Three “hidden” Arctic gems

All the answers you need on Scandinavian ice hotels

ice hotel - Sorrisniva

Photo courtesy of Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel

Discover Scandinavia Tours

[Editor’s note: Right now, there are restrictions on traveling to Scandinavia, but that doesn’t mean we can’t dream. One of the items on my own (ice) bucket list is a stay at a luxurious ice hotel. For now, we are fortunate that our friend and colleague Marcelo Guimarães at Discover Scandinavia Tours shares his enthusiasm and expertise with us.]

Is an ice hotel for me?

Great news: you have decided to go on an awesome winter vacation in the land of the Sámi! Now you are thinking about all the fun things you will see and experience there, so these questions are inevitable: how about those hotels made of ice? Should I try that?

The answer is: YES! Well, perhaps if you are like my mother, who strongly despises the cold more than anything, you should rethink the whole trip… but otherwise, the experience is something you should not miss. There are several candidates (hotels made entirely of ice, that is) all over northern Scandinavia, so let’s get to know some of hotels and answer some of the most common questions that travelers have about them.

Also, chances are that you have heard of the original Ice Hotel, near Kiruna in Sweden, the first ice hotel built back in 1989. They consistently deliver an outstanding experience, but every single blog out there already mentions them, so I want to shine the spotlight on three other ice hotels to explore.

ice hotel - Kirkenes

Photo courtesy of SnowHotel Kirkenes

Snowhotel Kirkenes
Kirkenes, Norway

Established in 2006 and located close to the Russian border, the Snowhotel Kirkenes does a fantastic job when it comes to differentiating themselves from the competition. In addition to gorgeous Ice Suites, it also offers unique experiences such as their King Crab Safari and the chance to stay at the luxurious and extremely cozy Gamme Cabins. Those have one or more glass walls, so you can experience the northern Lights in absolute comfort, while sipping on some wine or hot chocolate. 

To get there, you fly into the Kirkenes airport (KKN), where you can be picked up by the hotel shuttle or even a dog sled! 

SnowHotel Kemi 
Kemi, Finland

Since 1996, the SnowHotel Kemi has been inviting visitors from all over the world to the Finnish Sámiland. The area is a complete center for fun and entertainment, with all types of traditional adventures, plus some truly unique ones. You can visit the SnowCastle, the biggest ice fort in the world, right next to the hotel, or venture into the Arctic waters in the Sampo, the icebreaker ship. 

As for accommodations, you have a number of ice rooms and suites available, as well as their Glass Villas, where you can spend the night and admire the surrounding nature (and northern lights, perhaps), from the comfort of your room. 

Getting there is easy if you fly into the Kemi airport (KEM), only a few minutes away, or into neighboring Rovaniemi airport (RVN), a short train ride away.

ice hotel Kemi

Photo courtesy of SnowHotel Kemi

Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel
Alta, Norway

This place is a true gem. For starters, if you spend a night there, you can say that you have stayed at the northernmost ice hotel on Earth. Bragging rights count, right? 

Unlike the hotels discussed on this list, the Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel focuses on smaller-scale experiences. They find ways to offer more exclusive and personalized treatment—which seems to be the general theme in Alta, Norway. Perhaps that’s why I love the town. 

You can compliment your stay with a few nights at the Bjørnfjell Mountain Lodge, for a luxury-rustic type of stay.

Frequently asked questions

How many nights should I plan on?

One night is ideal at an ice room/suite. That will give you the opportunity to enjoy the experience without sacrificing on comfort. The hotels listed here all offer excellent “warm” cabins or rooms where you can spend the remaining nights at the location.

How cold do ice rooms get?

Rooms are kept just a few degrees below zero degrees Centigrade (equivalent to the negative low 20s in Fahrenheit).

How do I sleep in an ice hotel?

Typically, each room has a mattress, which sits on a base (often wooden), and special thermal sleeping bags are provided.

Will my room have a bathroom?

Bathrooms and storage areas (both warm) are generally found outside of the ice structures, in a nearby building.

What happens to ice hotels in the summer?

Traditionally, ice hotels melt every spring and are rebuilt in the late fall. However, many properties offer the experience year round, by building the hotel inside a temperature-controlled building (essentially, a giant freezer).

Do ice hotels look the same year to year?

No! That’s part of what keeps people coming back. Each year, ice hotels are built around different themes and designs. Some of the ice sculptures are true masterpieces.

What should I pack to stay at an ice hotel?

When packing, focus on the northern winter vacation as a whole, not just your stay in the ice hotel. In terms of what to wear, the number one rule is layers, layers, and more layers.

How many people can sleep in a room?

Most ice rooms and ice suites are perfect for couples, but you will also find options for families of three to four people.

Are ice hotels expensive?

Ice hotels offer luxurious, exclusive, and unique experiences. You enjoy incredible activities and find yourself surrounded by an impressive environment of gorgeous ice art. How could it be cheap? Again, it is about the value you get from the experience.

How do I go about planning my stay?

Easy! Just get in touch with Marcelo at Discover Scandinavia Tours, and his team will make sure that you have the most memorable Arctic vacation possible (yes, with a stay at an ice hotel)!

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 15, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Marcelo Guimarães

Marcelo Guimarães, a native of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, visited the five Nordic capitals for the first time in 2011 and fell in love with the amazing sights, tastes, sounds, and all else which is characteristic of Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland. He returned home with a vision: to showcase the wonders of Scandinavia to travelers from all corners of the world. He left a 20-year career in science and engineering to pursue his dream and built what is now Discover Scandinavia Tours, where he serves as president and CEO.