When flying into Alaska, chances are you will land in Anchorage. The city is Alaska’s largest town and the main hub for any Alaska travel. While many visitors tend to leave right away for Denali or Kenai National park, the city has plenty to offer for a day visit. We listed what we thought were the top things to do in Anchorage Alaska.
From there, you can plan your Alaska travel plans. If you are looking for itinerary ideas, check out our 7-day Alaska itinerary or our longer 10-day itinerary.
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Best Things to Do in Anchorage Alaska
Anchorage is the gateway to some of the top attractions in Alaska: from the mountains of Denali, the wilderness of Kenai, and places like Talkeetna and Chugach. It’s worth planning to spend a day in Alaska’s main city, and if you wonder why, here are the top things to do in Anchorage.
Alaska Native Heritage Center
The center provides excellent displays about Alaska Native traditions and language, and we can only recommend visiting it at the beginning of your trip. You will gain knowledge about the country and its history and will let you appreciate your trip even more. Watch for games and dances that demonstrate the Alaska heritage. If you have time for one-stop only, that is one of the things to see in Anchorage!
The Anchorage Museum is the largest in the state and another one of the top Anchorage things to do for sure for those looking to learn more about the state’s history.
Travel Tip: If you are a museum enthusiast, consider the Alaska Culture Pass that combines the Alaska Native Heritage Center and the Anchorage Museum under one pass price.
Alaska Center for the Performing Arts
The perfect place to watch a concert or a show. A popular event is the AurorA: Alaska’s Great Northern Lights that usually occurs between late May and September, pending show availability.
Alaska Aviation Museum
Without roads or rails, flying was the main transportation of the time past. Bush pilots would land on rough landing strips, becoming a critical partner of Alaska’s development. Admire old vintage planes, and learn about the importance of aviation in Alaska.
Alaska Botanical Garden
Alaska has such a unique environment; with it also comes unique plants. With over 150 native species, it’s no wonder why the botanical garden is popular with visitors and locals alike.
While the popular rail tours will take you to Prince William Sound or Spencer Glaciers, the place is also good to check all train equipment from centuries past. Trains were vital to the development of Alaska, so learning about the railroad history is learning about Alaska.
If you are looking to buy some Alaska homemade products, include shopping time in Anchorage. From traditional Alaska Native art to local treats, you will find it all.
Ensure to visit the Oomingmak Anchorage Cooperative, where Native Alaskan women sell items that they knit as they live in remote villages. Made of Qiviut (wool from the Arctic musk ox) with patterns traditional in Eskimo culture, caps and scarves are sure to make for unique gifts.
Don’t leave Anchorage before grabbing some salmon jerky, delicious, and the perfect snacks for road tripping or hiking. Local berry jams like salmonberries, lingonberries, and cloudberries, should also be on your list.
Taking about salmon jerky and berry jams is a good reminder to try and taste Alaska cuisine. Of course, fish and seafood are important staples: king crab, halibut, and Alaska iconic salmon. But not all Alaska food is sea-related. Reindeer sausage is another must-try, and what better than a cold beer from one of the dozen Anchorage breweries to watch it down? Try them on an Anchorage food tour.
Anchorage City Tours
You can, of course, walk around but if the weather is not cooperating (even in summer!) or you are short in time, it’s better to drive around. But there are other options to explore the city, and among what to do in Anchorage Alaska, here are a few you might want to consider :
- Brewery Tour via an Anchorage Craft Brewery Tour and Tastings. Reserve your spot today.
- City Tour combining a visit to the Native Heritage Center: Check availability now
Here are some recommended Anchorage Alaska tours:
- Sunrise City Tour of Anchorage
- Price: $105.60
- Anchorage Walk & Sail
- Price: $88.90
- Anchorage City Tour with Alaska Native Heritage Center
- Price: $101.54
- Anchorage Bike and Brewery Tour
- Price: $219.00
Top Outdoor Activities around Anchorage
For the adventurous spirits looking for thrilling experiences, the area around Anchorage has plenty of cool things to do.
