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Staying at the Icehotel in Swedish Lapland was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Pros: the chance to stay in a room made entirely of snow and ice, phenomenal service and amenities. Cons: a confusing check-in process, little privacy (especially in the communal showers) and expensive activities.
When I first heard about the Icehotel, I was beyond intrigued and had so many questions. How does one sleep in a room made of “snice” (a combination of snow and ice)? How does the structure stay standing? Is everything made out of ice, even the bed, and if so, how does body heat not melt it? Are the bathrooms also made of ice? How would that even work?
As a cold-weather-lover, I knew I had to try it out, so on a recent trip to Scandinavia — which I booked because I’d spotted a Norwegian Air deal alert to Stockholm and Copenhagen — I made the trek all the way up north to Jukkasjärvi, Sweden. In this idyllic Lapland village just outside Kiruna, dogs outnumber people (seriously, there are 1,000 dogs to 900 humans) and the nearby Torne River has some of the purest water in the world. The fact that it’s 200 kilometers (~124 miles) north of the Arctic Circle ensures the weather’s cold enough during the winter for the Torne to remain frozen, making it the perfect place to snag some crystal-clear ice for the Icehotel.
On the dates I was looking for, only “Cold Rooms” (as opposed to “Warm Rooms,” which are basically like staying in a regular hotel) in the 365 building were available when I checked the Icehotel’s website. Note that prices mentioned below for my stay reflect the value of the Swedish Krona at the time I booked.
I decided to book Art Suite 365, a “Cold Room” that totaled 8,620 SEK (~$976) for my two-night stay. After I booked my accommodations, I looked into things to do while I was there and ended up booking two additional activities: a dogsled transfer from Kiruna Airport (KRN) for 6,150 SEK (~$696) and a Northern Lights tour via snowmobile for 1,950 SEK (~$221), for a total of 8,100 SEK (~$917) more.
The total for my entire stay (including accommodations and all activities) came to 16,720 SEK (~$1,893). I booked everything with my Chase Sapphire Reserve Card so I’d earn 3x points for my travel purchases, which netted me 5,679 Ultimate Rewards points, worth $119 based on TPG’s most recent valuations.
Since the Icehotel doesn’t have its own loyalty program and isn’t part of a chain, you can always use a card like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card or the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard to “wipe” the charges off your statement. Or, if you’d like to earn points on your stay, consider using another travel rewards card like the Citi Prestige Card, which gives you 3x points on hotel stays — you might also want to consider using its nifty fourth-night free perk if you’re going to stay here for a long weekend — or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which gives you 2x points on travel-related purchases.
Since I was already traveling through Europe, it was easy for me to hop a flight from Copenhagen Airport (CPH) to Kiruna Airport (KRN), with one stop in Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport (ARN). When you get to Kiruna, there are several options for getting to the Icehotel, which is located about 14 kilometers (8.6 miles) from KRN:
- Catch a taxi outside the airport terminal. It’s a small airport, so when you go outside, you’ll be able to easily spot them.
- Book a transfer through the Icehotel, usually in the form of a bus or taxi depending on how many people also make reservations. This will cost about 165 SEK (~$18) per person each way.
- Take a transfer by dogsled, which is what I chose to do — when in Rome, right?
Since I was more than 120 miles north of the Arctic Circle and dogsledding is a local tradition, I figured, what better way to start my Icehotel adventure than by being pulled through the snow by eight Alaskan huskies?
When I arrived at the airport, I was greeted by the musher/guide, who helped me gather my bags and brought me outside to meet the dogs.
Because dogsledding is such a big thing in Lapland for both tourists and locals, it’s a normal mode of transportation, so there’s a specified pickup/drop-off area. My bags were transported to the Icehotel by van, so thankfully, there was no chance I’d lose my possessions along the way. Next to the pickup/drop-off area, there were several cabins.
My guide took me inside one of them, where I was able to change into warmer clothes and receive the specially-made snowsuit, boots, mittens and balaclava (ski mask) that would be mine for the duration of my stay.
