Top 13 Things To Do in Akureyri

8 minute read

ITo Author Bio Adina Transparent

By Adina Lazar

20 March 2024

Akureyri in North Iceland

Nicknamed the ‘Capital of North Iceland’, Akureyri is a town brimming with vibrant culture, breathtaking nature, and historic charm. Whether you’re here for a stopover or using it as a base to explore the untamed north, you’ll find lots of things to do in Akureyri.

You could go whale watching, soak in a geothermal spa, or visit the world’s most northerly botanical gardens – the list goes on. To make the most of your time here, we’ve rounded up the best things to do in Akureyri throughout the year. 

1. Go whale watching 

group of people on small boat in the sea looking at whale breaching

Did you know the north coast has some of the best whale-watching spots in the country? Thanks to the nutrient-rich waters here, you’ll find lots of species year-round, including humpbacks, blue whales, and orcas. 

To see these gentle giants up close, take a whale watching tour from Akureyri harbor. You’ll sail on Iceland’s longest fjord, Eyjafjörður, and get the chance to spot humpbacks and minke whales in their natural habitat. If you’re lucky, you’ll also see white-beaked dolphins and harbor porpoises.

For even more whale watching opportunities, venture 1 hour outside Akureyri to Húsavík, Iceland’s whale watching capital. Most summer tours here record a nearly 100% sighting rate! To learn more about these incredible mammals, stop by the Húsavík Whale Museum, home to 11 whale skeletons.

2. Explore downtown Akureyri


Akureyri is the unofficial capital of North Iceland and the largest town outside of Reykjavík. If you’re spending a day exploring its lively downtown, there’s no shortage of things to see and do.

The town center is small and walkable, full of historic 20th century buildings, cute shops, and cozy cafés. Many of them can be found on the main street of Hafnarstræti. You’ll also come across a number of art galleries and museums, including Akureyri Art Museum, which showcases local and international modern art.

Take a short walk from the center to the harbor, and you’ll see Hof Cultural Center. This beautiful building hosts different events, concerts and exhibitions throughout the year. 

Next up, visit Akureyri church, a striking Art Deco landmark that towers over the town. Akureyrarkirkja, as it’s known in Icelandic, was designed by Guðjón Samúelsson, the same Icelandic architect behind Reykjavík’s iconic Hallgrímskirkja. 

3. Chase the Northern Lights 

A woman watching the Northern Lights on the edge of a lake

Akureyri sits along the north coast of the island and around 100 km (60 mi) south of the Arctic Circle. This makes it one of the best places in Iceland to see the Northern Lights.

Here Aurora activity is strongest, and the sparsely populated areas around town have low levels of light pollution. So on a clear winter night, you’re in for a colorful light show over the Arctic sky. 

The best way to see this phenomenon is on a guided Northern Lights tour from Akureyri. Guided tours are led by experts who know the best spots in the countryside to catch the Aurora make an appearance. 

4. Relax in a geothermal spa 

People bathing at Forest Lagoon

Bathing in a naturally heated pool is an unmissable experience when you’re in Iceland. Blessed with abundant geothermal energy, the Land of Fire and Ice is famous for having some of the best spas and hot springs in the world.

You’ll find one of them – Forest Lagoon – just on the outskirts of Akureyri. It’s the only geothermal spa in the country where you can bathe surrounded by trees and jaw-dropping views of Eyjafjörður fjord. Enjoy the peace and quiet from the comfort of a large infinity pool, which is decked out with 2 swim-up bars.

You’ll also get access to a cold plunge pool, Finnish dry sauna, and a bistro with epic views of the fjord and a cozy fireplace.

5. Enjoy a beer tasting at Einstök Brewery

A few glasses of beer in an Icelandic bar

Akureyri is the home of Einstök beer, one of Iceland’s most popular exports. Brewed right here in town, this award-winning craft beer is sold in supermarkets all over the world. 

You can try it for yourself at the Einstök Brewer’s Lounge. The tasting experience lets you sample different types of beer, all served on a tray shaped like a Viking battle axe. You’ll also get a small deck of informational cards to help guide you through the tasting and teach you how the beer is brewed.

6. Visit the botanical gardens 

The botanic gardens in Akureyri

You might be surprised to learn that Akureyri is usually warmer than Reykjavík, thanks to its sheltered location in a fjord. 

Enjoy this nice weather at the botanical garden, a must-visit attraction just south of the town center. Opened in 1912, this public park is home to thousands of diverse plant species that thrive despite being so close to the Arctic Circle. 

Wandering through the leafy gardens is the perfect way to spend a relaxing afternoon in Akureyri. Entry is free and the park is open year-round. But if you want to see the flowers in full bloom and enjoy the cute on-site café, then summer is the best time to come. 

7. Hit the slopes at Hlidarfjall 

Man skiing down slope

In wintertime, Akureyri has a different appeal. The town and surrounding area are often blanketed in powdery snow, making them the ultimate playground for wintry activities. 

