Offering a heavy diet of puffing volcanoes, glaciers, and waterfalls, there is no denying that tourism is booming in Iceland. With over 1 million tourists visiting every year, most of them go straight to Reyjavik or to natural attractions like the Pingvellir National Park, the Gullfoss Waterfall, or the Geysir Geothermal Area located in a place more popularly known as the “Golden Circle.”
Little do people know that further north is Iceland’s hidden gem – Akureyri, its stunningly beautiful, and second-largest, city. Akureyri (pronounced a-KU-ray) rests on the northern coast of Iceland and is surrounded by mountainous grasslands that attract horse riders, skiers, and hikers. Hit the streets and you will find vividly colored cafes, shops, and restaurants that serve a wide variety of food that makes you wonder why more visitors do not frequent the place.
If this is the first time that you are hearing about Akureyri, here are some of the reasons why you should consider visiting the “Capital of the North.”
Its Beauty is Far More than You Could Ever Imagine
Once you get to the capital of the north, you can already see the splendor of its beauty. Beneath the cloudy skies and majestic mountains, you can feast your eyes on the burst of colors of Akureyri’s houses lined up on Eyjafjörður’s bank in the southwest.
The crystal-clear water of this 60-kilometer fjord connects with the North Atlantic and is protected by mountains on either side such as the majestic Mount Sulur, with specks of snow that remain even in summer. Because of the location between the mountains, the weather here is very mild, even though the city is only 100 miles from the Arctic Circle. Their lowlands are not short of scenic trails and farmland that is a haven for horse riders and hikers alike.
The Fjord is Never Short on Whales
You can see the clear blue waters of Eyjafjörður perpetually alive thanks to gigantic aquatic mammals that are in abundance below. Humpback whales are not rare, exhibiting their massive frames and spraying water up into the atmosphere before they descend. Catch more of them and other mammals like bottle-nosed whales and minke whales while they show their beauty and majesty during whale watching tours.
The city was once an important fishing port. Fishermen and whales like the fact that the harbor is always ice-free.
Take a Ride With Some of the Country's Finest Horses
Horses played an important role in the history of Iceland, and Akureyri’s meadows and trails by the side of the fjord are the perfect places to try and experience the city’s culture when it comes to riding horses.
Their equestrian ancestors were brought to Iceland by Norwegian settlers between circa 800 to circa 900, populating the country with Norway’s finest horses. Horses in Iceland are famous for their exquisite looks, cartoon-like eyelashes, and flashy blond manes. And since there is no threat to their lives here, they are bold, fast, and carefree. The Skjaldarvik Guest House offers tours that will let you experience this one-of-a-kind horse-riding activity.
Akureyri Boasts of Colorful Houses and Proud Establishments
In the northern capital, houses are not just built to be sturdy and wind-proof but are also painted in vivid colors to catch every vacationer’s attention. Proudly standing in town is the majestic Akureyri Church which was also designed by the architect of Reykjavik’s more popular building, the Hallgrímskirkja.
Meanwhile, in the stretch of Hafnarstræti, you will find an uncommon coffee house named Bláa Kannan – with a blue exterior and twin towers, plus troll statues and a Santa postbox that accepts letters all-year-round.
Take a Trip to Waiflike Houses
On the other side of the city, you will find elf-like houses of Laufás, also known as turf houses. They were branded such because of the grass coverings on their roofs. It may seem odd but the sod serves as natural insulation. Turf houses also have a lot of history and served as dwelling places for farm workers a couple of centuries ago.
Presently these houses are uninhabited, but it gives you the illusion that elves occupied these structures. Wander around Laufás and visit their cafeterias for a trip down memory lane showcasing how life was in the rural areas of Iceland in its early years.
Food is in Abundance and of Variety
In sparsely populated towns like Akureyri, you would expect few options when it comes to the food they serve. You expected wrong. Surprisingly, the town offers a wide variety of cuisine including Spanish, Italian, and Thai food. Add that to Scandi coffee, steaks, and seafood dishes, and you are in for a gastronomic adventure.
And to cap off your dining experience, you can have dessert at Brynja, which is very popular for its fluffy soft-serve ice cream.
Botanic Gardens Adorn its Landscapes
Venture about 50 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle and you will find acres and acres of flowers that have blossomed since 1912 at the Botanic Gardens, which exudes a Nordic sensation.
Flowers like blue gentians, moonwort, and forget-me-nots clothe the entire garden providing a vivid splash of color. It is a showcase of beauty and toughness, surviving the country’s turbulent winters.
It is only natural for first-time travelers in a particular place to visit the most popular city or attraction. But like the case of Akureyri, it might also be worth a shot to be a little spontaneous and adventurous and try out unique places each country has to offer. Besides, what we all want at the end of the day is to have a vacation that provides value for our hard-earned money and precious time.