Akureyri stands strong as Iceland’s second largest city outside the capital area but don’t expect anything like Melbourne or Manchester. With only 18.000 inhabitants, it is a wonder how such a small city (which would be a town in any other country) can generate so much buzz. It has cool and cozy cafés, superb restaurants, and a very decent nightlife considering the size of the town. With it’s relaxed attitude and extensive food and accommodation choices, it is the natural base for exploring North Iceland.
Akureyri is located at the bottom of Eyjafjordur, which is Iceland’s longest fjord (60 km long). Unlike many small towns in Iceland, Akureyri stays vibrant throughout the year. In summer, visitors, both Icelanders and from around the world shape the vibe of the town and it becomes especially lively as Akureyri is a popular docking place for cruise ships. During winter, lively winter festivals and some of Iceland’s best skiing provide plenty of low-season appeals.
Akureyri has been nicknamed the Capital of North Iceland. It was first settled in the 9th century by Helgi Magri (the slim) Eyvindarson but is first mentioned in Icelandic court records in 1562 when a woman was sentenced there for adultery. Permanent settlement at Akureyri started in 1778 and it received a municipal charter in 1786 by the king of Denmark. The king hoped to improve the living conditions for Icelanders because at the time Iceland had never had urban areas. Therefore, Akureyri is one of the oldest towns apart from the capital area. From 1862, Akureyri started to grow immensely because of excellent port conditions and productive agricultural regions around it.
Today the town serves as a center of trade, culture, and services for the north of Iceland. It is closely associated with educational institutions and cultural events, all of those having strong traditional roots. It is an important port and fishing center, and the growth of the tourist industry has now an important role in the life of the town.
It is worth mentioning that Akureyri topped Lonely Planet’s list of ten best places to visit in Europe 2015. Read Lonely Planet’s full review here.
Akureyri has an abundance of places to go for a drink. In recent years, a distinctive and interesting beer culture has emerged in Iceland. This is why most bars in Akureyri have a good selection of beers, and most of them offer beers from micro and local breweries, making Akureyri a perfect place for beer enthusiasts.
Akureyri is home to one of the most popular concert venues in the country. It’s a small venue with frequent concerts with Iceland’s most popular bands. The size and closeness of the venue creates a unique connection between the audience and the musicians.
For late nightlife and discos, Café Amour, Nordlenski barinn and Pósthússbarinn are the places to go.
There is no shortage of places to grab a quick bite in Akureyri. Everything from gourmet burgers to sushi and Mexican food to the traditional Icelandic ‘sjoppufæði’ – make sure you try the signature Akureyri burger, cheeseburger with fries as a topping instead of a side.
We also recommend all art lovers to stroll down Art’s Valley on a weekend. The real name of the street is Kaupvangsstræti and is the centre of cultural life in Akureyri. It is home to Akureyri Art museum, the Akureyri School of Visual Arts and North Iceland artist’s studios, smaller galleries and exhibition spaces. The multipurpose Deiglan regularly houses cultural event and Ketilhúsið exhibits local and international artists. Kaktus is a newly founded and very active art gallery that both exhibits art and hosts small and intimate events. For more information see Art’s Valley website
Akureyri has an abundance of interesting museums such as The Aviation Museum, The Motorcycle Museum of Iceland, The Centre Of Visual Arts and many more.
The Botanic Garden is a beautiful place to explore during the summer months. The garden is meant to function as genebank for hardy plants suitable to the weather conditions in Iceland. Apart from this, the general function of the garden is multiple, such as for seed-exchange, public information, education and recreation. With more than 7.000 different species of plants, flowers, and trees it is the perfect place for a picnic or a relaxing walk. The coffee house, Björk, is situated in the garden and offers its guests a tranquil environment while enjoying a refreshment.
Kjarnaskógur is a manmade forest, located a short drive from Akureyri. It spans an area of 600 hectares and has more than a million trees of various species. It has very popular hiking and cycling trails but it is also a great destination for a day of family fun as the forest has playgrounds, picnic areas, barbeque facilities, volleyball court and restrooms. The forest is also known for its varied bird life, so every bird lover should make sure they pay the bird watching shelter at Hundatjörn a visit.
For more information, it’s best to contact the Tourist Information Centre, located at Hof.
The Akureyri Golf Club is located just outside Akureyri and has an 18 hole golf, par 71 golf course called Jaðarsvöllur. The club has all necessary facilities such as changing rooms, a restaurant, bar and a golf shop. Golf clubs are available for hire at the site.
