Akureyri is known as the Capital of North Iceland, being the country’s second largest urban area and fourth largest municipality. The town, which was the site of the allied units during World War II, has a population of approximately 18,000 and is an important port and fishing centre.
The town’s name roughly translates to ‘field on sandbanks’, which probably derives from a cornfield that is believed to have been in the area and the sandbanks that led into the ocean from the harbor.
Lying in the shelter of Eyjafjörður (one of the longest fjords in the country), approximately 60 kilometres (37 miles) from the open sea and only 100 kilometres from the Arctic Circle, the town is surrounded by mountains reaching 1,000 to 1,500 metres high. Despite its geographical location, the climate is relatively mild and this spot experiences some of the best summer weather in Iceland. Summer temperatures reach around 25 degrees Celsius and winter temperatures average zero. The area is however often cloudy and averages only 1,047 hours of sunshine per year.
The first settler in the area was the Norwegian, Helgi the Lean, who arrived in the area in the 9th century. In traditional pagan fashion he tossed the high-seat pillars from his longship into the sea, allowing the god Thor to choose the site of his new home. They washed up just seven kilometres (four miles) south of modern-day Akureyri and he named his farm Kristes, meaning ‘Christ’s Peninsula’.
The first official mention of Akureyri is in court records from 1562, when a woman was sentenced there for adultery. Danish merchants would spend time in the area during the winters in the 17th century, due to the natural harbour. Permanent settlement in the area began in 1778 and the town was granted its municipal charter by the King of Denmark eight years later. In 1786 Aukureyri became an authorized trading post, when it had a total of 12 inhabitants. The town was not as prosperous as was hoped and lost its trading licence in 1835 but went on to gain it back almost three decades later, in 1862, when it began to blossom.
The town’s main attractions include a landmark church that stands on the crown of the town’s steepest hill, many traditional Norwegian wooden houses, the world’s most northerly botanical gardens, one of Iceland’s most popular swimming facilities, the Akureyri Art Museum and the Akureyri Folk Museum.
An airport links Akureyri to the country’s capital, Reykjavík, with four flights per day and Icelanders flock to the area during weekends. Direct flights from Akureyri to the island of Grímsey also take place daily throughout the summer months (and less frequently during the rest of the year).
The weather-beaten island of Grímsey belongs to the Akureyri municipality and lies on the Artic Circle. With a population of approximately 100, Grímsey the island measures five square kilometres (2 square miles) and is the northernmost fragment of Iceland. The island hosts a rich vegetation and up to sixty species of birds can be found here, along with one of the biggest puffin colonies in the country.
- Information provided by Cruise and Maritime Voyages
- Information provided by Akureyri Tourism Office
- Insight Guides: Iceland