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Things to do in Akureyri, Iceland

Things to do in  Akureyri

Welcome to Akureyri

Dark night skies hang over snowy peaks in Akureyri, a little port city at the head of the Eyjafjörður Fjord in Iceland’s far north. Its remote location (it’s a 5-hour drive from Reykjavík) and proximity to the Arctic Circle make it one of the best places in Iceland to chase the northern lights. But while the sun’s still up, travelers keep busy exploring the Diamond Circle—where waterfalls, canyons, and geothermal wonders abound—and cruising the fjord in search of humpbacks, minke whales, and porpoises.

Top 15 attractions in Akureyri


Often said to be one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland, Godafoss (which translates to “Waterfall of the Gods”) cascades into the Skjálfandafljót River that tears through Bárdardalur lava field. It lies along the “Ring Road” and leads to the Sprengisandur highland plateau, nestled between Hofsjökull and Vatnajökull glaciers.More

Vatnajokull National Park

Established in 2008 by combining Iceland’s former Jokulsargljufur and Skaftafell National Parks, Vatnajokull National Park is one of Europe’s largest national parks. It presents incredibly diverse and dramatic scenery including glacial plateaus, active volcanoes, towering ice caps, black-sand beaches, and terrain that is bubbling with geothermal activity. The park is dominated by the Vatnajokull glacier, Europe’s third-largest glacier, and contains Iceland’s highest mountain (Oraefajokull) and deepest lake (Jokulsarlon).More


Dimmuborgir (“the dark castles” in Icelandic) is a surreal, unusually shaped lava field composed of volcanic caves and rock formations resembling an ancient collapsed citadel. It is frequently cited as being one of the most striking naturally-formed landscapes in a country filled with exceptional scenes– that’s saying something. It is consequently one of Iceland’s most visited attractions.Although Dimmuborgir recently gained worldwide popularity after being featured in the acclaimed TV showGames of Thrones, it has long been part of Icelandic folklore. Indeed, Dimmuborgir is said to be the home of homicidal troll Grýla, her husband Leppalúði and their mischievous sons the Yule Lads; the story of this psychopathic family has been told to Icelandic children for centuries now as a means to get them to behave.Moreover, Icelandic folklore says that Dimmuborgir connects earth with the infernal regions, and is rumored to be the very place where Satan landed when he was cast from the heavens. But contrary to popular beliefs, the Dimmuborgir area was not born out of divine intervention; science has a more plausible explanation. It was formed about 2,300 years ago during a volcano eruption caused by the Þrengslaborgir crater row. Lava started flowing in the area, forming a massive lava pool in the process and bringing water from nearby marshes to a boil. The vapor resulting from this chemical reaction created lava pillars that measured up to a few meters in diameter. But eventually the reservoir’s top crust collapsed under the lava’s weight, miraculously leaving the hollow pillars that we see today completely intact.More


Albeit being one of the main settlements in North Iceland, Húsavík is home to only 2,500 inhabitants. It is, however, considered to be the whale-watching capital of the country, as the immense mammals are seen on about 95 percent of expeditions. Sitting on the eastern shore of the Skjálfand Bay (“the Shaky Bay”, due to the frequent earthquakes in the area), Húsavík played a significant role in Icelandic history, as it is the first place where a Norsemen settled, a Swedish viking named Garðar Svavarssonb; he stayed for one winter around year 870 and left a few of his people behind as he embarked on a new journey. This is precisely where the town got its name, which means “bay of houses” in Icelandic, as the lodgings built by Garðar where most likely the only ones in the country at that moment.Attractions in Húsavík include, unsurprisingly, the Whale Museum (Hafnarstétt 1, Húsavík), a non-profit organization aiming to provide visitors with thorough and pertinent information on whales and their habitat. Also high up the list of things to do is the quaint wooden church Húsavíkurkirkja, which was built in 1907. The nearby Jökulsárgljúfur Park (part of the Vatnajökull National Park, the largest in Europe) and its Diamond Circle both make for a fascinating day trip destination, with wonders like the horseshoe-shaped canyon Ásbyrgi, the turf houses in Grenjaðarstaðu and the famed waterfalls Dettifoss (the most powerful in Europe at 6,816 cubic feet per second), Hafragilsfoss and Selfoss.More

