True Life: I Rocked my Ice Hotel Holidays in Sweden
Are you planning your ice hotel holidays and looking to spend the night freezing your ass off while peacefully slumbering on a bed of ice? Did I mention that the room is only about 30 degrees Fahrenheit on a good day? No, that doesn’t sound insanely appealing to you and you’re not ready to immediately book your Ice Hotel holidays in Sweden? I am shocked to my core. Why would you not want to spend a small fortune (The ice hotel prices are a bit scary at about $160 a night but just cover your checkbook’s eyes and remember that it’s probably a once in a lifetime opportunity) sleeping in a frozen ice palace? I mean you could live out all of your fantasies from the movie Frozen! Should I start singing “Let it go”?
Okay for reals, i’ll stop. Totally kidding here because in all honesty, even though you are sleeping on a glorified ice block, you actually really don’t feel the cold. No, I swear! Don’t roll your eyes because they thoroughly prepare you for the experience. I mean, they even have an orientation about how to use the special sleeping bag and liner so that you don’t freeze to death or get frost bite while spending the night in the Jukkasjärvi ice hotel (Don’t ask me to pronounce it because then i’ll cry and revert to
childhood tendencies like hiding under my bed). At the time, I totally thought the orientation was overkill but once it was over, I was so glad I went.
Still don’t believe me and think that spending the night here and checking out some of their ice hotel packages is a little coo coo crazy? Well, maybe it does take a certain level of crazy, mixed with a dash of adventurous spirit, to rock out at the biggest and baddest ice hotel in the world. And yes, it is actually located ABOVE the arctic circle (Totally freaked when I saw the train information said the Arctic Circle Line, but they literally outfit you with everything from snow suits, jackets, and boots so no need to buy a whole new wardrobe just to visit this bad ass hotel. They also have a gift shop where you can purchase some items. I of course needed nothing, and ended up buying a hat and gloves. But I regret nothing, until I saw my bank account), but don’t be scared. Just picture the hotel overlooking a winter wonderland of frozen tundra that is dotted with reindeer leisurely searching for food amidst an enclave of pine trees that are just barely visible in the distance. Then slowly look up and take in the majesty that is the vibrant colors of the ice hotel northern lights (They are not the hotel’s northern lights. LoL. But they are stunning to behold. A truly awe inspiring experience as you witness the sheer beauty and power of nature) seem to dance in the background (Or cha cha. I like cha cha better).
What, this ultra flowery and super romantic description isn’t doing it for you? Well, then just picture me, hopping on a rogue, traditional, Swedish sled, and not so gracefully busting my ass as I careen off the sled and into a stray ice bank. Yup, that really did happen and yes, it was as funny as it sounds (I blame the driver of the aforementioned sled. No personal responsibility here). See, I knew that level of hilarity would entice you. So check out this post and learn how to plan your ice hotel breaks and maybe even find some ice hotel package deals.
Procrastination Strikes Again
For my ice hotel holidays 2017, I really didn’t think that I would end up staying at the Ice Hotel in Sweden. I mean, I had tried to make a reservation, I really had. But all the rooms were booked, even three weeks before my stay (I was utterly shocked since I thought no one was weird enough to want to spend their winter holidays freezing to death in the Arctic. But clearly a ton of people do this since the hotel only has like 60 cold rooms that fill up fast).
Not gonna lie, I was super bummed out since this hotel seemed to offer such a fun and unique experience (curse you procrastination and your self-harming ways) that I would totally miss out on (port party for 1). But, as I scrolled through the website, I found out that the hotel actually offers tours of the complex to the general public. So “Ok, ” I thought, ” problem solved
. I’ll just book a hotel in Kiruna and visit the ice hotel while I am in the area.”
***Budget Tip – Since staying at the ice hotel is rather pricey (And by pricey I mean you need to own your own island nation to be able to afford to stay here), you can book a guided tour of the Ice Hotel, in English, at either noon or 4 pm everyday (you can also stroll through the complex on your own throughout the day), for SEK 325 ($40) for general admission or SEK 200 ($25 ) per person for students. To book a tour, just purchase tickets at the gift shop.
***There are a reliable set of buses that run between the Ice hotel and Kiruna so you can book a cheap hostel there (Options include Scandic Ferrum, Camp Ripan, Arctic Eden, Hotell Vinterpalatset, and MÁTTARÁHKKÁ Northern Light Lodge) then take a day trip to the Ice hotel. As a friendly FYI, the last bus for Kiruna leaves from the Ice hotel at 6:15 pm during the week and at 2.30pm on Saturday and Sunday,
How to get there (Hint: Choo choo)
In order to get to Jukkasjärvi (Talk about a mouthful. Try saying that ten times fast), Sweden from Stockholm you can drive, fly, or take the train. I choose the train option for a couple of reasons. First of all, there was no way I was gonna drive myself up through Sweden, in the ice and snow. I had visions of me getting distracted by thoughts of the northern lights and ice hotel holidays. I would then mow over a poor reindeer and then plummet to my doom in a fiery explosion that is kind of like a firework only not fun for anybody. Melodramatic, you betcha! But I had visions of the Abominable Snowman wrestling me out of the car but not the good kind in Rudolf the Red nose Reindeer. Like the bad kind that eats virgins for breakfast. So yeah, thats a hard no for me on driving myself.
