Akureyri – the unofficial capital of Iceland
Akureyri is the second-largest urban area in Iceland after Reykjavik and the fourth most populous city. It is said to be the unofficial capital of Iceland. There are less than 19 thousand people living in the city. Akureyri is close to the Arctic Circle but has a fairly mild climate.
The city was founded by Helgi Magri (Helgi Chudy) in 890. It was mentioned as a trading station in 1602. The settlement was granted city rights almost 1000 years later, in 1862.
Akureyri is situated on the Trollaskagi peninsula, on the Eyjafjörður fjord. It is the longest fjord in Iceland and is over 60 km long. From the land side, the city is surrounded by mountains made of granite, reaching 1500 m above sea level.
Akureyri has a domestic airport and seaport which has nearly 30% share of all catches on the island. The largest brewery in Iceland, Viking Beer, is also located here, with over 25% of the market share. The town also has the island’s second-largest hospital, which is also the largest employer.
Akureyri is also an important communication, commercial, educational and service hub. In summer it is very often visited by tourists. There are many pubs, restaurants and nightclubs. It is also an elegant, modern, traditional and the most cosmopolitan place on the island.
How to get there?
The cities and settlements on the fjord are connected by roads No. 82 (West coast), ring road No. 1 (South coast) and No. 83 (East coast).
We were going to Akureyri from the East coast side, on the national road No. 1. Few kilometres before entering the city, there is road branching and drivers have two routes to choose from:
- the ring road No. 1, through the Vaðlaheiðargöng tunnel
- the national road No. 83, around the fjord
The Vaðlaheiðargöng tunnel – the only toll road section on the island
When driving the ring road, worth knowing you will pass the only toll road section in all of Iceland.
The tunnel is 7.5 km long and lies between Akureyri and Húsavík in Northern Iceland. Using the tunnel shortens the road compared to the bypass by 16 kilometres (approx. 12 minutes in good weather). The tunnel design was highly controversial due to many years of delays, opening two years late and a budget exceeding the projected cost by over 44%. Currently, the tunnel is of particular importance for the city’s inhabitants during winter, when the passage through the bypass may take place in very difficult conditions or it may even be temporarily closed.
It is not possible to pay tolls on the spot.
Vaðlaheiðargöng tunnel fees
Drivers can pay for a single trip online or register to automatically charge their card or bank account for the journey they make. The toll must be paid 24 hours before the journey or within 3 hours after passing through the tunnel. Otherwise, the costs will be charged to the person in whose name the vehicle is registered, with an additional fee of ISK 1,000 (about 7,2$). You can also register a car from the rental company. Registration is quite easy. All you need to do is enter the registration number and pay online or enter the card number for automatic debiting.
It is also worth remembering that in the case of rental companies – these may charge you with additional costs (handling fees) if the fee is not paid on time.
The price for a one-way trip with a passenger car is 1500 ISK (about 11 $) – if paid on time. The motorcycle ride is free of charge. It is forbidden to cycle through the tunnel. For people who travel frequently through the tunnel, it is possible to purchase a subscription, e.g. 10 rides cost IKS 12,500 (about 90 $), 100 rides are 70,000 ISK (about 510 $).
The page where you can register your car and pay for the toll is mitt.veggjald.is.
National road 83, Laufas Turf Houses
I honestly admit that travelling on road 83 around the fjord in summer is a real pleasure and a great adventure. This road offers great views, close contact with nature and a beautiful panorama of Akureyri. If you are in no hurry and the road conditions are good – choose this road. Take your time, the views are truly breathtaking. Akureyri, which stretches across the fjord and the granite high mountains towering over it, is a sight that will stay in my heart for a long time.
During the day, this route will take you approx. 12-15 minutes longer than thru the tunnel, but along the way, you can stop at several viewpoints and enjoy the wonderful panorama of the city.
There is also a little surprise on this road. Just leave it at the junction with road 83 and head to the North. 10 km further (approx. 8 minutes) there is the open-air museum Laufás Turf House in Eyjafjörður. The museum is open from May 15th to October 1st, from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the white house, which is located next to a large car park.
