Akureyri is a port city tucked beside Eyjafjörður, a fjord in Northern Iceland. Often overshadowed by Reykjavík, Akureyri has a wealth of attractions waiting to be discovered by those who seek to venture there. Its proximity to the Arctic Circle, perfect conditions for spotting the Northern Lights, and a host of attractions around the Diamond Circle, make Akureyri one of the most magical places in Iceland.

History and Culture of Akureyri, Iceland 

The capital of North Iceland, Akureyri, has a unique culture of its own. The city hosts several art exhibitions, has renowned museums, lots of green spaces, and natural wonders distinctive of Iceland. Nevertheless, the locals here share similar passions and interests with the rest of Iceland.

Akureyri was founded by an Irish Viking named Helgi Magri Eyvindarson. Icelandic sagas document his first winter at Akureyri before he set out to explore the rest of Northern Iceland. His farmstead was called Kristna (Christ’s Peninsula). Helgi is to the north of Iceland what Ingólfur Arnarson is to Reykjavík.

The permanent settlement of Akureyri is dated to 1778, a time when Danish merchants owned most shops and warehouses in town. One of the reasons why Akureyri took time to prosper was that the merchants came home to Denmark during the winter. The town’s history has been significantly influenced by the Danish Crown’s revoking and reinstating of the town charter based on its potential.

Slowly, but steadily, Akureyri’s population grew, and agriculture introduced by the Danes started flourishing. During World War II, the town also served as an air force based for Norwegians and the British. Following the war, fishing and agricultural industries witnessed substantial growth and employment. Today, Akureyri is one of the most prosperous towns in Iceland, offering visitors something truly unique in their Icelandic experience.  

The Akureyri Church in Iceland.

Best Things to Do in Akureyri, Iceland 

Akureyri is a charming town with attractions loved by visitors and locals alike. As the gateway to North Iceland, a trip to Akureyri is your chance to explore this region and all the wonderful things to experience in the area.

1. Watch Whales in Eyjafjörður

Akureyri is undoubtedly one of the best places in Iceland to watch whales. Eyjafjörður has a rich marine life meaning that whales won’t be the only aquatic animals you encounter. Humpbacks, minkes, dolphins, and porpoises are easily spotted. You may even be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of orcas and blue whales. Ships dock by the downtown harbour for tours in Eyjafjörður.

2. Visit Akureyrarkirkja 

Also called Akureyri Church, this is one of Akureyri’s most striking landmarks. The iconic columns are much like the basalt ones found in Reynisfjara or Litlanesfoss. The church also bears similarities with Reykjavík’s Hallgrímskirkja. After all, they were designed by the same architect, Gudjon Samuelsson. Akureyrarkirkja dominates the town’s skyline and cannot be missed. 

3. Hike Mount Sulur 

Affectionately called ‘Town Mountain,’ Mount Sulur is perfect for a hike from Akureyri. The mountain sits just 9 kilometres outside town, making it easily accessible. There are marshlands nearby which make the hike extra challenging during wet weather. It can also get quite steep so it's best to take it slow. But, when the weather’s good, Mount Sulur offers a rewarding hike with fantastic views of Akureyri, its surrounding mountains, and the majestic Eyjafjörður.

A whale seen on a whale-watching tour from Akureyri.

4. Unwind at the Forest Lagoon

This luxury Scandinavian bath resort opened its wooden doors in 2022. During the construction of the Vaðlaheiðar Tunnel, geothermal energy was discovered here, which is now being tapped into the pools. Like most Icelandic lagoons, the place has a sauna and a leisure pool where guests can relax with a drink in hand. But, nothing beats the surrounding forest scenery with walking paths at Akureyri’s Forest Lagoon.

5. Ski at Hlíðarfjall Lagoon 

Unlike the inconsistent ski season in South Iceland, the North is typically covered in a blanket of snow, meaning that ski resorts such as Hlíðarfjall can be open for up to 180 days a year. In fact, Hlíðarfjall is arguably the best ski resort in Iceland. The ski lifts here have been recently renovated and are easy to use for both professionals and beginners. Not to mention the 700-metre mountain, which is a beauty in itself!

6. Enjoy a Beer Bath 

You read that right. Launched in 2017, the Bjorbodin (‘Beer Bath') Spa allows visitors the unique opportunity to soak in a tub full of young beer and live yeast beer. The yeast has a rejuvenating effect on the body and you can even enjoy a cold beer straight from the adjacent tap to feel more relaxed. The experience is available all year round, but best enjoyed during bad weather when you are unable to go hiking or skiing. 

Weather Conditions in Akureyri

Akureyri’s climate is characterised by mild summers and cold, but not severe winters. Snow starts laying in October before it melts in April. But, on the mountain peaks, snow is seen all year round. Average temperatures in Akureyri range from 5 to 15°C during the summer. The precipitation here is lower than in southern Iceland, which gives better opportunities for hiking. 

A late evening view of Akureyri across the fjord water overlooking the church, shopping streets, industrial docks, and private houses.

Akureyri is one of Iceland’s hidden gems. With striking attractions, many natural wonders, and unique experiences, a trip to the capital of North Iceland is unparalleled. Rent a car and begin your journey from Reykjavík today.