Mývatn Nature Baths

Iceland’s natural hot springs, fed by volcanic activity and dotted all around the country, are world renowned. The most famous is the Blue Lagoon, but it’s almost always crammed with day-trippers from nearby Reykjavik. Myvatn Nature Baths, on the other hand, remain a pocket of tranquility, hidden away in the less-visited north.More

Lake Mývatn

Formed by a massive volcanic eruption more than two millennia ago—and surrounded by surreal lava formations, mud pots, volcanic craters, and steaming fumaroles—Lake Mývatn remains geothermally active. The lake’s name comes from the swarming midges that fuel the local bird population.More


Marvel at the sheer natural force on display at Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe, and one of Iceland’s most extraordinary attractions. Dropping some 132,000 gallons (500 cubic meters) of water per second 148 feet (45 meters) down the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon, Dettifoss is a must-see for visitors to North Iceland.More


With its gurgling mud pools, hissing steam vents, and plumes of volcanic rock, it’s easy to see why the Hverir geothermal area was chosen as a filming location for HBO’sGame of Thrones. It’s a mesmerizing sight, with the pockmarked terrain bubbling with silver-gray mud and steaming fumaroles, and the stench of sulfur omnipresent.More


The small settlement of Dalvik, tucked between one of Iceland’s longest and most stunning fjords and the rolling hills of Svarfaðardalur, serves as the jumping-off point for ferries to Grimsey Island. It’s also a destination in its own right for outdoor adventures like hiking, whale watching, golfing, and bird watching.More

Akureyri Church (Akureyrarkirkja)

With its futuristic facade looming over the city, the hilltop Akureyri Church (Akureyrarkirkja) is one of Akureyri’s most striking landmarks. The Lutheran church is not only a place of worship, but an architectural marvel, designed by Iceland state architect Guðjón Samúelsson, whose bold designs include the Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík.More

Ásbyrgi Canyon

As one of the highlights of the Diamond Circle, Ásbyrgi Canyon doesn’t disappoint. The horseshoe-shaped depression is technically part of the Vatnajökull National Park (the largest in Europe) and measures approximately 3.5 kilometers in length, 1.1 kilometer across and up to 100 meters high at its steepest cliffs. What makes this canyon so unique though is the distinctive rock formations present in over half its length, divided through the middle by a 25-meter-high piece called Eyjan ("the Island"), which offers spectacular views to curious hikers and day visitors.Those would who prefer to stay down the canyon will enjoy walking in the typically Icelandic woodland, which consists of knee-high shrubberies, birch and willow trees. The canyon was actually formed by a catastrophic glacial flooding of the river Jökulsá after the last Ice Age -roughly 10,000 years ago—resulting from a volcanic eruption underneath the Vatnajökull ice cap. At least, according to science; Icelandic folklore has a different take on this story. Legend has it that the canyon was formed by the hoof print of Odin's (the all-father of the Norse gods) steed, a colossal eight-legged horse, which explains both the canyon’s odd shape and size.Ásbyrgi Canyon stands guard to the Jokulsa Canyon and holds numerous wonders like the Hljoðaklettar rock formations, the mighty Dettifoss and even entire villages of hidden people, Iceland’s version of elves. A few Arctic foxes, gyrfalcons, ptarmigans and green-winged teals can also be seen.More

Akureyri Botanical Garden (Lystigardur Akureyrar)

Iceland’s most famous garden and the northernmost botanical garden in the world, Lystigardur Akureyrar—or Akureyri Botanical Garden—defies its close proximity to the Arctic Circle by growing trees, plants, and flowers from all around the world.More


