Akureyri – the magical Capital City of North Iceland

Akureyri city in Eyjafjörður fjord in North-Iceland is referred to as the Capital of the North.

Downtown Akureyri

Akureyri city in Eyjafjörður fjord, one of Iceland’s longest fjords, is such a lovely vibrant city, built on a steep slope by the sea.

It is the second-largest city in Iceland right after the Greater Reykjavík area, with a population of approximately 19,000.

Here you will find a myriad of restaurants, cafés, museums, hotels, a very popular swimming pool, and a large botanical garden.

Bautinn restaurant Akureyri

In Akureyri you will find many charming, colorful old timber houses, some of which I will be showing you in my travel-blog – it is such a delight to visit this magical city.

Eyjafjörður fjord was settled by Helgi magri – Helgi the Thin in the 9th century, but Akureyri isn’t an old city.

The first dwelling house was built in Akureyri in 1778 and it became an official market town in 1786 by the instigation of the king. The population was only 12 people.

A row of colorful houses in Akureyri

Before that time, there was Danish trading in this area in the summertime, but the Danish merchants weren’t allowed winter residence in Akureyri.

Akureyri lost its township status in 1836 as it didn’t grow any larger, but received its status as a township 26 years later. By then the population had increased to 294.

Nowadays Akureyri is one of the biggest towns in Iceland and a hub for commerce, culture, and education in North Iceland.

Laxdalshús, the oldest remaining house in Akureyri built in 1795

The oldest remaining timber house in Akureyri is the Laxdalshús house erected in 1795.

Laxdalshús was built by the manager of one of the largest Danish stores in Akureyri, the Kyhns store, and named after the managing director of the Danish company who owned the store, Eggert Laxdal.

In this oldest part of Akureyri landing of the ships was easy, so it was the perfect spot to build a store. The shoreline was considerably closer to Laxdalshús back then.

Akureyrarkirkja church

The most distinctive landmark of Akureyri is Akureyrarkirkja church, a Lutheran church that towers over the city center, with 112 steps leading up to it.

Akureyrarkirkja church was built in 1940 by Iceland’s state architect, Guðjón Samúelsson, who also designed the church steps. Guðjón said that this location was the prettiest spot for a church that he had ever seen.

Akureyrarkirkja is built in a Neo-Gothic church style with an Icelandic touch to it.

Akureyrarkirkja church 

Inside the church, you will find 17 beautiful stained glass windows, one of which is said to stem from the Coventry Cathedral in England before it was ruined in World War II.

Whether that is true or not then the beautiful stained glass window in the middle in front of the alter came from an English church.

Hof – Cultural and Conference Center

One of Akureyri’s most prominent new buildings, built in 2010, and another landmark is Menningarhúsið Hof – Akureyri’s Cultural and Conference center, which serves the whole of North-Iceland. At Hof, you will also find an information center.

The Hearts in Akureyri

A red heart in the red traffic light 🙂

One thing which you are bound to notice when you visit Akureyri is that the red traffic lights are in the shape of a heart.

It always brightens my day when I see a red traffic light in Akureyri, and when can you say that about a red traffic light 😉

The red hearts were first put up at the town festival “Ein með öllu” back in 2008 to emphasize the value of the festival.

But 2008 was a difficult year for Iceland as back then we had a huge financial crash and needed something to lift our spirits and to remember what really matters in life.

I “heart” Akureyri 🙂

Hearts were put up in several other places in Akureyri and the motto for this positive project is: “Brostu með hjartanu” or “Smile with your heart” to help us stay optimistic and keep our spirits up.

And we all know that smiling is contagious 🙂

Now a big heart has been put up in the center of Akureyri and we always have our photo taken there when we visit Akureyri – it is a very popular photo stop.

Art Street

The steep street leading from the center of Akureyri to the right of the Akureyrarkirkja church is called Kaupvangsstræti in Grófargil gully, but the nickname Listagilið or Art Street is now frequently used.

