“A charming fairy-tale experience…until you realise, that if it is a hotel, you’re meant to sleep in it.” – Joanna Lumley (on her ice hotel experience)
Ever since watching Joanna Lumley sleep in an ice hotel during her documentary on Norway, about ten or so years ago, the idea of doing so myself had stayed with me. We hadn’t specifically set out to tick this one off the bucket list, but serendipity stepped in. Lars’ offer of summer work had taken us to Norway, after which we were going to a house-sit in France for seven months. As we had already travelled through Norway, we planned to take our journey south through Sweden. We fortuitously discovered that the Ice Hotel was on our route. So here we were, about to embark on our ice-capades in this spectacular Ice Hotel in Sweden.
We stepped through into another world. A world that was immediately enchanting, captivating and magical.
The Swedish Ice Hotel sits 200 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, in the small village of Jukkasjärvi. It originally opened in 1989 with a seasonal hotel, one that is solely built for the winter season and then melts in spring. However, in 2017, in addition to this, it also opened the new 365 Ice Hotel. The 365 is open all year round and is the first permanent ice hotel in the world.
If you visit in the months December to March, you will have a choice to stay in either the Seasonal or the 365 Ice Hotel. The Seasonal Hotel is crafted from 1000 tons of ice, harvested from the adjacent Torne River. Artists come from all around the world to create their chosen designs for that year’s hotel. Come spring the hotel melts, flowing back into the river from which it came.
As we visited in late September we were staying in the permanent 365 Ice Hotel. The temperature of about -5°C/21°F is maintained throughout the year by utilising solar panels, the perfect eco power source for the ‘land of the midnight sun’, where, in the height of the summer, the sun never sets. The 365 has twenty rooms, with a combination of Art Suites and Deluxe Suites. Each room has its own unique theme, showcasing different artists creative designs. The Deluxe Suites have a ‘warm room’ connected to them with bed, private showers and toilet.
Separate to the Ice Hotel, there are self-contained ‘normal’ cabins available all year which you can choose to stay at if you are not ice-friendly. In fact, most people only choose to stay in the Ice Hotel for one night and then move to a cabin for the rest of their stay.
After check-in, we were keen to explore the Ice Hotel itself. At the entrance, you are given a long, thick cape before you then step into the main ice hall. Here, you find yourself in another world. A world that is immediately enchanting. As your eyes move around the entrance hall, they are captivated at every glance. The combination of the icy cold, the snow-muffled silence, and being surrounded by amazingly intricate ice designs makes for a moving and surreal experience. It was more than we ever expected. It was simply beautiful.
Within the main hall, there are incredible chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. You imagine that they could not themselves be ice, but you learn that each one is made from hundreds of hand-cut ice crystals. Here, there is also an Ice Bar, where you can order an ice-themed cocktail if you’d like to add an extra chill to your experience.
Still reeling in the wonder of our fairytale surroundings, we went through the reindeer covered door into the corridor which held the ice rooms.
Here the magic continued. We felt like we had entered some kind of portal into the realm of Narnia. Each room held its own delight, with breathtaking designs. From winding ice staircases and giant deer, fireplaces and bookcases, giant statues and ice angels, they all thrilled their onlookers with their distinctive splendour.
We snapped away until our fingers barely worked, the cold desperately nipping at them. We managed about fifteen minutes before our exposed body parts screamed for us to leave. It was at this point that we both wondered how on earth we could sleep there. Moreover, why would anyone in their right mind want to sleep in something akin to a ‘fridge’ overnight?
An induction session is held for all Ice Hotel guests at 5.30pm, before being given access to your room. You also receive a thermal sleeping bag, balaclava and snow boots. It is recommended that you sleep in thermal woollen leggings and top. Other things to take note of were:
- Do not have a hot shower or sauna straight before going to bed
- Keep fluids to a minimum near bedtime. You will not want to get out of bed to find the toilets.
- Keep all of your belongings in your locker or warm room.
- You should place any items that you take into the ice room (eg. phone, camera) inside your sleeping bag to prevent them from freezing.