After I was properly suited up and ready to take on the frigid Arctic air, I headed back outside to the dogsled.
The musher gave me a quick briefing on safety protocol, asked if I had any questions and before I knew it, we were off!
The epic dogsled journey costs 6,150 SEK (~$696) per dogsled, seats up to four people, and lasts about 75 minutes. These dogs are bred to pull sleds and get very, very excited, jumping and howling once they know you’re about to get going. Because my trip was contained a light load — the musher and I were the only two passengers — we only needed eight dogs. Our average speed was about 15 kilometers per hour (~9 miles per hour), and because we were constantly moving, the cold air numbed my face really quickly. It was amazing to hear the musher communicate with the team of dogs — each one of them has a name and knows several commands. Sometimes I couldn’t even hear the musher giving orders, but the dogs could, and it was pretty incredible. Check out the video below to see a little of what my ride was like.
When we arrived at the property after my dogsled adventure, it was at the back entrance along the Torne river. My guide walked me past various figures and rooms made of ice and up to the main reception lodge.
The lodge proved to be a warm sanctuary both when I first arrived and at several other times throughout my stay.
Between the fireplace and all the antlers, the decor in the lobby really made me feel like I was in the middle of the the vast Lapland wilderness.
After attempting to check in, though, I was told that this was the wrong reception area. Because I was staying in a “Cold Room,” my check-in area was actually down the hill inside a separate check-in area. As a first-time guest, this was a little confusing and I think there could have been better markings around the property, or even in the main building, to help guests figure out where to go, especially if it all depends on where they’re staying.
Once I found the right place, the check-in process went smoothly. The receptionist gave me some tips for sleeping in the cold and a few extra pointers so I’d get the most out of my stay. Note that if I had taken a mode of transportation other than a dogsled to the property, this is where I would have collected my snowsuit, mittens, balaclava and boots.
After I received the key to my room, the receptionist showed me to my dressing room, which had the same number as my room in the Icehotel. Each of the guests staying in a 365 room has access to one these because the room itself has no storage and is open to the public during the day, so guests must store their belongings here instead.
They’re key-activated like a hotel room, and inside, look like the typical dressing room you’d find at a clothing store. There’s a mirror and a small sitting area…
…as well as a coat rack and shelf. Plus, there are several power outlets available so you can charge your electronics (there are none in the room, since it’s made entirely of snow and ice). If you’re staying in one of the 365 rooms, consider this your “room away from your room.”
I will say that it’s a bit of a tight squeeze. If you’re coming here with your family or with a significant other, it might be hard trying to change or get ready in such a small amount of space. Nevertheless, it’s nice to be able to have a private retreat and somewhere to go when your “Cold Room” is open to the public between 10:00am and 6:00pm.
The Cold Room
The property itself is rather large and spread out across a sizable area. There are two main types of rooms: warm and cold. “Cold Rooms” are further broken down into “365 rooms,” which stay frozen all year long and the more traditional-style Icehotel rooms, which are built from scratch every winter and melt away every spring.
I stayed in an Art Suite 365 room, which is located inside the property’s state-of-the-art 2,100-square-meter building that houses nine Deluxe Suites and 11 Art Suites.
The building is climate-controlled, giving guests the chance to sleep in a “Cold Room” 365 days a year — hence the name. Even after all the ice has melted, the 365 portion of the hotel stays open. Each room is unique. I didn’t have a choice as to which room I wanted, so was assigned to room 310, titled “Flow.”
To give you a sense of just how cold it is inside the 365 building (-5˚C, or 23˚F), I’ll let this picture of the (heavy) door do all the talking.
Once I scanned my keycard and stepped inside, I quickly realized why my room was called “Flow.”
Each room at the Icehotel is a work of art — this one was designed and crafted by Berlin-based artist Francisco Cortés Zamudio.
According to the brochure, “Flow” is supposed to represent “the mental state of being immersed in a feeling of energized focus. The bed represents the harmonized feelings, the rectangles on the wall, the liberation of the mind and the whirlpool near the bed is the connection with the idea. Beside the bed you find a sculpture, which symbolizes the feeling of taking off that we get when we enter the flow.”
