The Land of Fire and Ice
Iceland is a destination like no other. The land of fire and ice has a population of just over 320,00 but in 2016 tourist numbers peaked at just over two million - and with good reason.
Whilst the name itself conjures up images of snow covered mountains and glaciers, there is much more to see, learn and do throughout this country. You can enjoy long summer days of nearly 24 hours’ sunshine, but that is followed by short winter days with only a few hours of daylight.
Iceland is home to some of the largest glaciers in Europe, plus the world’s most active volcanoes and geothermal wonders. Iceland is not your normal European destination and that’s its USP.
I went to learn why Iceland has become a rising destination for meetings, events and incentives, or just for getting away from it all...
Despite its proximity to the Arctic Circle and frosty reputation, average winter temperatures in Iceland are similar New York. However even in summer, temperatures average at around 12 degrees and with much of Iceland's activities based outside, it is best to layer up and be prepared. Iceland is just a three hour flight from London and there is no time difference during the winter and only 1 hour in summer, making it the perfect short-stay getaway.
What to do?
We had a packed itinerary during our three day visit with our DMC Atlantik, beginning with a day exploring the Geysir geothermal area and Gullfoss waterfall, or 'The Golden Circle' as it is often known.
These areas are best explored with a guide, who can explain how these natural phenomena occur, although they are certainly striking enough to be appreciated without.
Incentive delegates can play golf, go skiing, hike the mountains, trek through wilderness, go snowboarding, try whale watching, marvel at geysers (which help generate 99% of the island’s electricity from renewable sources) and last but not least, swim in the spectacular Blue Lagoon and not have to queue for any of it. That’s one advantage of Iceland being one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world.
Here’s our list of things that should make it on to your itinerary:
Geysir Hot Springs
Definitely a site to see with the geyser ‘Strokkur’ erupting every few minutes, shooting columns of piping hot water up to 10m into the sky. It’s a great picture opportunity and naturally occurring, which is now quite rare.
Gullfoss is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland. The views are incredible with the waterfall demonstrating the true power and beauty of untouched nature. The waterfall is located in South Iceland and can be seen as part of the Golden Circle tours. The freshest seafood is another appeal when visiting the southern part of the island.
Snowmobiling on the Glacier
An unforgettable experience! Suit up and ride into the glacier on a snowmobile, where you will encounter the vastness and beauty of the open landscape that is Iceland. Meet your guide at base camp and venture into the wilderness, or opt for an alternative pick-up point such as Reykjavik and extend your tour to incorporate multiple sites.
Langjökull Glacier: enjoy walking through man-made ice caves which travel deep into the glacier; these are the only ones in the world of their kind. These are the largest glacier caves in the world at 500m, with the next largest following at only 80m long.
As well as a unique travel experience, areas of the caves have even been excavated to create working meeting and events rooms, with many weddings and receptions having taken place there in recent years. For a completely different viewpoint, we also explored Langjokull on snowmobiles, which can be rented along with a guide, who will take you through the surreal and stunning landscape above the glacier.
Hraunfossar and Barnafoss Waterfalls
The Hraunfossar is a spectacular yet unusual natural wonder as the water flows through the lava in streams to create the waterfall and rapids that descend into the river that is a stunning glassy blue. This was my favourite ‘site’ as the water was so vibrant and full of life.
A short drive from Reykjavik you will find the meeting point where your ATV tour will begin. These self-drive vehicles are great fun, taking you over the lava fields and through the mountain valleys to the sea front.
A trip to Iceland is not complete without a visit to the famous Blue Lagoon. Floating in the mineral rich water is the perfect way to end a trip to Iceland, with an opportunity to try the natural silica mud mask and even enjoy a drink at the swim-up bar. The outdoor spa has been developed so that it is surrounded by the rugged natural landscape and it is an experience not to be missed when visiting the country.
Another activity (although one that is more difficult to plan and which proved elusive during our trip), is seeing the Northern Lights. These are best seen from September to mid late March and a number of companies offer boat trips and excursions to give the ultimate way of experiencing this spectacular light show.
