Akranes is an old fishing town in the west region
Updated: Apr 3
Akranes is a town by the coast in western Iceland with a population of 8,550 as of January 2023. It is only about an hour’s drive from Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland. Akranes is an old name mentioned in the book of Settlements in the Icelandic Sagas; understandably, however, the town didn’t exist until centuries later. Like most towns and villages by the coastline of Iceland, Akranes traces its origin to rich fishing grounds right by the shore. For centuries, the bay of Faxaflói was an important source of protein for Icelanders, in addition to agriculture. At the end of medieval times, a cluster of fishing farms and fishing posts formed a tiny fishing village at Akranes. However, it wasn’t until the late sixteenth century and into the seventeenth century that Akranes started to develop as a town—an early development for any town in Iceland. Then, in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, the first dock was built, and the first docked vessels began operating. Finally, at the turn of the twentieth century, motorboats took over from rowing boats and docked vessels, and Akranes started to grow as a town.
A fishing town that lost its place in the fishing industry
Today, Akranes is a thriving town with fishing and fish processing still the primary foundation of its economy. In contrast, it is symbolic how the fishing company Haraldur Böðvarsson—the main company in Akranes for decades that towered over all other businesses—has ceased to exist. It was the pride of the community but merged with a fishing company in Reykjavík city after the fishing quota system was developed, reduced the share of fishing in the town’s economy. Today, commerce and industry are also significant for the town. After a tunnel under Hvalfjörður fjord opened in 1998, Akranes became a part of the larger capital area as transportation to Reykjavík shortened considerably. It is not uncommon that people who live in Akranes work in the larger capital area around Reykjavík.
A fishing town that turned into a semi suburb
The houses in Akranes mostly consist of single-family ones from the seventies and eighties, although the town has seen new apartment buildings in recent years and decades. Throughout the centuries, most of the houses were turf huts, with the first timbered house being built in 1871. Even though the town is old compared to t counterparts in Iceland, there are almost no old buildings or houses to be seen anywhere. Today, all houses in Akranes are heated with geothermal heating from the Reykjavík heating and energy plant, Reykjavík Energy. Akranes is part of the green energy revolution and development that started in Iceland almost a century ago. As the town lost its standing in the fishing industry, it turned into a suburb and became part of the capital. It is still growing and expanding, which has not always been the case with communities that have lost their place in the fishing industry after the introduction of the fishing quota. Living in a town like Akranes is a good option for people who value closer access to nature and small communities rather than the hustle and bustle of city life.
Akranes is a nice town but doesn’t have a lot to offer to tourists
Like most towns and villages in Iceland, residents are content with the service provided by the municipality of Akranes. The town offers the usual amenities and service required in a modern community, like a preschool, primary school, middle school, and high school. Akranes also has excellent facilities for sports and has housed, for decades, one of the best soccer teams in Iceland. It has a good sports center, swimming pool, and community center. Akranes also has a music school, library, a typical Icelandic local folk museum, and a photographic gallery, making it an excellent modern community to raise children and live a good family life. You will also find restaurants and cafes in the town center. It is, however, difficult to see how the town can participate in the tourist industry being so close to Reykjavík, appearing more as the latter’s suburb rather than a town. To visit Akranes also requires a loop from the main road. It does not have anything particularly interesting to offer that makes it unique enough for a visit, and there are no interesting natural wonders nearby. But for those who are travelling the Ring Road and don’t want to stay in the city, Akranes is a good alternative for accommodation.