20 Best Things to Do in Akureyri, North Iceland

Updated on October 18th, 2021

When I visited the North of Iceland for a yoga retreat, I arrived slightly unprepared & under researched. What I discovered was the perfect base to explore the area around Akureyri. A stay here offers the best of Iceland in an accessible package. If you are looking for natural volcanic wonders, epic waterfalls, relaxing lagoons, wildlife watching or the legendary Northern Lights, then this could be your ideal location. To ensure you don’t miss anything, here is my list of the 20 best things to do in Akureyri.”

Where?

Akureyri, North Iceland

20 Best Things to Do in Akureyri, North IcelandWhy?

I had booked to attend a yoga retreat in the North of Iceland with my friend at The Santosha Life, back before the world changed. Of course, it had to be postponed. When I finally arrived, it was a transformational experience for me.

Iceland marked my 74th country & Akureyri (pronounced ah-koo-rare-ee), where the retreat was based, was the most northerly point I had ever visited. It felt like a small town but is actually the 2nd largest city in Iceland. I wasn’t completely sure what the area had to offer. If I’m honest, between my anxiety for leaving home, making sure I had all the tests & forms completed, & struggling to book my subsequent road trip, I hadn’t really researched the area. What I discovered over the week, opened my eyes to a magical place that felt relatively undiscovered in comparison to Reykjavik. If you are coming to Iceland, my conclusion is, do not miss a chance to sample the extraordinary sights, sounds & feelings of Akureyri.

For more of my Iceland adventures, check out my posts on Hiking on the Sólheimajökull Glacier & Snorkeling Silfra Fissure.

This post may contain affiliate links. By using these, Sue Where Why What may receive a small commission. You will not pay any extra charges for this. My opinions, reviews & recommendations remain my own. For more information see my disclosure.

20 Best Things to Do in Akureyri, North IcelandWhere is Akureyri?

Akureyri is nicknamed the “Capital of the North” & sits just 100km away from the Arctic Circle. It is located at the base of the Eyjafjörður Fjord, the longest fjord in Iceland. Being so close to the Arctic Circle meant the one thing I prepared for was the cold. However, this area has the advantage of the Gulf Stream, making it one of the warmest climates in Iceland.

20 Best Things to Do in Akureyri, North IcelandWhen is the best time to visit Akureyri?

The summer months are mild, with the warmest time being August when temperatures can average 12oC (53oF). The coldest is March where it can get as cold as -1oC (30oF).

January is the wettest month, however, generally it rains a lot more in the south than the north of Iceland. If you are looking for snow, then plan to be here from October & April but be aware that between November & February there is virtually no sunlight.”

In my opinion, this is the perfect base to explore the north of Iceland. To prove it, here is my list of the 20 best things to do in Akureyri.

20 Best Things to Do in Akureyri, North Iceland
20 Best Things to Do in Akureyri, North Iceland1. Check out the Arctic Botanical Gardens (Lystigarðurinn)

If you are staying in Akureyri, don’t miss a walk up to the most northerly botanical gardens in the world. It’s a peaceful place to stroll & beautifully maintained. The gardens contain every species native to Iceland, as well as many from around the world which thrive in areas of high latitude & altitude. The café here is also the perfect place to relax & unwind.

20 Best Things to Do in Akureyri, North Iceland2. Head to church at Akureyrakirkja

Dominating the skyline is the impressive landmark church. It was designed by the same architect as the stunning Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik. Inside is a 3200-pipe organ & stunning stained-glass window which originally came from Coventry Cathedral in the UK.

3. Educate yourself at a museum

20 Best Things to Do in Akureyri, North IcelandAkureyri has several museums which are worth exploring but apparently, the best is the Art Museum which features an eclectic display from local artists. There is also plenty of public art to discover around the city & you can pick up your copy of the Akureyri Art Trail brochure from the tourist office to guide you in your exploration. If art isn’t your thing, then maybe check out Into the Arctic or the Aviation Museum.