Before I got to the hotel, it was hard for me to imagine how crystal clear the ice would be. When I arrived, I was shocked by how flawless it is — it looks like something you would find if a bottle of purified water froze and was chiseled into a sculpture. It was remarkable to see, especially because the blocks are made from freshwater that’s taken from the Torne River right outside and put into a warehouse-sized freezer until the following winter when it’s ready to be carved.
One thing I noticed about the room is that it was pretty dark — there’s not much lighting in the suite. The little light there is comes from the circular shape above the bed and the wall of rectangles in front of the bed — they’re LED lights, so they don’t produce any heat. There are two light switches in the room — one next to the door when you first walk in and one directly next to the head of the bed. The location of the latter one is ideal — you can flip it off when you’re about to go to bed so you’re not struggling to take your boots off in the dark. When the lights go off, it’s really, really dark — pitch black — and you truly cannot see or hear anything around you.
You don’t actually sleep on the ice, by the way, as that would be flat-out uncomfortable. You do get a mattress — it was very comfy — along with a black mattress pad that acts as an extra layer of insulation so your body heat doesn’t melt the ice, as well as two sets of reindeer hides. When I was ready to go to bed, I stopped by the “Cold Room” reception desk and pick up a thermal (and incredibly warm) sleeping bag and sheet.
I was also given two Icehotel-branded pillows, which I found to be perfectly fluffy.
So, how did I stay warm when my room was 23˚F and I was surrounded by ice? Great question. Layering is essential in these conditions — I wore three layers on my bottom half and four on my top half. Then, over it all, I wore my Icehotel-supplied snowsuit to keep all that warmth trapped. I also wore gloves, two pairs of wool socks, a hat and a scarf to cover as much exposed skin as possible.
All of that layering kept me nice and toasty both nights I was there, but I did wake up one or two times each night when my exposed face was starting to feel a little numb. At that point, I just pulled my scarf up over my face, and the heat from my breathing and its condensation warmed me right up. If you do get too chilly during the night, the “Cold Room” reception area is open 24/7 so you can head in there to warm up a little. I will say that as far as sleeping goes, I had two of the most peaceful, quiet nights I can remember — the dark and quiet rooms are really great for a good night’s sleep.
One thing that I wasn’t such a fan of was the wake-up process. There’s no need for an alarm clock if you’re staying in a “Cold Room” — Icehotel staffers will rouse you. Around 7:00am or 8:00am, an Icehotel staff member will open your door, turn on the light and greet you with a good-morning hot lingonberry juice. They wake you up so early because from 10:00am to 6:00pm each day, your room is not really your room — it’s entirely open for the public to stroll through and have a look. The hot lingonberry juice was a nice way to start the day — especially after spending the night in a freezing cold room. But I wish there were a better way to go about waking guests up, as I awoke completely startled both days.
Overall, I really enjoyed my two-night stay in the “Cold Room.” The Icehotel recommends guests spend one night in a “Cold Room” and the rest of their time at the property in a “Warm Room,” and I can definitely see why. Although it was truly a thrilling, once-in-a-lifetime experience, by my second night, I just wanted to sleep in a regular old temperature-controlled space. That said, I think the experience of sleeping surrounded by “snice” is something everyone should try at least once.
Food and Beverage
Right after you’re woken up in your “Cold Room,” head over to the Cold-Room Reception area to get ready for the day, have a nice, hot shower where your dressing room is, then head over to breakfast, which is served directly across the street from the Icehotel. It’s about a four-minute walk from the 365 building and is clearly marked so you can’t miss it.
Breakfast is included with your stay and the building has a lodge-y feel, almost like being at a ski resort. The breakfast offerings were very Scandinavian and involved a lot of cheeses and meats.
There was also a selection of cereals, yogurts and fruity toppings. Hot food items included sausages, eggs, pancakes and sautéed mushrooms, among others. Overall, it was a nice breakfast spread, but there were no cook-to-order choices that I could see, which would have been a nice touch.