Formed over 3,500 years ago, the ancient lava cave of Lofthellir is home to some of Iceland’s most impressive natural ice formations. Stretching for 1,213 feet (370 meters) beneath the Laxardalshraun lava field, the lava tube has its own microclimate, with temperatures of 32°F (0°C), and visiting is an adventure in itself.More

Tjörnes Peninsula

Nuzzled between the Öxarfjörður and Skjálfandi fjords, the Tjörnes peninsula could be summed up in two words: birds and fossils. Indeed, the peninsula is famous for its uncharacteristically large population of rock ptarmigan game birds, its colonies of sought-after puffins and a vastselection of other sea birds like purple sandpipers, dunlins, red knots and ruddy turnstones, which nest on the steep cliffs along the eastern coast in the spring and the fall. The Tjörnes peninsula contains numerous sediments rich in Pliocene era fossils, which date back to over 5 million years ago. In opposition to most of Iceland’s landscapes, which are of the volcanic lava kind,Tjörnes’ is sedimentary and consist of several layers of organic deposits.They are living proof that the Earth’s poles have switched places several times, and they are major witnesses of the climatic changes currently occurring in the North Atlantic. Archeology aficionados should definitely pay a visit to the Fossil Museum in Hallbjarnarstaðir, and drive down the steep dirt road down the beach for a chance to be archeologist for a day!Far from the birds and the fossils stands the Tjornes Fracture Zone, a submarine volcano located 10 kilometers north of the mainland, which separates the 80-kilometer wide zone of high seismic activity in northern Iceland from the Kolbeinsey Ridge, part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.More
Brunir Horse

Brunir Horse

Brúnir Horse is a small family-run company based on a farm in Eyjafjordur, North Iceland. Passionate about horse breeding, the family opened its farm to visitors wanting to learn more about the Icelandic horse and everyday life on an Icelandic farm. Here, take in a horse show, then browse the on-site art gallery.More
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Recent reviews from experiences in Akureyri

nice day trip , friendly guide
LoYing_H, Feb 2023
Lake Mývatn and Goðafoss Shared Shore Excursions
a really nice day trip to visit beautiful landscape around Akureyri , the guide is super nice !
My family visited...
Karen_K, Oct 2022
4X4 Private Tour in Northern Iceland from Akureyri
He told us about living in the area and we learned about everything- the waterfalls, animals and local culture.
10/10 — MUST DO.
Samantha_P, Sep 2022
Lake Myvatn Day Tour and Godafoss Waterfall for Cruise Ships from Akureyri Port
Best way to see Akureyri without paying costs of cruise planned excursions.
Life in Myvatn
Claire_O, Sep 2022
Lake Myvatn Day Tour and Godafoss Waterfall for Cruise Ships from Akureyri Port
The waterfalls , the tectonic plates, Mud pots and the guide drying us through the town of AKureyri and explaining the history Very interesting
Great day tour with locals
Megan_F, Aug 2022
Lake Myvatn Day Tour and Godafoss Waterfall for Cruise Ships from Akureyri Port
This was a great small group tour to see the highlights of Akureyri.
Interesting and Informative Tour
Randolph_H, Sep 2022
Lake Myvatn Day Tour and Godafoss Waterfall for Cruise Ships from Akureyri Port
Godafoss Waterfall in particular was amazing!
Great excursion for Akureyri
Wei_S, Jul 2022
Lake Myvatn Day Tour and Godafoss Waterfall for Cruise Ships from Akureyri Port
The Godafoss waterfall is good to visit and wished we could have more time to get closer to the waterfall.
Great experience (shore excursion)
Jennifer_S, Jul 2022
Lake Myvatn Day Tour and Godafoss Waterfall for Cruise Ships from Akureyri Port
Our guide was friendly and knowledgeable, and we got to see many sights in a relatively short amount of time.
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All about Akureyri

When to visit

Summer is the best time to visit Akureyri if you’re looking for outdoor adventures and culture. Mild temperatures and lots of daylight let you enjoy hiking and exploring natural wonders, such as the Goðafoss waterfall and Lake Mývatn. The Akureyri Town Festival celebrating the town’s founding takes place in late August. What’s more, May through September is also the best time to see humpback whales. That said, September through early April is best for spotting the northern lights.