For enthusiastic golfers, it’s a must to experience midnight golfing. Only a few degrees south of the Arctic Circle, Jaðarsvöllur basks in perpetual daylight from June to early August, and you can play golf there around the clock but make sure you book ahead for the midnight tee-off. The course is also home to the annual 36-hole Arctic Open, a tournament played over two nights in late June and is open for both amateurs and professionals.
Mountain Hlíðarfjall has been one of Iceland’s prime ski locations for decades. It is located about 5 km outside Akureyri and consists of 7 ski lifts and 24 different skiing paths covering all skill levels. The area has a vertical drop of 455 m, with the longest trail being over 2.5 km. There is also 20 km of cross-country ski routes. All equipment skis and snowboards can be rented at the resort and buses run from Akureyri but more information can be found on their website. The ski season usually runs between December and late April, with the best conditions in February and March (Easter is particularly busy). In the long hours of winter darkness, many of the downhill runs are floodlit.
The Northern Lights must be one of Iceland’s most sought after winter attraction. It is one of the most spectacular shows and can frequently be seen in Akureyri and surroundings from September to mid-April on clear nights. The Northern Lights, also known as Aurora Borealis, are caused by the interaction of particles from the sun with the upper atmosphere near the North Pole. There is a range of Northern Light tours operating from Akureyri where you can experience the Northern Lights either on a boat, on a horse, whilst skiing on mountain tops or simply by foot. Make sure you have your photography gears with you as Mother Nature will display a show you will want to capture.
On this website, you have a look at the weather forecast for Northern Lights in Iceland. Dark, clear skies, and cold air are the best conditions to see them.
Hrísey is a peaceful island in the middle of Eyjafjördur, and is the second largest off-shore island in Iceland, after Heimaey in the south. The island is a well-known paradise for bird watchers and is especially noted as a breeding ground and a protected area for ptarmigan, as well as being home to an enormous colony of Arctic terns along with around 40 other bird species. The village Hrísey is a part of Akureyri and inhabits around 200 people, living in a trim fishing village with paved streets, tidy gardens and with a striking view of the surrounding mountains.
We recommend a walk along one of the 3 marked routes ranging from 2.3 km to 5 km (the routes take about 1 hour to 2.5 hours easy walk) or simply stroll through the village and visit the local museum or handicraft store. If you get hungry, visit the restaurant or the village’s local store.
Not to be missed are the tons-of-fun 40-minute sightseeing tractor tours where you sit in a cart pulled by a tractor through the village, passing all the important landmarks, while a guide informs you about the island’s and village’s history.
While a leisurely half-day is enough to explore the island, we recommend staying overnight for a more authentic glimpse of the island life. The village has all necessary amenities, grocery stores, restaurants, coffee shops and souvenir shops. Like most Icelandic villages it has a campground and a geothermal swimming pool.
TRANSPORT TO HRÍSEY
The passenger ferry Sævar runs between Árskógssandur and Hrísey, at least, seven times daily all year round and the journey takes around 15 minutes. Sæfari ferry runs from Dalvík to Hrísey on Tuesdays and Thursdays all year round at 1:15 pm.
Grímey is a small island located on the Arctic Circle, 41 kilometres off the north coast of Iceland. It is formed by volcanic rock which in places creates striking basalt pillars. On the East side, the island rises to 105 meters above sea level but is lower on the West side by the island’s harbour and village. On a clear day, you can enjoy spectacular views from the island over to the Icelandic mainland.
Grimsey has been inhabited since the Viking settlement of Iceland and its abundant resources of fish and birds were widely renowned. The island’s village now presents a population of around 80 inhabitants. Subsistence farming, bird hunting and egg gathering were formerly of great importance to the locals. This has changed greatly in recent years as the emphasis has shifted to modern style fishing methods and fish processing for international markets. For Grimsey, tourism is a growing industry, giving locals new opportunities for employment. A shop, guesthouses, campsite, gallery, café, restaurant and a swimming pool are some of the facilities on the island. Regular flights from Akureyri and ferry links from Dalvik, all year round, makes visiting easy. Guided day tours are available from Akureyri during summertime.
The birdlife in Grimsey is flourishing due to a decrease in the haunting of the birds and the collection of their eggs. Seabirds nest on the high cliffs on the East side of Grímsey and on the West coast, you will find one of the biggest colonies of puffins in Iceland with thousands of individuals. Please note to be very careful when watching the puffins as the nest borrowing has made the ground loose and hollow in some places making it dangerous to thread along the cliff edges.
We recommend go see the church of Grímey and enjoy the spectacular views by taking a walk along the island’s popular walking paths that offers plenty of opportunities for wildlife and landscape photography.