20 Best Things to Do in Akureyri, North Iceland4. Feel festive at the Christmas House

Just outside the main town, it is Christmas every day! If you feel like getting in the festive mood or are a keen collector of Christmas decorations from your travels, then this is the place to go. It’s hard not to have a smile on your face when you leave.

You can also find a local food store & a small art exhibit (check out the post box decorated in a pair of knitted breasts!). And don’t miss relieving yourself in the toilet for a little surprise along the way.”

5. Step back in time at Laufás Turf House

20 Best Things to Do in Akureyri, North IcelandAcross the water from Akureyri is the Laufás Turf House & church which give a fantastic insight into Iceland’s past. The house here is mentioned in historical records dating back to the first Icelandic settlers (874 – 930) & was a renowned chieftain’s residence. It was classed as a manor & housed between 20-30 people. The current buildings date back to the 19th century, as does the furniture displayed inside.

Once you have explored the town & its history, then how about a bit of wildlife?

6. Go birdwatching on Hrísey Island

20 Best Things to Do in Akureyri, North IcelandA short, 20-minute ferry ride into the fjord, brings you to peaceful Hrísey Island. In summer its population swells to a tiny 150 but this is the perfect place to indulge your passion for nature. The island is only 8 km2 in size but is home to more than 40 species of birds. The most common is the ptarmigan but it also lays claim to the largest breeding colony of arctic terns in Europe. It is situated on a lay line which makes it one of the most powerful places in Iceland & a fantastic destination for short hikes. After exploring, don’t miss the chance for a meal at Verbúðin 66 for a warm welcome & some delicious food.

7. Climb into the saddle

20 Best Things to Do in Akureyri, North IcelandIcelandic horses are special for many reasons. They arrived with the very first settlers & although just the size of ponies, they are said to be more curious, intelligent & independent than most other horse breeds. A ride on one of these beautiful creatures is a uniquely Icelandic experience. They possess a couple of special gaits & whereas other horses have walk, trot & gallop, Icelandic horses add tölt & skeið to their repertoire.

Tölt is known for its speed & riding comfort. They say you can hold a pint of beer in one hand & not spill a drop while riding. Skeið on the other hand is a rhythmic gallop which makes you feel like you’re flying & can reach speeds up to 48km/h (30m/h).”

20 Best Things to Do in Akureyri, North Iceland8. Take a boat in search of humpbacks

Another of the best things to do in Akureyri is to head out into the Eyjafjörður Fjord in search of humpback whales. Obviously, nothing is guaranteed, but the fjord apparently has the highest success rates for sightings in Iceland. The trip takes 3 hours with excellent guides & spectacular views. You may even be lucky enough to spot a Blue Whale too.

 

9. Hunt for puffins

In the summer months (June – August), you can also take an excursion to see the puffins. Iceland is home to 60% of the worlds Atlantic Puffin population, which adds up to 6 million of these colourful beaked creatures. Puffins live on the surface of the ocean but venture onto land to breed. Most importantly, they only nest where they were born & exclusively when there are other puffins around. Therefore, if you head to the right place at the right time, you stand a very good chance of a sighting.

From Akureyri, there are 2 options to see puffins. From the town itself, you can cross your fingers & opt for a whale watching tour with a focus on seabirds as well. Alternatively, take a trip over to Húsavík (more on that later) where you can board a boat to Flatey Island.

And how about a couple of epic waterfalls…?

10. Feel the power at Dettifoss Waterfall

Dettifoss20 Best Things to Do in Akureyri, North Iceland waterfall is located in the Vatnajökull National Park & lays claim to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe. It creates an epic thunder & spray as it falls 44m to continue its path along the river. At its widest point, Dettifoss is an incredible 100m. The waterfall is over 150km from Akureyri, but there are a plethora of natural wonders to see in the vicinity. Such as…

20 Best Things to Do in Akureyri, North Iceland11. Get in touch with the Gods at Goðafoss Waterfall

Fifty kilometres from Akureyri lies Goðafoss waterfall, one of the most spectacular in Iceland, a land of spectacular waterfalls! The legend is that during “negotiations” with the persuasive Christians, one of the Viking leaders threw statues of their pagan gods over the waterfall to prevent a religious war, hence the name.

