Akureyri: guide to the northern capital

Date 04 February 2024

Akureyri: guide to the northern capital

Akureyri: guide to the northern capital

Akureyri is the fourth largest city in Iceland with over 18,000 inhabitants, and it's a great stop-over before moving on to to Myvatn, Godafoss or Húsavík.

Being the largest city in the area, it is often referred to as the capital of the north. Akureyri is often the mid-point of the itinerary for travelers who are following route number 1 to tour the country. It has its own charm, and is well worth a visit in its own right.

What to do in Akureyri?

Helgi “the lean”  Eyvindarson was the first Viking to settle in the region in the 9th century, though he was not mentioned in historical record until 1562. In the 17th century, Danish merchants began to flock to the island drawn by the beautiful port and most importantly the fertility of the region's lands.

Akureyri became a municipality in 1862 and has been growing ever since. The 20th century saw a massive exodus from rural to urban areas in Iceland which had a major effect on the town.

A charming city center

Le Bautinn à Akureyri

The Bautinn in Akureyri

Grófargil and Búðargil are the two major districts of the town. It's a charming little port town, perfect for a stroll along the cozy cafes and many shops. Hafnarstræti and Strandgata in the Grófargil district are the main shopping hotspots. In summer, the mountain ash trees give off an aroma that pervades the city and is a delight to the senses.

For a small town, the number of museums is impressive:

  • Ecomuseum (Minjasafnið)
  • Museum of Arts (Listasafnið)
  • Aviation Museum
  • Museum of Industry
  • Nonni Museum
  • Icelandic motorcycle museum

The Museum of Arts (Listasafnið), for example, mainly features modern art, while the ecomuseum (Minjasafnið) will provide you with a detailed history Eyjafjörður. Official site:

Akureyri et son église

The village of Akureyri and its cathedral

There are several theater halls, and you'll also find the only university in the country outside of Reykjavík. Akureyri also owes part of its reputation to the famous Icelandic Viking beer brewery!

As you amble down the pedestrian streets, two buildings quickly stand out: the Blàa Kannan and the Bautinn. The first is a café with delicious small sandwich menus, and the second is a very well-known restaurant that remains relatively affordable. Not only is the food great, but both buildings are unique in their colour, and worth a detour just for a look.

Also in the Grófargil district, fans of old stone will appreciate the Akureyrarkirkja Cathedral. The structure dominates the town, seen from afar, perched atop a hill in the city center. This Lutheran cathedral dates back to 1940 and the interior is striking, the organ in particular.

Lystigarðurinn: a botanical garden in the heart of the city

Akureyri et son jardin botanique

Akureyri Botanical Garden

The botanical garden, located in the heart of Búðargil district, is home to more than 6000 species of plants from around the world, including 430 native Icelandic varieties. There is a small café in the middle of the park called “Coffee Björk” which has a lot of appeal.

Although it is quite easy to find your way around, you can find a map of this botanical garden here.

Please note: the park is open from June 1st to September 1st, with hours 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

A stone's throw from the garden is the city's main swimming pool: Akureyrarlaug. It is almost outdoor and offers large pools, kiddie pools, 4 hot tubs, and slides... The water temperature varies from 27 to 42° depending on the pool in question, so take your pick.

A starting point for numerous excursions

Le centre ville d'Akureyri

Akureyri: The street that goes down from the cathedral to the port

Akureyri has no shortage of attractions all year round. In winter, the city is the starting point for dog sledding or snow-mobile trips. The pick-up point is located in Akureyri but the various trails will be near Mount Sulur, which is itself the starting point of various hikes (see below).

If you visit during winter, the place is only 100 km from the Arctic Circle so you will be in prime position to watch the Northern Lights. You can just try and spot one yourself, of course, but there are Northern Lights hunts where experienced locals can point you to the perfect watching station.

Excursions to Dettifoss start from here, but keep in mind that in winter certain sites, including the Dettifoss waterfall to the east of Lake Myvatn, become difficult to access.

Although Husavik is the best known for whale watching, Akureyri has a healthy offer as well. You can choose among a number of tour companies located in the garbour to find excursions (about 1 hour). In summer, we recommend that travelers book whale watching trips in advance.

You can visit the Lofthellir Cave all year round, known for its magnificent natural ice sculptures. The tour leaves from the city center to go to the Ódáðahraun desert near Myvatn. 

Finally, for a fun and relaxing time, the “beer” spa in Bjórböðin near Árskógssandur a 25-minute hot beer bath if that sounds like your kind of thing!

The number 1 ski resort in the country

What makes Akureyri a very popular winter destination is the ski resort, the biggest in the country.