It was a few minutes after 5.00 p.m. when we arrived. We could not only buy tickets anymore, but the lady who left the white house also prevented us from entering the open-air museum area. It wasn’t fenced in, the cabins were locked, we just wanted to walk the main path, but we weren’t allowed. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the option to come back to this place another day.
There is also a 19th-century white wooden church in the open-air museum. We could enter the church. So, we looked at the turf houses from a distance, from the side of the church entrance.
I think it’s worth getting off the road to see this place. It is worth seeing even if the facility is closed, and the place can be seen only from a distance, from the side of the church.
GPS coordinates: Laufás 65° 53,639’N, 18° 4,344’W
How to get around the city?
Of course, Akureyri is worth a walk. The town is not big, so a walk is a great opportunity to take a closer look at its attractions. But below you can find a few tips about travelling by car, parking or about public transport.
Car and parking lots
It is difficult to find free parking in the very centre of the city, and the surrounding streets have rules regarding the time for which you can park your car. When booking a hotel, find out if it offers free parking spaces or is located in a paid parking zone.
As a general rule, parking lots in Akureyri are free everywhere, but in the very centre of the city, you can park your car only for short periods, during the week between 10.00 a.m. and 4.00 p.m. The maximum permitted parking times are displayed in the car parks. They can be from 15 minutes to 2 hours. To be able to use the car park without risking a high fine, it is enough to put the exact time of arrival on the windshield or dashboard. In the event of incorrect time being given or staying in the parking lot longer than allowed, the penalty may amount to ISK 3,090 (about 22,5 $).
How to determine the arrival time? You can use any piece of paper and clearly write down the exact arrival time. There are also clock cards in the city, which can be picked up free of charge from banks, information centres, hotels, gas stations and many shops throughout Akureyri.
A map with the area marked as the strict city centre can be found on the city website visitakureyri.is-parking restrictions. There are also several large car parks located around the city, which are outside the temporary parking zone. It is worth taking this into account when planning a stay in the city.
In Akureyri, all public transport is free! The timetable covers the time periods from 6:28 a.m. to 10:36 p.m. on all weekdays and on weekends from 12:18 p.m to 6:55 p.m.
All city buses run in a loop that starts and ends at the main stop in the city centre, marked in the timetable as “Miðbær”. The complete loop takes 30 to 50 minutes depending on the route.
Cycling in the city is also convenient. You can find all the cycling routes in Akureyri on the map.
Akureyri Iceland – what to see?
Church of Akureyrakirkja
The church, situated on a hill, was built in the mid-20th century (1940). Its silhouette towers over the city and is a characteristic landmark and symbol of the city. An interesting fact is that the architect of this church – Guðjón Samúelsson, also designed Hallgrimskirja in Reykjavik.
Majestic high stairs lead to the church. Inside the temple, it is worth paying attention to the organ consisting of over 3,200 pipes and the large window in the presbytery, which was a gift from the Cathedral of Coventry in England. This window is one of the few elements that survived the German bombing during the war.
A small model of a Nordic ship hangs from the ceiling. According to ancient beliefs, the ship protects fishermen on the sea from the given parish.
Akureyri Park and Botanical Garden are the greatest attractions in the city. The park was established in 1912, and the botanical section in 1952. The whole area is 3.6 ha. In the botanical garden, you can find many exotic plant species, the cultivation of which is possible thanks to the specific microclimate in the city. There are plant species not only from Iceland but also from Spain, South America, Africa and New Zealand. It is the perfect place for a walk and rest. In the park, there is a cafe, pond, fountain and numerous benches.
Below, our own movie showing Akureyri Park and Botanical Garden. Shoots were done in August’20. Enjoy watching it!
The park and the botanical garden are open from the 1st of June to the 30th of September. On weekdays from 8.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m. and on weekends from 9.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m. The botanical garden is closed in winter, but a walk in the park is possible as the park’s gates remain open all year round. Free entrance.
You can read more about the park and botanical garden at lystigardur.akureyri.is
The heart of Akureyri
An interesting tourist attraction in the city is the red heart-shaped traffic lights. These hearts came after the financial meltdown that Iceland faced in 2008. It was then decided that you need to think a little more positively and make people understand what is really important in life.
