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The Ice Hotel - Sweden - To Dream the Impossible Dream
Why should I want to visit the Ice Hotel?
You just can’t help but be intrigued by a unique hotel that reincarnates itself every year? The Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi Sweden is constructed during a six week period each Winter from ice carved from the Torne River.
During the 5 months from December to April, guests from all over the world come to experience the artistic spectacle of the Winter Ice Hotel before it melts back into the river and the natural world that originally gave life to it.
Besides the 15 to 20 standard ice rooms in the winter hotel, it also houses 12 art suites uniquely designed and hand-carved – all of them created for the very first time. Once the ice melts in April, no-one will ever be able to stay in them ever again.
To Dream the Impossible Dream
The story behind the construction of the Ice Hotel is a fascinating one. Back in 1989, its creator – Yngve Bergqvist – was running Summer tourist activities such as white water rating in Jukkasjärvi and was looking for a way of extending the season through the Arctic Winter. His Tourist Manager advised him against it and said that everything should be closed during the Winter because no-one could possibly ever want to visit during those harsh conditions.
Thankfully, Yngve Bergqvist was determined to turn the adversity of Winter into an opportunity. He said to himself: “I wanted to turn that around and create something positive out of the cold and show there is so much light amidst the dark – the northern lights and the shiny white snow.”
When the hotel was full one night and some disappointed guests asked if they could sleep in the icy reception hall instead and woke up raving about their experience, Yngve Bergqvist knew he was onto a winning concept.
Taking his inspiration from the Japanese Sapporo Snow Festival, the concept of an Ice Hotel that was constructed by artists and sculptors from snow and ice and returned to Mother Nature every year was born. For me, it is a great example of how – with enough drive, determination and imagination – seemingly impossible dreams really can come true. All you need to do is dream big enough – and then to actually make it happen.
Bucket lists are all about dreams and – as bucket list items go – this is was a pretty big one for me. Ever since I visited the Ice Hotel in Kirkenes, Norway back in February 2019, I have wanted to visit the original Ice Hotel and find out what it would actually be like to stay inside it. Now was my chance to actually make that dream come true.
Where is the Ice Hotel?
200 km north of the Arctic Circle, Sweden, one of the last untouched rivers in Europe – the Torne River – flows through mountains and forests, to the little village of Jukkasjärvi – “meeting place by the water”. There are more dogs (1100) in Jukkasjärvi than people (900). There is snow on the ground for 8 months of the year, 2 weeks of near complete darkness in the middle of Winter and sun which never sets in the Summer. This is the home of the one and only original Ice Hotel.
Will I See the Northern Lights?
In fact, there is light at this latitude all year round – it is just a different kind of light. Arctic sunrises and sunsets are pristinely beautiful. On top of that, this far North, the Northern Lights frequently put in an appearance. So yes – if you visit the Ice Hotel during the Winter, you are very likely to be able to tick the Northern Lights off your bucket list too.
Find out more about the Northern Lights on this post.
How do I get to the Ice Hotel?
Jukkasjärvi is a short taxi ride (about 15 minutes) from Kiruna Airport. Kiruna Airport was inaugurated in 1960 to enable access to iron ore mining operations, space/weather/climate research, magnificent unspoilt nature and the northern lights. Since 1989, the Ice Hotel has ensured that Kiruna airport continues to be well used. If you wanted a truly romantic alternative to the short taxi ride (and you come dressed in all the right gear), you could opt to arrive at the Ice Hotel via a husky dog sled?
To get to Kiruna airport, you will need a domestic transfer flight from Stockholm Airport.
What are the Ice Hotel rooms like?
There are actually 2 ice hotels with cold rooms: Ice Hotel 365 (open all year round) and the Winter Ice Hotel (open December to April and rebuilt each year).
There are also warm rooms and chalets surrounding the two ice hotels. The advice is to book 1 night in a cold room either at the start or the end of your stay and spend the remainder of your stay in one of the warm rooms.
Ice Hotel 365
Ice Hotel 365 is kept frozen by means of solar power. It has 9 Art Suites and 9 Deluxe Suites (1 Johka, 4 Hilla and 4 Jaúvre) exclusively designed and made of snow and ice.
If you book an Art Suite, you will have access to a communal warm bathroom/sauna area and a private, lockable changing room with a plug socket. If you splash some more cash and book a Deluxe Suite, you will have access to your own private en suite warm temperature bathroom at the back of your cold room. Johka has a shower and toilet, Hilla also includes a sauna and Jaúvre has both a sauna and a bathtub.
