Whether your travel priorities lie in the realm of history, art, or nature, the Akureyri region has plenty to keep you enthusiastically busy. Visitors can explore quaint Hafnarstræti Street with its charming shops and restaurants, or check out the local museums and historic homes. Those who prefer a little more excitement can venture along the coast to look for wildlife or explore the trails and slopes of the nearby highlands. Any way you choose to see it, Akureyri is worthy of a few days in any Iceland itinerary.
Take In the Art & History Scene
Believe it or not, Akureyri has come to play a substantial role in Iceland's history and cultural identity. Perhaps most notable is the Church of Akureyri, which not only shares the same architect as the stunning Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik, but whose intricate stained-glassed windows managed to survive World World II - only to be later found in an antique shop and incorporated back into the church design.
The Akureyri Art Museum holds a variety of antique maps dating back over 500 years which portray Iceland as the land of Viking legend. Once you've had your fill of folklore, a stroll down the Aðalstræti with its charming wooden buildings or a visit to Icelandic poet Davíð Stefánsson's former harborside abode give a more modern view into this city's humble history.
Stop to Smell the (Icelandic) Roses
Iceland's environment is not the most hospitable when it comes to fostering plant life. However, that never stopped local Margrethe Schiöth from establishing a botanical garden in Akureyri over 100 years ago. Not only does the garden now host practically every native Icelandic species, the greenhouses also foster nearly 7,000 varietals of flora from around the world. The botanical garden is one of the few places in the country where visitors can encounter fully grown trees, a sight made highly uncommon by the country's unrelenting winds. Not a bad spot for an afternoon picnic, or a reminder that life can thrive just about anywhere.
Go for a Swim or a Soak
The running joke in Iceland is that while other countries' residents make friends at bars, Icelanders do this at the local swimming pool. And in true Icelandic fashion, indoors is just not acceptable. The Akureyri town pool is no exception. This outdoor facility has two large pools along with a handful of hot tubs, a steam room, and sauna - all filled with geothermally heated water, making it a soothing spot for locals and foreigners to mingle regardless of the weather.
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Mush Your Own Dog Sled Team
While the Akureyri area is largely known for its tremendous slopes and skiing opportunities in the winter months, the chance to lead your own team of dogs through the snowy wilderness is an exciting alternative. Aspiring mushers can meet up with the eager pups at the kennel before learning basic commands and how to handle the sledge. From there, the owner and trainers lead the dogs via SUV through the snowy drifts while you hang on tight for the twists and turns. Traveling to the area in the summer months? Not to worry, husky scootering can be arranged and offers the same run without the snow.
Explore the Highlands
One of Akureyri’s most appealing features is its proximity to so many amazing natural wonders, the most notable being the nearby highlands. About a three hour drive inland, the highlands arguably host the most dramatic scenery in the entire country. With sights such as Askja Crater, a remote caldera now filled by a warm volcanic lake, and Hveravellir Nature Reserve, a unique area known for its stunning thermal pools, there is never a shortage of activity or breathtaking vistas. For those who prefer a bit more adventure, SuperJeep tours through areas like Kerlingarfjöll are adrenaline-filled and well worth the effort.
Venture to Grimsey Island
Just 40 kilometers off the coast of Akureyri lies Grimsey Island, the only portion of Iceland above the Arctic Circle. Accessible by 30-minute flight or 3-hour ferry, the tiny island is home to just one hundred residents, largely fisherman and their families. Visitors can hike the dramatic cliffs, dive in the crystal clear waters, or even golf one of the most northernmost courses in the world. However, the real draw here is the wildlife, specifically the birds. Not only are there numerous species, ranging from Atlantic Puffins to terns, but the unusually large populations make for a bird lover’s paradise.
Head Off On A Hike
Akureyri is home to a variety of hiking trails ranging from brisk walks along the river to lengthy treks through the nearby mountains. Within the town limits, one can explore the Krossanesborgir conservation area as well as Kjarnaskógur, both of which have walking trails and charming woodlands, complete with stone bridges. For a lengthy adventure, the renowned Tour Club of Akureyri constructed a path across the Ódáðahraun lava field, of which visitors can do segments or attempt the full five-day trek. For those in the area during July, there’s also the chance to partake in the Glerárdalshringur hiking event in which ambitious mountaineers attempt to climb 24 mountain peaks in just 24 hours.