To talk about a list of Icelandic cities might be a bit of an overstatement. Although the island itself is quite big the occupants are only about 360.000 making it almost impossible to make up one city, let alone a whole list of them. And if you look closer those citizens are spread wide and far around the coastline decreasing even further the population of the biggest city, Reykjavik. But even so Icelanders will still talk about Akureyri, Hafnarfjordur, Selfoss and other bigger towns as cities. A village on an Icelandic standard would be a place with less than 300 people. Keep that in mind when going through the list. It really helps with imagining the small-town feel and the welcoming spirit of the locals. We might be small but we are big at heart!
Reykjavik has to be on the list. I’m putting it first, not because it is the best nor is it the least favorite. It is the capital of Iceland and the biggest city by far. Therefore one simply must mention it first.
Reykjavik is an extraordinary city, and probably the only place to actually qualify as a city in Iceland. It inhabits about ⅔ of the population and each neighborhood or borough has its own charm and history. The city center or what is called as such is oddly located down by the seaside, along the beautiful coast. From the center, you’ll have views of the surrounding mountains and even, when conditions allow, of the stunning Snaefellsjokull stratovolcano. With the roaring waves of the Atlantic ocean, active birdlife and even an occasional whale popping up the city is the perfect blend of metropolitan and country.
Reykjavik’s colorful graffiti and contemporary art installations placed in between the pastel corrugated iron houses and black timber charmers have you falling in love in an instance. At every corner, you’ll find a new way to enjoy the city, be it through a lovely coffee cup, an Icelandic microbrewery, a wool shop, an art gallery or a fabulous museum. Equally is the restaurant scene renowned for its quality ingredients and crafty chefs. What better way to get to know a country than eating your way through the culture.
Iceland is also famous for its nightlife which lasts well into the next day no matter the season. During summer Icelanders drink to celebrate the midnight sun and in winter to deal with the darkness. That’s when the forever fun bars and pubs on Laugavegur street come in. Just note that they only start filling up around midnight.
Must See: Hallgrímskirkja
Akureyri is for many the second capital of Iceland but it is most definitely the capital of North Iceland. It is booming with creativity and its habitants are known for their many artistic creations including beautiful architecture, incredible theatre and interesting exhibitions. It is a city, on an Icelandic scale, but somehow keeps that welcoming small-town feeling we all love. Hafnarstraeti is the street that makes up its city center with amazing shops and cafés just waiting for you to discover. There is an abundance of excellent restaurants and bars which is well sought by locals and travelers.
Akureyri is an Easter paradise with its skiing slopes in the world-class. It is literally the best skiing resort type-of-thing you’ll find in Iceland. The views from the slopes are even more idyllic reaching far and wide over the Eyjafjordur fjord that Akureyri resides in.
Hof is another must-visit place for those seeking to get some culture in whilst visiting. They have a packed calendar with concerts, musicals, seminars, exhibitions, children’s shows, etc. It is located right down by the harbor, a great place to stop when making your way to one of the many whale watching tours offered from Akureyri. The north is known for the best variety in sightings of whales in Iceland. The record being nine different whales in one trip!
For those looking to stretch their legs. Perhaps after a long drive from the south Kjarnaskogur forest your place. This is truly a rare find in Iceland which is widely known as the tree-less country. It offers many different hiking routes and is a beautiful place to take a picnic. It is a very family-friendly location and ideal for those with kids. However, if the weather doesn’t allow for outdoor activities the Akureyri Folk Museum comes in handy. It tells the tales of Akureyri, from its first settlers and its development in the 19th century but will also take you back to the Viking age telling gruesome stories of rebels and outlaws.
Restaurant: Bautinn (a local favorite)
Bar: Græni Hatturinn
Shop: Flóra Concept Store and Studio
Must See: the swimming pool, a must dip-in!
Seydisfjordur is an amazing town in the East fjords of Iceland. It is famous for a number of things, some can seem a bit random but somehow just add to the peculiar charm of the town. Its singing waterfalls, gloomy mountains, creative art scene, delicious beer, rainbow street and rich history make this fishing paradise a must-visit.
The inhabitants only number up to about 700 people which together make the town feel like one big happy family. Something that is very evident when you visit!
The town hosts an annual arts festival each summer called LungA. This is where creative minds from all over Iceland and gather to create, aspire and inspire. LungA is also a fantastic music festival beautifully intertwined with exhibitions and performances.
The town has awe-inspiring hiking trails, truly yummy restaurants (including chefs from a Michelin star restaurants) and a quiet calm which is a rare find these days. It is the perfect place to hang out and re-energize, to find peace and still have plenty to do!
Restaurant: Nordic Restaurant
Bar: Kaffi Lára El Grillo Bar
Must See: Blue Church
Isafjordur is undoubtedly the capital of the Westfjords. Its population is about 3,000 people, quite big on an Icelandic scale, and the town is buzzing with culture, great eats and attractions. First on the foodie list for Isafjordur is Gamla Bakríið or the old bakery. But don’t get your tinsel in a tangle, their food is fluffy and soft in all the right ways. The only oldness has to do with the company itself and its recipes which are traditional Icelandic grandma style. A personal favorite is kleina, snúður and a kókómjólk. They will not disappoint!
However, if you are looking for something a bit more full-on in the food department Isafjordur as fabulous options on all accounts. Vegan, Thai, pizza, seafood, you name it!
The town center is beautiful and historical, greatly preserved and well-kept. A stroll around town to visit many of the local shops and cafés is always a delight. Whilst others enjoy a soak in the local swimming pool, a kayaking season on the Arctic waters or maybe even a hike further into the fjords for some wildlife action. Isafjordur has it all!
Bar: Edinborg Bistro
Street: Hafnarstræti (same as in Akureyri, means harbor street, so very popular in Iceland)
Must See: the Museums!
Stykkisholmur is to many the Danish town of Iceland. It is famous for the Danish influence in the 19th century which is still very visible today. This especially means the beautiful and colorful timber house which gives Stykkisholmur its fairy-tale-like vision we enjoy so much today. Stykkisholmur is located on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula about 2,5 hours away from Reykjavík. Surrounding it are moss-covered lava fields and beautiful landscapes of untouched Icelandic beauty. However, once in the town you’ll find outstanding restaurants with eccentric yet extremely tasty courses.
The Library of Water is another surprise favorite, where artist Roni Horn has created dazzling visuals serving as a museum to water in the old library of the town. Stykkisholmur yet another town in Icelandic with a flair for the artistic but wood-work is a specialty of the locals. Hotel Egilsen also offers annual writer residencies that are highly popular, perhaps not surprisingly when you visit the abode.
Walking around Stykkisholmur is a photogenic experience and gives you a fantastic insight into life in a fishing village in Iceland. In summer you’ll find food trucks by the harbor and local fishing boat departing and arriving all day. It is easy to lose track of time watching them sail these glorious seas.
Furthermore from the town of Stykkisholmur, you can easily take a ferry up to the Westfjords, with a car and all. This is a very popular way to visit the southern parts of the Westfjords and to get views of Breidafjordur fjord which Stykkisholmur sits in.
Many recognize Stykkisholmur as the place A Secret Life of Walter Mitty was filmed but Ben Stiller lived a few months in the town whilst shooting the film. Some of the more adventurous sea-scenes were shot right outside the town! So, if you want to take the exploration even further why not join them at sea for a Viking Sushi tour or maybe even a sea kayaking experience!
Bar: Walter Mitty Bar
Shop: Greta María Jewelry
Must See: The Volcano Museum