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Driving Iceland’s Ring Road - Day 3: Exploring Akureyri

With a population of about 18,000 people, Akureyri is the fourth largest city in Iceland.  It is sometimes called the "Capital of North Iceland".

 

This area was settled as early as the 9th century by the Norse Viking Helgi Eyvindarson, but the first official mention of the Akureyri region is from 1562.

The first permanent settlement of the current site of the city took place in 1778 and Akureyri was granted its status as a city in 1786.  Unfortunately, the status as a city did nothing to grow the population beyond the number of 12 people, so Akureyri lost the status in 1836, but regained in in 1862.

 

Its excellent natural harbor, which typically stays ice-free in winter, and the high fertility of the soil helped Akureyri become one major industrial centers in Northern Iceland.  Two of the five largest fishing companies in Iceland and Iceland’s largest brewery in have their headquarters in Akureyri.

 

Today, you will spend your time in the Akureyri area.

 

For more detailed information incl. links to google maps locations, more reviews, website links, etc., check out our Iceland Highlights Purple Guide.

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Our Iceland Travel Guide has detailed information about the individual destinations, links to their locations in google maps, reviews and websites (if available).

Please see the Backpack & Snorkel Travel Store for more information.

Iceland Travel Guide Book Cover

Here are more Iceland destinations to explore:

Backpack and Snorkel Iceland Travel Guide cover showing Studlagil canyon
Backpack and Snorkel Iceland Travel Guide cover showing icebergs at Jokulsarlon
Backpack and Snorkel Iceland Travel Guide cover showing the Godafoss waterfall
Backpack and Snorkel Iceland Travel Guide cover showing the Fjadrargljufur canyon
Backpack and Snorkel Iceland Travel Guide cover showing a puffin
Backpack and Snorkel Iceland Travel Guide cover showing the Black Fortress at Dimmuborgir
Backpack and Snorkel Iceland Travel Guide cover showing the erupting Strokkur geyser
Backpack and Snorkel Iceland Travel Guide cover showing the Aurora Borealis

Outsider Art Museum – Safnasafnið

The Icelandic Folk and Outsider Art Museum was founded in 1995 and is housed two adjoining vintage buildings with one being a former elementary school and community center.

The museum’s founders, artist Níels Hafstein and his wife Magnhildur Sigurðardóttir, have spent more than 30 years collecting the exhibited artworks from Icelandic artists who are outside the cultural mainstream.

The collection consists of approx. 6,000 artworks by more than 300 artists and date from the mid -19th  century to today.

 

The museum is open from May through August from 10am to 5pm.

Outsider Art Museum in Iceland
Outsider Art Museum in Iceland

Christmas House - Jólagarðurinn

The Akureyri Christmas House is spreading the joy of Christmas year-round. 

 

The focal point is the red house which resembles a cookie house with frosting and candy on the roof.  Enter it and you are transported into the world of Christmas.  On two floors packed with Christmas ornaments, decorations, artworks, toys, food and music you will experience the most magical and wonderful time of year…even in summer.

As Santa travels all over the world, you will find many international Christmas items that will tell a story of how other cultures celebrate this most wonderful time of year.

Since you have come to Iceland to experience the local culture, Santa has stocked lots of Icelandic Christmas products too.

 

Besides the bright red painted Christmas shop, there is a tower with a large advent calendar in it and beautifully painted walls with fairytale images.

In the Apple Shed (Eplakofin) you can buy sugar glazed apples and in the Black House (Svarta Húsið) you can buy Nordic products including some not Christmas themed items.

The Christmas Garden has a miniature replica of an Icelandic turf church, some tables and seats, a Wishing Well of Unborn Children, where you can make a wish for family planning, and a tree with stars representing those unborn children you just wished for.

 

Opening Hours:

January – May: 2pm – 6pm

June - August: 10am – 6pm

September – December: noon – 6pm

Admission is free

Christmas House in Iceland
Christmas House in Iceland
Christmas House in Iceland
Christmas House in Iceland

Horse riding at Skjaldarvík Guest House

One of the highlights of an Iceland trip can be a horseback ride on Icelandic horses.  There are multiple providers and they all offer tours of varying length from 1h to multiple days. 

If you are a beginner, then it may be a good idea to start with a short tour to find out if horseback riding is for you.

 

Icelandic horses are a special breed that has developed in Iceland.  They are small (pony-sized), well mannered, long-lived and hardy.

Their ancestors were likely imported by Viking-age Scandinavians between 860AD and 935AD, and the first reference to them appears in the 12th century.

 

Skjaldarvik guesthouse is a family-owned hotel and restaurant and they offer horse riding tours on Icelandic horses.  For the horse riding tour, you check in at the hotel reception and then walk to the horse stables to the left of the main building where you will be greeted by your tour guide.  The tour guide will provide safety helmets to everyone and do a safety orientation.

If you are early, you can just sit and relax in the hotel restaurant where they have free cookies and coffee.

 

We booked the 1h horse riding tour which goes along well-worn horse paths to the south of the hotel. 

Towards the end of tour we took a path down the hill from the horse stable to the fjord where we rode through foot-deep water in the fjord.  This was one of the best parts of the tour.

 

After the tour, participants are given food that they can feed to the horses and I can imagine that this may be a kid’s favorite.

