Ever since seeing a documentary on the TV about the Ice Hotel being built it’s been on my ‘bucket list’ of places to go! About a year before I decided to do this trip myself, I had planned the whole thing for a friend who had asked for help in a surprise trip for his wife. In the end he didn’t go, but I had put so much planning and research into the trip I decided to go myself! Previously, I’d always been put off by going on a ‘winter’ holiday, mainly because of having to get all the gear to go with it, but after seeing what this part of the world had to offer, I couldn’t resist!
Kiruna is located in Swedish Lapland 200km north of the Arctic Circle. We flew from London Gatwick to Kiruna (with about an hour stop in Stockholm) with Norwegian (first time flying with them, very happy especially with the free Wi-Fi on board the whole flight!).
Night 1 – Ice Hotel
On landing in Kiruna we headed straight for the Ice Hotel (transfer provided by them). The Ice Hotel is located in the village of Jukkasjärvi, about 20 minutes from Kiruna. On arrival we were given an induction on the layout of the hotel, what would happen later on when the ‘cold rooms’ became available to guests (as during the day the hotel is open as a museum to all). We spent the first few hours going through all the rooms, many of which have been created from artist all over the world, there is also the Ice Church and the chance to have a drink at the Ice Bar. We also wandered about 1km down the street to the ‘town’ of Jukkasjarvi, although nothing can really be found here, we only saw one café, but you can go into the town church and have a look around.
In the afternoon we went to the discussion on how best to ‘survive’ the night, this was quite funny mainly due to the questions coming from the rest of the crowd but some good tips were shared. Once it came time to go to bed you collect your thermal sleeping bag from the lounge area and walk to your room. Once we’d take the obligatory tourist photos and the novelty of being in -5 degrees wore off, I actually had a really good sleep. The sleeping bags are designed for my colder conditions than -5 degrees, so you are quite comfortable. In the morning the hotel staff come around to wake you up with a hot drink! We stayed in a Northern Lights room, which to be honest is the same as a snow room, but with a green/blue light for ambiance.
When you’re not going to bed there is a lounge area where you can relax / wait until it is time to go to bed, with lockers to keep your bags in and communal showers/sauna/toilets. You can also buy drinks/snacks from a small bar. Separate to this building there is another lounge bar, gift shop and two restaurants. The Homestead is located a little way down the road, and the food was lovely! And a good price considering you don’t really have many options. For breakfast (which was included) we ate at the Ice Restaurant on site.
Although it was probably the most expensive night accommodation I have ever paid for, it was an amazing experience!
Night 2 & 3 – Hotel Vinterpalaset
The night after the ice hotel we headed back to Kiruna (by taxi – which turned out to be quite expensive, there is a local bus but it only runs every few hours, so to save money do this but check the schedule so you know what time to be ready). Hotel Vinterpalaset was well located to the main town, we could easily walk to restaurants and the few shops. The hotel was a good standard, not modern but clean. Just a note though, as I tried to look outside at various points throughout the night in hopes of seeing the northern lights, if you stay in Kiruna you won’t see them as there is too much light pollution.
A variety of companies offer all the usual Lapland activities, from snow mobile tours, husky dog sled rides, Sami culture, ice fishing, Reindeer tour, Northern Light etc. We decided to do one tour each day.
Our first evening at Hotel Vinterpalaset we went on the ‘Aurora Expedition’ to see the Northern Lights, we booked it through Kirunaguidetur. It was a good tour, we start at their office in Kiruna (walking distance from hotel, our group was about 8 snow mobiles with 2 people on each) and then you get transferred out to where the snow mobiles are kept. After going through the safety demo and doing a few test laps you head out into the forest. The first leg you went for about 45 minutes, stopping every now and again for the guide to share some information or to wait and see if the norther lights would appear. Half way through the tour we stopped in a little hut where the guide shared some local delicacies including reindeer & moose meat, and also made you a hot drink. Then it was about another 30 minutes back to the shed to drop of the snow mobiles and then transfer back to Kiruna. Unfortunately we missed the Northern Lights, but being a natural phenomenon it’s never guaranteed. This tour was also available with a dinner option, for me personally this didn’t appeal. Where ever I go I’d always prefer to see things ‘myself’ and in my own time and at my own pace, I don’t actually book tours that often, as I hate when you have to go somewhere with a group that you’re not particularly interested in, or you go somewhere you love but have to leave before you’re ready to ‘stick to the schedule’. But considering the location we were, a guided tour is a must so not to get lost in the wilderness or freeze to death. But the aim of the tour was to see the Northern Lights, so I wouldn’t have wanted to spend more time for ‘dinner’, I preferred being outside for the whole tour to maximize the chances.
Our second tour we chose for the next day was a husky dog sled ride. The first company we booked Kirunaguidetur also offered this excursion, but I came across a lady on trip advisor called Stephanie who offers dog sledding tours with a max of 4 people per tour (this I found much more appealing than a big group tour). Stephanie picked us up from the hotel and took us to her home outside Kiruna where we got to meet all the dogs, and play with them while she got them ready. Once set we heading out through the forest, we got lucky with a bright blue sky so the contrast between the snow and sky was amazing! We went to Stephanie’s hut on a frozen lake where she provided a fire, snacks and hot drinks. It was a great being able to talk to her about the dogs, how she raises them and trains them, you could see the passion in her and the love she has for them. It was actually one of my favourite tours ever!
Although I was super impressed with my ‘winter bargains’ from Sport Direct, and generally for walking around the town during the day and night these were ok, when we went on the snow mobile tour at night I was freezing!!!! All the tour companies offer you their clothing/gloves/overalls – take them! No matter how warm you think your stuff it, theirs is built for these environments.
What would I do differently next time?
The snow mobile tour was the only ‘chance’ we gave ourselves to see the northern lights, looking back I would probably give myself more than one opportunity to see them, by either going on additional night tours, or perhaps staying somewhere more remote so you can keep watch the whole night.
I also would have liked to incorporate a night in Stockholm on the way home, only because I think it’s probably a city that could be done in one day/night, so as we were in that part of the world we could have ticked it off the list.
Considering this was not really my natural habitat, I LOVED IT!!! Not only for the fact that I only fell on my ass once because of the ice, but this was the first time I’d ever been to a place like this, completely covered in snow (perhaps the fact that I come from one of the driest states, on one of the driest countries in the world was part of the novelty) but it has given me a taste for the Artic and I will definitely be back (perhaps Norway or Finland) to get another shot at the Norther Lights!