Anchorage is not even close to being the most exciting place in Alaska.
There I said it.
To be fair, it’s not easy to compete with the spectacular natural wonders found around the 49th state like gem-toned fjords, massive glaciers and northern lights dancing over the frozen tundra.
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But if you’re planning to explore The Last Frontier and head into the backcountry to see Denali National Park, go flightseeing or perhaps wander around the cute town of Talkeetna, chances are you’ll end up in Anchorage at some point since it’s where the international airport is.
(Pro tip: snag a window seat on the right side of the plane when flying in from Canada or the Lower 48 for the best views.)
So…wondering what to do in Anchorage if you have some time to spare before heading off on a big adventure? Fortunately there are a few unique attractions right in the city, and as a bonus you can easily walk to all of them from the downtown hotels.
Here are my top picks of the best things to see in Anchorage.
Eat a reindeer sausage
Sorry Rudolph: one of the most unique things to do in Anchorage Alaska is to eat reindeer.
You’ll find caribou on the menu at some local restaurants, and there are also a handful of carts downtown where you can get a sizzling reindeer sausage hot off the grill (look for yellow, red or blue umbrellas) and top it off with staples like fried onions, ketchup and mustard.
Reindeer dogs smell and taste delish, are similar to a pork sausage and it turns out they’re actually really nutritious–we’re talking lean meat high in vitamins and healthy fats.
Just don’t tell Santa.
See Denali, the tallest mountain in North America
Denali has bragging rights as North America’s highest mountain peak, and even though it’s a four hour drive from Anchorage it’s possible to see the majestic mountain on a clear day.
Some of the best places to see Denali in Anchorage are Elderberry Park on 5th Avenue, the Anchorage Market, and along the waterfront from the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.
If you plan on making the drive out to Denali National Park, be sure to pull over at the aptly-named Denali View South Viewpoint as well as the North one along the George Parks Highway for stellar views.
The absolute best way to get a glimpse of Denali is booking a flightseeing tour, an unforgettable experience which is hands-down one of the top things to do in Alaska.
This is quicker and cheaper to do from Talkeetna which is closer to the national park; however, Alaska Tours offers three-hour flights that take off from Lake Hood in Anchorage and fly all the way to Denali for closeup views of its south face, the Great Gorge and Ruth Glacier.
So by now you might be thinking ‘hmm, whatever happened to Mt. McKinley?’ Well, it was renamed as Denali in 2015 by President Barack Obama to honour what Indigenous people had originally named the mountain more than 10,000 years ago.
There can still be a bit of confusion among those who are familiar with both names, and a certain president whose name fittingly rhymes with ‘chump’ even considered switching it back. Fortunately he probably got distracted by Twitter or Fox News or something and never went through with it.
Enjoy the scenic Tony Knowles Coastal Trail
One of the fun things to do in Anchorage is checking out the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, an 11-mile mostly-flat and paved pathway that hugs the coastline.
You’ll find pretty bridges, playgrounds, lookout points and mud flats along the route, as well as the picture-perfect Westchester Lagoon which is a popular paddling spot.
The area is also a bird habitat, and the train goes right by…which also means you’re kinda committed once you’re on the trail since a lot of the potential exit points are blocked by a chain link fence protecting the tracks.
If you’d like to see more than what you can on foot, rent a bike or book one of these tours to cycle along the Coastal Trail and see the Cook Inlet, Chugach Mountains and Denali on a clear day:
Visit the Anchorage Museum
The state’s largest museum is in the heart of downtown, and its exhibits detailing Alaska’s long history make it one of the top Anchorage attractions.
You’ll learn all about the gold rush, North America’s biggest earthquake, and what early life was like trying to survive in the inhospitable climate. The Anchorage Museum is a Smithsonian Affiliate, celebrates Alaska Native cultures and also has a Discovery Centre with a planetarium and marine life tanks which are fun for the kiddos.
Book a city tour of Anchorage:
Take a day trip from Anchorage
If you’re spending more than a day in Anchorage (which I don’t recommend, but you do you), then you should immediately book a tour to get the heck outta town.
Jokes aside, there are some pretty spectacular sights a short drive away, like the Matanuska Glacier which is the largest one in Alaska accessible by car. A two hour drive brings you to Matanuska Glacier Park, where you’ll strap on some ice cleats then walk around the frozen landscape and even scale up an ice wall. Click here to book
Another popular day trip from Anchorage is riding the rails on the iconic Alaska Railroad. This full-day tour (14 hours!) is a roundtrip journey to Seward that departs first thing in the morning, with nearly seven hours of free time to explore the port town or book a cruise to the breathtaking Kenai Fjords. Click here to book
If it’s wildlife spotting you’re into, then book a trip out to the Chugach National Forest where you might get lucky and see brown bears, wolves, bison and belugas. And I can’t believe I have to say this, but please don’t offer yourself up as a snack. Stay safely inside the vehicle and snap photos of moose and bears from the window– I promise the shots will still be good enough for the ‘gram.
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