Since then, the city has seen numerous red hearts not only placed on traffic lights. There were also hearts made of forget-me-not flowers that adorned windows, cars and signboards throughout the city.
The perfect spot to take a selfie with the constantly glowing red light is in the city centre, near the harbour and the Hof Cultural Center.
Historic buildings of the city
Akureyri is full of very old but well well-preserved, colourful and historical buildings. Within a short walking distance from the city centre, you can spot many of them. In the city, there are also many information boards with photos and descriptions of those historical places. Many of them describe the interesting architecture or history of the district. The most interesting examples of the historical buildings of the city can be found in its oldest part – Innbærinn or Oddeyri. Each board also has a QR code with additional information.
The intersection of Hafnarstræti and Kaupvangsstræti streets is considered to be the focal point of the city. At this intersection, the steps leading to the Akureyrakirkja church start. Just next to it there is Hotel Kea, where I stayed. From its balconies, there is a wonderful view of the city centre and the fjord.
There is also a club at this intersection, several bars and restaurants. It is worth taking a stroll along Hafnarstræti, which is popular with tourists. There are not only many architectural gems of the city, but also atmospheric ice cream parlours, cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops.
Strandgata Street is also full of history, along which there are several colourful villas, interesting for both historical and architectural.
HOF Harbor and Cultural and Conference Center
A walk along the port and the coast is worth starting from the HOF Center. The building was put into use in 2010. Since then, it has become an integral part of the city. The centre includes concert halls, exhibition and conference rooms. There is also a restaurant and free public toilets. The Center is able to prepare meetings planned for large audiences. That is the reason why the most important events and meetings in the region are held here.
A walk by the bay is also an ideal place for relaxation and close contact with nature. On the way, you can take a closer look at the ship’s mooring in the port. You can also take a look at the city panorama seen from the fjord side.
You will also find interesting sculptures there. One of them is in the shape of a ship called Sigling (Sailing). It was sculptured by Icelandic artist Jon Gunnar Arnanson. He is also the creator of the Sun Voyager sculpture in Reykjavik. A walk along the fjord is especially recommended in the late afternoon when the colour of the sky turns deep blue and the colour of the water reflects the red of the setting.
What can you love Akureyri for?
I love Akureyri for its lack of rush, peace, quiet, cleanliness and beautiful views. Akureyri is low-rise buildings, wooden villas covered with coloured sheet metal, atmospheric cafes and restaurants. This city is very picturesque and charming.
There is little traffic in the city, no traffic jams, wide highways. Akureyri means smiling people, closeness to nature, excellent living conditions. You can get to Reykjavik in just 45 minutes. To do that, you just need to choose local airlines that fly between both cities several times a day.
In Akureyri, areas such as waste management, access to public transport, electricity supply, home heating, air cleanliness and microclimate have been developed at a very high level. Moreover, it’s also a great place to start exploring the North of Iceland. Here you can discover many offshore islands and geothermal curiosities. Thanks to the recently created Arctic Coast Way tourist route, accessing the unique scenery and diverse attractions are now easier than ever.
The Coast Way (Norðurstrandarleið) is a 900 km car route. It winds through the fjords from Hvammstangi to Bakkafjörður and through 21 fishing villages. This tour opened in June 2019 but has already reached third place on the Lonely Planet’s Best in Europe 2019 list.
There is also a ski resort, geothermal pools and a golf course near Akureyri.
I would like to come back to Akureyri one day. I have the impression that it could be “my” place on earth. Above all, it is an ideal place to “charge the battery” during the holidays. You can perfectly rest here away from the hustle and bustle that surrounds us on a daily basis.
Other interesting links
Iceland, my other post
I encourage you as well to read my other posts about Iceland
- Diamond Circle North Iceland
- East Iceland – the land of puffins
- Golden Circle – treasures of Iceland
- Húsavík Iceland – time for whales
- Iceland – tailor-made travel plan
- Reykjanes Peninsula South West Iceland
- Reykjavik Iceland’s capital city
- Snaefellsnes Peninsula West Iceland
- South Coast of Iceland
- Troll Peninsula North Iceland