That’s why I choose the train option. Sure it takes like 15 hours, but tickets are $121 round trip whereas flights from Arlanda in Stockholm cost about $160 round trip, for a 90 minute flight. Okay, I know what you’re thinking, “Gee Kelly, you saved a measly $40 and added like 13 hours to your trip. Why on Earth would you do that to yourself?” Well, I actually saved way more than $40 since I didn’t need to pay for transportation all the way to the airport when the train station is closer. I also booked two overnight trains, which means that I didn’t have to book a hotel for two nights and saved some money there too! Since I traveled during the holidays, I was super paranoid that all the train tickets would sell out so I booked my round trip train tickets, from Stockholm to Kiruna (The holiday season is SUPER busy in Kiruna so book your tickets as far in advance as possible).
***If you want to fly to Kiruna because you are short on time, flights between Stockholm and Kiruna depart twice daily. Once you arrive at Kiruna Airport, you can get to the hotel by car, taxi, or a transfer through the Ice hotel itself (pro-tip: There are transfers, to the train station and airport, available for free through the hotel. Book in advance because they fill up fast). You could also take a dog sled to or from the airport, but we’re not gonna discuss how insanely expensive that option is, we’re just gonna keep it moving.
***If you are flying out of Arlanda Airport in Stockholm and have an early morning flight, you HAVE to stay at the Jumbohostel in Stockholm. It is like the coolest hotel ever since it is a jumbo jet that has been converted into a hostel with amazing rooms. Seriously, it is so fun and literally right on the airport runway.
***The train to Kiruna runs on the Arctic Circle train line and offers night trains, twice daily, that depart form Stockholm between 6:00 pm and 8:00 pm in the evening. Day trains are also available and take about three hours. Check Scandinavian Rail for specific train times.
The train ride (How I got my Ice Hotel booking)
So, back to my story. While I was waiting at the train platform, the train happened to be delayed by over an hour. Naturally, I got bored and cold waiting around outside, freezing my ass. So that’s why I plucked up the courage to let go of my social anxiety and start chatting with a fellow solo female traveler by the name of Danielle (Danielle, if you’re reading this I love you! You’re the best). Well, since Danielle is super shy and quiet it was so hard to talk to her and I wanted to gouge my eyes out the whole time. Kidding, she was very outgoing, super friendly and also originally from New York. But most importantly, she laughed at all my lame jokes (How do you get a tissue to dance? Put a little boogie in it! Classic).
Well, we got along so well that but the time the train did arrive, we were kind of bummed that we had t part ways. But before we did, Danielle informed me that she had an ice hotel booking and invited me to stay with her at the Ice hotel. I immediately said yes because I mean, how many times in your life do you get to stay at an Icehotel? I was so stoked. But also a little scared of how cold it would be. I mean, we were going above the arctic circle. I had visions of my eyes freezing open and my teeth just jumping ship and falling out of my mouth. But no. It really was’t that cold, at least for above the Arctic Circle.
***Before you go, pack a lot of foot warmers or hand warmers since they help keep your appendages nice and toasty while you’re trudging through the endless piles of snow up there. Also pack some long underwear because even though they have great long underwear for sale, it’s not exactly available at Walmart prices.
The Ice Hotel, Sweden (Prepare for any future Ice Hotel Trips)
So, this hotel is super cool (if that wasn’t already clear). It is the largest ice hotel in the world so feel free to be duly impressed right now. Honestly, hotel isn’t even the right word for this place. It’s really more of a complex since the ice rooms occupy two separate buildings.
Now while some of the ice rooms basically just have a curtain over the door, the baller room that I stayed in had an electronic, key card lock on the door. Don’t ask me why they do the curtain thing because I think its weird. I mean if you are paying THIS much for a room then the least they can do is give you a lock on your door. But whatever, just get a room with an actual door.
Now if you take some time to explore the hotel, you’ll notice that each cold room has a unique theme that consists of a series of intricate carvings that feel like they are literally leaping out at you. Our room had this marine feel with these jellyfish floating along the wall that made me feel like I was Ariel from the Little Mermaid. Except it was cold and I have no idea where Sebastian was, damn crab. Can never find him when you need him.