If you like to ski or snowboard, then you’ll definitely want to hit up the Hlidarfjall ski resort outside of town. It has 26 marked runs for all skill levels and some cross-country trails too.

Hlidarfjall opens its doors from late November to early May. Since days are shorter in winter, the resort is lit up by flood lights, so you can hit the slopes even after sundown.

8. Ride a snowmobile in the countryside

Mountaineers of Iceland Langjökull snowmobile tour

Snowmobiling is another must-do winter activity if you’re looking for a dose of adrenaline. Picture whizzing across the snowy hills above Akureyri as you soak up epic views of the surrounding mountains.

Don’t worry if you’ve never tried it before. You’ll be in the safe hands of experienced guides who will teach you how to handle the snowmobile before you get behind the wheel. 

Most tours offer free pickup directly from your hotel or from downtown Akureyri

  • Dive into these Iceland day tours & find adventure-packed activities to add to your trip.

9. Take a dip in the local swimming pool

Almost every town in Iceland has a local swimming pool where people of all ages come to relax and socialize. They’re a fun and budget-friendly way to mix with the locals and experience Icelandic bathing culture. 

Open year-round, the Akureyri swimming pool is definitely worth visiting, especially if you have kids. You’ll find 2 25m outdoor pools, 1 indoor pool, hot tubs, a splash pool, huge water slides, and lots more to keep the whole family entertained. 

All the pools here are geothermally heated, so you can enjoy them in any season. 

10. Visit the Laufás turf houses

Laufás turf houses

Just a 25-minute drive from Akureyri, you’ll find the Laufás Museum and Heritage Site. It’s a must-visit spot if you’re up north and want to learn about the country’s rich heritage. 

This historic farmstead is like a portal back in time, with a long history dating back to the Middle Ages. It’s home to a 19th-century church and 5 traditional torfbæir, or turf houses. These interconnected grass-roofed buildings are made of stone, wood, and turf – an excellent insulator from the cold weather.

Come see for yourself how Icelanders lived in these unique homes hundreds of years ago. 

11. Go hiking around Akureyri

A person walking against the midnight sun in Iceland

If you’re looking to explore the beautiful area around Akureyri on foot, you’ll have lots of hiking trails to choose from. 

One of the most popular day hikes takes you to the summit of Súlur, the mountain that towers over Akureyri. The trail is 12 km (7.5) long both ways and starts from the parking lot at the end of Súlurvegur road. 

In summertime, the hike is pretty straightforward, but in winter the top can be very snowy, so you’ll need to come prepared with climbing equipment. Once you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the town and the Eyjafjörður fjord. 

12. Dig into the local food scene 

Group of people enjoying meal in restaurant

The north of Iceland boasts some of the best restaurants in the country and one of them is right here in Akureyri. At Rub23, you’ll find a large variety of delicious fish and meat dishes, as well as the best sushi in the country.

Besides Rub23, there are lots of exciting food experiences waiting to be discovered in Iceland’s northern capital. Try freshly caught seafood and other delicacies at one of the many restaurants clustered around the main street of Hafnarstræti. 

For a sweet treat, grab an ice cream at Brynja, one of Iceland's oldest and most popular ice cream parlors. 

13. Ride an Icelandic horse 

Icelandic horses in the snow

When you’re in Iceland, you’re bound to see a few Icelandic horses on your trip. You might spot them grazing in the countryside as you’re traveling along the Ring Road. 

These gentle creatures are known for their friendly nature, and of course, their 2 extra gaits (a series of foot movements), called the tölt and the skeið. If you want to get up-close to these cuties, a horseback riding adventure is the perfect way to do it.

Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned rider, you’ll find most horseback riding tours from Akureyri cater to all skill levels. And they run year-round, so you can ride through lush hillsides in summer or snow-dusted landscapes in winter. 

Discover the best of Akureyri with Iceland Tours 

Now that you know what to do in Akureyri, it’s time to start planning your trip to Iceland’s northern capital. Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast or just want to get off the beaten path, a visit here will leave you with unforgettable memories. 

Why not let a local plan your Iceland trip? Book a vacation to North Iceland and Akureyri with us and we’ll arrange your accommodation, transport, and activities. Plus our local team can recommend what to see around Akureyri if you want to venture further out.

All you have to do is decide how you’d like to travel. Get behind the wheel on a self-drive tour or join a guided group trip and let your guide do the driving.

No matter how you choose to travel, we’ll make your trip unforgettable. Secure your booking with just a 5% deposit.

ITo Author Bio Adina Transparent

About the author

Adina’s love for travel has led her to different corners of the world over the years. But Iceland’s unique beauty has a special place in her heart, so she’s decided to share it with the world! Next time she’s there, she plans to take a dip in the hot springs, spot some puffins, and collect a few Icelandic wool sweaters (lopapeysa) along the way. When she’s not writing, she loves being out in nature or cozying up with a good book.

View more posts by Adina

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