During our stay, the reception was closed from 11 pm. As such, a complimentary ‘warm room’ (separate cabin) was available for our use from the time of our arrival at 4.pm until 11 am the next day. This meant that if we couldn’t handle the cold in the Ice Hotel, then we had somewhere cosy to go to get a good night’s sleep. This was a fantastic deal and was great for us to store our things and to hang out in, before venturing into our ice room for the night. Though we both knew that wimping out wasn’t an option. This was a lifetime experience, and no matter how it went, it was an experience we would see through.
With serendipity obviously feeling in a generous mood, the Northern Lights appeared as we made our way to the Ice Hotel from our cabin, (warm room). They danced and swirled and mesmerised us with their luminous colour.
With nature’s wonders all around us, we excitedly made our way to our frozen chamber. Reindeer pelts cover the mattress, which tricks your mind into thinking that this is a cosy experience. As we lay huddled in our sleeping bags we gazed at the magical bloom of ice jellyfish encircling us. Who could fail to fall asleep and dream beautiful dreams while under the influence of this unique underwater ambience?
However, beautiful dreams there were not. In fact, there wasn’t so much dreaming going on during the night as there was me trying to work out where the hell the head opening to my sleeping bag was. I had buried myself so deeply in the attempt to stay warm, I had completely lost my bearings. Moments of panic ensued, as I, like a caterpillar constrained in its much too snug cocoon, struggled and wriggled until I felt a brisk arctic chill invade my nostrils. A few seconds of welcome relief, knowing there was an escape route if needed, before I plunged my exposed nose back into the depths trying to find slumber. It was the kind of sleep where you feel you have been awake the whole time but too many hours have passed, so you must have unwittingly dropped off at some point.
In the morning, I emerged, not so much like a butterfly, but a dishevelled icy pole. I emerged none the less. Happy to have survived the night and not so frozen that I could be mistaken as part of the room’s bespoke art. Lars had also slept in fits and starts, and although not as cold as me, uncomfortable enough to prevent deep sleep. There seemed to be a mixed reaction from the other guests, so it’s not completely impossible to get a good nights sleep.
The wakeup call, with a cup of hot lingonberry juice, would be in an hour, at 8.00am. However, the initial thrill of our ice-capades was now wearing slightly thin. So, we peeled ourselves out of our sleeping bags, slid into the snow boots and trudged our way to the reception. Outside was a welcome balmy 2°C. We passed on the option of a sauna, downed our welcome, ‘you survived the night’ juice and retired to our ‘warm room’ for the immediate gratification of a hot shower.
We were still contemplating whether we had ‘enjoyed’ the whole experience, as we tucked into the delicious full buffet breakfast at the restaurant. Eggs, bacon, the works. Pancakes on top? Why not? We’d just survived a night in Arctic conditions for goodness sake – we were practically arctic pioneers!
Time Magazine listed the Ice Hotel, as one of the top 100 places to visit in the world in 2018. We would have to say, that we agree. The experience far outweighed our expectations. It was absolutely worth doing and an unforgettable experience. Worth doing once … and once only.
Good to Know
We stayed for one night in an Art Suite of the 365 Ice Hotel which cost us €232;
This included a night in Ice Hotel and a full buffet breakfast.
(We also had a complimentary warm room offered on arrival – but would advise checking with the hotel as to whether this will be offered.)
Guests do not have access to their ice rooms until after 6.00pm as prior to this, visitors to the hotel and other guests are able to take a tour around and admire the unique ice designs in each room.
Guided Tours around the hotel take place at 12 pm and 4 pm daily. (Free for guests)
Worth a Visit
Nutti Sami Resort (900 metres from the Ice Hotel)
Nutti Sami is a reconstructed Sami Camp. There are reindeer that you can feed by hand, interactive cultural display and a café with Sami cultural foods.
Is an Ice Hotel stay on your bucket list? We’d love to hear your thoughts or hear about any similar experiences. Please feel free, as always, to ask us any questions.
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* Please note that we paid for our stay and do not have any affiliation with the Ice Hotel.
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After finishing my Law Degree I decided to become a teacher. I am passionate about teaching, learning and most of all, about inspiring others. Now, as a writer and blogger, I love sharing our travels and our musings on life’s journey. I hope, through these, we can play a part in inspiring you to do whatever ‘satisfies your soul’.