The waterfall is fed from the Skjálfandafljót River, originating from the largest glacier in Iceland. It cascades in a horseshoe shape over the volcanic rock, dropping 17m at its highest point.”

For more natural wonders how about a road trip?

20 Best Things to Do in Akureyri, North Iceland12. Take a drive around the Diamond Circle

You may have heard of the Golden Circle tour in the South of Iceland? In the north, there is the Diamond Circle, a route of 260km which snakes through several of the natural wonders of this fascinating part of the country. The route starts just 30km east of Akureyri. It is advisable to take at least 2 days to cover all this ground, as there will be plenty of places to stop along the way. You will also get more from the experience in the summer months when the roads are 20 Best Things to Do in Akureyri, North Icelandmore passable & the days longer. The route includes both Goðafoss & Dettifoss, as well as Lake Mývatn, Ásbyrgi Canyon & Húsavík – see below.

If you are considering staying overnight along the way, check out Sel – Hótel & Fosshótel in Mývatn, or Árból Guesthouse, Húsavík Cape Hotel or Fosshótel in Húsavík for a few options.

Here’s why you will want to add these other epic destinations to your itinerary…

20 Best Things to Do in Akureyri, North Iceland13. Discover the wonders of Lake Mývatn

Lake Mývatn lies 90km (55 miles) from Akureyri & is an incredibly active geothermal area that has created otherworldly & unique geology to explore. From pseudo craters to bubbling earth, volcanoes, a lava labyrinth & a fissure where you can stand with one foot in North America & the 20 Best Things to Do in Akureyri, North Icelandother in Europe. If you’re a history buff, this is where the Americans practised for the moon landings & for film fans, it has been used for Fast & Furious 9 & Game of Thrones. I found it so fascinating, I’ve got a whole blog post on the area coming up in the next few weeks.

While you’re here head to Kaffi Borgi to sample their amazing bread – cooked in a geyser for 24 hours!”

14. Take a hike at Ásbyrgi Canyon

Ásbyrgi is also called the “Shelter of the Gods”, so it would be difficult to miss off your itinerary of the best things to do in Akureyri. The canyon is 3.5km long & over 1km wide, surrounded by 100m high cliffs. It will take around 2 hours to drive the 140km from Akureyri to Ásbyrgi Canyon but once you are there, it is an excellent place for a hike.

While exploring the Diamond Circle, why not indulge in one of the geothermal spas?

20 Best Things to Do in Akureyri, North Iceland15. Soak it all in at Mývatn Nature Baths

Mývatn Nature Bath is known as the “Blue Lagoon of the North” & in a stunning setting overlooking the lake. Head here for your fix of the rejuvenating power of Iceland’s geothermal waters. The water here is bright blue, opaque & full of healing minerals piped straight from the borehole nearby. It arrives at a scorching 130oC before being cooled to between 36-40oC for the lagoon. It is the perfect place to chill out for a few hours or take in the sunset with a drink in hand.

20 Best Things to Do in Akureyri, North Iceland16. Heal body & soul at Húsavík Geosea

Húsavík has already been mentioned a couple of times & is a fantastic place to come for either whale watching (they use old fashioned wooden boats), or for the puffins at Flatey Island. However, if you enjoy relaxation then it is also home to the gorgeous Húsavík Geosea spa.

Imagine an infinity pool full of mineral-rich seawater, heated from the Earth’s core, with spectacular views across the sea & out to the mountains beyond. Believe me, it’s well worth grabbing your swimsuit for!”

20 Best Things to Do in Akureyri, North Iceland17. Hang out with the locals

The people of Iceland will regularly visit their local thermal baths to relax & socialise. I was told some go every day…sometimes twice! If you want to get your fix of this healing water without the price tag of visiting a lagoon filled with tourists, then when in Akureyri, go to Sundlaug Akureyrar. It is said to be one of the best public baths in Iceland with heated pools, water slides, saunas & steam rooms.

18. The healing power of beer

Healing water, not your thing? How about beer? For an alternative to relaxing in the water, then check out the Beer Spa at nearby Árskógssandi!