Getting in close encounters with the whales, a whale watching tour with Whale Safari from the old Reykjavík harbour is a fantastic way. They offer amazing tours on RIB boats which accommodate 12 persons each. The RIB boats can not only travel fast, but also approach the whales without disturbing them too much. The season is from 15 April to 31 October.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Canopy hotel, which recently opened under the lifestyle brand by Hilton Worldwide. It is ideally located in the centre of Reykjavik at just a short walk from iconic attractions such as Laugavegur (a street known for its shopping), eateries, pubs, Harpa Concert Hall & Convention Centre, as well as Old Reykjavik Harbor, which offers incredible views of Mount Esja and the landmark Hallgrimskirkja Church.
Each Canopy hotel is designed to incorporate the local feel and traditions of the city they are based in. With comfortable accommodation and multiple social areas, Canopy is ideally suited to incentive travellers, but it does offer space to host a small business meeting if required.
For a true taste of rural Iceland, located out in the countryside, 90 minutes north of Reykjavik, the Husafell hotel is the perfect retreat away from the vibrancy of the city. Surrounded by mountain ranges and open stretches of land, the hotel offers tranquillity and an escape for any guest wanting to recuperate after a day of activities in the glacier.
In the hotel you will find the onsite restaurant which offers local cuisines with a modern take (I sampled the BEST vegetable puree soup I have ever eaten). The hotel also has its own geothermal pool which is open throughout the day and evening. Just float and watch the northern lights dance overhead. When staying at this hotel you may also see the Northern lights on average a 3 times a week during the winter months.
The Harpa has among others an event space called Björtuloft, distributed over two levels with each section catering to 130 people. The space is typically hired out as one room and divided by a staircase. This is a fantastic space to host a conference followed by dinner, or a dinner and drinks reception, as the lower level also has a terrace space if required for additional networking space.
The space is surrounded by glass and has a beautiful panoramic view over Reykjavik.
Additional exhibition space is also available at the entrance of the conference hall and can then continue to flow alongside the ground floor to first floor stairs.
The venue is one of Reykjavik’s greatest landmarks, located by the picturesque harbour in the city centre and with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and the North Atlantic Ocean. Harpa offers conference rooms of various sizes, the largest, Eldborg seats 1,200 guests.
In terms of nightlife, Reykjavik has a lot to offer. Bars are often packed, particularly on weekends, and nobody raises an eyebrow if people start dancing on tables or playing instruments along with the songs. Restaurants and cafes also tend to offer live music, turning into nightclubs as the evening draws on. Although it is easy to stumble into a great bar or pub, with, with many hidden gems, some of the most renowned venues are Kaffibarinn, Hurra, Club Kiki and Olstofan.
Where to entertain your clients or top sales people? Look no further. Here’s our list of the best places to eat....
Unsurprisingly, fish forms a large part of most Icelandic restaurant menus; however lamb is also a popular local dish. Fish and Chips serves hands down the best fish and chips in Reykjavik, the family owned restaurant serves up fresh, sustainably caught fish, fried in airy spelt and barley batter. For a truly Icelandic experience try Frakkar which serves the likes of Minke Whale and Catfish. Vegetarians and vegans will find plenty on the menu at Bergsson Mathus. A particular highlight during our visit was the restaurant at Hotel Husafel, for amazing food in a spectacular setting.
Enjoy truly exquisite cuisine that caters to everyone’s palates in this rustic and comfortable, yet sophisticated underground restaurant; and be entertained by pianists while you dine. The restaurant uses fresh ingredients and flavour combinations that would not be described as traditional, but undeniably they light up all the senses for a truly enjoyable dining experience.
Traditional Icelandic produce with an Italian flare, Kolabrautin is located on the 4th floor of the Concert Hall with views over the city and ocean. This stunning restaurant is set in a stunning location and offers fine dining for individuals or groups, and is also available on an exclusive hire basis.
If you would like to learn more about Iceland please contact me. Iceland will not disappoint any incentive group but due to being such a popular destination you will need to plan a year in advance.
This visit was brought to you by our DMC, Atlantik DMC