Chris Peacock braves the cold for a night at Swedish Lapland’s iconic Icehotel
Giant sheep carved out of ice are flying all around me. In the room next door, a delicately whittled African elephant is towering over the ice-framed bed. Further down the corridor, a frosty, floor-to-ceiling peacock is standing proudly, its wings splayed and illuminated. Just in case these oversized animal ice sculptures aren’t trippy enough, there’s also a scaled down Russian Imperial Theater, a labyrinth woodland maze and a time-bending wormhole, making this collection of hallucinatory rooms one of the weirdest hotels I’ve ever set foot in. Welcome to Swedish Lapland’s wonderfully surreal Icehotel.
The first hotel of its kind, Sweden’s sculpted Icehotel sits in the tiny one-street village of Jukkasjärvi (pronounced you-kas-yayr-vi), some 125 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The cool, cavernous resort opens each winter and welcomes thousands of visitors through its reindeer skin-clad doors before melting back into the Torne river each spring. More than 5,500 tons of ‘snice’ (snow and ice) — enough to make 700 million snowballs — are mined from the river to create this pop-up art hotel with individually designed rooms, an atmospheric chapel for weddings and a stylish ice bar — all at freezing temperatures.
Beyond the hotel’s doors lies a stark but stunning winter wilderness of endless frozen forests and otherworldly snow drifts, which guests can explore via skis, snowmobiles and husky-pulled sledges. For many, however, the real highlight is heading back indoors to spend a night on ice.
The thought of checking into in an ice-covered cave where the temperature hovers at around 20F hadn’t filled me with much hope of a good night’s sleep, but the hotel does everything it can to make sure guests are warm and comfortable: there are reindeer pelts to huddle under, an Arctic-ready sleeping bag — tested in conditions of -40F — and warm cups of lingonberry juice.
Inside the Icehotel’s neighboring ‘warm’ building, having been briefed on what to wear and what not to wear, I venture down a ghostly white corridor adorned with elegant ice pillars and chandeliers. Through the fog of my breath, I discover my frozen lair for the night — one of 19 individually themed Art Suites, each one created by a different artist and selected from more than 130 submissions from around the world.
I’m staying in the ‘Counting Sheep’ suite, designed by Italian architect and designer Luca Roncoroni, with its surreal but oddly serene scene of sparkling sculpted sheep prancing around an ice-block bed. Such is the fine detailing and mesmerizing effect of the sheep, brightly illuminated and frozen in movement, I almost forget that I’m here to sleep.
Once cocooned in a sleeping bag and reindeer skins, however, it’s surprising how toasty the room is — well insulated thanks to tightly compressed walls of snow — and how easy it is to drift off to sleep. I’m nestled down for what feels like minutes before morning comes and I’m being offered another piping hot mug of lingonberry juice.
There might no heating, TVs, furniture, mini-bars or even any plumbing at this hotel, but that hardly matters when you’re bedding down inside a real work of art. Add to this a whole list of adventure activities, mouthwatering Arctic feasts (think reindeer, fish and cloudberries) and spectacular evening shows of the Northern Lights, and you’ve surely got the makings of one of the world’s finest hotels.