Deluxe Suites don’t come cheap though. Depending on the season and demand, expect to fork out over £1,000 a night. My stand out favourite was A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Take a look at some of the other magnificent art suites that are available year round at the Ice Hotel 365.
Raindrop Prelude and Sauna. (complete with rolled up towels made of ice) were also pretty spectacular.
In the DeLuxe Suites, you also have a little kettle – and tea and coffee – nice if you can’t sleep in your cold room freezer!
Winter Ice Hotel
The Winter Hotel is the authentic Ice Hotel Experience though. It has 15 – 20 Ice Rooms and 12 Art Suites which are constructed each year and melt back into the Torne River each April. Each year, the Ice Hotel is given a new number – so this year, we stayed in Ice Hotel 33 (the 33rd Ice Hotel constructed since the first one opened in 1989).
If you book one of the Art Suites, you will have access to a communal warm bathroom/sauna area and a private, lockable changing room with a plug socket. You will have to brace yourself for a walk down an ice corridor and a short walk outside to reach the warm communal bathroom/sauna/changing area though – so don’t drink too much the night before!
See where we actually stayed – and what is was REALLY like to sleep in a cold room here.
Warm Rooms & Chalets
Accommodation at the Ice Hotel - Good to Know Before You Go
- Unfortunately, you can’t book a specific Art Suite or Deluxe Suite in advance. You can express a preference, which Reception will do their best to meet, but room allocation is decided only on the night before.
- During the day Ice Hotel is open to the public. Day visitors and guests have access to see all the rooms. This means overnight guests don’t get their rooms until 6 pm.
- Check-out for warm rooms is at 11 am, so if you check out of a warm room and into a cold room, you will need to leave your luggage in an open luggage storage room until you are allocated a locker/changing room at 3pm. You can leave valuables in the hotel safe at Reception, but it’s really best not to being too much tech/valuables with you on this holiday – you really don’t need them anyway?
- If you don’t book an Art Suite, you will be allocated a locker only in the communal changing rooms – no private changing room.
If you book an Art Suite, you have a lockable private changing room where your luggage can be left overnight. Otherwise, you are allocated a locker in the communal changing room (separate for men & women).
What is the Food Like?
There are 3 restaurants at the Ice Hotel and during our stay, we sampled them all. You can safely except a lot more than a few Swedish meatballs here!
Ice Hotel Main Restaurant
The Main Icehotel Restaurant has a lovely menu based on locally sourced ingredients.
You can sample local delicacies like reindeer, moose and arctic char here as well as lingonberries and cloudberries (which are in ample supply) and tiny almond potatoes.
For a dining experience a little more beyond the ordinary, you can also order the Ice Menu (£90 adult + wine). Your creative menu of the finest local ingredients will be served on plates of Torne River ice. There is also a children’s menu.
Chef's Table - Verandah Restaurant
For a more bespoke experience, you can eat at the Chef’s Table at the Verandah Restaurant. This is a fine dining experience. Your sumptuous array of courses will be cooked in front of you. You can choose an alcohol inclusive package for paired food and drink too. Be warned – there are a lot of courses, but they are all tiny portions, bread isn’t served and the drinks are poured very freely! The menu is themed to follow the 8 seasons of Swedish Lapland.
For a more wallet friendly, homely option, there is also the Homestead Restaurant, located a 10-15 minute walk up the road from the Ice Hotel. There, you can find steak, pizza and burgers served in a warm and friendly environment.
What is there to do at The Ice Hotel?
There is plenty to do at the Ice Hotel, whether you come in Winter or not. You can experience everything from Ice Fishing/Northern Lights by Snowmobile, Ice Sculpting, Husky Dog Sledding, Cross Country Ski-ing, Horse Riding and Sauna/Ice Bathing Rituals here
It’s best to book activities before you go though – we spoke to several guests who were disappointed that everything was booked up by the time they got there. You may be able to book activities via local firms, but it’s best to make sure before you go to avoid disappointment. The activities really made the stay enjoyable. There really isn’t all that much to do at the Ice Hotel if you don’t book the excursions.
Tips for Future Travellers
One tour I wouldn’t advise booking in advance via the Ice Hotel is the “Meet the Reindeer Tour. You can book this much more cheaply directly with the Sami Museum itself , which is only a 15 minute walk away from the hotel. See LINK.
