Akureyri is the second biggest town in Iceland and is often called the capital of the North. The inhabitants are easily recognizable by other Icelanders from their hard and clear pronunciation and are in general very proud of their origin. To be noted I myself am born and raised in Reykjavík (although 50% North Icelandic blood, also to be noted) and until recently had only visited the town shortly a few times. Last winter, however, I lived and worked there for 4 months and got to know the place better. This article is therefore written by a visitor for other visitors.
Nobody should enter Akureyri for longer than an hour without taking a dip in the swimming pool. The pool has been under renovation for the past year but three new waterslides are opening for public in the beginning of July, amongst them what will be the longest one in Iceland, “The Rainbow”, a total of 86 meters of fun. Joyful news for the younger visitors (and all those young at heart)!
I believe everyone agrees that the best thing after a swim is ice cream. Brynjuís is a well know ice cream shop that has been following the same recipe since 1939. Go there for a classic ice cream with chocolate dipping, or go more extreme with a “glacier” or “whipper”; ice cream with loads of candy, cookies or berries of your choice.
Brynjuís ice cream. Photo: Brynjuís.
Every proper town has to have a music hall. Walking through Akureyri you can’t really help noticing the large gray, round building by the harbour. That will be Hof (“Temple” in English translation), culture and concert hall of Akureyri, opened in the spring of 2010. Check out their schedule for a concert, or just have a peek inside for a cup of coffee or browsing in the gift shop.
Hof Concert Hall. Flickr/Harvey Barrison
Akureyri is an old but growing town. In the older part of town, leading from Hafnarstræti up to the swimming pool and further south towards the hospital, you’ll find a variety of beautiful old houses, that like other houses in Iceland can be very colorful. Amongst them you can see newer and more modern houses that make up some kind of an architectural medley. Many people take good care of their gardens and fill them with plants and flowers, whilst others choose to decorate their yards stones, dwarfs or wooden human statues. Actually anything you can and can’t imagine might be seen in these gardens.
Between the swimming pool and the hospital you will find “Lystigarðurinn”, a small botanical garden, beautiful all year round. Go there for a walk, picnic or a drink at the coffee house that’s inside the garden. In Icelandic “lyst” means appetite or longing for something, but “list” means art. Both words have the same pronunciation, so the name of the garden is in itself a little word game (...just a fun fact...).
Akureyri Botanical Gardens. Photo/Café Laut, Photo/Heiða Þorsteinsdóttir.
Personally I’m a total sucker for harbours and the one in Akureyri is no exception. That needs no further explanation I guess, just go there for a walk, watch the ships and the mountains on both sides of Eyjafjörður. It’s just magical.
Over the last few years quite a few new places have joined the Akureyri gourmand flora and I haven’t tried them all (in spite of good effort), but I do have a few tips.
For the more on-budget traveller Akureyri Backpackers is your go-to place. The food might not be the best you´ll have in Iceland but it’s reasonably priced and you’ll get exactly what you pay for. It’s also a good place to meet other travellers or laid back locals. Their fish of the day might actually be excellent! On that topic I must say that the fish in Akureyri really is the best fish in the world (well in my opinion, but try it and make your own).
Akureyri Backpackers, downtown Akureyri. Photo/Heiða Þorsteinsdóttir.
The bakery “Bakaríið við Brúna” has delicious sourdough bread (that’s a real big thing in Iceland now, you almost can’t call it a bread if it’s not sourdough bread) and delicious everything else you’ll look for in a bakery, definitely worth a trip.
For a sit-in lunch, Berlin, the new kid in town, is my all time favorite. They have great avocado toast (and other kinds of toast), salads and a classic brunch. Good coffee too. Until recently a little hidden gem and an available seat guaranteed, but after getting on the Icelandic news recently, the word is out.
For dinner on the fancier side, Rub23 is restaurant that is world famous (in Iceland at least) for their sushi. Aside from the sushi I would recommend the “four starters in a bento box” and the salmon or trout (that might actually be THE best fish in Iceland). It´s a real treat for your taste buds, but be sure to have enough credit on your Visa, and please, dress up just a little, that’s a part of the experience.
Rub 23. Flickr/erinmariewells
Icelandair Hotel Akureyri is also a good choice for dinner, with food ranging from burgers to black fish soup and veggie lasagna. Something for everyone and not too pricey (well you still are in Iceland). I recommend the charcuterie, delish to start with or just to accompany your happy hour drink (more on that later) before heading somewhere else.
For good coffee you can’t go wrong with Te og Kaffi, located in Penninn Eymundsson bookstore in Hafnarstræti. Talented (and very likeable) baristas, all kinds of coffee, tea, organic sodas as well as good toast (sourdough available of course) and sweet nibbles to go with it. Also a good place for people watching and looking at books and magazines.
Across the street from Penninn is an old and legendary coffee house, “Bláa Kannan”. Go there for hot chocolate and hard core cakes.
Hafnarstræti Street, Akureyri. Flickr/Stefán Birgir Stefáns.
Since drinks in Iceland are extremely expensive, knowing the best happy hours is vital. Akureyri Backpackers has happy hour from 4 pm to 7 pm with beer and wine on offer. Hotel Kea and Hotel Icelandair both have happy hours from 4 pm to 6 pm every day with wine and beer, as well as cocktail of the week, on offer. On Saturdays, Icelandair Hotel prolongs happy hour until 7 pm and all their cocktails are half off! Can’t go wrong with the whiskey sour if you ask me.
Happy hour at the Icelandair Hotel. Photo/Heiða Þorsteinsdóttir.
For beer lovers R5 is a small place that specializes in beer and is a nice place to sit and chat. The Icelandic beer industry has grown tremendously over the past 10 years with a variety of beer from breweries Kaldi (from just outside Akureyri), Borg and Einstök, only to name a few (no spons there, sadly).
For going out there aren’t so many places to choose from, which makes it quite simple. “Götubarinn” is a place on 3 floors that’s good for starting, ending or just spending the whole of your evening. One of its traits is that it never plays music, however there are two pianos on different floors where guests are free to play and quite often the classic Icelandic group-drunk-singing breaks out. There’s some real Icelandic “culture” for you!
“Græni Hatturinn” is a small concert venue just next to Götubarinn. There’s at least one concert held there every week and I believe most Icelandic bands play there at one point or another, both the older come-backs (or never stopping) and the younger fresh ones. Perfect for starting the evening and then hopping over to Götubarinn if you you’re longing for more.
Akureyri Church at dusk. Photo/Heiða Þorsteinsdóttir.
You will find out that local people in Akureyri don’t really go out on Fridays and the bars might be good as empty, at least during winter. On Saturdays, however, everything is let loose and you’ll have no idea where all these people came from. I haven’t managed to figure out the reason for this behaviour, but maybe you can.
Don't like bars? Then go skiing instead. At Hlíðarfjall, Akureyri. Photo/Heiða Þorsteinsdóttir.
This is only a small part of things to see and do in Akureyri and I’m sure a local might write something completely different.
My dad called when I was writing this article and said I mustn’t compliment Akureyri too much since the inhabitants (“Akureyringar”) already are so pleased with themselves. Not following his advice this time, I must say after my 4 months living there that Akureyringar are many of the nicest people I’ve met, the water is always cold straight from the tap, it’s a beautiful town that has a nice and chilled vibe in the air, the fish is great (or have I mentioned that?) and the weather really is nicer than in Reykjavík (yes, I said it). Go there and discover for yourself! And tell the people in Te og Kaffi that Dísa says hi.
The best travel recommendations come from locals. Check out these Wanderguides from Iceland by locals sharing their travel tips and hidden gems.