Here you will find Akureyri Art Gallery and several artist shops and studios. The highlight to me on Art Street is the multicolored sidewalk.

Lystigarður Akureyrar – the Akureyri Botanical Garden

The Botanical garden

Here at Akureyri, very close to the Arctic Circle, you will find a botanical garden, called Lystigarður Akureyrar, which is one of the northernmost botanical gardens in the world.

This beautiful park was opened to the public in 1912 when a group of housewives wanted “to make a park in Akureyri, for the adornment of the town and a recreational place for the inhabitants” as is stated in their laws.

The women created the first public park in Iceland on a 1 ha of land that they had been given for this purpose.

The Botanical garden

Akureyri took over the management of the garden in 1953 and founded a botanical garden in a section of the park in 1957.

The evergrowing park has been enlarged 3 times, up to approximately 3.6 ha. The park has now over 430 species of plants native to Iceland, plus approximately 6,600 foreign plants.

The Botanical garden

Entrance to the park is free of charge. I visit the park every time I visit Akureyri and to me, it feels like I am entering a small magical oasis filled with flowers. It for sure is a prominent part of Akureyri.

A beautiful walk from the city center will take you to the park. Take the steps to the Akureyrarkirkja church and turn left above the church on Eyrarlandsvegur street.

Walk to the intersection until you see the red and white-painted Catholic church on your right-hand side.

The Catholic church in Akureyri

Continue walking on Eyrarlandsvegur street until you see a beautiful building on your right-hand side.

This is Menntaskólinn við Akureyri – Akureyri Junior College, built in 1904-1905. It is one of the most beautiful buildings in Akureyri and very characteristic of the Captial of the North.

Gamli skóli – Menntaskólinn á Akureyri

The first students in this school were from the grammar school at Möðruvellir in Hörgárdalur valley close by, but the school became officially a Junior College in 1929.

My grandmother and many of her siblings from Húsavík town, attended this college.

Next to the Junior College is Lystigarður Akureyrar – the Botanical garden of Akureyri. I decided on showing you this walk mainly to show you how beautiful the buildings are on this short walk. Akureyri is renowned for its beautiful houses and buildings.

Útlagar by Einar Jónsson

In Akureyri, you will also see many beautiful statues, like the one above which you will find on the walk to the Botanical garden.

The statue is called Útlagar – Outlaws, made in 1901 by one of Iceland’s best-known sculptors, Einar Jónsson, my favorite sculptor.

Útlagar is one of Einar’s best-known works and you can see it in 2 other places, in Reykjavík and at Hnitbjörg, which is the museum of Einar Jónsson in Reykjavík.

The Settlers of Eyjafjörður

Helgi and Þórunn – the Settlers of Eyjafjörður

Another statue in Akureyri, which is a bit hidden from view, is well worth a visit. It is located on Hamarskotsklappir behind the Police station and next to the Glerártorg shopping center.

The statue is of the settlers of Eyjafjörður, Helgi and Þórunn. Helgi magri Eyvindarson, or Helgi the Thin, the grandchild of the Irish king Kjarval.

Helgi spent the first winter at Árskógsströnd, but then put up a farm at Kristnes, close to Akureyri.

The statue of Helgi magri and Þórunn hyrna

Helgi’s wife and co-settler was Þórunn hyrna, the daughter of Ketill flatnefur. But as those of you know who have read Landnáma – the Book of Settlements of Iceland, then the children of Ketill flatnefur settled in many parts of Iceland.

The statue of Helgi magri and Þórunn hyrna was erected in 1956 on top of Hamarkotsklappir. By the statue, you will also find one of the 90+ view-dials in Iceland.

You will find both Helgamagrastræti and Þórunnarstræti streets in Akureyri, named after the first settlers.

Helgamagrastræti street – the Street of Helgi magri or Helgi the Thin

As I told you earlier in this travel-blog then the oldest house in Akureyri is the black timber house Laxdalshús, built in 1795.

