Discover the best places to visit near Akureyri, from beer spas and arctic islands through to thermal baths and rumbling waterfalls.
I had such an amazing time when I visited Akureyri, Iceland’s ‘capital of the north’ this February. I explored not only the town but also some of the wider area when I went husky sledging, whale watching and hunting for the Northern Lights.
I wasn’t able to see everything the region has to offer, as there’s so much choice, but I did manage to squeeze in several great outings. Now though, I have a lovely long list of all the other places I want to visit on my future Northern Iceland road trip – and yes, there definitely will be one.
Sure, Akureyri has enough to keep you busy for a couple of days, but if you want to spend longer in Northern Iceland, or are simply keen to see as much as you can while you’re here, you’re likely to want to go further afield.
Many places you can visit as a day trip from Akureyri, but there are also several destinations I recommend giving more time to enjoy. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to places to visit near Akureyri – take a look for yourself…
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Bjórböðin Beer Spa
Want a spa experience with a difference? Then head on up to Árskógssandur, where you can visit the Bjórböðin Beer Spa.
This place ‘does what it says on the tin’ and offers guests the chance to bath in wooden tubs filled with warm young beer and live beer yeast. Good for the skin? No idea, but if you’re over 20 (the legal drinking age in Iceland) you can also enjoy fresh beer on tap from the comfort of your bath, which I think is probably the main reason people visit!
Dalvik is a fishing village north of Akureyri that’s also becoming a popular ski destination thanks to its mountainous backdrop.
The village is also known for its Hvoll Folk Museum, which has special exhibits on famous locals Johann the Giant (the world’s tallest man) and Kristján Eldjárn, who was Iceland’s third president.
The Christmas Garden
The Christmas Garden is a museum and shop dedicated to Christmas and the legend of the Yule Lads (see the Dimmuborgir lava rock formations below).
Open all year round, it’s just a ten-minute drive from central Akureyri. Arrive and you’ll feel like you’re entering the world of Hansel and Gretel with its gingerbread-esque house and fairytale tower, which is home to the world’s biggest advent calendar.
Inside the main building though, you’ll be able to check out Christmas decorations from around the world alongside traditional Icelandic Christmas items and traditions.
Húsavík is known as Iceland’s whale-watching capital as these magnificent beasts regularly visit the twon’s bay, especially in the summer.
Húsavík is one of the best places for whale watching in the country, although to be fair we went on a boat tour of the Eyjafjörður fjord from Akureyri and had the pleasure of seeing two humpbacks during our three hour trip.
It’s also home to Iceland’s Whale Museum, where you can see the 22m skeleton of a blue whale that drifted to a nearby beach. There are several other types of museums to visit, as well as some awesome sounding places to take a dip.
By the Húsavík lighthouse you can soak in the new geothermal sea baths, Geosea, or head to Kaldasbakslaug in the south for a dip in the geothermal lake home to golden fish…
Laufas Farm and Church
Only open to visitors in summer, Laufas is a great example of Icelandic turf farm and is just super cute! These belonged to quite wealthy individuals when they were inhabited, and you can go into both the farm houses and church to get a glimpse into this unique way of life.
The site is actually part of Akureyri Museum – one ticket gives you access to several of the town’s many museums!
Just over 40km from Akureyri lies Grímsey Island, a tiny place just over 5km2 in size, which lies across the Arctic Circle and is the northernmost point of Iceland.
It currently has less than 100 permanent residents, who live in the village and harbour, but even so, there are guesthouses, a campsite, gallery, shop, café, restaurant and even a swimming pool.
It’s most popular between mid April and late July, when visitors can come to enjoy the midnight sun and take beautiful walks or bike rides along its rugged coast from the lighthouse on the eastern cliffs down to the most southern point of the island.
It’s particularly renowned for its birdlife as many seabirds nest on Grímsey’s cliffs, including one of the biggest puffin colonies in Iceland. A twitcher’s paradise!
Ferries to Grimsey run all year and take three hours. During the summer there are five departures a week and just four in winter months. Find out details at www.saefaru.is/en. Flights are also available all year round from Akureyri airport to Grimsey and take just 30 minutes. Find out more from Air Iceland Connect.
