Located about 220km north of the Arctic Circle, on the banks of the Torne river, is Sweden’s Ice Hotel. This was a destination that Claire had been talking about since we met. In February of 2014 we actually got a chance to do this!
We began our trip from the town of Luleå. We’re fortunate enough to have family there (I’ll tell you much more about the town in a future post!) and they offered to drive us to the Ice Hotel, located in Jukkasjärvi, about 20 minutes outside of Kiruna, a large mining town in Northern Sweden.
The two hour drive was spectacular. The snow and isolation made it seem like a dream. Trees had curved all the way to the ground under the weight of snow. Every so often, we’d pass a reindeer standing along the side of the road.
After about an hour and a half of seeing nothing but snow and reindeer, Claire’s cousin announces that she “knows this great little place to get a coffee and perhaps a treat” (Fika, as it’s called in Sweden). Sure enough, she pulls off the road and drives up to this tiny little cafe in the middle of this arctic panorama.
Yes, it was a great place for Fika
Half an hour later, seemingly out of nowhere, it appeared.
HOLY CRAP WE’RE ACTUALLY AT THE ICE HOTEL!
What seemed like a crazy idea was happening. We had somehow come from Toronto all the way to this remote village 220km north of the Arctic Circle … in February … and there really was a hotel made entirely of ice.
Now, the Ice Hotel has two main structures. One is permanent, and is made of wood and brick and all the things we expect. It’s heated and it’s where you check in, store your bag (your stuff will freeze if left in the rooms), go to the washroom and the sauna.
The other structure is what we came to experience. A hotel made entirely of ice and snow. Carved and assembled every year, as come May the hotel melts back into the Torne river. We were staying at the 24th Ice Hotel.
We checked in, got our guest lanyards (it has become a tourist destination where people come just to see it, but don’t stay overnight, so guests have special lanyards telling staff they’re the brave ones who are going to stay!)
Now it was time to go inside, take a tour of the facility and the special art rooms. These art rooms (a special few rooms out of the approximately 60 rooms), were individually designed and carved by artisans flown in from around the globe. Each had a special theme or story.
Walking inside, first thing we noticed were the ice chandeliers in the hallways. We walked on until we came to our first art room.
This fun room was called Pole Dancing, featuring images and sculptures of dancing polar bears having a party. Claire decided to join in for a while!
My favourte was the room called It’s Alive!
Carved and designed to invoke the laboratory of a mad Dr. Frankenstein, this room was stunning. Not only levers and dials, but the ‘tesla coils’ on either side of the bed would flash with a strobe whenever the big red button was pushed. (I pushed it far too many times for any grown man)
Here, in a room entitled AfterThe BIg Bang , you can go to sleep in a shattered snow globe … okay, so that’s pretty cool
Alright, so we had seen a lot of rooms. Yes, they were all amazing. Now, wasn’t there supposed to be an Ice Bar?
HOLY CRAP, I AM IN THE ICE BAR! (the holy crap moments seemed to happen often here)
The bar was full of interesting and odd sculptures
This ice fish done by a Japanese artisan was a great place to take the obligatory “help, I’m getting eaten by a giant ice fish” picture
This “spin the bottle” table seemed like a cute idea, until some ladies from Liverpool got a bit too drunk and thought that you had to follow the directions … it was law! We don’t have any video of a drunk woman trying to dance on an ice table, but I’m pretty sure how you imagine it turning out in your mind is exactly how it went.
Claire found a nice booth for us to sit in. Yes, it’s all made of ice. Reindeer skins are there for … well, kind of decoration. They neither keep your butt warm nor make the seat soft. BUT LOOK HOW COOL THAT LOOKS!
Enough playing around … this was a bar damn it!
Drinks, as it turns out, were not insanely “gotta sell the car” expensive. At the Ice Bar, you never need ice in your drinks, the glass is a block of ice
(Claire drawing upon her Swedish heritage here, holding the ice cup without gloves … stupid Vikings!)
One last photo in the bar. After all, inside the Hotel it’s around -5C at all times, so eventually you need to go warm up.
Time for dinner!
Yes, the restaurant is in a separate, heated building across the street. (the look on my face is “I am hungry, are you finished taking pictures so I can eat now?” You see that a lot in my photos)
With a truly captive audience (where else are you going to go?), this restaurant didn’t have to be great. Happily, it was spectacular
Claire had some amazing grilled Arctic Char. I’d like to be able to tell you all the other side dishes on the plate … but this was almost 2 years ago and I’m lucky to remember what I had for dinner last night!
