Akureyri may only be home to around 18,000 people, but it is – by some distance – the largest town, transport hub and cultural centre in the north of Iceland. It lies less than 100 kilometres below the Arctic Circle, nestled on the edge of the Eyjafjörður Fjord and surrounded by mountains that remain snow-capped throughout most of the year.
There’s a distinct wilderness frontier feel about travelling around this raw, remote and breathtakingly beautiful part of the country that you don’t quite get to the same extent in the south. Up here, it’s much more sparsely populated, the distances between settlements are greater, and visitor numbers pale in comparison to those of Reykjavik, the Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle. If you’re wanting to get off the beaten track and away from the crowds to experience some of the wildest, most dramatic landscapes Iceland has to offer, consider heading to the north to Akureyri and beyond– you certainly won’t regret it.
The region around Akureyri is full of stark contrasts, from majestic fjords and jagged mountains to glistening lakes and vast geothermal fields punctuated with belching mudpots, hissing fumaroles and steaming hot springs. Lake Myvatn, in particular, is renowned for its extraordinary variety of mesmerising geological features and abundant wildlife.
The summer months are ripe for whale watching, hiking and biking under the midnight sun, while winter brings a totally different charm, with opportunities for snowmobiling and cross-country skiing across the tundra and, if you’re lucky, spotting the Northern Lights.
Akureyri, Iceland’s ‘Capital of the North’, is where most adventures in the north of Iceland begin. It’s a major fishing port and an increasingly important hub for tourism, featuring a thriving cultural scene, a handful of lively bars, several excellent restaurants, and also the world’s northernmost botanical garden.
Continuing further north on the Tröllaskagi Peninsula, Dalvik is the starting point for many fantastic hiking trails and the ferry to Grimsey island (the only part of Iceland that crosses the Arctic Circle), while Siglufjordur is one of the region’s most picturesque villages with a fascinating industrial past. To the east, Husavik is another worthy stop – Iceland’s oldest settlement, and the best place in the country to see whales, with humpbacks, minke whales, orcas and even blue whales frequenting the waters of Skjálfandi Bay.