Akureyri, the second largest city in Iceland with a population of about 18,000, was first settled by the Viking Helgi Eyvindarson in the 9th century. With an abundance of natural beauty and a flourishing community, it makes an excellent home base for day tours, outdoor adventures, and cultural events.
Being a bit off the beaten track, away from the visitors thronging to Reykjavík and the easier-reached southern coast, adds an extra appeal.
Eating shouldn’t be a problem. Bautinn, right in the town center, offers complimentary bread, soup and salads with entrées of traditional Icelandic food. Múlaberg, overlooking the town center, serves a delectable lamb burger. Akureyri Fish and Chips is has the best fish soup and deep fried fish. Berlin Restaurant, a block off the main street, is so popular at breakfast, you should make reservations.
For the nightlife, just take an evening stroll down Hafnarstræti. You´ll find several busy bars to patronize. Græni Hatturinn is a popular music venue for locals. Experience the genuine crush of an Icelandic crowd. Go an hour early – as soon as it opens, the place will be packed.
For a town of only 18,000, Akureyri has a museum for everyone. There are museums of aviation, motorcycles, toys, industry, historical artifacts, and art. The Botanical Gardens, founded in 1912, are amazing, especially considering they’re one of the northernmost in the world.
30 minutes north of Akureyri is Bjórböðin Spa, which opened in June 2017. Here you can soak for 25 minutes in a wooden tub filled with beer. They also have two outdoor hot tubs that look across mountains and fjord.
Gásir, just 7mi (11km) north of Akureyri, was the main trading post in northern Iceland during the Middle Ages and mentioned in Old Icelandic Sagas from the 13th and 14th centuries. On the third weekend of July a medieval market is held here. Interpreters in Middle Age costume reenact life in Gásir, and era-influenced goods are available for purchase. Because it’s such a short celebration and not on regular tourist routes, there tend to be more locals than tourists.
Day trips for the outdoor enthusiast could include whale watching, scuba diving, or Class IV whitewater river rafting. For hiking, the mountain of Súlur is to the southwest of town, offering a six-hour trek-and-return from the trailhead. During winter months, there is skiing at Hlíðarfjall or waiting for the glimmer of Northern Lights.
They don’t call it the “land of fire and ice” for nothing. No one should visit Iceland without exploring its spectacular ice caves, lava tubes, and mighty glaciers.
In Iceland’s isolated interior, your rented Yaris might not be up to the task. Then again you might not need a car at all.
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