Getting around

Akureyri is a compact town and most places of interest are easy to talk to. If you need to venture outside the town center, you can ride the local city buses free of charge. The buses travel a loop around town, starting and ending in the center (Miðbær). For adventures out of town, you’ll need to rent a car or book a tour that includes transportation.

Traveler tips

Iceland is famous for its geothermal spas, but nothing is quite like the Bjórböðin Beer Spa in Dalvík (a 30-minute drive north of Akureyri). Visit to soak in a wooden tub filled with a warm mixture of beer, hops, geothermal water, and yeast, while sipping a cold beer. The yeast and hops are said to do wonders for skin and hair.

A local’s pocket guide to Akureyri

Bryndís Hafliðadóttir

Born and raised in Akureyri, Bryndís returns to her hometown every year to meet up with friends and family, and discover new local treats.

The first thing you should do in Akureyri is...

learn where east, north, south, and west are. The people of Akureyri usually describe locations by using the cardinal directions; so, for example, the Old Town is in the south.

A perfect Saturday in Akureyri...

involves a slow walk around the “innbærinn” (Old Town), a museum and beautiful botanical garden visit, as well as an ice cream at Brynja. Then, walk to the Akureyri geothermal swimming pool, before grabbing dinner in the town center.

One touristy thing that lives up to the hype is...

a whale watching tour, where you have a chance to see the incredible Eyjafjord Humpbacks in their natural habitat.

To discover the "real" Akureyri...

taste some quirky Akureyri food. For example, a “pylsa með öllu” (hot dog with everything)—including red cabbage—or the bernaise burger with french fries and bernaise sauce.

For the best view of the city...

head to the viewing platform on the other side of the fjord. It’s a 5-minute drive from the town center and it offers a great view over the town, both in daylight and darkness.

One thing people get wrong...

is thinking that Akureyri is a very small town, when it’s more like a very small city. And it has the amenities to prove it!

People Also Ask

What is Akureyri known for?

Nicknamed “the capital of North Iceland,” Akureyri is a compact university town that has a cool, cosmopolitan vibe that makes it worth lingering in. It’s the gateway to Iceland’s northern natural attractions, such as Lake Myvatn, Godafoss waterfall, and Eyjafjordur.

How do you pronounce Akureyri in Icelandic?

Icelandic is generally a complex and challenging language, but you actually pronounce Akureyri just as it’s written: “aku-rey-ri,” with a slight emphasis on “aku.” Akureyri’s name literally means “sandbank field,” which likely stems from its historic reputation as fertile farmland.

Can you see the northern lights from Akureyri?

Yes, it is possible to see the aurora borealis from Akureyri. The best time to see the lights is between September and April, and you’re more likely to see them if you head out of town. Gasir, just north of the town, is a popular viewing spot.

How close is Akureyri to the Arctic Circle?

The town of Akureyri is only 62 miles (100 kilometers) south of the Arctic Circle. The only part of Iceland that lies within the Arctic Circle is the small island of Grimsey. However, Grimsey and Akureyri are part of the same municipality.

How many days should you stay in Akureyri?

You really only need one or two days to see the highlights of Akureyri. If you are planning to visit the natural wonders of northern Iceland, it’s a good idea to spend your nights at different destinations rather than using Akureyri as your base and having to backtrack each evening.

Is Akureyri worth visiting?

Yes, home to a university and a handful of art galleries and good restaurants, Akureyri has a youthful and creative vibe that is well worth checking out. Also, since it’s situated on one of Iceland’s longest fjords (Eyjafjordur) and cradled by mountains, Akureyri puts you within easy reach of some of Iceland’s most beautiful natural wonders.


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