Did you know that it was not until 1776 that the first residential house was built in Akureyri and in 1784 the population numbered a grand total of 12? Historical accounts say that efforts by the Danish king to improve the lives of Icelanders were mostly unsuccessful and the town didn’t regain its commercial trading post licence until 1862.
But you’d be hard pressed to find any remnants of such struggle today. A sought after destination for skiing, it isn’t just the winter charms of Akureyri that stir up friendly competition between Reykjavik and the so-called “capital of the North.” Sure they may often have more summer days than we do, and they seem to have new and old buildings in fairly balanced scales, but they also have longer, snow-deluged winters and controversial cat roaming laws.
Visitors to Akureyri often talk about the charming little town with great affection. The town is built alongside a steep slope towards the fjord making for idyllic strolls whether you are in town, by the harbour, or taking one of the meandering scenic routes to its botanical heart. In recent years, there has been a delicious awakening not just limited to their over-the-top dogs. Schedule some food hopping with your cultured rambling and you have the perfect itinerary for a glorious 36 hours in Akureyri.
Waking up at Sundlaug Akureyri
Skólastígur 4, 600 Akureyri
Monday to Friday: 6:45 – 21:00, Saturday: 8:00 – 21:00, Sunday: 8:00 – 19:30
By now it is no secret that the best thing about Iceland, no matter which corner of the county you are in, are the pools. And the pool in Akureyri has been another bragging point they have held over Reykjavik for a long time. Recently renovated, the local pool has never been better – just check out the kiddie slide section fashioned after waterparks, but miniaturised to Icelandic scale. There are plenty of hot pots to lounge around if laps aren’t your thing. Regardless of your pool preference, it sure is a great way to start the day and work up an appetite.
Breaking our fast at Berlín Akureyri
Skipagata 4, 600 Akureyri
8:00 – 17:00 (last orders at 16:00)
“Have you seen the bacon?” quipped a friend of mine incredulously when I asked him about the breakfast at Berlín he’d been raving about. “This is not your amma’s breakfast!” Turns out, he was spot on. Berlín has been dishing all day breakfasts since 2015 and is sought after by locals and visitors alike. Kids under 15 can get a hearty balanced brunch platter with eggs, bacon, waffles, fruits, toast and juice for just 1990 ISK, making it especially popular with families. But the surprise hit is the huevos rancheros (2530 ISK), which while not 100% autentico is a properly seasoned and cooked sunny side-up egg, decent salsa, crisp tortilla and (gasp!) ripe avocado, which makes one feel like someone knows their way around the old cocina. Very nice, spicy surprise at the top of the map.
Noon-hour culture at Listasafn Akureyri (Akureyri Art Museum)
Kaupavangsstræti 8, 600 Akureyri
Everyday 12:00 – 17:00
Pick up the pace after a laid back breakfast and walk by the church – renovations are underway on the iconic steps and access is currently restricted, but the steep terrain makes for some good post-meal cardio to the church doors. This is a great vantage point not just for the views but to also appreciate the multi-level architecture of the Art Museum. Kurt og Pi from Reykjavik is behind the thoughtful restoration, breathing new life into what was once a milk factory. Staid and calm, this is an oasis of Icelandic creativity. Celebrated artist and Iceland’s pride, Ragnar Kjartnasson’s stirring project, ‘The Visitor’s’ is on display for the first time in Iceland since it was last shown in Reykjavik in 2012. Set aside at least an hour, if not more, to take in this masterful production.
Lunch at Baccalá Bar
Hafnargata 6, Hauganes
Summer: 12:00 – 20:30
The drive from Akureyri to Hauganes is a scenic under-an-hour route that will reward you with endlessly expansive Simpson-esque blue skies, rolling hills and pastoral greens. OK that is if the sun god smiles on you. Ekta Fiskur is a family establishment that has devoted itself to making the best salted cod. The shack-like restaurant has windows overlooking the beautiful harbour, only interrupted by the impressive taxidermy birds and roosters. Service is unshakeably friendly, and the fish is satisfyingly flaky, encased in a light, flavourful batter. The tartare sauce is speckled with dill, a neat Nordic touch.
