Discovery is predicting that three trends will dominate travel in 2018: the renaissance of northern Europe; the rise of Asian heritage projects; and an increasingly sophisticated health and wellness tourism industry.
In the first trend we explore northern Europe’s appeal and highlight Denmark as a key factor. Click here for that article.
Southern Europe’s virtues have long been extolled, with dreamy Mediterranean islands, picture-perfect Tuscany and the glitz of the Cote d’Azur overshadowing the less sun-drenched north in many travellers’ minds.
But now the spotlight has turned to Europe’s cooler edges, with everywhere from Scandinavia to the Baltic states to the British Isles enjoying a surge in interest.
Leading the trend is Iceland, where tourist numbers swelled extraordinarily (up 56 per cent year-on-year in the first four months of 2017) thanks to new flights and innovative accommodation, while Finland and Estonia also saw double-figure growth in the same period.
The Nordic cuisine revolution, fronted by Danish chef René Redzepi, has created culinary ripples across the region, but the chance to see the Northern Lights (according to Chinese travel agent Ctrip, the numbers of Chinese tourists travelling to see them increased 400 per cent in 2017) or the midnight sun, the wild, unspoilt landscapes and exceptional new hotels like Finland’s Arctic Treehouse Hotel are other major draws. Demand from Asian travellers, particularly over the Lunar New Year, is soaring.
‘We’re seeing a big growth in demand for Scandinavia particularly; it’s up around 30 per cent,’ says Andrea Godfrey, managing director at UK tour operator Regent Holidays. ‘People want that winter wonderland experience and there are some amazing accommodation options, from treehouses to glass igloos.’
There are more reasons for northern Europe to be on your travel wishlist for 2018. The Baltic states – which offer a winning mix of medieval cities, untamed nature and affordable hotels, while still being relatively off the beaten track – will be celebrating 100 years since declaring independence.
The UK now offers great value for money for international travellers and there are exciting cultural events happening in many northern European cities. Plus, this airline launches three new routes from Hong Kong this year – Brussels in March, Copenhagen in May and Dublin in June.
THE COOL HOTELS: SWEDEN
For a properly cool stay, check into Sweden’s Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi, 200 kilometres north of the Artic Circle – now open all year round. It’s carved out of snow and ice by selected artists, and solar panels are used to keep it cool in the summer months. While in Sweden, don’t miss Stockholm: time a visit to coincide with EuroPride, which is being hosted in the capital in conjunction with Gothenburg for the first time this year, from 27 July-5 August.
THE CULTURAL CITY: LEEUWARDEN
Amsterdam usually hogs the Dutch limelight – but this year the Frisian city of Leeuwarden in the north gets to party as the 2018 Cultural Capital of Europe. There will be great theatre, tall ship races, art (including a massive exhibition of work by local boy Escher) and general fun and frolics. The Friesland province is known as the country’s lake district, so it’s a perfect choice for messing around on boats, too.
THE ANNIVERSARY: 100 YEARS OF BALTIC INDEPENDENCE
This year marks the centenary of the declaration of Baltic independence (which was lost again during the
Second World War and regained in 1991). The three states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have plenty of celebrations planned, from national operas to exceptional art exhibitions. The Latvian capital, for example, will host the inaugural Riga International Biennale of Contemporary Art in June, while Europa Cantat – the largest choral festival in Europe – comes to Tallinn, Estonia, in July. Tallinn is high up in the cool northern European city stakes, with hip neighbourhoods like Kalamaja, a street food and creative hub.
THE FOODIE HUB: COPENHAGEN
Chef René Redzepi reinvented Nordic cuisine and put Copenhagen firmly on the foodie map with the one-time world’s best restaurant, Noma. Closed since last February, its long-awaited reopening this month as Noma 2.0 at a new site with an urban farm has mouths around the world watering (Redzepi spent last summer travelling northern Europe researching his new menu). Exciting new eateries are popping up in the city all the time – and it’s not just high-end food. In trendy Vesterbro, WestMarket is the latest addition to the street food scene; while November saw the opening of Tivoli Corner, a new food hall with restaurants and food stalls in the historic Tivoli Gardens. Copenhagen Street Food market, on Paper Island, will relocate to an expanded indoor and outdoor area in Refshaleøen in April.
THE CITY IN THE SPOTLIGHT: LIVERPOOL
With the post-referendum drop in sterling, the UK offers excellent value for international visitors – and one of the most exciting cities to visit this year
is Liverpool. The home of The Beatles has a mega year of cultural, music and sporting events lined up. The Liverpool Biennial kicks off in July, and the Tate Liverpool celebrates its 30th birthday with a blockbuster Egon Schiele exhibition from May. China’s Terracotta Army goes on show at the World Museum in February; and China Dream, a nine-month-long festival celebrating Chinese contemporary art and culture, also kicks off next month.
THE ADVENTURE: SCOTLAND
Scotland was named the most beautiful country in the world by publisher Rough Guides last year – and international visitors can’t get enough of its wild landscapes and rambunctious cities. According to tourist board Visit Scotland, in the first two quarters of 2017 there were 1.3 million international visits, up 14 per cent year on year. This year offers even more reasons to visit with the first V&A museum outside London opening in Dundee in the second half of 2018, as well as celebrations in Glasgow marking 150 years since the birth of architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Plus the Caledonian Sleeper train from London is getting a £150 million (HK$1.6 billion) revamp for spring. Wilderness Scotland also has new walking adventures in the Cairngorms National Park – 15 years old in 2018 – and remote northern Scotland (wildernessscotland.com).
THT REINVENTION: BELFAST
When the £53 million (HK$552 million), 304-bedroom Grand Central Hotel opens in Belfast in June it will be the largest hotel in Northern Ireland. Owned by Hastings Hotels, it’s on the site of the original 19th century hotel of the same name and promises to be a glamorous base. Visitor numbers to Northern Ireland have soared in recent years, partly thanks to its Game of Thrones appearances, and Belfast has undergone a remarkable transformation with the new Titanic quarter and regenerated neighbourhoods. It’s also just a two-hour drive from Dublin and also the gateway to the beautiful Causeway Coast.
THE COMMEMORATION: FLANDERS
This year marks 100 years since the end of the First World War. The area of Belgium now known as Flanders Fields, in the west of the country, will be holding various commemorative events. Coming World Remember Me, an art installation of 600,000 clay sculptures representing those who lost their lives on Belgian soil during the war, runs from April until November in Zillebeke. The Flanders Fields Museum (above) in Ypres will have a Traces of War: WWI Archaeology exhibition (17 February-26 August) taking a look at life in the trenches, while re-enactments will take place in Zonnebeke over a weekend in September. Beyond war memorials, cities like Bruges, Brussels and Ghent offer plenty of fun, modern diversions – and artist Peter Paul Rubens’ city, Antwerp, one of northern Europe’s most fashionable cities, will be celebrating its baroque heyday and contemporary talent with a calendar of arty events from parades and concerts to art shows.