If the weather is really bad, tours do usually still run, but you will be given the option to cancel and have a refund. Be warned – if you do start out and later wish you hadn’t you will (reasonably enough) be charged the full rate.
When to Go to the Ice Hotel
I think Mid Winter is by far the best time to visit. Yes, it will be extremely cold, but isn’t that why you want to experience the Ice Hotel? You can be assured of deep snow and a very good chance of seeing the Northern Lights. Yes, the days will be short (e.g. Sunrise 9.30 am Sunset 2pm), but spectacular sunrises and sunsets are the perfect compensation.
The Kiruna Snow Festival is held in the last week of January, so it might be an idea to time your visit to coincide with that? The Festival is based around a snow-sculpting competition. The tradition started in 1985 as a space-themed snow-sculpture contest .
What will it cost to stay at the Ice Hotel?
It is hard to be exact about this because the Ice Hotel employs variable pricing depending on demand and the season. The cost of your holiday will obviously vary depending on which excursions you book too. For our trip for 2, including flights, all excursions and Dinner at the Chef’s Table at the Verandah restaurant, we paid a total of £3102.
What Should I Pack for a Trip to the Ice Hotel?
During our trip, the thermometer varied from 0 to -25 degrees. If you think the Winter in the UK is cold, this holiday will take you to a whole new level of “It’s freezing”! So it is really important to pack the right gear.
The time honoured layering principle is really a must:
- woollen thermal underwear nearest to the body
- a mid layer fleece
- a thick down jacket to help retain body heat is ideal. You end up looking like the abonimable snowman and moving much more slowly than usual, but that’s all part of the fun of a holiday like this.
- 2 pair of socks
- woolly hat
This short video on how to pack for a trip to Swedish Lapland is well worth a watch!
For sleeping in a cold room, you will need your own:
- Thermal base layer
- Fleece hat
What Gear Can You Borrow at the Ice Hotel?
The Ice Hotel lets you borrow gear during your stay to make sure your trip is as comfortable as possible. You can borrow:
- Two balaclavas (but you might prefer to bring your own for something worn so close to your mouth?)
- Snow Boots (Great equipment – best to grab a pair right at the start of your trip. We wore ours all the time).
- Mittens (It was difficult to find a left and a right mitten that were the same size and had a strap that worked. There were many more left than right gloves for some reason? If you like snow sports, then investing a a good paid or mittens might be worth it. Otherwise, allow much longer than the advised 10 minutes before your excursion starts to find a matching pair of gloves!
- A snow suit. This goes on over your coat and zips up over your boots. They are huge and difficult to walk in at first – but great for keeping you warm on a snowmobile or a husky dog sledge when the Arctic wind is blowing against you as you gain speed.
Goggles, base layers and spare glove etc. are available to purchase in the shop if you don’t bring enough with you.
Whatever gloves you take, you’ll probably find you won’t have the right ones with you. Mittens are by far the best option, because you can keep your fingers moving around inside them. Boots are a challenge too. You need boots with a really good grip (the hotel grounds are quite slippy) and big enough to take your 2 pairs of socks and still be able to move your feet around. You may well need to change your socks, hat and mittens during the day too if they get wet, so you’ll need a few pairs with you.
We used the Ice Hotel issue boots to get to our room and back (they didn’t freeze overnight). You really don’t need anything else – the Ice Hotel sleeping bag and sheet liner are very efficient at keeping you warm.
Glad I Packed
Apart from all the gear listed above, I was also very glad to have packed:
- 2 swimsuits – You need one for the sauna anyway and the communal showers have very little frosting (?!). It isn’t easy to dry kit when you don’t have a warm room, so 2 swimsuits are useful.
- Ski goggles – great for the snowmobiling and husky dog sledding. Sunglasses just wouldn’t work!
- Thermal phone case and power packs – the cold plays havoc with battery power.
- Lip salve – beware though – it freezes easily!
- Sunglasses/sun cream – especially for Spring/Summer/Autumn trips
- A drawstring bag to keep your ‘phone, tissues etc. in which you can keep down at the bottom of your sleeping bag is useful.
Tips for Future Travellers
I packed in a wheeling suitcase and had no trouble pulling it around the hotel site, despite deep snow. The paths were packed hard with ice.
If you are buying a new rucksack for the trip, then buy a thermal one to keep your battery power maximised – and your lip salve useable!
As in all of Scandinavia, alcoholic drinks are expensive. You may be tempted to stock up on duty free booze at the airport, but remember that you won’t be able to take it on your connecting flight to Kiruna!