But I’m glad I had that room because some of the carvings were super creepy. Like there was this one room that had all these bizarre floating heads that reminded me of Hannibal Lector. Like really ice carving dude? No one wants to sleep with that many freaky eyes looking down at them. Hopefully though, you won’t have to deal with that since every year the artists here create a new set of designs that line the walls of the ice rooms. So maybe this year will be Silence of the Lambs free.
Ice Hotel Rooms
The ice hotel experience isn’t like some snow hotel that you make in your backyard where you can come and go as you please, sadly. Rather, because the facility is open to public tours throughout the day, part of the ice hotel experience is that you can’t actually enter your room until 6:00pm. But trust me, its pretty cold in the hotel so you basically just go in their to sleep. So unless you are an infant, I doubt you are hitting the hay at 6:00 pm.
You also don’t keep any of your luggage in their since it’s so cold. That’s why they have this public changing area with showers, a sauna, and even changing rooms. Each cold room also comes with a private storage area for you to store all your belongings, charge electronics, and change your clothes. But don’t worry, these storage rooms are pretty big so you have ample room to move around without putting a hole in the wall or anything. You’ll receive a key for your storage unit when you check into your room at the front desk.
Now once its time for bed , just go to the front desk to let them know that you want your sleeping bag and liner. No, you’re not gonna sleep on the floor girl scout style. All the rooms have real beds with real mattresses on them. But if you slept on the bed with juts a blanket, you would lose all your body heat and get really cold pretty quickly. Thats why they give you the sleeping bag and liner so that you can retain your body heat and keep yourself warm and cozy during the night. And I swear, the sleeping bag does keep your warm enough so that you can actually sleep. Honestly, the sleeping bag works so well that you really only nee a layer or two of clothes to sleep in. If you wear anymore, you’ll get hot and sweaty and get cold because of all the moisture on your body.
Sleeping in the sleeping bag felt kind of claustrophobic to me since I am the thrasher and have been known to give people black eyes in my sleep. So me not being able to toss and turn kind of make me feel like my sleeping bag was trying to strangle me since the hotel had a secret death wish for me. But eventually, I was eventually able to sleep. Its also awesome nice because all the rooms are wired for electricity (Apparently this is because of fire regulations and the need for all hotels to be outfitted with fire detectors.LoL) and have light switches right by the bed so that you don’t have to wander around in the dark, trying to find your bed.
Now once you emerge from your frozen slumber and closely resemble a popsicle, kidding, you receive a wake up call between 8:00 am and 9:00 am. But it isn’t just any wake up call. A hotel receptionist actually personally wakes you up with a nice cup of warm lingonberry juice (No idea what a lingonberry is. I mean obviously it is a Swedish berry but I have never heard of one in my life. I just went with it since the juice tasted yummy and helped warm me up). A truly personal, homey touch that makes you feel like you are a part of their family (Aww, Kodak moment. Actually wait, my family would never bring me anything in bed because they’d tell me to get it myself since I have two legs that work just fine. So this place is actually better than home for me)
Once you get up and return your sleeping bag to the front desk, head across the street for a luxurious buffet breakfast that is included with your stay. I would go as soon as you wake up since it is the only place in town and gets crazy busy. Also feel free to eat as much as you want since it’s so cold there, that any calories you eat are totally burned off by your body trying to keep warm. Okay, I actually made that up but it was my excuse for stuffing my face since the buffet has cascading towers of fruit, yogurt, bread, cheese, eggs, and pancakes. The aromas are seriously close to other worldly after such a bone chilling night in the hotel. I actually scammed some food from the buffet for later because it was so good, but shh, don’t tell.
***Let me reiterate, the sleeping bag and liners are very effective so only wear a layer or two of clothing so that you don’t sweat in your sleeping bag and basically make the whole thing useless.
***Do not shower or use the sauna three hours before you go to sleep. You need to give your body time to return to its natural temperature so that you can keep yourself warm in your sleeping bag.
***Don’t forget to sign your name on the list at the front desk. This list is for people who want to receive a certificate for surviving the night in the hotel. The paper will list your name, the date, and how cold it was both inside and outside the room. It’s really a neat souvenir to have.
***Check out from your actual room is at 10 am but you can keep your luggage in your private changing room until 6 pm. After that, you can store your luggage in the public storage area.
***This town is really small so there is not that much around in the way of food. There is one grocery store that you can walk to. Just head to the main road, take a right and walk straight. You’ll see the grocery store eon the left after a ten minute walk. Other than that, there aren’t too many places to eat except the restaurant across the street s o to save money, I would bring food (many of the excursions here typically include meals).
***There are communal toilets in the ice hotel but they are a long cold walk from your room, so heed the call of mother nature before you go to bed.
