Iceland’s feisty capital of the north
If you are lured by the idea of horse riding in the surrounding splendour, a handful of farms can get you in the saddle for anything from an hour-long trot to a week-long wilderness adventure. A favourite option is Ride and Bite offered by Skjaldarvik, a peerless guesthouse about 6km north of town. Participants can enjoy a leisurely late-afternoon ride along the fjord's edge and into the surrounding hills, followed by a soak in the guesthouse's hot-pot plus a two-course dinner in the pretty onsite restaurant. They prepare a small, but well-executed menu using home-grown herbs and vegetables, and local fish and meat.
Activities around Akureyri
Seasonal delights include golf under the midnight sun at Jaðarsvöllur, the world's northernmost 18-hole course on the southwestern outskirts of Akureyri, or taking to the pistes at Hlíðarfjall, Iceland's premier downhill ski slope about 7km west of town. The ski season usually runs between December and late April, with the best conditions in February and March.
With your own set of wheels there are a number of excellent day-trip adventures to be had. The region largely makes its living from fishing and agriculture, and the network of sleepy villages is home to great diversions (natural and manmade) for travellers with time up their sleeves. Check out the geological wonderland of Lake Mývatn, an area 100km east of Akureyri with volcanic craters, lava fields and belching mudpots; boat tours from Húsavík, Iceland's whale-watching capital 92km northeast of Akureyri; and ferries to offshore islands, including remote, bird-filled Grímsey on the Arctic Circle.
As well as providing transport to these popular destinations, Saga Travel runs tours focused on local food or art and design, putting you in touch with small businesses (a microbrewery and mussel farm, for example) that are not open to the general public. The company can also arrange tours by horse, motorbike, all-terrain bike or snowmobile. It is a good idea to make use of operators' travel-hardened 4WDs and experienced local guides if you want to explore some of the more remote geological features or interior highlands. A number of sights – such as the immense Askja caldera – are strictly inaccessible to regular 2WD cars, while the lava cave Lofthellir, featuring natural ice sculptures, can only be visited on a tour due to safety regulations.
The 390km route from Reykjavík to Akureyri along Route 1 takes about 4.5 hours by car, while buses regularly link the two cities in around six hours. Too slow? Air Iceland covers the distance a few times a day in about 45 minutes.
Akureyri's accommodation scene has undergone a transformation in recent years, with a slew of new, high-quality options at every price level. That said, the town fills up in summer, so book ahead.
Akureyri is also surrounded by excellent rural farmstay properties, although you will need your own car for these. The Akureyri tourist office website lists practically all options in the area.