For dinner, there weren’t many options, given that Jukkasjärvi is such a small village. The Icehotel has two restaurants — the Icehotel Restaurant, where breakfast is served, or the Jukkasjärvi Homestead. I chose the latter for one night while I was there. It’s not actually located on the property, and to get there took about a 10-minute walk down the main road. It was a pleasant stroll, though it was a cold one. The Homestead restaurant was easy to find, as there are few other public places in the village.
The exterior exuded a homey, rustic vibe, which makes sense, given its name.
The Icehotel encourages guests to make reservations, which I did easily. Inside, the decor was charming and quaint — I really felt like I was in Lapland. To start, I had a vegetable soup, which was delightful. I had to try the Torne Islager beer, brewed locally with water from the Torne River. If you’re in the area, you should try it, too.
For my main course, I had grilled corn-fed chicken, which tasted incredibly fresh and was served with grilled vegetables and drizzled with a tasty sauce. Each meal came with your choice of potato gratin, pommes frites or a mixed salad. I chose the fries, and they were as delicious as the chicken.
I really enjoyed my meal at the Homestead. It’s unfortunate that there aren’t many options for dining at the hotel, especially since the village is so small. If you’re not looking to dine out, head to the lounge in the “Warm Room” reception lodge for to-go food and snack.
When I first booked my stay, I remember thinking, what would the bathrooms be like? Would they be made out of ice, too? Thankfully, there are several bathroom options available — and no, none of them are made of ice.
In the 365 building, a restroom is located in the main hallway. Judging from the exterior, it might look like it’ll be icy inside, but luckily, it’s a warm break from the constant 23°F temperatures found in the rest of the building.
There’s also a small sitting area. If you’re staying overnight in the “Cold Room” and want to warm up a little, you can relax in here for a few minutes instead of having to brave the weather and walk outside to the Cold-Room Reception building.
Other than the 365 in-house bathroom, which is great for overnight trips to the restroom, a full bathroom with showers and a sauna is located in the Cold-Room Reception area — it’s in the same area as the dressing rooms, so I didn’t have to walk too far after to change after getting out of the shower.
Unlike the unisex bathroom inside the 365 building, the ones in the Cold-Room Reception building are separated. The women’s room was very communal-feeling. When you walk in, there’s a shelf with towels to use for the shower or sauna.
Directly behind it is a bench with mirrors and hair dryers. There’s also a lot of bench seating around the perimeter of the room and places to hang your things.
To the right of the island of mirrors are sinks and the two toilets, but the number of these was nowhere near enough, especially during the morning and evening rush, when guests were all coming in and out, brushing their teeth and going to the bathroom. I wish there had been a lot more space for all of us to get ready.
I must say, if I had one major complaint about my stay, it was the showers. I get that the bathroom is totally communal — almost like a hostel or college dormitory — which is fine, but the showers were almost completely transparent and I found this to be pretty odd. Each of the nine stalls was separated by a wall, but it served almost no purpose. It would have been nice to have more privacy here, especially considering privacy is so limited around the rest of the hotel.
Aside from the bathroom amenities, there was another highlight of the property: the Icebar.
As you might imagine, the aptly-named bar was made entirely out of the same clear Torne River ice as the 365 rooms.
The names of the drinks here were really creative, too. To go with my the theme of my room, I tried the “Flow” drink.
My cocktail was pretty good! And drinking out of the glass, which was also — you guessed it — made entirely of ice, was a truly unique experience. Once you order your first ice-glass drink, each subsequent drink costs less because you can use the same glass. The record for the most number of drinks out of a single glass before it melted, by the way? 26. Good luck trying to beat that.
The Icebar itself was a really neat experience and is a must-do if you’re in the area or staying at the Icehotel.
Stay tuned for my full tour of the property, which will include a closer look at the Icehotel’s other amenities.
As I’ve noted, there is little else in Jukkasjärvi besides the Icehotel and buses of people are brought in every day to tour it. The property offers guests a wide range of activities once they get there, including ice sculpting, cross-country skiing, ice fishing, reindeer sledding, and moose safaris, among other options.
