Akureyri is Iceland’s unofficial northern capital and the country's second-largest city. You might wonder why it’s considered a city with a population of just 18,000, but there are so many things to do in Akureyri that this distinction is more than justified. What are the best activities in this small metropolis?
- Whale watching
Akureyri is located near the top of the longest fjord in Iceland, Eyjafjörður. This has economic significance, as it functions as the country’s major port. Fishing is traditionally the main industry, with two of the country’s five biggest fisheries based in Akureyri.
In recent years, tourism has become more important, and the fjord plays a key role. It offers visitors on cruise ships easy access to the town, and it also plays host to marine mammals. Bottlenose, minke and even humpback whales can be spotted, sometimes right in front of the city.
- Diving to a hydrothermal chimney
It doesn’t happen often, but the chance to see the world’s biggest mammals might be overshadowed by something else in Eyjafjörður. Hydrothermal vents are created when seawater seeps through breaks in the ocean floor, through the earth’s crust. The seawater then comes back to the surface through vents, having been geothermally heated.
This phenomenon is exceptionally rare, with most of the world’s hydrothermal vents found thousands of feet underwater. The tip of the Strytan hydrothermal vent, however, is just 50 feet below Eyjafjörður’s surface. It’s the only such vent in the world that’s shallow enough to be reached by scuba divers, making for a truly unique thing to do in Akureyri.
- Hiking around the top of a volcano
About a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Akureyri, you’ll find Hverfjall volcano. It erupted 2,800–2,900 years ago, leaving behind a giant crater about two-thirds of a mile in diameter. The crater’s circumference is now a popular hiking trail, with views into the 450-foot-deep hole on one side and vistas of Lake Mývatn and surrounding mountains on the other.
- Visiting Lake Mývatn
After having fun at the volcano, you could head to the nearby Lake Mývatn, which was also formed by a volcanic eruption. The lake is famous for bird watching, with more duck species being seen there than anywhere else in the world.
- Enjoying some skiing
Akureyri is just three miles from one of Iceland’s best ski resorts, Hlíðarfjall. The slopes at the resort extend as high as nearly a mile above sea level, giving you not only an excellent descent but a prime view of the Eyjafjörður fjord. Skiing is available for up to 180 days per year.
- Enjoying a local delicacy
Perhaps the most famous — and indulgent — local delicacy is the akureyringur. Putting chips in your sandwich might not sound like the most creative idea, so perhaps it’s the mixture of mayonnaise and ketchup, known as kokteilsósa, that makes it so popular.
- Fine dining
For a fine dining experience, you can enjoy a delicious local meal with a view of the fjord. There are a few restaurants to choose from, but while you’re in Akureyri be sure to try some local cuisine.
There are plenty of other things to do and see around Akureyri, like visiting the magnificent cathedral that dominates the skyline, the Akureyri Art Museum, the Hof Cultural Center, and the botanical gardens. For a city this small, there's a lot going on.