An original window from Coventry Cathedral in England decorates the far back wall of Akureyrarkirkja © Pavel Svoboda, Shutterstock

Make a trip to the charming Akureyri for its excellent art scene and botanical garden.

Akureyri may be the most civilised place in Iceland, insisting on normality despite its Arctic reputation. Nowhere else are gardens planted with such gusto: there’s a white picket fence around nearly every well-kept ‘gingerbread’ house, and sailboats glide up and down the fjord all day long. Church bells chime the hour, the streets are lined with tall trees and someone sweeps the town square with a broom. There are days when the town feels a bit like a child’s drawing. It’s precious.

Akureyri lies at the base of Eyjafjörður, surrounded on either side by a sloping wall of snow-capped mountains. The determined town clings to one hillside before spilling on to a small stretch of land that seems to float upon the shimmering water – hence the name Akur-eyri, or ‘the field upon the shoreline’.

The view is simply astounding, but the scenery also blocks out a good deal of bad weather, granting a unique play of sun and fog. Clear skies mean lots of sunny days (and nights) in summer and a healthy dose of clean snow come winter.

Akureyri often gets tagged with labels such as Iceland’s ‘second city’ or ‘capital of the north’, though the actual population (around 18,000) and size (the country’s fourth largest) imply otherwise. Why it gets the nod as the ‘other big city’ is because it’s the only town that gives Reykjavík a run for its money. It may be small and compact, but it’s also a very independent place.

It’s also a great place to visit, as a destination in and of itself, for the idyllic countryside of Eyjafjarðarsveit, or as a home base from which to suit up and explore great swathes of Iceland’s wildest landscapes. Beyond the well-trodden tourist path to ‘big’ attractions (Mývatn, Goðafoss and Húsavík), Akureyri allows easy access to some of the country’s less-visited parts (eg: Grímsey, the interior, and the outermost corners of Thingeyjarsýsla).