Planning a holiday in northern Iceland? Here’s a guide to Akureyri that highlights the best things to do in Akureyri, what to eat, and where to stay, especially for LGBTQ travelers!
Iceland can be an expensive country to visit. It’s an island and most things are imported, which means that even a budget meal of a sandwich wrap can cost $20 USD (ask me how I know).
But don’t worry – Akureyri is a college town which means there are several affordable restaurants and places to stay.
I’ve included several budget options you can use if you’re visiting Iceland on a budget. This way, you can spend more on the unique experiences that make a northern Iceland vacation so incredible, without having to feel worried about overspending on hotels, food and drink, and fancy geothermal spas. But if you want to, hey, I feel you…
This post is all about the best things to do in Akureyri, Iceland.
What is Akureyri Known For?
Akureyri, known as the ‘Capital of North Iceland,’ is a charming university city with a vibrant arts and cultural scene.
Nestled on Eyjafjörður Fjord in northern Iceland, Akureyki is a charming college town renowned for its cute downtown area, walkability, and proximity to top outdoor activities and geothermal spas in Iceland.
The colorful downtown is filled with cute shops, cafes, and restaurants. While Akureyri doesn’t have any gay bars – there is only one Iceland gay bar – it’s a welcoming and inclusive place worth a spot on any LGBTQ Iceland itinerary.
Stay a few days and use Akureyri as a base for northern Iceland adventures from whale watching to skiing and northern lights viewing.
Best Things to Do in Akureyri in Winter
What is there to do in Akureyri in winter? More than you might think.
Yes, you can go whale watching in Akureyri in winter.
Eyjafjörður fjord where Akureryi is located is the longest fjord in Iceland. Whales tend to stay in the waters even when it’s freezing outside. We chose to go whale watching in Akureyri with Whale Watching Hauganes because the timing worked out better for our schedule, but there are other operators to choose from.
Now onto the important stuff…the whales!
A humpback whale treated us to a few tail flips before coming quite close to the boat. The whale watch operator uses an old oak boat. They turn off the motor when whales are nearby, to be as gentle as possible to the animals.
We were a bit worried about the trip given that it was early December and below freezing, but we were actually quite comfortable.
The operator provided a warm body suit to put over our many layers of clothing. They served hot cocoa and cookies on the ship.
And to be honest, I was too busy scanning for whales to pay attention to the temperatures.
In the winter, there are humpback whales in the fjord. In the summer, you’ll see more species like minke whales, orcas, and dolphins.
While you won’t see as many species of whales in Iceland during winter as you would in summer, I have no regrets. If I had the chance I’d do it again, and I definitely recommend Whale Watching Hauganes for the great tour.
Akureyri’s ski resort is located 5 km from the downtown. I don’t ski so I can’t comment on the powder quality, but Mt. Hlíðarfjall is supposedly one of the best places to ski in Iceland, with 7 lifts and 24 different slopes. Mt. Hlíðarfjall has both downhill and cross country skiing. They do ski rentals, so you don’t have to worry about bringing your gear with you.
Forest Lagoon is a big swimming pool complex across the fjord from Akureyri, offering views of downtown. There are two infinity geothermal pools with swim-up bars where you can order a beer or a slushy. There’s a cold plunge tub to cool off and a super-hot sauna.
Forest Lagoon is pretty new, and not anywhere near as crowded as the Blue Lagoon. We had the pool to ourselves with one other group during our visit. If you’re looking for a serene lagoon experience relaxing in nature, the views are unbeatable.
But I’ll be honest – for the cost (5,990 ISK or around $41), I was expecting a little bit more than what we got.
The forest was minimal – a handful of young trees including one poor thing stuck in a pot inside the swimming pool.
It was nice to be looking out at Akureyri downtown, but my cottage accommodations had the same view and a private hot tub and the northern lights.
I know… I got lucky…
Forest Lagoon is worth a visit if you’re on a geothermal spa tour of Iceland, but definitely skippable if you’re trying to save money in Iceland. I preferred Myvatn Nature Baths, which you’re probably seeing if you’re exploring northern Iceland.
Forest Lagoon is open daily from 11 am to midnight. Bring your own towel so you don’t have to rent one!
Hafnaerstrati pedestrian street is the main shopping street in Akureyri. If you need anything (like warm clothes, ice cleats, etc) you can find it here. Icewear Boutique offers good-quality wool clothing, including socks and Icelandic sweaters. For a handknit, one-of-a-kind Icelandic sweater, visit Fataverslun on the same street.
The Church of Akureyri is an impressive site. The same architect designed Hallgrímskirkja, the church in Reykjavik, so it’s fun to see them both. The church hours vary seasonally. We were only in Akureyri at night so weren’t able to see it inside. It’s impressive and worth a look from the outside…and the LGBTQ painted crosswalks nearby were a nice touch, too!
Akureyri Art Museum
The Akureyri Art Museum has rotating exhibits of mostly modern art, including student artwork. The museum is small and worth a stop if you’re looking for something indoors to do. There’s a cafe onsite with good croissants, too!
Akureyri’s massive public swimming pool complex has multiple pools, saunas, a steam room, and water slides for kids. It’s open from 7 am to 8 pm most days and costs 550 ISK (around $4). Visiting the local swimming pool is a great way to immerse in the culture. Bring your own towel and a bathing suit. Icelanders expect you to wash your full body nude then put on your swimsuit. Follow the local bathing custom out of respect.
