It’s a sleepy Sunday morning as I stroll through the colorful, tree-lined streets of Akureyri. Sidewalk cleaners sweep up broken glass, remnants of a wild Icelandic weekend, and besides a few early morning churchgoers, I’m alone with my thoughts as I wander to a secret spot that promises the best views of Iceland’s second largest city.

Despite my warm, wool layers and fleece-lined mittens, I can’t escape the bitingly cold air, but that’s OK. It comes with the territory. As I stumble upon my final destination – a remote, hilltop graveyard that doubles as a vantage point – I get that all-too-familiar chill. But this time it’s not the weather.

With enormous, snowy mountains towering in every direction, some reflecting off the sparkling harbor, others radiating under the new day’s sun, I’m awestruck, stomach full of butterflies, wondering how I’ll ever leave this charming, perfect north Iceland mountain town.

36 Hours in Akureyri, Iceland

Of course, like any vacation, the bliss did come to an end as we made our way back to Reykjavik the next morning for a (depressing) flight home. But for 36 enchanting hours, we relished in the remote, almost entirely untouched mountains of northern Iceland that few tourists experience.

Akureyri is a five-hour drive north east of Reykjavik, accessible via the Ring Road. While not plausible for a quick stopover in Reykjavik, if you have more time and are able to spare 36 hours for a drive to Akureyri – which trust me, you should – here’s how to make the most of your precious trip up north.

Friday night

If you’re heading from Reykjavik to Akureyri, stop at Glaumbaer on your way into town for a look at some of Iceland’s traditional grass-roof houses. Glaumbaer has a museum that is open during the summer, but you’re free to simply walk the grounds and snap some photos for a quicker visit.

36 Hours in Akureyri, Iceland

Plan on arriving to Akureyri in the early evening so you have time to check into your accommodation (we used Airbnb) and stroll through town before sunset, which of course, varies drastically depending on when you visit.

For dinner, head to Bautinn, an Icelandic restaurant that offers traditional food – including whale and lamb – as well as some milder local fish dishes and a fresh salad bar. To walk off your hearty Icelandic meal, stroll up to the Akureyrarkirkja church, Akureyri’s version of the Hallgrímskirkja, which is lit up at night. If you’re up to it, you can catch a show at live music joint Græni hatturinn, or head back and rest up for an early Saturday morning.

36 Hours in Akureyri, Iceland

Saturday early morning

Hit the streets bright and early to enjoy a breathtaking moment of wonder at the secret graveyard overlooking Akureyri. To get there, walk up to the church (stop to enjoy the daytime view here, too!), then head away from the city, about 15 minutes, toward the graveyard located on Höfðagata.

Plan to spend at least 30 minutes here enjoying the view before heading back to Akureyri, this time downhill via Lækjargata (your first right turn) all the way to the water for a scenic stroll into town.

36 Hours in Akureyri, Iceland

Saturday afternoon

Today will be a whirlwind, so charge those camera batteries and pack plenty of snacks. First, drive from Akureyri along Ring Road to Godafoss, one of Iceland’s most spectacular waterfalls. Stop here for photos, and if you’re hungry, a quick bite at the nearby gas station. The food there is surprisingly good!

Next up is Dimmuborgir, a huge, hikeable lava field with unusually shaped volcanic caves and rock formations. During your hike, look north for stunning views of the mighty Hverfjall, a 2,500-year-old, 140-kilometers-deep tephra crater.

36 Hours in Akureyri, Iceland

To relax after a long day of exploring, hit up Myvatn Nature Baths on your way home. Open until 10 p.m. in the winter and midnight in the summer, this man-made hot spring is at its most beautiful as the sun’s beginning to set. Check out sundown times and plan accordingly.

36 Hours in Akureyri, Iceland

Saturday evening

Stay at Myvatn Nature Baths just long enough to see the beginning of sun down, but hit the road semi-early (again, depending on time of year) so you can catch a glimpse of the sun setting behind Akureyri on your way back into town.

There are two lookout spots along Ring Road before you reach the overpass into Akureyri. Stop at the first of the two spots for yet another incredible view of the city.

For dinner, treat yourself to Akureyri’s top-rated Rub 23, an Icelandic seafood and sushi restaurant, or save a few krona by hitting up local coffee shop Blaa Kannan, which stays open late with great paninis and desserts. Cheers to your final night in north Iceland at Akureyri Backpackers, a hostel with a lively bar scene and, equally important, good Scandinavian beers.

36 Hours in Akureyri, Iceland

Sunday morning

Sigh. It’s your last day in north Iceland. I know how that feels. For a great sendoff, stop at Kaffir Ilmur, a cafe located in one of the oldest houses in Akureyri. The cafe has a couple of small elf houses on the exterior, so make sure to pay your respects on the way out.

As you head back to Reykjavik, drive through Siglufjörður to say your final goodbye to the beautiful north of Iceland. This quaint, quiet fishing town is located just 25 miles from the Arctic Circle, and is perfect for a quick coffee and stroll along the water before heading back west to Reykjavik, or wherever your Icelandic journey may take you.

36 Hours in Akureyri, Iceland

Is Akureyri convenient from Reykjavik? Not really – and that’s its biggest draw. Unlike the tourist-filled Golden Circle, you can go hours and hours driving through north Iceland without seeing another car. Even when you arrive in Akureyri – again, Iceland’s second largest city – you’ll be hard pressed to find many tourists, which is an absolutely wonderful problem to have.

Have you visited north Iceland? What “must-dos” would you add to this list?

This is a guest post by Stephanie Vermillion.

IMG_7587 Stephanie is a NYC-based media professional, travel writer and photographer. Her travel blog, The Wanderlost Way, offers tips, guides and stories to help people of all experience levels embrace their spontaneity and curiosity for one-of-a-kind adventures. Connect with Stephanie on Twitter @WanderlostWay, Instagram @TheWanderlostWay.