I am having reindeer filet … trust me, if you ever get a chance to have reindeer, you have it! Best meat I’ve ever tasted. Like a very tender beef with that slight mineral taste of something like liver … okay, that may not sound as awesome as it did in my head, but it was so good!
I can tell you that I have some shitake mushrooms on my plate that were grown in the depleted mines in Kiruna. Amazingly, everything on both our plates was sourced locally.
Sure, it’s cold, but ice cream! Served in an ice block bowl (because, why not?) and flavoured with arctic berries. Spectacular finish to a spectacular meal!
Okay, it was still early (it had been dark since 2pm). Time to explore!
The Ice Hotel has a bunch of these ‘kick sleds’ or ‘sparks’ all around the facility. It’s actually a great, quick way to get around. Also, FUN!
We took them all the way down to the Torne river and along it. We were having fun, and were brave, but weren’t going to get too far from the only heat and shelter we could see in the arctic, in February, at night …
Unfortunately it was cloudy that night, so no Northern Lights (again, that will be another post from when we went even further north after the Ice Hotel!)
After a bit of sledding fun, we went back up to the hotel.
This ominous looking place was actually an Ice Church. Turns out, many people like to use this place for a destination wedding! In fact, there was a wedding going on when we first got there.
The Ice Church, so you can pray you survive the night in the ice.
Now, one thing we didn’t expect when we went here were all the British tourists who had come. Okay, we have British relatives, so I feel comfortable in saying this … Brits are some of the WORST tourists in the world! Before you judge me, let me explain:
While we were out exploring this stunning landscape, the Brits (admittedly, not all of them) had set up in the lobby of heated building, having lager and crisps while texting on their phones. The next morning at breakfast they could also be heard complaining about how cold their rooms were … in a hotel MADE OF ICE! Sigh … okay, rant done.
Time to investigate our room!
The room had light coming from the base of the ice bed. No windows in any rooms, as protection from wind is more important than seeing outside. Also, you have a doorway, but no door, just a heavy curtain. This is because the snow and ice (snice, they really call it that) that make up the walls will be constantly settling and a door would almost immediately become stuck and unable to open.
So, how does one survive a night in a room that is -5C and sleeping on a bed of ice?
Short answer, in a thermal sleeping bag
You place all your belongings in a large locker in the heated main building. Again, anything in your room WILL FREEZE overnight. Next, you strip down to long johns (thermal undies if that makes more sense). You don’t want layers between you and the thermal sleeping bag, or you won’t generate enough body heat in the bag to stay warm.
You grab the bag just before heading to sleep (you want them to have been in the heated main building as long as possible). Now, the run …
There is no direct connection between the building and the Ice Hotel. You have to go outside and through a doorway. This means you are going to go outside in nothing but your thermal undies, carrying a sleeping bag, and heading to your room. Even once you’re at your room, it’s -5C.
Basically, as quickly as you can, you head to your room, unzip the bag, get in and zip it back up … oh, and make sure to shut the light first. You don’t want to have to climb back out to shut that. In case you are wondering, no, of course there is no plumbing or toilet in the Ice Hotel. If you have to pee in the night, you are doing a very cold run back to the main building. Advice … don’t drink too much before bed!
So, how was our night on the ice?
Actually, we both found it incredibly comfortable
In the morning, since there are no windows or clocks, one of the staff will come into your room at 7:30am to wake you. I just remember hearing this lovely little Swedish accented voice saying “Good morning”, looking up at a blond haired, blue eyed angel who had hot lingonberry juice for us and was letting us know we had lived!
After our hot lingonberry juice, it was off to have a quick sauna … spending the night in -5C, you need it. Another fun British tourist fact … they won’t ever get naked. EVER. So, the sauna was just me and a nice Swedish tourist. We chatted about the incredible experience of the place, about Sweden in general … making sure we never looked at each other’s junk …
Standard Swedish breakfast of hard bread, cheese, liver sausage and processed meats to follow!
So, that was our one night at The Ice Hotel. We caught a shuttle bus to Kiruna that dropped us at the train station. We were taking a train further north, to Katterjåkk, where the family has a cottage. That will be a whole other blog post!
If you’d like to have hot lingonberry juice at home, it’s pretty easy.
Grab lingon concentrate from the food section of IKEA. Just add little to water, heat to simmer and pour.
You can always add spices, such as cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and cloves to add that holiday feel. (Also, as I usually suggest, adding gin makes this a great way to warm up on a cold winter night!)
To learn more about Sweden’s Ice Hotel, click here: TELL ME ABOUT SWEDEN’S ICE HOTEL