Thinking about staying in an ice hotel but unsure which to choose? Francesca just arrived back from visiting the ICEHOTEL, the Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel and the Kirkenes Snowhotel – highlights the differences between the options available in Sweden and Norway to help you pick the perfect match.
In the late 1980s, Sweden’s Yngve Bergqvist built the world’s first hotel made out of ice. It wasn’t originally designed to be a hotel, instead it was supposed to be a demonstration of Sámi culture and living styles. Intrepid visitors requested to sleep in the ice structure, and the realisation of opportunity was not lost on Bergqvist. Today, almost 50,000 tourists visit the ICEHOTEL every year, either to sleep in it, have a drink at the ICEBAR or simply marvel at the architecture. However, with ice hotels and bars now popular across the world – even Mexico has an ice bar – I thought it best to compare the three closest to home!
The much-touted original ice hotel has long been northern Sweden’s accommodation jewel. Each year entire swathes of snow and ice are carved by a team of 42 artists into magnificent rooms linked by grand hallways and galleries of ice art. The effect is nothing short of stunning with 35,000 cubic metres of snow and ice – the equivalent of 700 million snowballs – used to create everything from chandeliers to ice churches.
It’s certainly on a much larger scale than its competitors and feels decidedly grand in comparison to the smaller and more intimate experiences at Alta and Kirkenes. You will be kept busy with a full complement of activities such as guided tours, cross country skiing sessions, Northern Lights tours and even the opportunity to try your hand at ice sculpting.
Between snowshoeing and snowmobiling, glass igloos and meeting Santa, I feel that I’ve seen a lot of Scandinavia. However, a stay at Kirkenes – Norway’s designer ice hotel – is one my favourite experiences in the region to date. The personal service and friendly environment made for a really special stay. From the restaurant staff to the guides on the excursions, everyone went above and beyond to make my time there memorable. Everything was very well organised, which started with a fun briefing and demonstration from our waitress about how to ‘survive the night’.
However, what I loved best was that everything was in one place; it had a real village feel with the huskies and reindeer as your neighbours. The first sight that greets you when drawing open the front doors is the giant yet intricately detailed statues of the Ice Bar. My tour continued through a long, snow-hewn corridor lined with yet more ornate sculptures to my accommodation, one of 30 unique rooms. I couldn’t take enough photos.
After a sleep in the cold, I would recommend that that you spend the following night in one of the cosy Gamme Cabins. They have oversized floor-to-ceiling windows and a lovely seating area so you can snuggle up and watch the Northern Lights from the comfort of your own room. I’d also advise that you have a go at the King Crab Safari – an excursion unique to the Kirkenes Snowhotel. I was taken out on a snowmobile-pulled sledge to fish out our lunch and, with a fjord-to-plate time of less than half an hour, this was by far the freshest meal I’ve ever eaten. An absolute must for seafood lovers.
This is another great option, hidden away among Norway’s far northern reaches just outside of Alta. A small, family run property, this ice hotel has an intimate and cosy feel that really makes you feel at home – and trust me, that can be difficult when your bed is made out of ice! Its welcoming atmosphere is best realised in its cosy lounge area, perfect for relaxing with a good book in front of the fire.
For the more adventurous you can also rent snowshoes and take a walk out by the lake. Back inside, my highlight has to be the restaurant where a full range of regional delicacies is sure to delight. After dinner, I settled in to my arctic sleeping bag for the night. I stayed in an individually designed Ice Suite, which I’d recommend over the standard Ice Rooms for the extra space and its extravagantly carved design.
What’s more, the morning sauna is a great way to wake up before you get stuck into the activities on offer – think snowmobiling and husky sledding. Unlike at Kirkenes, there’s no warm accommodation here so I’d suggest spending the following nights in nearby Alta, home to ancient petroglyphs and spectacular canyon cliffs.
If you're interested in an ice hotel holiday this winter, contact one of our other tailor-made consultants today on 020 7838 5956 or email them, and you'll receive no-obligation advice on how best to enjoy a truly unique holiday!