What to expect from a stay at Scandinavia's ice hotels
With the opening of the 28th incarnation of Sweden’s original ICEHOTEL just a couple of days away, we’ve turned our attention once again to this most iconic of winter accommodations. And, while ice hotels have been around in once form or another since the start of the 1990s, it seems there are still a few burning questions from potential visitors hoping to take the plunge. Best Served Scandinavia has the answers:
Where is the ICEHOTEL located?
Having remained the same for nigh on 30 years, the original ICEHOTEL’s privileged location on the banks of the Torne river in the heart of Swedish Lapland might not be a secret, but it certainly is spectacular. The closest town is Jukkasjärvi, a remote settlement of around 550 residents, some 200 km inside the Arctic Circle. Fortunately, a flight into Kiruna and a transfer – by husky sled if you wish – makes reaching this outpost relative simple, and exciting.
image: Marcus Alatalo
Once you’re there, you’ll be treated to the sort of landscapes that make this corner of Scandinavia so uniquely beautiful; expect glistening lakes, plunging rivers and vast forests, all covered in a wintery coat of ice and snow. All in all, it’s the ideal spot from which to head out on any number of winter excursions, with everything from snowmobiling trips to Northern Lights jaunts offered as an optional extra. And, with the recent opening of ICEHOTEL 365, you can now combine an ICEHOTEL stay with the summertime thrills of white water rafting, or more sedate pursuits such as berry picking, all under the glow of the midnight sun.
image: Marcus Alatalo
How do you sleep in an ice hotel?
Spending a night on a block of ice in a room where the temperature hovers at around -5ºC is, admittedly, a strange idea. And for many, before the “how?” comes the “why?”. After all, the ‘guests’ at the very first ICEHOTEL were all survival specialists from the Swedish armed forces.
So what makes some 50,000 people a year now want to experience what are essentially the same conditions as those army folk encountered all those years ago? Well, to begin with there’s the bucket-list aspect, knowing you’ve done it and been able to tell your friends. But there’s much more to it than bravado alone. Each room, carved from blocks of ice hewn from the Torne River are transformed into genuine works of art, works of art that are truly unique, and with a very short shelf life to boot. And which other type of hotel in the world offers that?
An Art Suite in the ICEHOTEL 365 (2017-18)
So, once you’ve moved on from the why, and you’re fully committed to the experience, the how becomes almost unimportant. The practicalities are straightforward enough, after all. There’s a room, made of ice, and a bed, also made of ice. On top of the bed is a cosy reindeer fur and an Arctic-rated sleeping to keep you toasty during the night. Then, in the morning, you’ll wake to a steaming lingonberry juice, a hearty breakfast and a day packed with excitement and adventure.
Which country has an ice hotel?
While there used to be just the one ice hotel, in recent times the concept has unsurprisingly caught on, with a flurry of new offerings opening up in Finnish Lapland and remote northern Norway. There's even one across the pond in Canada, just outside World Heritage-listed Québec City.
Which ice hotel is the best?
Ultimately, this is something you’ll need to decide for yourself, although our well-travelled team will be more than happy to share their experiences and point you in the right direction. To help get you started, here are our favourite ice and snow hotels, and the standout features of each:
ICEHOTEL, Jukkasjärvi, Sweden
Ice Suites at the ICEHOTEL 365 are unique and change every year – what do you think of this Victorian-inspired theme?
- Located 200 km north of the Arctic Circle, Sweden’s ICEHOTEL is the first of its kind. They’ve been going now for almost three decades, so they're definitely doing something right.
- Expect intricate ice sculptures and stunning ice art across 65 rooms and suites
- Break with seasonal traditions with a stay at ICEHOTEL 365, now open in summer
Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel, Norway
The frosty romance of Sorrisniva's ice chapel
- This is Norway’s original ice hotel. It features 30 rooms and suites, an ice bar and even a chapel for the ultimate winter wedding
- The food here is outstanding, with guests able to celebrate the culinary traditions of the Norwegian Arctic at Restaurant Laksestua
- The bar is pretty special, too, with carefully crafted cocktails served in glasses made of ice
Kirkenes Snowhotel, Norway
Cosy Gamme Cabins at Kirkenes Snowhotel
- Expect a warm Norwegian welcome at this remote snow hotel, just 16 kilometres from the Russian border
- Fish for king crabs, then cook and eat your catch, one of a number of unique Arctic experiences
- After a night on ice, warm your cockles in a cosy Gamme Cabin, a delightfully modern take on a traditional fishing hut
Lainio Snow Village, Kittila, Finland
br>Bold colours at Lainio Snow Village
- Sleep in one of 30 sculpted Snow Suites in the remote reaches of Finnish Lapland
- Be amazed by Lainio’s vast network of corridors, packed full of beautifully lit ice art
- Take to the slopes with some of Finland’s finest alpine and cross-country skiing on the doorstep
Arctic Snowhotel & Glass Igloos, Finland
Stunning ice beds at Rovaniemi's Arctic Snowhotel
- Experience the magic of a snow-hotel stay, right in Santa’s back yard
- Let off steam in the hotel’s unique snow sauna, surrounded by walls of ice
- Swap over to a glass-domed igloo for private displays of the Northern Lights
Kemi Snowcastle, Finland
A suitably grand entrance at Kemi Snowcastle
- Enjoy all the trappings of an ice hotel with the convenience of a city centre location
- Dine in the uncompromising splendour of the world’s largest ice restaurant
- Dip into the frozen Gulf of Bothnia with a thrilling icebreaker cruise
If you're not already excited by the idea of sleeping in an ice hotel, watch this video put together by the ICEHOTEL to see just how beautiful it is.