Christmas at the IceHotel, Sweden

After spending our last few Christmas holidays in North America, there was something missing. Don’t get me wrong – New York at Christmas time is like stepping into a Christmas movie. But this year, we didn’t fancy “Miracle on 34th Street” but wanted to visit Narnia.

Having heard about the famous IceHotel for a long time – and tried unsuccessfully to convince Giles to give it a go – this year I was going to get my Christmas wish.

As a brief introduction, the IceHotel is located in the far north of Sweden, around 150km north of the Arctic circle. Its home is the small village of Jukkasjarvi, located by a large lake which freezes every winter. As well as warm rooms, the hotel itself is made up of the IceHotel 365 – a year round building with rooms and the Ice Bar kept at a constant temperature of -5C – and the annual IceHotel – a structure made completely of ice from the lake and rebuilt every year with a completely new design and set of rooms.

And so a couple of days before Christmas, we arrived in the snowy landscape of Swedish Lapland. It was only past midday but the sky was already glowing as the sun was setting after some short hours of daylight.

Kiruna Airport, 23rd December 2018, just after midday

Of course we were expecting it be cold. But stepping off that plane into -20C? The word “cold” can’t do it justice.

It’s so cold…

When you arrive at the hotel, you are provided with a snow suit – essentially a big, insulated onesie – gloves, and snow boots. However, we were grateful for the numerous jumpers and thermals we had packed in addition.

We may look like Teletubbies but the onesies kept us warm

During our trip, our first 2 nights were in a warm room (easing into this slowly…) and our final night was in an “Art Room” in the annual IceHotel. Each Art Room is different and you are not told which one you are allocated until you check into the cold area on the day. All were beautiful and unique – as we saw from wandering around during the day when the IceHotel opens all rooms to visitors and those staying at the hotel to explore. We were luckily allocated one of my favourites – the “TRON” room (not the official name the artist gave but appropriate nonetheless!).

When checking in for our night in the cold room, we were given a private cubicle to store all of our luggage and sleeping bags. You are given an introduction to spending the night on ice, with the tip that you shouldn’t wear too much in the sleeping bag as they quickly get warm through your body heat. Somewhat sceptically, when we did bunker in for the night, the sleeping bags were warm, comfortable, and surprisingly we had a great nights sleep. The tip you aren’t given is that it is probably a good idea not to drink too much water (or anything) before the night in cold room so you’re not up in the night in search of the toilets. Giles could have done with this tip…

The IceHotel offers a large number of activities, such as snow mobiles, cross country skiing and husky sledding. The village also has a lovely outdoor museum on Saami people and culture where you can also feed the reindeers. I won’t lie – the activities are quite expensive, but as we probably wouldn’t be doing this again for Christmas, we did squeeze in as much as we could.

Feeding the reindeers (this was a little scary…)
Giles set for driving a snow mobile (he nearly crashed into a tree, but I’m not allowed to mention that…)
Dinner in a wood cabin (I think it was moose stew)
Cross Country Skiing (too embarrassing to show actual ski pictures – skiing definitely not our thing)
Husky sledding – some of them were wearing little snow shoes for dogs!
Cosy coffee stop in a log cabin

The IceHotel has a number of options for food – if you fancy a simple lunch, you can grab a bowl of hot goulash and a beer in the hotel (warm) lounge area or there is a decent buffet for lunch (from someone who isn’t a fan of buffets to be honest). However, for a special Christmas Eve dinner we decided to experience the “Chef’s Table on the Veranda”.

This is a small and intimate dining experience where diners are seated in a cosy dining room (warm slippers provided!) and are invited to watch and interact with the chef as they prepare and serve a 12 course menu with matching wines. The food is inspired by Nordic cuisine with local meats, herbs and vegetables (including mushrooms that are farmed in the depths of the local mine). After meeting and feeding the reindeer only the day before, I was slightly disturbed to be eating Rudolph tartare, but it went well with the wine. We were lucky that we were part of a very friendly and social group of diners that evening, and a welcoming team of chefs.

Another highlight of the IceHotel is the IceBar. It is open year round and kept at a constant temperature of -5C (some welcome warmth when stepping in from -20C…), with ice benches, chairs and – of course – an ice bar. The drinks are all served in ice glasses, all made on site. Whilst it is very busy during the day with day-visitors, in the evening it calmed down a lot and made a great place for a relaxing night cap or two.

Yes – you still need to wear a thick coat in the bar!

Overall, our trip to the IceHotel was one of the most memorable Christmas holidays that we have been lucky to have. Beautiful location and opportunities to experience a range of new activities and moments.

If you want to see more moments from the trip, take a look at the videos that Giles put together.

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