Iceland’s Second City is a cozy little town of 18,000 in the northern part of the country. Resting at the foot of the Eyjafjörður fjord, this charming municipality is a must-stop destination on any trip around Iceland’s Ring Road. With the colorful wooden houses that are so quintessentially Icelandic and an iconic church designed by Iceland’s most famous architect, there is a lot to see and do in Akureyri. Even the traffic lights are noteworthy. When you are stopped at an intersection, you won’t find a typical traffic light. Instead, you’ll see a heart-shaped red stoplight glowing with a friendly, loving reminder that it’s not quite your turn yet. If that’s not adorable, then I don’t know what is. The capital of North Iceland definitely warrants a visit during your Iceland itinerary.
How To Arrive
Akureyri is extremely easy to get to. Just head north on Iceland’s Ring Road (Route 1) north out of Reykjavik. Reykjavik is in the southwestern part of the country, and Akureyri is smack dab in the middle of the north. It takes just under five hours to make the 388 km (241 mi) drive in good weather. Add an extra 15 minutes per hour if you’re driving in the winter.
What To See and Do in Akureyri
The Church of Akureyri
One of Akureyri’s most interesting attractions is probably the Akureyri Church (Akureyrarkirkja). The art deco Lutheran church, built in 1940, features beautiful stained-glass windows that depict scenes from Christian history in Iceland. It’s a proud landmark designed by Guðjón Samúelsson, Iceland’s famous state architect, and a symbol of the city. Climb to the top of the hill for gorgeous views of the town below and the surrounding mountains and glacier.
The Akureyri Swimming Pool
Bathing culture is huge in Iceland. Be sure to stop by the Akureyri Swimming Pool to take a dip in one of its geothermal pools. You’ll find everything from bubbling jacuzzis to cold plunge pools and steam rooms here.
The Akureyri Art Museum
Akureyri Art Museum’s home is a former dairy, and architecture buffs will enjoy the Bauhaus school of architecture seen in the building where the gallery is located. Founded in 1993, the museum boasts a collection of contemporary art from both Iceland and further afield. Current and past exhibitions include everything from street art to sculptures and photography.
The Akureyri Museum
This small museum recounts the history of the town and has various exhibitions on different themes. It’s open daily from 1 pm to 4 pm from April to October. There’s a section of the museum, known as Nonni’s house, dedicated to writer Jón Sveinsson. His nom de plume was Nonni, and the exhibition is located in his childhood home.
Seasonal Activities – Skiing and Whale Watching
You can go whale watching (especially in North Iceland) all year long. The number of spottings reaches its peak in the summer. If you find yourself in Akureyri during the months of June, July, or August, we suggest you go on an excursion. If you are here in the winter, why not head to Hlíðarfjall to go skiing? They’ve even got a snowboard and ski school for children ages five to twelve.
The Akureyri Botanical Gardens
Akureyri’s Lystigardurinn (Botanical Garden) is a lovely excursion to undertake while here. The beautifully laid out gardens feature various species of trees and flowers from all over Iceland. There’s also an adorable little café to sip a warm drink during your visit.
Where To Stay
The city has several different accommodation options to fit all budgets.
Hotel Kea is in the heart of the city right next to the Akureyri church. Be sure to inquire about one of the rooms that overlook the glacier at this quaint B&B. Dine at their Múlaberg Bistro & Bar, where chefs fuse Italian, French, and Danish influences to come up with unique and exquisite culinary creations.
The Icelandair Hotel Akureyri is close to the city’s swimming pool. The rooms are comfortable with just a hint of Scandinavian design elements. You’ll feel right at home here.
Those looking for a budget option should head over to Akureyri Backpackers. You can rent dorm rooms or private rooms, but the bathrooms are all shared.
Discover Akureyri: Iceland’s Capital of the North
So now you know: Reykjavik’s not the only cool city in Iceland. Akureyri can actually be a nice alternative to the country’s capital. There are way fewer tourists, so the streets are less crowded with the hustle and bustle. Enjoy this little slice of Iceland in the north and take advantage of all it has to offer.