On our bucket list was a once in a lifetime trip to Lapland, It’s not a country but a northern region covering Norway, Sweden, Finland and a part of Russia. Most Brits go to Finnish Lapland, we opted for Swedish Lapland and Jukkasjärvi a remote Swedish town, not to see Father Christmas, but to sleep on ice! yes ice. There’s not much in Jukkasjärvi except a few hundred residents and the world famous Icehotel. A magical place on earth where visitors sleep in one of the 50 ice rooms, which is what we want to experience, sleeping at -5ºC!
We went in December to feel all Christmassy, all we can say is words and pictures won’t convey the magic of being there. It really was a fairytale winter wonderland, surrounded by incredible scenery, soaring snow covered pine forests, plus another bucket list item a chance to see the Northern Lights!
Arriving in the Arctic Circle
After a short flight from Stockholm we arrived at Sweden’s northernmost airport, over 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle. We’ve never landed on the snow before, so that was an experience in itself! The airport was incredibly cute looking too. After a short wait for our bags we made our way oustside to the Icehotel’s transfer bus, and got our first taste of the cold, oh boy was it cold! Jukkasjärvi’s Icehotel is not far from the airport, about 20 minutes.
As the coach set off from the airport we started getting that butterflies in your stomach feeling, as we passed picture postcard brightly coloured homes with perfect Scandi Christmas decorations, the Swedes are just ridiculously chic! Getting closer and closer the other adult guests and us were like small children looking out of the windows waiting to catch their first glimpse of Father Christmas, for us it was the Icehotel! We were not disappointed, as the coach slowly approached the Icehotel, there were gasps of delight – oohs and ahas as we witnessed the beautiful snow covered chalets, and the Icehotel in the distance, set against a dramatic sky.
At reception everyone got kitted out with clothes and boots, we brought our own winter gear, but the hotel supplied everything so you don’t really need to worry about that. You’re given a locker to keep you clothes too, and you change in a large changing room with others which is a little weird, but everyone was too excited to worry about inhibitions. Phil brought his best ‘walking’ boots, however they might as well have been bedroom slippers, having put them on he put Torville and Dean to shame. Anyway they were quickly swapped for proper ice boots at no charge.
A work of Art
Every year in winter the entire hotel is built from scratch. Tons of huge ice blocks are carved out of the nearby Torne River and vast quantities of snow are ice shavings are compacted to form the hotel structure.
The Icehotel is a piece of temporary art, where every year artists and creative types from around the world come to carve the ice and snow creating incredible works of art, different to the last year, so each year the interior is unique.
Eventually the hotel melts away in the spring, and the whole process begins again – the ultimate in Eco recycling. It’s open from December to April.
Inside the Icehotel
Through the reindeer skin clad main doors, was the majestic main hall, it took our breath away when we first entered, it was absolutely stunning, one word WOW. It even had a hotel reception desk made of ice, with staff wrapped up in chic fur hats.
The compacted snow walls were carved with a tropical jungle scene, complete with palms and elephants, just incredible craftsmanship. The main hall led to an alter with a pyramid sculpture and stunning chandelier above it. The ice chandeliers have become somewhat iconic to the Icehotel and are really beautiful.
You can even get married here (now there’s an idea!) in the Ice Church next door. Surely this must be the world’s most unique venue for a wedding ceremony? It was still under construction when we arrived, so January is a good time to go when the construction of the whole site is completed, as it initially opens in stages.
The Art Suites
The Art Suites are something else! every room is unique, these are again breathtaking pieces of hand carved sculpture. Garth felt truly inspired by the artist’s creative work, as all the designs had wonderful intricate detail in the snow and ice. The lighting design was really clever too, with LED lights buried in the walls.
Garth’s favourite was the sci-fi looking Tron inspired suite, and Phil loved the suite which was carved with abstract trees, all beautiful creations. We really were visiting a living art gallery and this is what we were paying for – high quality art.
Sleeping on Ice
Well this really was a life experience, and something we’ll never forget. The madness of sleeping at -5ºC was about to begin! Our ice bed had reindeer skins, sleeping bags and pillows, all raised slightly on a wooden mattress pallet. We were toasty warm, in our long johns and arctic sleeping bag. Phil must be the only person to sleep at -5ºc to wake up early as he was too hot! We basically ignored the staff’s advice to not wear too many layers as you won’t feel the benefits and warmth of the sleeping bag.
We chose the mid priced Ice Room, the art suites are spectacular with spectacular prices to match! (but understandable given how much work has to go into it each year) Our Ice Room had 2 seats with a table, and bed side side tables to match all made from huge blocks of ice. The room didn’t have a door just a reindeer skin curtain, bit you are so toasty warm you won’t mind. It was all very special and romantic too.
Before going to sleep Phil put the locker key that he had round his neck on the ice bedside table. In the morning it had frozen into the table! and left a nice imprint, also that morning we woke up to be served with hot lingonberry juice, and even given a certificate to say we had succeeded sleeping on ice. It really is the world’s coolest hotel!
After this we spent two nights in the warm accommodation, a lovely wooden cabin, with perfect Scandi minimalist design. There were also larger chalets available, but most people we spoke to also chose one night in the Icehotel, and a couple of nights in the wooden cabins. Oh and do try the tap water which comes straight from the Torne River, fresh and tasted even better than bottled spring water!
