This year’s readers’ choice winner for Travel + Leisure’s Destination of the Year is Iceland, which earned just over 14.5 percent of the vote in our online survey. In second, with 10.5 percent of the vote, is Singapore — perhaps thanks in part to the influence of smash hit film “Crazy Rich Asians.” Japan, our editor’s choice Destination of the Year, comes in a very close third.
The Nordic destination, a 40,000-square-mile island 700 miles northwest of Scotland and 185 miles south of Greenland, is an obvious choice; even those who don’t work in travel media are bound to have noticed the destination explode onto the scene in recent years. In fact, figures indicate that the country has more tourists than citizens each year, inspiring the tourism minister to contemplate a travel tax. And while Icelandmania was already in full swing back in, say, 2015, the constant influx of travelers has brought unprecedented development and even more ways to experience the country.
There’s plenty of hotel news, as demand for rooms remains steady and new types of properties arrive on the island. The headliner this year was the Retreat at Blue Lagoon, the first luxury property on the famous geothermal spa, with suites that look out onto the mossy, alien landscapes of the surrounding volcanic terrain. Other new additions include a duo of ION properties, one in the capital and one adventure lodge located farther afield; Deplar Farm, in the north, from luxury adventure brand Eleven Experience; more offerings in the remote peninsulas of the western region, like the Arnarstapi Hotel; and, of course, the inevitable bubble hotel, for glamping under the breathtaking Icelandic sky. Future openings include a sleek EDITION hotel in Reykjavik, debuting in 2019, and there are more in the works.
And there are even more ways to get there, with IcelandAir — which already offers free stopovers in the country on the way to other destinations — adding new nonstop routes from several U.S. cities. American Airlines and WOW Air are also adding new flights. Keflavik Airport, in the capital, is expanding to accommodate growing numbers. And more people are seeing the island by boat: Silversea’s Silver Cloud will circumnavigate the island next year, Oceania Cruises has new pre- and post-cruise land itineraries leaving from Reykjavik, and Ponant’s new Le Champlain will loop around Iceland in its inaugural season.
But what’s really bringing people back? Iceland’s sheer natural beauty, which remains jaw-dropping — if no longer “under the radar.” Visit the Vatna Glacier, a stunning underground ice shelf; snorkel in the Silfra Fissure, between two tectonic plates; or take a dip at one of the country’s famous black-sand beaches. Game of Thrones tourism is a big draw, as is spa and wellness travel (there’s even a new beer spa, if that’s your thing). There’s stellar new Nordic food and destination restaurants worth traveling for. And what better place to see the northern lights? Iceland might not be the “next” big thing anymore, but by all accounts, it lives up to the hype.
Read about Travel + Leisure’s editors’ pick for the 2018 Destination of the Year: Japan.