You won't need to bring your own equipment, everything can be rented on site. The mountain offering this ski wonderland is Hlíðarfjall, about 1000 m above sea level with absolutely perfect conditions for winter sports, and only 5 km from Akureyri.

The resort is generally open from December to April depending on the snowfall. The official site:

How to get there?

Carte Akureyri

Akureyri is located near the Myvatn region.

By car

Akureyri is located on the northern coast of Iceland, 4:30 hours from Reykjavík by road number 1 (390 km). The charming little town is perched on the shores of the Eyjafjörður Fjord and the Glerá River. It is surrounded by mountains that rise 1400 m to crowd around you, the highest at 1477 m.

As you tour the island, the ring road takes you right by the town, so you can't miss it!

Akureyri is the biggest town in the north of Iceland, and there aren't many, so it's good to check there when looking for accommodation to explore the region. Many sites of interest are relatively close by:

  • Myvatn is a 1-hour drive away (78 km)
  • Goðafoss is a 30-minute drive away (35 km)
  • Húsavík is a 1-hour drive away (75 km)
  • Siglufjörður Fjord is a 1-hour drive away (78 km)

By bus

For visitors traveling by bus, Akureyri is particularly has very good coverage, with several companies taking you from all over northern Iceland but also from Reykjavík to the capital of the north:

  • Line 56 (Strætó): Akureyri - Egilsstaðir - Akureyri
  • Line 57 (Strætó): Reykjavík - Akureyri - Reykjavík
  • Line 610 (SBA): Reykjavík - Akureyri - Reykjavík
  • Line 78 (Strætó): Akureyri - Siglufjörður - Akureyri
  • Line 79 (Strætó): Akureyri - Húsavík - Akureyri

By plane!

With an airport just south of the city, Icelandair has been offering flights from Paris to Akureyri with a stopover in Reykjavik for a few years now. Additional information about flying to Iceland.


When to go there?


The Blàa Kannan in Akureyri

Any time of year! Akureyri is located in a region known for its many hours of sunshine despite its position only a hundred kilometers south of the Arctic Circle, and its climate is mild.

The average temperature of the coldest months and the hottest months range between -2°C and 10.5°C. The region also has the lowest precipitation rate in Iceland. The minimum and maximum temperatures are usually as follows:


Although most tourists visit Akureyri in summer, the city is also well worth visiting in winter. Its location along road number 1 and nearby airport make it accessible all year round.

In winter, the town has all sorts of things to do. In addition to its well-known ski resort (see below), the latitude makes it a prime site for observing the Northern Lights between September and early April.

Accommodation in Akureyri


The Bautinn in the center of Akureyri

For camping enthusiasts, there are 3 campsites in Akureyri:

Regarding hotels and guesthouses, the city offers many but the accommodations in the city center are quite expensive :

Things to see around Akureyri

Autour d'Akureyri

The landscapes around Akureyri - Josh Reid @Unsplash

From Akureyri you can get to Grimsey Island by plane or by boat. If you are tempted to cross the mythical Arctic Circle and receive a certificate of passage, Akureyri is one of the two cities (with Dalvik) that connects to Grimsey.

10 km south of the northern capital is an adorable little house called “Jólagarðurinn” or the Christmas house. From the outside, it looks like the gingerbread house of legend. It is in fact a store offering a decorations and other local crafts that revolve around Christmas traditions. The design of the house, both inside and out, is simply stunning, with trim and features in the shape of candy and cake.

The Laufás site is only 20 minutes away towards Grenivík. These are traditional Icelandic turf houses with their typical grass-covered roofs. The oldest of them was built in 1840, and while were once inhabited, the site is now a museum open from mid-May to mid-September.

Very close to Akureyri, above the city's airport, is the Kjarnaskógur forest, an ideal spot for a family picnic. With around 1 million trees, Kjarnaskógur is the main attraction in the region (as trees are sparse on the island).

The 7 km (or 10 km) trail that runs around the wood is also popular with mountain bikers and joggers. With so few forests in the country, Kjarnaskógur has its range of local bird species that you won't find anywhere else.

The ascent of Sûlur


Akureyri and Mount Sûlur

From Akureyri there is a hike well known to enthusiasts of the sport. Starting at the harbour, you scale all the way to the top and then back down.

The altitude difference is around 1000 m, with about 2.5 hours to reach the summit, and the return trip downhill can be done in 1 hour and 45 minutes for a total of 4h15 — 4h30. The starting point is about 3 km from the center, near a car park, just follow the Sülurvegur almost to the waste collection facility.

Find the car park and the hike starts from here. The trail is fairly well marked, and the hike is a pleasure, often crunching on the snow by the time you reach the summit, with a view over Akureyri and Eyjafjörður that is simply exceptional.