And while the hotel certainly gives you plenty of ways to keep busy during the day, they tend to be very pricey — a cross-country skiing excursion in the mountains costs 1,995 SEK (~$222) per person, while a trip to see the Northern Lights on horseback costs 1,950 SEK (~$217) per person. Since I wanted to get the full Lapland experience, I decided to do one activity while I was there — the Northern Lights Snowmobile Safari, a four-hour tour for 1,950 SEK (~$221) per person that also included dinner.
On the night of my tour, we were split into two groups. We got our gear and zipped through the woods on snowmobiles along narrow paths.
We arrived at a remote campsite about an hour outside the Icehotel that was perfect for viewing the Northern Lights. In the cabin, we were served a warm dinner of reindeer and elk stew, which was pretty good, and dessert. Since we were in Swedish Lapland, we were also served hot lingonberry juice.
Unfortunately, the night I was there, the skies were extremely cloudy and we couldn’t see anything. Nevertheless, it was a fantastic experience. Maybe next time I’ll be able to see the Northern Lights.
Because the activities were so pricey, I chose to spend part of my day at the Nutti Sámi Siida, a museum located just down the road from the Icehotel. It’s about a 15-minute walk down the main road of the village (you’ll pass by the Homestead) — when the road comes to a dead end, you’re there.
A trip to the Sámi museum was recommended to me, and is worth a visit if you’re staying at the Icehotel. 170 SEK (~$19) gives you admission as well as a self-guided tour around the property.
You can take your time looking at all the exhibits, which were almost like stepping into a model Sámi living environment, or try out some cross-country skiing if you want.
Of course, the highlight of the Sámi museum is its reindeer exhibit. There’s a reindeer pen where you can hang out with these big, beautiful creatures — they’re a little aggressive toward one another, but are very gentle to humans. If you want to feed them, which you can do for an additional fee, the largest and most dominant of the group will definitely let you know he’s there.
To be so close with these animals that I’d only just heard about was such a cool experience. There’s no time limit for how long you can stay in the pen either. If you’re staying at or visiting the Icehotel, the Sámi Museum is definitely worth a detour. (But, sadly, no, I didn’t see Rudolph there…)
During my two-night stay at the Icehotel, the service was phenomenal. The staff were beyond friendly, not only to guests, but also to tour groups who made their way to the property for tours every day. Even when I was awakened at 7:30am each morning, it was done by a staff member with a bright smile on their face — even though it was very early and I am not a morning person.
I always say how the service at a property can either make or break a stay. Thankfully, in the case of the Icehotel, everything was impeccable.
I had very high expectations going into my stay at the Icehotel. I’d seen and heard so much about the wonders of this property — how the water was locally-sourced, right from the Torne River and how it’s truly something that you have to see to believe. Each room really is a work of art, and being able to interact with it and to sleep in it was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Upon checking out from the “Cold Room,” the Icehotel gives you a diploma so you can remember your stay and how cold you were during the night. I thought this was such a cute little souvenir.
I really enjoyed my stay at the Icehotel. Everything here was executed so well — the property knows it has a reputation and guests have expectations, and the staff makes sure that all your needs are met. My one major complaint was the showers — in such a communal bathroom, it would have been nice to have a little more privacy while I was bathing.
That said, everything else was very nicely done. The hotel suggests that guests spend one night in a “Cold Room” and the rest of their stay in a more traditional hotel-style “Warm Room,” and I can understand why. I’d recommend just one night in a “Cold Room” — once you get the full experience for a night and you spend the rest of the day in the Arctic cold, you’ll want to sleep in a nice, warm room. And, it’s important to remember that this isn’t a relaxing stay like you’d get at a resort in an exotic beach location: you’re in the cold, and if you’re staying in a “Cold Room,” you will be woken up very early and not have access to it all day. But it’s all part of the adventure. It’s an icy journey, but it was well-worth making the trek up to Jukkasjärvi to experience it.
Have you ever stayed at the Icehotel in Sweden? Tell us about your experience, below.
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