Billed as “the capital of the north” more times than I could count in a lifetime, Akureyri is, to many tourists, the place you stay when you’re up north. And not without reason—its geographical and topographical location keep the weather relatively mild year round, the town is lush with greenery in the summer time and covered in snow in the winter, and they also have Hotel Akureyri.
Maybe it was because we had been sitting in a car for seven or eight hours (I fell asleep a couple of times for brief spells and lost track), but this place was like an oasis on a desert planet. The rooms were great, and when I wanted some boiling hot water for the instant cup-o’-noodles I’d bought, the guy at the front desk didn’t make a fuss about going into the kitchen at a quarter to midnight to put the kettle on. We chit-chatted for a bit while waiting for the water to boil. He told me that his family lives in Ísafjörður, and he drives there from Akureyri a few times a month. This floored me—earlier that day, when we finally connected to Route 1 after driving several hours from Ísafjörður, it was practically heartbreaking to see road signs indicating that we were actually closer to Reykjavík than we were to Akureyri. I asked him how he was able to do this drive so often.
He shrugged. “You know, the road between Akureyri and Ísafjörður is always going to be several hundred kilometres long. It doesn’t matter how fast you drive. If you try to speed yourself there, you’re just going to get stressed out and annoyed. It’s better to take frequent stops, get out and stretch your legs, take a few pictures, you know. Enjoy the way there and take your time, instead of rushing to get where you’re going”. This was probably the best all-around travel advice I’d heard since I learned about rolling clothes up for packing instead of folding them.
I lived in Akureyri for a year, and while there’s a lot to see and do in the region, the first and foremost place I’d recommend anyone checking out is the botanical gardens. Especially since summer’s here. Amateur botanists will certainly enjoy checking out the variety of hardy perennials there; everyone else should enjoy just being able to take their time wandering the grounds, relaxing in a clearing with a packed lunch, and marvelling at what volcanic soil plus mild weather can produce. If you only have an hour or so in Akureyri, spend every minute of it here. You won’t regret it.
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