Il­lu­mi­nat­ing Reyk­javik

Ice­land’s cap­i­tal of­fers nat­u­ral splen­dor and so­phis­ti­cated style un­der the North­ern Lights

Business Traveler (USA) - - COVER STORY - By Lark Gould

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.

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