Iceland is one of those countries that seems to be on everyone’s bucket list. Often called Land of Fire and Ice, this beautiful island is the perfect place to enjoy nature, soak in a hot spring, and see the Northern Lights. But planning an international trip can be overwhelming, and it can be hard to narrow down what to see in Iceland. Here’s a 7 day Iceland itinerary for a trip to Iceland’s 2nd largest city, Akureyri.
What to Know About Akureyri, Iceland
Akureyri (pronounced Ah-kur-rare-ee with a rolled r) is sometimes called Iceland’s Capital of the North. Located on the water, with a walkable city center and plenty of culture to enjoy, Akureyri has a population of about 19,000 people, so you’ll enjoy a small-town feel while still being in a cultural center full of museums, shops, and outdoor experiences. But you won’t be far from nature in Akureyri either. You’ll find lots to do just a short drive away, and that’s what this itinerary will focus on. All of these reasons make Akureyri the perfect city to visit on your trip to Iceland.
Iceland Trip Tips:
What is Iceland’s Weather Like?
The weather in Akureyri is cold much of the year, but the winters aren’t severe. Average highs are in the 30s from November to March, with April, May, and October seeing average highs in the 40s. Summer weather is very mild in the 50s and wonderful for spending time outdoors.
From November to February, Akureyri only sees a few hours of daylight, but it never gets completely dark. In the summer however, it’s daylight nearly all the time, with a 4 AM sunrise and sunset pushing past 10 pm in early May
What’s the Best Time to Visit Iceland?
If you’re interested in seeing the Northern Lights, you’ll want to travel in the months of September, October, March, and April. You’ll have enough darkness at night to see stars and any aurora activity, but you won’t experience the number of winter storms that take place from November to February. Although the winter in Iceland isn’t as severe as you might assume, all it takes it a cloudy night sky to obscure the Northern Lights.
If you want the warmest weather and don’t mind missing the Northern Lights, you might enjoy traveling to Iceland in the summer. But you’ll still want to pack layers!
How Can I See the Northern Lights?
You’ll want to have an idea of the nightly weather and any projected aurora activity. The best way to do this is to download a Northern Lights app and set your location. I used the app ‘Aurora’ and it would notify me when the skies were clear and the aurora was expected to be active. Unless the Aurora Borealis is expected to be very strong, you’ll also want to be outside of town in a place where there is limited light pollution and where your view of the sky is not blocked by trees or buildings. (This may be a factor in choosing your Airbnb or hotel or you can plan to take a drive any evening when conditions are right.) Then all you have to do is keep a look out for any green or blue haze in the sky. Sometimes the Northern Lights are a full dancing display of light and sometimes it’s just a hazy colored stripe across the sky.
For best success, plan as many days as possible in a low light pollution area. We met a couple from Germany who had booked only a single night in a clear domed Airbnb and, boy did they luck out, because that night had one of the most spectacular appearances of the Aurora Borealis that fall. It was so bright that we could see it in the middle of town with no problem. (You can read about our experience seeing the Northern Lights here.) If this is a key experience for you, it would be a much better choice to book a cottage a little outside of town for every night of your trip than to stake all your Northern Lights hopes on a single night.
Do I Need to Learn Icelandic?
Thankfully, no. Icelandic is an incredibly difficult language to learn and there is such a big tourism industry in Iceland that you’ll find signage in both Icelandic and English. Additionally, many locals speak very good English, especially those working in travel, shopping, and food service in larger cities.
What Should I Bring to Iceland?
We shared our complete Iceland packing list here and cover what kinds of clothing to wear in Iceland, how to fit everything in your suitcase, and other gear you might need in Iceland. It’s worth noting that clothing is very expensive in Iceland, so you shouldn’t plan to purchase winter gear when you arrive.
Will I Need Cash?
Maybe. Some people from our group brought some Icelandic money that they’d ordered from their banks ahead of time and others carried no Icelandic currency. There are some public restrooms you might have to pay to use so having a few coins could be helpful although some accept credit cards. We only came across one paid restroom during our trip. Restaurants, local attractions, and even the gas stations we visited all had bathrooms available for their patrons. Additionally, Iceland is not a tipping culture, so you won’t need cash on hand for tips.