Ice Hotel Excursions
Now while the ice hotel Kiruna is an experience in and of itself, there are also an insane number of activities that you can participate in, like a polar plunge! Come on, where’s your sense of adventure? I know you want to risk hypothermia and swim amidst frigid Arctic waters in the middle of December. Okay, I’m kidding. Paying a small fortune to have someone dunk me in semi-frozen water, that would make an iceberg cower in fear is not my idea of a hopping good time. But it is an option if that’s your bag baby (#austinpowers). I will all too gladly give you my spot on that excursion.
Anyway, back to what I really did on my vacation. I would start by taking a right and going straight down the main road. When you reach the end of the only road in town, take some time to explore the quaint local church which is bot only free but largely devoid of visitors who are participating in snazzier activities like snowmobiling. The church is small but a great place to get in touch with some local culture.
Next, bare left and head on over to the Sami cultural museum. Here, there are a series of outdoor exhibits with detailed explanations about the life and culture of the indigenous people that actually live here, like year round (Sorry, I dunno if I could live there and pet reindeer full time). If you”re feeling bold, they even have a cross country ski station where you can strap on some skis and try your hand at winter sports. I tried and failed miserably and fell on my ass more times than I can count, but hopefully, you are more successful.
Once your done giving yourself some impromptu bruises, you can waddle slowly back the front desk, nursing your sports injury along the way, and purchase some lichen to feed the reindeer. Just, let yourself in their pen and watch the magic happen because it is literally like sharks circling an injured seal. They frantically swarm you as you ineffectively guard your coveted lichen stash. Not gonna lie, this was seriously my favorite part. I got to pet and feed some reindeer, like in the virtual North Pole. How cool is that? I felt like I was Santa or something. An epic memory that I’ll cherish forever.
I also loved dog sledding though. It really felt like you were being transported into an entirely new world as you rushed across the ice on a sled that magically recaptures the spirit of eras gone by. It just felt so peaceful and so far from my insanely busy life (Like he honking horns and cat-sized rats of New York City). On the ice, and with those dogs, my problems seemed to just melt away and I felt a sense of serenity in nature that is hard to come by.
But no trip to the ice hotel would be complete without seeing the man (actually no gender because they aren’t human but whatever), the myth, the legend, the Northern lights. I mean if you have come this far, you gotta see this natural phenomenon that consists of majestic colors dancing across the Arctic horizon (Insert ohs and ahs from the audience here). Unfortunately, you can’t see them when its cloudy, so check the weather before you go and try and pick a nice clear day to photograph this pure and natural awesomeness (hopefully the weather gods cooperate and you get a nice clear night during your stay in the Ice Hotel).
***To photograph the Northern Lights, I used a tripod and reduced the shutter speed on my camera, so that I could really capture the dancing lights that create this arctic rainbow. The colors were amazing and shimmered against the immobile stars in the sky.
***Book all of your excursions WELL in advance since they fill up fast. The dog sledding, northern lights, and snowmobile excursions are probably the most popular and should be booked ASAP.
***Do NOT book your excursions through the Ice Hotel. They are insanely expensive and the Sami Cultural Museum down the road has some of these excursions at a much cheaper price.
***The Sámi Siida – Márkanbáiki open-air museum offers Reindeer Sledding tours, Northern Lights Tours, and Photo Tours. Dog sledding tours and snowmobile tours to view the Northern Lights are not offered here so shop around and see if you can get a better price than the one the Ice Hotel offers.
*** The Sámi Siida – Márkanbáiki open-air museum is open daily from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm (November 8). Admission to the museum costs SEK 160 ($20) for general admission, SEK 130 ($16) for student admission (with a valid student ID), SEK 80 ($10) for children from 3-15 years old, and free for children under the age of 3. Guided tours are 45 minutes and offered at 10:00 am and 4:00 pm every day. These tours are NOT included with your admission and cost SEK 100 ($12.50) per person or SEK 50 ($6) for a child (3-15 years).
***If you go dog sledding, do NOT sit in the front. Let me repeat it for the cheap seats. Do NOT sit in the front. The dogs eat a high-fat diet and fart/poop a lot when they run. Needless to say, the running sometimes kicks things around and no way do you want dog farts and poop in your face. Not exactly the luxurious mud mask you were thinking of.
Final Thoughts about the Jukkasjäroi ice hotel (Jerry Springer anyone?)
So in case you couldn’t tell, I had a horrendous time at the Ice Hotel in Sweden. I mean the food was awful, the people were rude and unfriendly, and there were absolutely no memorable experiences to be found whatsoever. Kidding! The trip was way more fun than I could have ever expected and I legit had the time of my life and highly recommend this trip to anyone. It was even better because I went in the winter and really felt as though the landscape captured the true spirit of the season.
So if you have not already added the Ice Hotel Sweden to your bucket list, I suggest you do so now. Also, try and use some of my budget tips to reduce your ice hotel cost. This way, you can ensure that this trip is enjoyable not just for your soul, but for your wallet too.
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