There is another black timber house in the oldest part of Akureyri, which looks quite old, even though it is 55 years younger than Laxdalshús house.

Nonni – the honorary citizen of Akureyri and Nonnahús Museum

Nonnahús museum

This house is called Nonnahús – the House of Nonni. Nonni is the nickname for Jón Sveinsson (1857-1944), the honorary citizen of Akureyri and one of Akureyri’s and Iceland’s most beloved sons.

Nonnahús was built in 1850, which makes it one of the oldest houses here, even though it is half a century younger than the oldest house in Akureyri.

The statue of Jón Sveinsson – Nonni

When Nonni’s father died suddenly, Nonni got the opportunity to go to a Catholic college in France and later became a Jesuit priest.

Nonni wrote 12 books in German about his life in Iceland and his books have been translated into at least 40 languages.

Nonnahús was opened as a museum in 1957 on the 100th anniversary of Jón Sveinsson.

Greeting Nonni in 2021

By Nonnahús you will find a small wooden church and a big statue of Nonni. I never visit Akureyri without going to Nonnahús and greeting the statue of Nonni 🙂

If you want to know more about Nonni’s life and see what his childhood home looks like on the inside then I have written another travel-blog about Nonni and Nonnahús: Nonnahús and Nonni – the Honorary Citizen of Akureyri.

The altarpiece from 1806

There are many more interesting museums in Akureyri and behind the Nonni statue is Akureyri Museum, which focuses on local history.

The Museum church, which you can see to the left in the photo of me and Nonni, was built in 1846 at Svalbarðseyri on the opposite side of the fjord and was moved to its current location. It stands on the foundations of Akureyri’s oldest church, built in 1836.

The oldest objects in the church are a chandelier from 1688 and an altarpiece from 1806. The church is a part of the Akureyri Museum and is still in use.

Leikfangasafnið – the Toy Museum

Other interesting museums are Davíðshús, the former home of one of Iceland’s most beloved poets and writers.

And of course Leikfangasafnið Friðbjarnarhúsi – the Toy Museum 🙂 This old house in my photo above was most likely built in 1856.

You can get a museum pass that will give you access to the 4 abovementioned museums plus Laufás turf house, which I showed you in my last travel-blog:

Laufás turf house museum and heritage site in North Iceland.

Sleeping Beauty and the Prince

One more thing before we leave Akureyri. Hidden away in a private backyard you will find a fairytale world.

It is a garden filled with colorful fairytale figures like Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, and Cinderella and known figures from Icelandic fairytales.

The fairytale figures are the work of the owner of the house, Hreinn Halldórsson, a folk artist, who has created his own private gallery in his garden with a myriad of colorful statues.

Snow White and the 7 dwarves

Hreinn creates these colorful statues in his spare time. He puts his statues up in the spring and bolts them down, and you can have a peek at them when you pass by 🙂

Jólahúsið – the Christmas House

Jólahúsið – Christmas House

A short distance away from Akureyri is a lovely house to visit, Jólahúsið – the Christmas House which is open all year round. This is another magical world in Eyjafjörður and a must-visit in my opinion.

We, Icelanders, love visiting the Christmas house, and a visit to the Christmas House is almost always included in our Akureyri visit.

The Christmas House

The owners of the Christmas House, Benedikt, and Ragnheiður, opened this lovely house back in 1996.

At the Christmas House, you will find a great selection of Christmas ornaments, candy and Christmas related stuff, even Grýla, the mother of the Icelandic Yule Lads 🙂

Here is not only a Christmas House, but also the Backyard of Tante Grethe, the Apple Shed, The Wishing Well of Unborn Children and many other attractions. A great place to visit 🙂

In this travel-blog I have shown you what I love about Akureyri, but there are many more interesting things to see and do in this lovely city up north.

I hope that you will like it as much as I do – have a lovely time in Akureyri 🙂