Biking the Coastal Trail
Anchorage is surrounded by over 100 miles of bike paths, including the popular 11-mile Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. Rent a bike or join a guided bike tour.
Flightseeing & Helicopter Rides
Board a plane or a helicopter and admire the views of Alaska wilderness from high above. Many flightseeing tours will also take you over glaciers, some even landing on the glaciers! Space is limited, so make sure to book your Anchorage helicopter glacier landing tour in advance!
And if you want to make the day really exciting and special, combine a helicopter tour with glacier dog sledding!
Rent a kayak or join a guided kayaking tour to explore around Kenai Fjords National Park or any of the massive coastline.
Join a Portage Glacier whale-watching cruise from Seward or Whittier and search for Beluga whales and Orcas.
While bears are generally never far in the Alaskan wilderness, parks like Katmai National Park or Lake Clark National Park are prime destinations to see brown bears (grizzly bears) up close in their natural habitats.
Winter might be the better season for dog sledding, but dogs still work all year. Visit a kennel to learn more about these four-legged champions, join a ride, or learn how to mush your own team. Join a dog sledding tour this summer!
Wildlife and Bird Watching
Head to Potter Marsh by the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, where a wooden boardwalk will take you to see Canada geese, grebes, and other birds that come to enjoy the summer wetlands. Another location ideal for short hikes is Kincaid Park overlooking Cook Inlet and known for its population of moose and foxes. The best way to find and learn about Alaska wildlife is to join a wildlife tour.
If you are headed towards Seward, stop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center 45 miles south of Anchorage. Dedicated to preserving wildlife, the center is a great place to learn about conservation and research. Go beer feeding at the conservation center for an incredible experience.
In addition to Kincaid Park, Chugach State Park (not to be mistaken with the Chugach National Forest close to Valdez) offers a feel of Alaska wilderness at barely 13 miles from the city. The short 30-minute drive makes Chugach ideal for those looking at short day hikes from Anchorage.
For further exploration of the Chugach State Park:
What a unique Alaska experience than hiking on glaciers? Of course, the most popular is Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park. Or head to Portage Glacier close to Whittier or Spencer Glacier as you board the Glacier Discovery Train. The Matanuska Glacier by Glenn Highway is another great alternative.
Join a guided glacier hiking tour:
And if you don't want to challenge yourselves on a glacier hike, you can still admire the glaciers from different viewpoints - a win-win for every visitor!
Anchorage Day Trips
Anchorage Boat Tours
The city is not far from several ports from where you can go on a boat and explore the ocean. Most boat tours depart from either Seward, about three hours from Anchorage, from the Kenai Fjords National Park to venture into the fjords, or Whittier to cruise the Prince William Sound.
Kenai Fjords National Park
A visit to Kenai Fjords National Park is considered one of the best things to do around Anchorage. Go hiking the moderate Glacier Overlook Trail or the popular Exit Glacier for a chance to see the glacier up close. There is a wide choice of Anchorage day tours to Kenai most days.
Exploring the marine environment on a Kenai cruise is also another popular Anchorage thing to do.
Denali National Park
Of course, Denali is a major attraction from Anchorage and probably the main reason most people visit Alaska. We recommend that any visit from Anchorage to Denali be at least two nights in the park, making it an actual 3-day trip to Denali. While we do suggest longer stays, day trips from Anchorage to Denali are possible.
Indeed, some tours will take you from Anchorage to Denali National Park for the day - just be prepared for an extremely long day with limited time in the park proper. But the scenic road to Denali is worth it, and even a short time in the park will let you admire some of Alaska's finest landscapes, together with a chance to see the iconic Denali summit.
Here are the recommended Denali National Park tours from Anchorage:
- 7-day guided Alaska tour including Denali
- 9-Day Alaska Wildlife Tour with Bear and Whale Viewing and including 2 National Parks
For independent Denali travels, we shared our experiences in these Denali travel blog posts:
On the way to Whittier or Seward, consider stopping at Girdwood and board the Alyeska Tramway, which will take you up to the 2,000-feet Mount Alyeska. Views of glaciers, Turnagain Arm, surrounding areas await, and the scenic road that takes you up to Girdwood stunning!
