In 2012, Iceland was at the bottom of Forbes’ list of the best countries to visit. Two years later, the list had risen to number 20. Now, visitors are flocking back. Icebound Iceland is back in style.
Not only has the volcanic island nation overtaken Greece to become the world’s most popular travel destination, it is delivering a particular brand of travel fun with an economic punch. That is why it is host to the first World Expeditions Fall Family Tour, a seven-day tour of Iceland in a bus designed for the smallest of strollers, and why, several weeks into that itinerary, we were told by our website tour guide that we were outside the window “nearly every day.”
More young travelers, led by an expanding array of Instagram-worthy activities, have been bringing back the family-friendly trend. Unique culture, geothermal hot springs, nature, and the food, is more accessible than ever thanks to personal effects such as phones and maps. They are also part of an evolving multi-generational family travel trend that leaves some of the groundwork for the next generation of Icelanders — new visitors to this Emerald Isle of long-ago siege, and to a past of global outposts.
All of this has made travel to Iceland easier and more enjoyable. The answer is a surge in contemporary hotels, new attractions and magical landscapes. The storied viking roots are becoming a tourism mantra. (So are “Icelandic style” cafes and restaurants, which these days are the norm rather than the exception.)
Back in New York City, Art Brunetti is the regional project manager for Reykjavik’s newest hotel, Olafur Grimsson Resort. The renovation of the sea cave, cave restaurant and sports bar is part of a broader tourism push of “the Nordic experience,” spanning travelers not only from Europe, Asia and the Americas, but also younger generations coming from Africa, Africa and Australia.
There are modern trends within the Nordic experience. In places such as Oslo, Sweden, travelers are seeking new short breaks to weeklong weekend. Much like culinary or performance tourism, tours are on the rise to places such as Reykjavik, but the Nordic way is evolving.
“This tourism generation, that’s growing and expanding, they’re full of passion and ideas and want to do different things and want to do it their way,” says Gustaf Helin, founder of Norwegian Mail Hotels.
Helin’s tour business helps tourists discover the Arctic nation’s hedonistic, eco-friendly side. Guests are driven to waterfalls and dramatic hiking spots. They can bungee jump off a glacier. There are also tour companies that cater to Nanny-travelers toting baby-changing tables and baby-and-toddler essentials, as well as museum and tour operators who want to attract families and ski-family travelers. (Amanda Hesslar, the field editor of Family Travel News, and her father’s company in October will launch a “coveted travel award” focused on family travel — the first time the coveted prize will go to a travel writer rather than a family or travel company.)