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A Short History of Akureyri

The history of the region starts in the 9th century when Norse Viking Helgi magri (Helgi the lean) and his wife, Þórunn hyrna, settled there. The name Akureyri isn’t mentioned until several hundred years later, in 1562.

Akureyri started developing in the 16th century when Danish merchants established a summer trading post. At the time, Icelandic law practically forbade urban living, requiring people to make their living farming their own land or work for someone else. Therefore, merchants were not permitted to live in Akureyri year-round until 1778. A few years later, Akureyri was recognised as an official marketplace, along with a handful of other burgeoning towns in the country, marking the beginning of urban development. Still, Akureyri had a rocky start and didn’t start to blossom until the mid-19th century.

Since then, Akureyri has become a vital hub of commerce, production, arts, culture, and education in North Iceland. The town has produced poets and artists, politicians, and businesspeople who have put their stamp on Iceland as it transformed from a Danish colony to a prosperous independent nation. Akureyri’s history is embedded in the town itself. From the charming houses of the oldest neighbourhood, through the more modern centre to its more recently developed north side, Akureyri’s architecture showcases the different periods of its development.

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Akureyri, a trip to Akureyri Museum is a must. The homes of notable local poets from different periods have been preserved, so you can visit the house of poet Davíð Stefánsson or that of children’s author Jón Sveinsson, known as Nonni, the author of several autobiographical books about growing up in Akureyri. Finally, taking a historical walk through the town centre and the oldest part of town is a great way to get to know the spirit of Akureyri.

Last updated: 8 May 2023.