akureyri during winter:

1. Experience the Magic of the Akureyri Christmas House

If you're a fan of Christmas, a visit to the Akureyri Christmas House is a must. This little shop located south of the city in Eyjafjörður is a winter wonderland, filled to the brim with charming Christmas souvenirs, decorations, and traditional Icelandic Christmas foods. Outside, there’s also a small Christmas Garden, sculptures of Santas, and plenty more. It’s a great stop to make, and one that gives you a glimpse into just how important Christmas time is in Iceland. 

Chrismas House in Akureyri

2. Chase the Northern Lights

Of course, winter in Iceland means that there’s a good chance to see the northern lights, and Akureyri is a great base from which to do so. The campsite, south of town in a forest, is a quiet place with little in the way of light pollution. And with easy access to the long valley of Eyjafjörður to the south, you can easily take your campervan for a drive to hunt down a quiet spot to see the lights. 

In the greater Akureyri area, there are also some good spots to see the northern lights. Goðafoss Waterfall springs to mind first, even more beautiful under a glowing green sky. Then there’s the mountains of the Tröllaskagi Peninsula, and plenty of backroads all over the area that will lead you to some nice viewpoints. 

Northern lights in Iceland

3. Relax at the Akureyri Swimming Pool

Winter in Iceland is the perfect time for an indulgent hour or so spent lazing around in the Akureyri Swimming Pool, staving off the winter chill. This is one of the best swimming pools in Iceland; the facility features two outdoor 25-meter pools, an indoor pool, water slides, steam baths, and hot and cold tubs. The pools are of course heated by geothermal water, offering a warm and rejuvenating experience. Take a dip, unwind, and enjoy the unique sensation of swimming in the warmth while surrounded by snow – and maybe even with the northern lights overhead. 

4. Soak in the Luxurious Forest Lagoon

If hot water is your thing, then you might also like to visit The Forest Lagoon. This luxurious hot spring sits opposite Akureyri, nestled among the Vaðlaskógur forest just a few minutes’ drive from the city. Surrounded by birch and pine trees, the Forest Lagoon offers stunning views of Eyjafjörður and the majestic mountains beyond. You can soak in the mineral-rich waters of the large pool, which has two swim-up bars, or enjoy the warmth of the small pool, which is kept at a cozy 40°C. For a more invigorating experience, you can try the Finnish dry sauna, which has a panoramic window overlooking the fjord, or the cold pool, which is a refreshing 11°C. 

This is one of the newer hot springs to pop up in Iceland in recent years, so it remains far less known than both The Blue Lagoon and the Myvatn Nature Baths. If you’re looking for a luxury hot spring visit without the crowds, this might be a good choice. 

5. Hit the Slopes: Skiing in and around Akureyri

Akureyri is also home to one of the best ski resorts in Iceland to the west of town on top of Mount Hlíðarfjall. Just 8 kilometers from Akureyri, from December to April there are plenty of opportunities to carve up the slopes here. It’s a great area for both beginners and experts. 

Dalvik on the Tröllaskagi Peninsula is another great place for skiing, home to a small ski resort in the epic mountains out the back of town. If skiing downhill with epic views over the mountains and fjord sounds like your thing, then you should consider skiing in Dalvik. For even more adventure, the Tröllaskagi Peninsula is also where Iceland’s only heliskiing tours take place, where you’ll be dropped off in the middle of the mountains to ski down some untouched slopes.  

6. Soak in Suds at the Beer Spa

Nearby to Akureyri is one of Iceland’s more unique offerings, the Beer Spa. Here you’ll soak in a hot tub filled with beer and live beer yeast, known for its beneficial effects on the body and skin. While you indulge in this rejuvenating bath, enjoy a cold beer straight from the tap – of course. There are also some regular hot tubs outside overlooking the fjord. 

The Beer Spa is in the small village of Árskógssandur, about a 30-minute drive north of Akureyri. It’s perfect for both a quick half-day trip if you’re basing yourself in Akureyri for a few days, or for a stop if you’re looping around the Tröllaskagi Peninsula on your campervan road trip through Iceland. 

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