Horse riding in Iceland
Horse riding in Iceland
Horse riding in Iceland
Horse riding in Iceland

Akureyri Art Museum - Listasafnið á Akureyri

The Akureyri Art Museum is a small modern art museum which was founded in 1993 and exhibits work by Icelandic artists.  It is located in the center of Akureyri close to Akureyrarkirkja, which is our next stop.  

 

The museum is open year-round from noon to 5pm and admission is 1,900 ISK per adult and 650 ISK per senior citizen or student.  Expect to spend 1h or more here if you are into modern art.  Guided tours are held every Thursday in English at 12.30 pm and do not cost extra.

 

The museum exhibits works from multiple Icelandic artists and you can expect very different exhibits in the different rooms.

Akureyri Art Museum in Iceland
Akureyri Art Museum in Iceland
Akureyri Art Museum in Iceland
Akureyri Art Museum in Iceland

Akureyri Church - Akureyrarkirkja

Built in 1940, Akureyrarkirkja is a prominent Lutheran church in Akureyri.  It features an impressive staircase that leads up from downtown Akureyri near the fjord to the church entrance.  The view from the church on the fjord is impressive.

 

Akureyrarkirkja itself is a fairly plain church on the interior, but it contains a large 3200-pipe organ.  The altarpiece is from 1863 and the stained glass windows were designed and manufactured in England.

Akureyrarkirkja in Iceland
Akureyrarkirkja in Iceland

Explore downtown Akureyri

Since you are at Akureyrarkirkja, why not take an hour to explore downtown Akureyri and maybe buy some souvenirs?  At the intersection near the bottom of the stairs that lead to Akureyrarkirkja, is the entrance to the pedestrian part of Hafnarstræti (where the red heart is).  Follow it north and you will pass by souvenir stores, a drug store, a small shopping center, more stores, cafes and restaurants, and even a hostel.  When you come to the park, cross the park to the right and continue on Strandgata until you hit Hofsbot where you make a right and when you come to Skipagata, you make a left and continue to near the intersection where you started.

Map of downtown Akureyri in Iceland
Downtown Akureyri in Iceland
Downtown Akureyri in Iceland
Downtown Akureyri in Iceland
Akureyrarkirkja in Iceland
Akureyrarkirkja in Iceland

Akureyri Thermal Pool - Sundlaug Akureyrar

Finish your exciting day in Akureyri with a hot thermal bath in the Akureyri Thermal Pool.  Please obey the special rules for thermal baths in Iceland, which I am posting further down, as they protect the health of you and every other visitor.

 

The Akureyri Thermal Pool is the most popular of the four thermal pools in Akureyri.  It is open all year and has two 25m outdoor pools, water jets, water slides, a splash pool, an indoor pool, four hot tubs, a steam bath, a sunbathing area and a playground area for kids.  

All the pools are heated by geothermal water and each pool has a different temperature.  The coolest pool is a comfortable 81F (27°C) and the hottest hot tub at a steaming 108F (42°C).

 

I have tried all water slides and my absolute favorite is the red slide which gets you up to incredible speeds and then drops you in the rotunda where you will circle like a roulette ball until you drop down towards the pool.

As with all water slides, you go faster if you lie down and take off your shirt in case you are wearing one.

Akureyri Pool in Iceland
Akureyri Pool in Iceland

Parking is limited, but we were able to find a spot.  If you stay in Akureyri, then you can also take bus lines 1, 2 and 4 to get to the pool.

 

Admission is 1,050 ISK per adult and 260 ISK for seniors and children (6-17).  Small children (0-7) and disabled pay no admission.  Towels and swimsuits can be rented if you didn’t bring yours.

 

For everyone who has not been at a thermal bath in Iceland, there are certain rules that need to be obeyed.  So, please read them carefully:

  • Shoes off
    Outside the changing rooms are shoe shelves where you have to leave your shoes.  Sometimes a plastic bag is provided.  Nobody will steal your shoes.  If you absolutely do not want to leave your shoes on the shelf, you can store them you a locker in the changing room.  But you must take them off at the shelf.
  • Get a locker
    A locker to store your belongings (including cameras and cell phones!) is included in the admission fee.  You will get the key, which is attached to an elastic band, when you pay admission.  You should put the elastic band around your wrist and bring it into the pool with you.   
  • Shower nude - without bathing suit
    This is probably the most important rule and some people claim that there is a shower police which is watching to make sure that you do it right!  This is not the case in my experience, but other visitors may call you out if you violate this rule.
    Showering in the nude and properly cleaning yourself is very important as the thermal pools are not or almost not chlorinated and bacteria that you bring into the pool by not obeying this rule could spread and infect many people. 
    If you are uncomfortable showering in an open space with other people, you can ask the staff if there is a private shower. 
    Once you hit the showers you have to properly wash yourself with the provided soap (some people bring their own) and without your swimsuit.  Obviously, your swimsuit should be clean, too.  Icelanders take swimming pool hygiene very seriously, so don't think of trying to skip the showers!
  • Leave your towel and shampoo in the shelves by the showers.  The shelves usually right before the showers.  You can also take your towel to the pool, if you feel like it.  Again, nobody will steal it.
  • Put your swimsuit back on and go to the pool
  • Relax in the hot pools.