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Akureyri is known as the “capital of the north”. It’s a small city, but it’s brimming with distinctly Icelandic charm in its trendy cafés, art galleries and quirky restaurants. Those that enjoy whale-watching and winter sports should consider using Akureyri as a base to explore northern Iceland.
Akureyrarkirkja Church in Akureyri seen from below
Best Time to visit
All year-round
65.68311, -18.09076
Distance frome Reykjavík
386km (240mi)

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The Sights and Attractions of Akureyri

How to get to Akureyri

Iceland’s second-largest settlement, Akureyri is home to the country’s only other international airport apart from Keflavik. You can hop on a direct budget flight from London to Akureyri from November 2023. If you’re arriving into Reykjavík to start your Icelandic adventure, you can reach Akureyri by a short domestic flight from Reykjavík Airport (in the centre of the capital), taking just 45 minutes. If you’d rather keep your feet on the ground, there is a daily bus service between Reykjavík and Akureyri which takes around six hours depending on road conditions and weather.

Of course, you can always hire a car. Due to its small population, Iceland is an easy place for a self-drive adventure and Akureyri sits on the Route One main road that loops around the entire island. It’s a popular overnight stop for those road-tripping around the coast of Iceland and is a 388-kilometre (241-mile) drive from Reykjavík, taking around five hours without stopping.

View of Akureyri's city center

Staying in Akureyri

As there is so much to see and do in and around Akureyri, travellers often spend a few nights here. There is a range of accommodation options, from studio apartments with hot tubs where you can watch the Northern Lights as you soak to wallet-friendly beds in shared dorms in the centre of town. A handful of plush and simple hotels have every budget covered. There are also plenty of spots for dinner before you turn in for the night.

The tail of whale whale surfacing out of the waters near Akureyri

Attractions and Experiences in Akureyri

Up in the north of Iceland, it’s all about wildlife and winter sports. From Akureyri’s central harbour, you can join a whale-watching boat tour out into Eyjafjörður fjord. In these near-Arctic waters, you might spot huge humpbacks breaching the sea and casting spray in the air, or bottle-nose whales leaping across the waves. In the right season (winter or early spring), orcas have been known to make an appearance.

For an adventurous evening, hunt for the ethereal green glow of the Northern Lights in Akureyri. This natural phenomenon can sometimes be seen from Akureyri itself, reflected in the sea from the harbourfront. Aurora hunting tours leave from Akureyri, taking you out into northern Iceland’s vast plains and away from the city lights for a better chance of spotting the Northern Lights.

There are several attractions in the centre of Akureyri to keep you busy during the day. The Akureyri museum is packed with curios covering the history of the local area and walking up to the striking facade of the city’s main church – Akureyrarkirkja – is a must. Designed by the same architect as Reykjavík’s Hallgrimskirkja, it dominates the skyline in Brutalist drama. In summer, you can stroll through the botanical gardens where meandering paths weave through the flowers and you’ve got a view of Eyjafjörður stretching before you. It’s also got a fabulous selection of Arctic plants.

In the winter season, snow bunnies can get their kicks at Hlíðarfjall ski resort just 5 kilometres from Akureyri. This is Iceland’s main winter sports area and is home to miles of slopes for skiing and snowboarding and long cross-country tracks across the wilderness. It is generally open between November and March.

Aerial view of Góðafoss Waterfall in the North of Iceland.

Day Trips from Akureyri

While whale-watching experiences run directly from Akureyri, you can also hop along the coast to the pretty fishing village of Húsavík, an hour’s drive away. Húsavík is known as the whale-watching capital of Europe and boat trips from the pretty-as-a-picture harbour have the highest success rate of spotting whales in Iceland. Plus, you can see some of the birdlife of Skjálfandi Bay along the way – razorbills, huge northern gannets and even a colony of puffins. Wandering the idyllic seafront of Húsavík is a delight in itself where the steepled wooden church sits against a backdrop of mossy-green hills and fishing boat putter in and out of the harbour.

North Iceland has its own “jewel route” like that of the Golden Circle. The Diamond Circle is a day trip route from Akureyri that takes in the natural wonders of the north. It takes around four hours to drive and passes by the thundering waterfalls of Goðafoss and Dettifoss, the sheer cliffs of Ásbyrgi glacial canyon and the beautiful landscape around Lake Mývatn. At Mývatn, you’ll find geothermal baths to rival the Blue Lagoon where the milky-blue water seems to glow against the landscape and you can slip into the warm water for a soothing soak. There are several geothermal hot spring experiences within day-tripping distance from Akureyri, like the Forest Lagoon and seafront GeoSea Baths and even the opportunity to bathe in heated tubs of beer at the Bjórböðin (beer spa).

All About Akureyri

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