19. Hit the slopes

Akureyri is also home to the best ski field in Iceland at Mt Hlíðarfjall. Here you can ski from the end of November until June, depending on your preferences, the type of skier you are & which area you choose.

20 Best Things to Do in Akureyri, North IcelandAnd finally…

20. Chase the Northern Lights

No guide to the best things to do in Akureyri would be complete without a mention of the legendary Aurora Borealis. If you’re lucky & have a clear night, you may be able to spot them dancing in the skies between September & April. I was lucky & will never forget the thrill of my night on the hunt for Aurora!

 

Where to stay

For accommodation in Akureyri, make sure you book ahead, especially in the summer months & weekends during winter. Consider centrally located Hótel Kea, Icelandair Hotel Akureyri or for a budget option, Akureyri Backpackers. Alternatively use the search box below.



Booking.com

20 Best Things to Do in Akureyri, North IcelandWhere to eat

Over the course of 5 days, I discovered several gems in Akureyri that I would recommend. For a coffee shop with amazing looking cakes, try Kaffi Ilmur. There is excellent food with a view from the 4th floor Strikið & the Arctic Char at Greifinn was delicious!

I loved Akureyri & already can’t wait to go back. I hope through sharing this guide on the best things to do in Akureyri, I have whetted your appetite to visit this stunning part of Iceland too.

 

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20 Best Things to Do in Akureyri, North Iceland

28 Comments

  1. Iceland looks so beautiful. It’s been on my list for a long time. Christmas every day and whales and puffins are such great reasons to make this trip finally happen. But I’m also intrigued by the beer spa. What a unique concept using my favorite beverage.

  2. Lovely that you could eventually go to Iceland – a beautiful place that has been on my bucket list for years, but wonder if I will ever be able to see it in person. Great to catch that glimpse through your photos and words.

  3. This looks like a great spot! We would love to make it to Iceland some day and I’m glad to learn about this area. There seems like a lot to see and do it and is nice to read about someplace other than Reykjavik. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you Jenn & I was surprised how few people there were visiting the north. Thoroughly recommended when you do get there.

  4. I am so glad you got to Akureyri and enjoyed your visit. We had a busy day but I can see from your post there we missed a lot. A great reason to head back. We missed the Botanical Garden and a trip to Hrisey Island for bird watching. But we are most sorry we did not see the northern lights. Hubby would definitely want to try the Beer Spa.

  5. I love Iceland. Have been there three times. Still, I have not seen Akureyri during my trips. It looks stunningly beautiful. Thanks for the useful information and practical tips!

  6. Iceland has such an amazing landscape with stunning waterfalls and northern lights. It’s definitely on my bucketlist. Thanks so much for sharing your tips & experiences! I’ll save this for later!

  7. I’ve been to Iceland 3 times and didn’t get up north and it’s on my list! Thanks for sharing this. I’ve saved it for when I make my next trip.

  8. A unique and certainly different location for a yoga retreat. Yet looks like an idyllic location with many unexpected surprises.

  9. Akureyri looks like a great base to explore North Iceland! We’re hoping to take and Iceland road trip for our honeymoon so I’m definitely keeping this info handy! I’ve never heard of the Diamond Circle before, I’m going to check that out! Thanks for the great guide!

    1. Thank you Hannah & what a perfect place for your honeymoon! I hope you love it too when you get there.

  10. What an interesting thing about the horses! Where are they in terms of relative speed? Is the tolt faster than the trot? Or just more comfortable? It’s been such a long time since I’ve been horseback riding, and I am curious what the two additional gaits feel like. But, the warmest time averaging 12 degrees is a bit of a challenge for me.

    1. Thank you, Teja but I can’t say how these horses compare in terms of speed. I don’t have enough horse experience beyond being able to say that I did enjoy it!

  11. I spent last night with a friend who just got back from 3 weeks in Iceland and now I’ve read your post and I SO WANT to go! I just need to decide; winter (to see the northern lights) or summer (for better weather)?

    1. Thank you Kristina & sounds like Iceland had an equally big impact on your friend. That’s a big decision you have ahead of you!

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