What Souvenirs to Buy in Iceland?
Chocolate or candy – Particularly black licorice candies. They had so many variations of black licorice and chocolate together.
Postcard books or coffee table books – Bring home the best of Iceland’s landscape photography. Books are pretty expensive in Iceland, but these are items you can only get locally. I could not find any of them online.
Scarves, Gloves, Socks, or Hats – Icewear is an Icelandic clothing company with beautiful products from parkas to sweatshirts to Icelandic wool sweaters. The best Iceland souvenir is something you can wear each winter and remember our trip! Local shops also had beautiful knitted items made from the wool of local Icelandic sheep.
Tea towels and other linens – Our tour guide took us to a shop where an artisan designs beautiful linens that each tell a story about Icelandic culture.
Christmas ornaments – Metal or wooden Christmas ornaments make the best Iceland souvenirs for us! We love decorating our tree each year with ornaments we’ve picked up on our travels.
Salts – Salt harvesting has been part of Icelandic culture since the 18th century. You’ll find a wide variety of flavors available in gift shops from artic thyme to black lava salt and even licorice salt.
Alcohol – Iceland has several local alcohol brands, including Reyka Vodka.
The Usual – Postcards, magnets, mugs, playing cards, and luggage tags are all classic souvenirs. If you already have a collection, you’ll find something to add to it in Iceland.
And if you’re running short on time in Iceland, you can also find plenty of Icelandic chocolate, candy, and duty-free alcohol at the airport.
Traveling to Akureyri
Flying into Iceland, you’ll most likely be landing in Keflavik Airport (KEF), which is located 45 minutes outside of the capital city of Reykjavík. If you are taking a connecting flight to Akureyri, you can pre-book your shuttle transfer via Flybus, and I would recommend allowing 2 hours for the transfer. Whether you are taking a bus to the city center to spend a few days in Reykjavik or going directly to the Reykjavik regional airport, you’ll be taken to a bus terminal to transfer to a second bus. You’ll want a minimum of 4 hours between your arriving international flight and your departing regional one to accommodate immigration and customs, baggage claim, your bus transfer, and checking in for your regional flight.
Limited flights are available to Akureyri International Airport, but if you find one that works for you, book it!
Tips for Keflavik Airport: Stop and eat in the food court before exiting the secure area of the airport. As I mentioned, your shuttle will take some time and the regional airport has only a small café counter, so stopping to eat or purchasing food to go is a wise choice. You’ll find a duty-free store in the baggage claim area.
Tips for Your Flight Home: Save time to fill out your VAT tax refund if you’ve purchased any eligible goods during your stay. You’ll also have to answer several security and customs questions either when checking your bag or waiting in line to board. Because of this, our flight started boarding extremely early, which was a bit stressful, because we thought we had more time to grab food but also didn’t want to walk away from our gate once it was actively boarding.
Tips for the Reykjavik Regional Airport (RKV) & Akureyri International Airport (AEY): These airport is very small, with only a few flights arriving and departing each day. They each have one main waiting area and a small café counter with pre-made sandwiches and pastries. Make careful note of the luggage size and weight restrictions when booking this regional flight. Our plane was very small, so what would normally be considered a carry-on bag became checked luggage and only backpack-sized carryon items were allowed in the overhead compartment.
Another option: Car Rental
As I mentioned in my travel log, I wish we would have planned to drive from Reykjavik to Akureyri. You’ll want a car to explore the Icelandic countryside for most of this itinerary anyway and you’ll save yourself the headache of the airport transfer.
7 Day Iceland Itinerary
Day 0 – Travel to Iceland
Fly to Iceland. Arrive in Akureyri. Check in to your Airbnb or hotel and get settled.
To set yourself up for an amazing trip, look at Akureyri restaurant menus, pack your backpack for the next day’s adventure, and take a look at the next few nights of weather. The ‘Aurora’ app that I used projected the likelihood of seeing the Northern Lights over the next 7 days, which might be helpful in planning your week. Also keep in mind that you might want or need to move some of these days’ activities around as weather permits.