Second Lunch (hey, it’s a vacation!) at DJ Grill
Strandgata 11, 600 Akureyri
Monday to Friday: 11:30 – 21:00, weekends: 12:00 – 21:00
This family run restaurant does one thing and one thing only: burgers. If you didn’t already know it is not the hot dog, or the lamb’s head that is Iceland’s national dish. It is the burger. Fashioned after an American diner, this joint has been dishing up old school burgers with none of that smashed burger nonsense that has firmly gripped the capital. Sure you can be safe and grab a cheeseburger, but while here, it’s either the DJ burger with a sunny side-up egg, or the many over the top sounding, yet somehow balanced “specials” named after popular DJs and musicians, that we recommend.
Dinner at North
Hafnarstraeti 67, 600 Akureyri
Wednesday to Saturday: 18:00 – 22:00
An impressive tasting menu with ingredients sourced or foraged from just around Akureyri, in a dinner-at-your-friend’s-house chic setting, and at a hard to believe price point (11,900 ISK)? Yes, North is all that and then some. Ambitious young chef Rafn Svansson is determined to put Akureyri on the map as a dining destination and serves up thoughtful plates that hark back to Dill while still being his own. The wine pairing (10,900 ISK) is delightful and I recommend bar-side seating for a first hand view of all the action.
Drinks at Eyja Wine Bar and Bistro
Hafnarstræti 90, 600 Akureyri
Wednesday to Sunday: 14:00 – 23:00, Thursday: 14:00 – 00:00, Friday & Saturday: 14:00 – 01:00
This stunning timber house has been painstakingly restored to a moody contemporary crib that is somehow also a cool bar. High ceilings, beautiful wall paper and lush booths make this a perfect spot for a nightcap. Choose from Scandi favourite natural wines, or more traditional tipples from their extensive wine list.
Morning Treats at Ketil Kaffi
Kaupvangsstræti 8, 600 Akureyri
Everyday: 7:30 – 18:00
With brown-red brick floors and its concrete walls, walking into Ketil Kaffi instantly transports you somewhere far away. There is almost a sacred air around, the kind one finds in libraries. The simple menu here spans eggs multiple ways, alongside filling smoothies and an iconoclastic lemon cake that warrants a visit just for its pared down beauty. Tall and bare, it is crowned by a creamcheese stabilised crown of fluffy frosting. To sit by the window and quietly watch the world go by, slice by your side, is meditative indeed.
Green Therapy at Lystigarður – Akureyri Botanical Garden
Eyrarlandsstofa, 600 Akureyri
Everyday: 8:00 – 22:00
This is indeed the hidden jewel in Akureyri’s heart. Established and nourished almost entirely by women in the early 1900’s, the botanical garden is proof of the founder’s determination that a garden such as this, lush and bountiful, could not only survive but thrive this far north. It is a beautifully laid out pleasure garden with fragrant flowering trees lining the many paths, guiding one to various sections. It’s easy to lose track of time while here, especially if you find a park bench all to yourself.
Pre-Departure Pick-Me-Up at LYST
Lystigarður, Eyrarlandsstofa, 600 Akureyri
Monday to Thursday: 08:00 – 21:00, Friday 08:00 – 23:00, Saturday 10:00-23:00, Sunday 10:00 – 19:00
Could there be a better spot for a café? Well recognised for its architecture, it is only since young chef Reynir Gretarsson took over LYST that it has garnered an almost cult following for its “Fish and Vegetables.” Book ahead of time, and specifically ask for the fish as they tend to run out, sometimes even by 13:00! Pair that fish with a glass of wine or their equally renowned hot chocolate to round off a near perfect day.
Regretting Our Looming Departure at Forest Lagoon
Vaðlaskógur 605, 605 Akureyri
There’s no better way to bid adieu to Akureyri than to drive out of town and soak in a world class bathing facility, nestled within the forest. Forest Lagoon, designed by Basalt, is a breathtaking facility that knocks your socks off from the get go. An expansive pool that overlooks Eyri and Akureyri, lots of stone pedestals that function as bar tables for your drinks, a pool bar and a drinking water fountain while you hop from warm pool to sauna to cold pool – this lagoon has it all. Hours go by mysteriously here. This is an A-list bath that’ll have you reconsider your citizenship status.
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