Iceland’s capital offers natural splendor and sophisticated style under the Northern Lights
If you are heading to Iceland for business or pleasure, keep these odd facts in mind: Most of the people in Iceland believe in elves. That said, it is one of the oldest democracies on the planet; police do not carry guns and the country does not have mosquitoes.
Indeed, landing in Iceland, an island nation the size of Ohio (with 1/40th the population), is more akin to landing on a cold moon with its landscape of looming glaciers, plumes of steaming hot springs and rocky, unforested moraines. The Game of Thrones series on HBO uses these haunting northlands as a backdrop for everything that is“Beyond the Wall.”But for all its stark beauty and quirky character it is one of Europe’s best-kept secrets for meetings and doing business.
“Our competitive advantage is Iceland’s strategic location midway between North America and Europe. Iceland is only five hours from the east coast of North America and two to three hours from Europe – ideal to‘Meet in the Middle,’”says Brynja Laxdal, director of marketing at Meet in Reykjavík. “Secondly, the rugged and unique nature in close vicinity to Reykjavik makes Iceland very attractive. The fact is, Iceland is on a lot of people’s bucket lists. And let’s not forget that everybody in Iceland speaks English,”Laxdal adds.
Visitor numbers to Iceland from the US have been steadily climbing at 20 to 30 percent year over year to some 242,805 visitors last year. While the great majority of these visits (some 86 percent) are for vacation, 10.4 percent are for conference and meetings, according to the latest Promote Iceland statistics. In 2015, 88,000 MICE guests visited Iceland, representing an increase of 11 percent from the previous year. Average annual increases over the last five years have hovered around 13.6 percent, and those meetings are split fairly evenly between winter and summer.
The Chilling Effect
That is probably because Iceland is not the land of ice, despite the threat of its name.
“That is the chilliest thing about Iceland,” says Ashildur Bragadottir, director at Visit Reykjavik.“Despite its northerly location, Iceland is really more solar than polar, thanks to the warming effects of the Gulf Stream which provides a temperate climate year round. Icelandic weather is unusually volatile, however. The Gulf Stream brings mild Atlantic air in contact with colder Arctic air, resulting in frequent and abrupt weather shifts where you may experience four seasons in one day.”
What you won’t get in winter is light. At this location next to the Arctic Circle, the darkness prevails throughout the days of winter, but makes its seasonal reversal in summer for 24 hours of daylight. Temperatures in winter, however, sound worse than they are. The southerly lowlands around the capital of Reykjavik maintain a balmy 32 degrees most days, while the highlands in the north can dip into the minus numbers. Summers see sunny days rise into the 50s and 60s.
“Icelanders welcome challenges and have a‘can-do’mentality,”adds Laxdal. “The only thing one can never predict in Iceland is the weather. But the saying is ‘there is never such a thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.’”
Not surprisingly, the majority of visitors to Iceland plan their time there for the weeks between May and October, booking up most of the hotels to be had in the temperate months far in advance. Most of those rooms are in Reykjavik which currently has around 4,500 hotel rooms with an additional 2,000 expected to come online in the next two years.
Most visitors arrive through Keflavík International Airport, located about 40 minutes from Reykjavik, a civilized city of some 100,000 souls, and the seat of government for Iceland. It’s a friendly city, with a very handsome and casual prime minister (move over Justin Trudeau) and a rockin’bar scene.
As the world’s northernmost capital, culture is not forsaken, but there are also hot springs to be tried, glaciers to be explored, waterfalls to be found, hiking and biking trails to be walked and biked, the northern lights to be chased and some adventurous dining to be done.