Day 1 – Hrisey Island and Bjórböðin Beer Spa
I like to jump right in and explore when I arrive someplace new, but if you like to lay low the day after travel, move day 3’s day in town to day 1 and save this Icelandic adventure for your second day in Akureyri.
Drive 30 minutes from Akureyri to Árskógssandur and take the ferry to Hrisey Island. Walk through town to the nature preserve’s hiking trail and stay to the right at the fork to take the 4 mile loop along the rocky coastline. Have lunch at Restaurant Verbúðin 66 and then catch a returning ferry.
Just down the road, enjoy a beer bath (pre-book) or the beautiful outdoor hot tubs before dinner at the Bjórböðin Beer Spa. This is a beautiful sunset spot, so make sure you don’t miss that!
Day 2 – Horse Riding & Turf House Museum
Book a horse riding excursion from Pólar Hestar, a short 30 minute drive from Akureyri. We did the 1 hour ride which follows a small river and then goes up into the mountains. They also offer a 2 hour ride through meadows and moorland and a 3 hour ride to the fjord, as well as multi-day riding tours. Your guide will pair you with a beautiful Icelandic horse and provide you with a riding helmet, a buff headband, and additional windbreaking pants or overalls if desired. At the end of the tour, homemade cookies and hot drinks are served on the farm. Our guides showed us the unique Icelandic gait Tölt and shared the history of these beautiful horses.
Have lunch at Milli Fjöru & Fjalla, just a few minutes down the road.
Continue exploring the area with a visit to the Laufás Museum and Heritage Site. You’ll find a beautiful red-roofed church, a small cemetery, and a row of turf houses. Overseen by the Akureyri Museum of Art, this historic site is only open from June to September.
Have dinner at one of the many delicious restaurants in town. I’d recommend Strikið, Greifinn, Pizzasmiðjan, and Indian Curry House. Other highly rated restaurants include Kaffi Ilmur, Rub23, Hamborgarafabrikkan, Mulaberg Bistro & Bar, Bautinn, and Bryggjan.
Day 3 – Day in Town
Start at Kristjáns’ Bakery for breakfast before heading off on foot to explore the town.
Walk 1 km to the Akureyri Botanical Garden, climbing the church steps to Akureyrarkirkja Luthern Church on the way. At the botanical garden, you’ll find both native and non-native plants, a greenhouse, a coffee shop, and one of the oldest wooden houses in the city. Entrance to the garden is free.
Walk back to the center of town for an afternoon coffee and pastry at Blaa Kannan Cafe. If you’d like, you can also stop at the Akureyri Art Museum on the way back. Spend the rest of the afternoon shopping. Be sure to check out 66°North and Icewear as well as the souvenir shops and bookstore.
Cap off the night by checking out live music at Graeni Hatturinn in the evening.
At the time of our visit, the city of Akureyri had two metal frame photo spots as well as several beautiful murals and quaint heart shaped stop lights. We also found troll statues, whimsical knitted trash can covers, and miniature elf houses. Keep your eyes out for fun touches like this as you explore.
Day 4 – Goðafoss and Lake Mývatn
Drive 30 minutes out of town to the gorgeous Godafoss waterfall, which is free to visit! This glacier river waterfall is surrounded by walking paths and a footbridge. You can view the waterfall from above or climb down and look up at it. We spent just under an hour here and it wasn’t long enough! If you want to walk both sides of the waterfall, take a few minutes to sit and soak it all in, and also browse the gift shop, I’d recommend planning on a 2 hour stop here. There’s also a small café, so you might want to plan time to eat as well. Bring your rain gear for this location! We visited on a very mild day with relatively no wind and got gently misted by the waterfall. But if you visit on a windy day, you’ll likely get pretty wet.