One of the highlights was the Icehotel’s Icebar we felt like we were in a scene straight out of a Disney’s Frozen, wonderfully atmospheric! Without realising we had arrived on their opening night, which meant we were offered a free drink, just aswell as we love cocktails and they were expensive! On the ice stools and seats were plenty of Reindeer skins nice and cosy! also means your bum won’t get wet.
The ice glasses are carved from more blocks of pure ice straight from the Torne River. Phil couldn’t resist nibbling on them once he’d finished a cocktail. They export these ice glasses worldwide, and you can even buy them on their online website!
If you can’t make it to Jukkasjärvi, there is now a permanent Icebar in Stockholm, plus there are seasonal Icebars in other world cities including London, which we’ve been to twice to remind us of stay in Jukkasjärvi.
During the day you can amuse yourself with spectacular hiking or take advantage of the many excursions on offer. We booked a few and our husky ride was up first. The sled dogs were so excited, as they knew they were about to run and just as we came over the hill and saw us they starting howling – they were ready for the race of thier live… and so were we!
Days are short in Lapland, even first thing in the morning it feels strange as the light is going. The light feels otherworldly as the sun never rises above the horizon, so there’s always an orange and pink hue to the sky clipping the trees.
The wilderness of Lapland is just gorgeous and unspoilt, after an exhilarating ride through dense Pine forests, which looked spectacular covered in thick snow, we stopped for coffee and home made chocolate cookies. Inside the cabin we learnt about the culture and lives of Lapland’s indigenous Sami people. We also took total advantage of the log burner warming up, which we sure needed.
It was time to get out in the snow once again and head back to the Icehotel. You can’t help but smile and feel happy as you listen the dogs barking their heads off, and passing the dramatic winter scenery straight out of a fairytale book, the feeling is hard to describe but could be because we love the snow and maybe it reminds us of our childhoods?
The wind was absolutely biting and piercing cold on our faces, so you definitely need to wear a balaclava (which they supply) Oh and don’t wear gloves, wear mittens, as they said to us “a lone finger is a cold finger” so true! If you work in a city like us, then you’ll also notice and appreciate just how good quality the air is, it felt so fresh and pure, a delight breathing in.
Another adventure was snowmobiling in the dark. It was actually in the afternoon, but it goes dark at 3pm, winter months are a complete contrast to their summer months of constant daylight. We spent our time looking up for ‘Guovsahas’ which is what the Sami people call the Northern Lights, sadly they didn’t perform for us that night, despite Jukkasjärvi being one of the best places in the world to view them. Frustratingly our guide told us they were out in full force the night before!
Zipping along the frozen and majestic River Torne was breathtaking – however that wind burn felt like our faces were peeling away. The temperature was about -30ºC but the windchill made it feel even colder. Garth kept asking Phil if his face was bleeding! Our guide told us it’s not unusual for your eyelashes to freeze when temperatures get as low as –40ºC
The best part of the ride was when we were whizzing through the forest paths and suddenly some wild Reindeer emerged from the trees and skipped across right infront of us! Amazing.
We booked a session in ice sculpting, where you carve chunks of ice from a large block into any design of your choice. Being Christmas Garth carved a retro style Christmas bauble and Phil went for an Ace of Spades playing card (random!) Inside the large tipi we had an American teacher, who demonstrated some techniques we could all try. She was an absolute delight and Garth loved listening to her arty stories. Sadly the time seemed to go really quick, we both wanted to do it all over again, but instead our teacher kindly gave us a private tour of construction work that was still going on elsewhere where we got to meet some of the artists working on the art suites, it was fascinating to see them carving and their techniques.
So how did Phil get the white bits in his design? Well after carving the holes out he filled them with ‘snice’ a mixture or snow and ice – exactly the same stuff they construct the hotel with. Apparently since is stronger than just using snow.
The Icehotel’s restaurant was all very classy, ok it’s not cheap, think Michelin star quality.
What made us laugh was the menu – Reindeer for breakfast, lunch and dinner! Veggies might struggle, as everything seemed to be either reindeer or lingonberry, with every single combination and variation of the two. Having said this, don’t think the menu was limited, there were lots of options, and breakfast was super, one of those good ones with plenty of choice.
We tried a restaurant in the village one night called the Old Homestead it’s owned by the Icehotel so we could easily add the cost to our room bill. We had Smorgasbord from the menu – a collection of small dishes plus some delicious home made ice-cream.
After dinner each night we walked down to the frozen river, where the large void in the forest meant huge skies. We stood for hours looking for the northern lights, but sadly they didn’t perform during our stay. (However we did finally see them on another holiday to Reykavik, Iceland)
One last bit of fun making snow angels! We have wonderful memories to take home from our most unique sleeping experience in Jukkasjärvi.
Phil & Garth’s Top 5 Icehotel Tips
- Tip #1: Don’t drink too much the night you’re sleeping on ice – otherwise you’ll need to get up and go outside, like Garth had to!
- Tip #2: Everything in Sweden is expensive, however there is a small supermarket down the road where you can stock up.
- Tip #3: You can’t easily wear spectacles snowmobiling, because the helmets are so tight fitting, take contact lenses if you can.
- Tip #4: Book excursions and activities to get the best out of this trip.
- Tip #5: Icehotel is bucket list stuff, we’d highly recommend … so save up and do it!