In the northeastern part of Iceland lies a town named Akureyri, considered by many to be the real gem of Icelandic tourism. Akureyri, which lies in Eyjafjordur fjord is surrounded by snow-capped mountains during winter time and blessed with sunshine and considerably warm climate during summertime. Well this is Iceland so let‘s say often, but not always, blessed with warm climate and sunny days. The town itself and nearby area simply begs to be explored, but is often ignored by travelers that don‘t have time to explore further than the southwest corner of Iceland.
The slow trickle of tourism in Akureyri, especially during winter time, is both a blessing and a curse. On the bright side, you won’t have to fight through swarms of tourists as you would in the capital area of Reykjavik but on the down side, and this is more evident during the winter, little tourism means fewer activities offered by local tour operators. However, Akureyri and its nearby attractions can be explored both during summer and winter time.
Traveling in Akureyri during summer and winter time – what to do
Downtown Akureyri – culture & museums
Traveling in Akureyri itself is interesting enough to spend a day or two walking in different parts of town. In the center you’ll find interesting galleries, shops and restaurants. The church of Akureyri sits on a hill above the center and not far from the church is The Akureyri Botanical Garden, known for its beautiful walking paths and luxuriant flora. It was founded in 1912, and it contains nearly every plant found in Iceland. Walking south from the botanical garden you will enter the oldest part of Akureyri, home of Iceland‘s most famous ice cream store and the pleasant Nonnahus museum.
Nearby hiking and recreation
You can find many paths and trails to walk, run or bike along within the town as well as in the surrounding area. At the recreational area Kjarnaskogur you can enjoy many cycle trails and there is a specially designed mountain bike track, as well as some activities for the younger ones.
Gásir – Medival trading place
Gásir, situated 11 km north of Akureyri on the shore of Eyjafjörður, is a unique place. In no other place in Iceland is it possible to find so many remainings from a trading post from the Middle Ages. Gásir was the main trading post in northern Iceland during the Middle Ages, and the place is mentioned many times in Old Icelandic Sagas from the 13th and 14th centuries. Archaeological digging in the area during the last six years has shown that it was a trading post up to the 16th century, possibly until trading started in Akureyri.
Hrísey is a peaceful island in the middle of Eyjafjörður, it is the second largest island in Iceland, after Heimaey in the south. The island is a well known paradise for bird watchers and the most abundant of all birds on the island is the ptarmigan. About 40 species of bird nest on the island. The northern part of Hrísey, is a privately owned nature reserve. Permission must be obtained from the landowner if you wish to pass through this area.
From desolate craters to bubbling mud pools and geothermal caves, the area around Lake Myvatn is a microcosm of all the natural wonders that Iceland has to offer. Rare birds abound, and the North´s answer to the Blue Lagoon is a great place to soak up the view. With gnarled lava fields on the one side, and lush pastures on the other, it’s a beautiful area to spend time, with a wide range of places to explore.
Akureyri horseback riding
In 15 minutes’ drive from Akureyri is a horse rental company for those eager to ride an Icelandic horse. Those tours are very popular during summertime.
Godafoss or falls of the gods is among the finest in the country, not very high but cut into two horseshoe shaped falls. The legend has it that Thorgeir of Ljosavatn threw his statues of the gods into the falls when Iceland converted to Christianity in the year 1000.
A bit far from Akureyri is Dettifoss waterfall, the greatest and most majestic of Iceland’s waterfalls. It is 44 m high with volume of 212 tons per second, so the ground shakes with the force of it. This magnificent natural feature has inspired many poets and has been a setting used in many modern Hollywood movies, such as Prometheus. It can be viewed from either bank.
If you head up to Husavik, about an hour drive from Akureyri, you will have the chance to see spectacular whales enjoying themselves in the Atlantic Ocean. This is absolutely once in a lifetime opportunity to see those magnificent mammals in their natural surroundings. You will be taken on a boat and sail couple of miles from shore to witness the greatness of the whales.
Akureyri during wintertime – what to do
Mount Hlidarfjall – skiing
Eyjafjördur Fjord is one of the best places in Iceland for cross-country and downhill skiing. Five ski centers are in the area as well as off pist opportunities in the high mountains surrounding the fjord. The Akureyri’s ski resort Mt. Hlídarfjall is one of the best ski areas in Iceland, only in about 8 minutes drive from the town center. Season: beginning of December till end of April.
Heli skiing is a very popular sport in North Iceland is constantly growing. The position just below the Arctic Circle with the mountains rising straight out of the sea allows for a skiing experience of a lifetime, skiing all the way down to the ocean basking in the rays of the Midnight Sun. This can give the concept of night skiing a whole new meaning.
Northern lights tour
The Northern Lights – also called Aurora Borealis – are one of the most spectacular shows on earth and can frequently be seen in Akureyri and surroundings. Season: September through April.