Glera river walk
There is a 3 mile walking path along the Glera river in Akureyri. The walk can be done in winter (weather depending – ice cleats or hiking poles might be helpful). The full walk leads along the river, over a red pedestrian bridge, and close to Akureyri University. It’s an out and back trail with a small loop that takes you past a sculpture of a bell.
Where to Eat in Akureyri
There are tons of restaurants in Akureyri. You’ll find both Icelandic and international cuisine. Here are a few places that stood out on my recent winter vacation in Iceland:
- Bakaríið við Brúna: This tiny bakery on the outskirts of Akureyri is so good I became a regular during my visit. The staff speak English. Go for morning pastries and pick up bread or sandwiches for a light lunch. The Icelandic donuts (kleinur) were my favorite, but everything we tried was top-notch!
- Strikid: This small plates restaurant was admittedly a splurge. Prices weren’t cheap. But the food was incredible, particularly a black cod and potato dish. The cocktails were inventive (I can’t remember what I got, something gin-based and herby and totally delicious). Go during happy hour from 5-7 to save a bit on drinks!
- Kurdo Kebab: This kebab and fries restaurant wasn’t cheap – food in Iceland is expensive, since it’s all imported – but our shawarma wraps were generous and tasty. Depending on how hungry you are, you could share one for two people and have a decent-sized meal. There are multiple vegetarian options, which is helpful for plant-based eaters.
Akureyri has multiple grocery stores including a Nettó, Bónus, and Hagkaup, a groceries-and-everything store.
If your accommodations have a kitchen, you can pick up food basics and stretch your travel budget. We saved money in Iceland by getting yogurt to have for breakfast and bread with cheese/hummus for sandwiches, and treated ourselves to one restaurant meal a day (dinner) – plus those yummy bakery treats I can never pass up!
Budget Friendly Akureyri Iceland hotels
In my experience, most Iceland hotels are on the minimalist side, without a lot of amenities. Since food and gas are expensive and non-negotiable, I always try to save money on vacation by picking a budget-friendly place to stay.
Here are a few budget-friendly hotels in Akureyri:
- Akureyri Backpackers: This popular hostel is located right in the center of Akureyri. Rooms are simple but comfortable. There are cheaper dorm options and private rooms for LGBTQ couples and families. The hostel has a bar, sauna, and laundry facilities. There’s also a communal lounge area, where you relax and connect with other travelers.
- Akureyri H.I. Hostel: Akureyri H.I. is everything you’d expect from a Hostelling International accommodation: cheap, friendly, and down-to-earth. Amenities include free WiFi, laundry, kitchen, security lockers, board games and family rooms.
- Hotel Akureyri: Hotel Akureyri looks out at Eyjafjörður Fjord. It’s walkable to the church and local swimming pool, convenient to everything in the city center. The free coffee and tea is a nice winter warmup. Rooms are small but comfortable. Book online to get a free tour of their microgreen operation.
- Hotel Kea: Hotel Kea is also right near the top things to do in Akureyri. Rooms are comfortable and clean, with several room configurations, from single to triple. This flexibility makes it ideal for LGBTQ family travelers. Amenities include free WiFi, a fitness center, hotel bar and restaurant serving Icelandic cuisine.
- Viking Cottages: If you prefer a bit more privacy, consider Viking Cottages, self-catering mini homes across the fjord from downtown Akureyri. You’ll have your own kitchen and bathroom plus a private hot tub. As a bonus, Forest Lagoon is minutes away!
- Guest cottages and vacation rentals: Airbnb, VRBO and other vacation rental sites have tons of listings in Akureyri. These vary in terms of price and amenities. Most include your own kitchen, which is helpful for keeping food costs down!
Akureyri Iceland weather
Akureyri’s climate is subarctic.
Winters in Akureyri are cold and snowy. Snow is common and winter temperatures are well below freezing. It can be as cold as -2 to -10 Celsius (28 to 14 Fahrenheit). Dress in layers, and don’t forget to pack things like a hat, gloves and long underwear. For more packing inspiration, check out my Iceland winter packing post.
Spring weather in Akureyri warms slowly. Summer weather is mild with daytime temperatures usually 10 to 15 Celsius (50 to 59 Fahrenheit). Summer offers extended daylight, which means more time to explore the best things to do in Akureyri!
In fall, the weather in Akureyri turns cold and daylight hours shorten. You can see the northern lights in September through to March.
Iceland’s weather is unpredictable and changes often. During my first Iceland road trip, I got caught in a blizzard that came up out of nowhere and closed the road.
Ready to Plan Your Holiday in Akureyri?
This guide will help you make the most of a northern Iceland vacation.
Between the municipal swimming pool and the Forest Lagoon nature spa, Akureyri is a must visit for a geothermal spa vacation in Iceland.
Akureyri is the perfect gateway spot to explore the north of Iceland, including the Diamond Circle and whale watching in Iceland. The town center is super cute with a good assortment of shops, restaurants, and places to stay.
I spent a ton of time researching things to do in Akureyri so I could make the most of my trip. I hope the guide helps you plan the perfect LGBTQ Iceland vacation!
This post was all about things to do in Akureyri as part of a northern Iceland vacation.
If you’re looking for more things to do in northern Iceland, check out this Iceland in 4 days itinerary which includes things to see and do between on a road trip from Reykjavik to Akureyri. It’s the exact route I followed on my most recent trip to Iceland, and I had a blast.