The second-largest city in Iceland (yet still small, with fewer than 18,000 residents), Akureyri has become a regular stop for cruise ships visiting the island on a Norwegian fjords cruise, as well as those on transatlantic repositionings.
Located on Iceland's longest fjord, Eyjafjordur, Akureyri has been settled since Vikings arrived in the 9th century and has long been dominant in fishing, thanks to an ice-free port. Although cruise ships only visit during the summer, the town has a healthy winter tourism scene, with several ski resorts close by. Thus, you'll find many outdoor clothing stores, as well as restaurants, cafes and bars, in the city's downtown.
A call in Akureyri provides cruisers with a cute town to explore and makes a perfect gateway to northern Iceland's geothermal phenomena. Lake Myvatn, home to bubbling hotpots, thermal baths, craters and lava formations, is less than two hours away. For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, consider a flightseeing trip over this geothermal wonderland; if an eruption is going on, you might even see lava spurting into the air (as tourists did in fall 2014, when a fissure developed in nearby Holuhraun).
Akureyri is also a good place to hire an independent tour operator for outdoor pursuits, such as whale watching, horseback riding, hiking and Jeep adventures. Or you can rent a car and explore the country's Ring Road. Make sure you wear layers and bring a raincoat; Iceland's weather is notoriously fickle even though Akureyri generally has warmer temperatures than other parts of the island.
Akureyri's cruise terminal is sheltered within Iceland's longest fjord, Eyjafjordur. The dock can handle up to three ships at a time.
The dock area has a visitor's center with a souvenir shop, free Wi-Fi and restrooms. The terminal is an easy, 10-minute walk from downtown Akureyri, and buses, taxis and tours are able to pick up passengers right outside the dock.
It's not called Iceland for nothing; bring lots of layers, as well as a hat and scarf, because the wind can make the air feel much chillier than the temperature reads.
On Foot: Akureyri is extremely walkable. The town center is less than 10 minutes from the cruise port.
By Taxi: Taxis, located on the street across from the cruise terminal parking lot, are available for two- to six-hour private tours. Prices are displayed on a street placard and include gratuity; Iceland is not a tipping culture.
By Car: The Lake Myvatn area has many sites you can visit on your own if you have a car. Europcar has a rental office within the cruise terminal, and familiar brands such as Dollar, Thrifty, Budget and Avis are a short walk away (as well as the Icelandic company Icelandcar). Reservations are recommended in the prime summer months (June, July and August).
Currency is the Icelandic krona; prices are given in ISK (if you're from the U.S., you'll find them startlingly high, particularly for food). For updated currency-conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. Several banks, including Landsbankinn (1 Strandgotu) and Islandbanki (14 Skipagotu), have ATMs. Almost all shops and restaurants take credit cards.
Icelandic is considered one of the most difficult languages to learn. But don't worry: Everyone in the tourist trade speaks English.
Prepare yourself for sticker shock if you eat off the ship. Iceland's food is notoriously expensive. Seafood and lamb are staples in this agricultural land surrounded by sea, and the soups made from these ingredients make a particularly satisfying (and warming) lunch, especially when served with hunks of delicious brown bread. If you're an adventurous eater, you'll want to seek out hakari, fermented (rotten) shark that's often served with brennivin, a clear spirit. If the ammonia taste and smell of the shark don't make you gag, the strong licorice flavor of the drink will.
Alaska Mini Mart: For a quick snack, the Alaska Mini Mart has smoothies and interesting paninis (chicken, mango and peanut sauce), as well as sodas and convenience store staples, at wallet-friendly prices. (Radhustorg 3; open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily)
Simstooin Cafe: This spot is located on Hafnarstaeti, Akureyri's main pedestrian shopping street. With a fish of the day and a raw food of the day, it's a good choice for those with food allergies. Plus, it has free Wi-Fi. (Hafnarstraeti 102; open 9a.m. to 11:30 p.m. daily)
Blaa Kannan: Also on Hafnarstaeti, cozy Blaa Kannan offers delicious pastries and coffee, as well as fresh-baked bread and hearty soups for lunch. (Hafnarstaeti 96; open 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. daily)
Rub 23: Across the street from the church, Rub 23 has a trendy mix of seafood and sushi (including minke whale, a somewhat controversial dish). The restaurant is tops on TripAdvisor and features an intriguing "sushi pizza" made with Arctic char. (Kaupvangsstraeti 6; lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays)
Strikid: If you're looking for a restaurant with a view, Strikid offers heartier meals than the cafes on Hafnarstaeti. Icelandic specialties include langoustines, pan-fried cod, slow-cooked lamb shank and -- occasionally -- fermented shark. (Skipagata 14; open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily)
Icelandic woolen goods are top rate (as they should be, given the extreme winds that can chill to the bone even in summer). Find the sweater of your dreams at The Viking (104 Hafnarstraeti) or at the upscale Icelandic clothing chain Geysir (98 Hafnarstraeti). Expect to pay several hundred dollars for a good quality sweater, although sales are common when cruise ships are in port. For purchases totaling more than 4,000 Icelandic kronas, you can also reclaim 15 percent in tax from representatives at the pier if it's your last stop in Iceland (or at the airport); make sure you keep your receipts.