The second largest island in Iceland, Hrísey is essentially a larger, and closer, Grímsey. Take tours of the lighthouse, go on a tractor ride and enjoy the nature and abundant bird life.
Visitors must stick to the southern part of the island as the north is a private nature reserve, although it is possible to request permission to visit.
The easiest to get to of the two islands, Hrísey Island only takes 15 minutes to reach by ferry from the mainland.
Raufarhöfn, known as the ‘Arctic Circle Village’ is home to the Arctic Henge; a sundial that aims to capture the midnight sun’s rays between stone gateways, casting shadows in specific locations.
Although it looks like some ancient creation this actually only started being built recently, but it still looks magnificent to me!
The waterfall of the gods, Goðafoss was so named by the chieftain Thorgeir who chose to follow Christianity instead of the pagan gods. The story goes that he took down the statues of his old gods from the village, walked to the waterfall and chucked them in.
A beautiful crescent-shaped waterfall, you can find Goðafoss on the road between Akureyri and Lake Mývatn. Well worth a stop!
It’s in the Lake Mývatn area that the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet – you can even drive alongside a rocky valley that’s been formed by the plates moving against each other.
The whole area has an otherworldly feel to it, with black piles of lava stone suddenly appearing on the landscape and the smell of sulphur growing stronger.
There’s a lot around here to see and do, including visiting the lake itself. This is a protected nature reserve and another spot beloved by bird watchers.
The Skutustadagigar pseudo-craters
Pseudo-craters are essentially ‘fake’ volcanic craters, created when hot lava moves across a wet surface like a pond or swamp. Supposedly there’s only two places in the world you can see them and Mývatn is one (the other’s Hawaii fact fans!).
I only got a glimpse of the pseudo-craters during my visit as we got caught it a rather heavy snow storm, but these natural wonders are dotted along the south of LakeMývatn and well worth a visit.
There’s even a walking route around the craters; some of which you can walk right up and in to! If you’re interested in visiting I recommend checking out this blog post by Claire Robinson who shares lots of interesting info on the pseudo-craters and the walk.
Dimmuborgir lava rock formations
Dimmuborgir is an area of lava rock formations in the shape of caves, chimneys and pillars that visitors can wander around. There are a number of different routes you can take around and through the formations, varying from a few 100m to several kilometres in length.
Legend has it that Dimmuborgir is home to the troll Gryla, the mother of the Yule Lads, a group of pranksters who come to turn one by one during the last 13 nights before Christmas. As part of this Icelandic Christmas tradition, children place their shoes on their windowsills before bed. The ‘lads will leave small gifts in the shoes of good children, while naughty kids will wake up to find a potato instead!
Hverir mud pools
Hverir is large field of bubbling mud pools. I felt like I’d entered the world of Labyrinth and had arrived at the Bog of Eternal Stench thanks to the overpowering smell of sulphur!
We had to be very careful with our footing here as the heavy fall of snow had hidden some of the softer mud areas – and you know, I didn’t want to smell bad forever. But I loved exploring this stinky, barren stretch of land, and even had the chance to get up close to steaming rock formations where I was able to warm my hands.
Mývatn Nature Baths
Forget Iceland’s crowded Blue Lagoon, Mývatn Nature Baths offers a more peaceful geothermal spa experience in the Northern Icelandic countryside.
It’s much quieter here, but just as beautiful – and warm. The two main baths average between 36 – 40°, while some smaller baths around the edge are a little higher for those that like to look like a lobster after they bathe.
There’s also a sauna and steam room area and the best bit – you can order drinks to be brought to you in the baths!
Filming sites from Game of Thrones
Between Akureyri and LakeMývatn are several locations that were used for filming ‘north of the wall’ in Game of Thrones.
Several local tour companies now offer trips taking you to these, including the Grjótagjá lava cave, where those iconic scenes between Jon Snow and Ygritte were filmed.
Vatnajökull National Park
Vatnajökull National Park is an amazing place for lovers of the outdoors and nature alike. There’s so much here to see and do, including hiking the Dyngjufoll mountains, the Detifoss waterfall – Europe’s most powerful – and the impressive Askja caldera.
It’s also home to Iceland’s newest lavafield Holuhraun, which is 80x bigger than that created by the Eyjafjallajokull eruption in 2010. An amazing place to visit but take care as the whole area is still geologically active.