In fact, night tours, any Anchorage Northern Lights tour, will leave late at night from 9 pm to 11 pm and will return in the morning around 3 am to 5 am. The Aurora Borealis appears throughout the year but is best viewed from September to April when the nights are dark - the ultimate things to do in Anchorage in winter! In summer, the long hours of daylight prevent you from seeing them.
Alaska Rail Riding
As mentioned before, the railway system is limited. Still, the train options are incredible. The trains will take you to places like Seward and Prince William Sound aboard the summer Glacier Discovery train from Anchorage to Girdwood, Prince William Sound, and Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop.
Book your tickets today:
How to Travel to Anchorage
The Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (IATA: ANC) is about 5 miles (8 km) from Anchorage and is usually the first entry point in Alaska.
Airlines that provide round trip flights to Anchorage Alaska include Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, JetBlue, and United Airlines. International flights are offered through Air Canada, Icelandair in the summer.
From there, you can ride a 15-min taxi to Downtown Anchorage or pick up your car rental.
Alaska Trains to Anchorage
There are no train connections from Canada to Alaska, so forget any plan of boarding a Vancouver to Anchorage Train or a Seattle to Anchorage Train. The only train option is on the Alaska Railroad from Seward to Fairbanks, which then stops in Anchorage.
Alaska Buses to Anchorage
There is a bus line between Anchorage and Fairbanks. This Anchorage to Fairbank bus leaves twice a day, every day, and takes about 10 hours to reach its destination.
Cruises to Alaska are highly popular, usually departing from San Francisco or Seattle in the US or Vancouver in Canada. Several cruise companies have Anchorage as one of their ports of call. The stay in Anchorage can be just for a short day or allow for longer shore excursions, including day trips to Denali. A Seattle to Anchorage cruise is one of the most sought-after options.
How to Visit Alaska from Anchorage
Car or RV Rental
Once in Anchorage, renting a car allows for flexible and independent travel. Parks like Denali won't let private cars inside, but the benefits of taking your pace while driving the Alaska roads are priceless. Before renting, make sure to check these fine prints:
- Unlimited mileage: Alaska is a massive state, so plan on driving long distances.
- Insurance: Driving on dirt roads is usually not covered by insurance. Check your policy, avoid dirt roads, or plan for uncovered costs on blown tires and cracked windshields.
Reservations tend to go fast and early, so don't wait to make your car rental reservation!
In addition to regular cars, consider renting an RV if you are interested in spending time in the wilderness. An RV rental will allow you to stay put outside campgrounds, save on lodging, and experience the Alaska wilderness away from standard hotel amenities. Click here to find the Best RV Rental Specials.
Where to Stay in Anchorage, Alaska
During our stay, we booked our nights at the Anchorage Downtown Hotel, a clean and well-placed hotel for budget travelers. Other budget options include Backpackers Inn Anchorage and Travel Inn Anchorage, but both seem to have had better days.
Among the better-known Anchorage hotels are the historic 1916 luxury Historic Anchorage Hotel and the top-rated Susitna Place B&B.
For more options, click here for the latest prices for Anchorage Downtown Hotel.
If you prefer to stay outside downtown, check the latest Anchorage hotel deals.
Locate your hotel on this Anchorage map:
Anchorage Travel Tips
- Summer days are really long in Alaska when the lights still bright at 9 pm or 10 pm make you think it’s the afternoon.
- Weather changes rapidly in Alaska, and the same thing applies to Anchorage. Wear layers, and also carry a good waterproof jacket with you.
- Wildlife - including bears and moose - might be present in Anchorage. Do not approach these animals as they are wild and potentially dangerous.
- If you are planning on visiting more than one national park, consider a National Park pass that will be quickly valued.
- Get a copy of the Lonely Planet Anchorage
Have you been to Anchorage? What did you think about the city? Please leave a comment - we would love to hear from you!
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