About 20 minutes down the road, we stopped at Skútustaðagígar and walked around the nature preserve to see the pseudocraters of Lake Myvatn. Two walking trails weave through the nature area, one shorter loop, and a longer 3 kilometer path that loops around the smaller lake Stakhólstjörn. These pseudocraters were formed by lava flowing over water or wetlands. The water then becomes trapped, starts boiling, and steam explodes to the surface. The lava then piles up around the steam vents, forming a crater shape. This unique geological formation is mostly found in the Myvatn area of Iceland and in Hawaii.
We visited on a very peaceful day, but our guide says it’s usually quite windy here in the Icelandic highlands. If you visit late in the fall, you’ll be able to see pasturing sheep that have been brought down from the mountains for the winter months. You’ll also be able to see the steam rising from the geothermal area across the lake. Across the street from this nature path, you’ll find a hotel with a café and an ice cream stand.
Continue your scenic drive around Lake Myvatn and take in the truly unique landscape here. I wish we’d had time to make additional stops at scenic viewpoints. If time allows, stop at the Hverir geothermal area to see boiling mud pits and fumaroles.
End your day at the Myvatn Nature Bath. Be sure to allow 2-3 hours here to truly enjoy the milky blue water and sunset views in these natural rock pools. You’ll need to shower before entering the pool and large lockers are available for your belongings.
Total driving for this day should be about 3 hours. Our excursion was in the afternoon from about 1-9 pm, but I would recommend leaving after breakfast and making it an entire day trip to have more time at these beautiful nature spots.
Day 5- Whale Watching
Walk down to the water to book a whale watching tour. Make sure to book the longer tour on one of the larger boats instead of the express tour on a tiny speedboat. The larger boats have both an indoor and outdoor area so you can step inside and enjoy coffee or hot chocolate. They also have a stock of warm overalls available in the boat so you can stay dry while whale watching.
While waiting for your tour or after returning, be sure to check out the Hof Cultural Center as well as the stunning view of the town from the docks. You’ll also be close to the ice cream shop Ísbúðin, so it might be the perfect time to stop in for a delicious fruit and chocolate topped bowl of soft serve.
Day 6 – Húsavík
Take a longer day trip out to Husavik to double up on one of your favorite activities of the week. The drive there and back will take about an hour, giving you plenty of time to explore this northern Icelandic town.
If you loved the Myvatn Nature Bath, you’ll love Geosea. Smaller than Myvatn, Geosea has two beautiful geothermal pools built into the cliffside. You might even see a whale out in the ocean. And don’t miss the sunset!
Husavik is often called the whale watching capital of Iceland, so if whale watching was your favorite activity of the week, you can take another tour from here! You can even book a tour on a traditional Icelandic oak ship or a beautifully preserved sailboat. Be sure to visit the Husavik Whale Museum and look for the whale murals around the harbor.
One of my favorite viewpoints of Icelandic cities is from the water, so don’t miss the views of Husavik from your whale watching boat!
Other things you might enjoy: Husavik Museum and Húsavíkurkirkja, the white and red wooden church.
Day 7 – Icelandic Culture
For one final day in Iceland, you’ll head into the country for several smaller Icelandic cultural experiences.
Drive 30 minutes south of Akureyri to Saurbæjarkirkja, one of 6 remaining turf churches in all of Iceland. Smámunasafn Museum of Miniatures is also at this location.
Stop by local dairy farm Holtsel to enjoy an ice cream cone.
If you like art or horses, you’ll wan to check out Brúnir Horse, a farm art gallery and café with daily equestrian shows in the summer.
Visit the Christmas House gift shop and be sure to take a photo in front of the bright red ‘snow trimmed’ building. There’s also a storybook castle tower which serves as a gigantic advent calendar.
As you drive back into Akureyri, consider stopping at the Icelandic Aviation Museum or the Akureyri Museum complex if time allows.
Extend the Trip:
8-9 Days in Iceland: Enjoy a day or two in Reykjavik before flying to Akureyri.
10-12 Days in Iceland: Rent a car and drive the Golden Circle from Reykjavik.
13 or More Days in Iceland: After exploring Reykjavik, drive Ring Road, stopping for several days in Akureyri to do this itinerary.