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5.29.2018

Travel Tuesday: Visiting Sweden's Icehotel and Touring Swedish Lapland with Kids


The #FabFam recently went to Scandinavia (Sweden and Finland).  A few weeks ago I posted about our two days in Stockholm.  Today I am sharing about our time with the kids in Sweden's Arctic Circle at the Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi.  Our itinerary was built on personally curated recommendations based on our family's interests from Explorateur Journeys (you might remember Explorateur Journeys from our magical Kenyan safari trip).

Our trip brought us to Swedish Lapland for a few different reasons.  One was that seeing the northern lights (or aurora borealis) has been on my bucket list for as far as I can remember.  Another was that staying in a hotel made of ice was on my bucket list ever since seeing a viral video about it on Facebook.  Icehotel Sweden met both criteria, as it is located 200K north of the Arctic Circle in an area with very little light pollution, making it a prime spot to see the aurora if conditions were right.  My family being accustomed to warm weather (with me growing up in Southern California and my husband growing up in Texas), we decided to take a leap outside our comfort zone to have an experience like none we've ever had, and take advantage of all we could during our time there.  Today I am sharing our experience visiting with our young children in tow. 


Getting to the Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden

In order to enjoy all the Icehotel and surrounding region has to offer, you first need to get there.  There are a few different ways to get to the main city in the region (Kiruna).  We tried two of these ways during our visit:
  • By train: We took the SJ Night Train to the Arctic Circle to get from Stockholm to Kiruna.  This was an awesome choice, as the night in the sleeper car replaced the cost of a night in a hotel room in pricy Scandinavia.  There was a restaurant onboard as well for us to get snacks and breakfast.  Plus, trains are super fun for kids!
  • By plane: For our return, we flew on the Norwegian Air shuttle from Kiruna to Stockholm.  This was mostly to save time during our short week's itinerary.  It was a quick flight, and we had no complaints.

Icehotel offers transportation to and from the train station and/or airport as needed (at a fee).  If you are adventurous, you can even book a dog sled to the airport!

The Icehotel Sweden

While there is a lot to do in this part of Swedish Lapland (see more on what to do in a section later down in this post), Icehotel Sweden is an attraction in itself.  Learn more about Icehotel's history and how it is constructed here, and watch this YouTube video touring you through the ice rooms:


The property is a kid's dream.  Covered in a thick blanket of snow (at least while we were there in March) and decorated with impressive ice sculptures and structures, it was impossible for them not to be entertained just with the surroundings. 




The facilities are separated by warm lobbies and registration areas, a series of "warm rooms" (chalets with every creature comfort), an on-site restaurant (more on that below) and ICEBAR, and the Icehotel "cold" (ice) accommodations.  The property is open to day visitors as well if you are traveling through the area and want to see it yourself. 
 
 
 
 
In the ice part of the Icehotel, the lobby and corridor are stunningly sculpted from ice and snow.  I felt like I was in Elsa's castle, complete with chandeliers created completely of sculpted ice. 
 
 

 

Even before our night sleeping in an ice room, we got to tour the other rooms and art suites along with the visiting public.  Many of the art suites are re-imagined and created by individual artists each year, so what you see below may look different than what you see if you visit during a different year. 

























The ice facility also includes a chapel space with the sculpted-ice equivalent of stained glass, and ice-block pews covered with reindeer fur.  Imagine getting married here!


 
Jumping ahead to our experience sleeping in a cold room at the Icehotel - it was recommended to stay in a cold room for one night (at either the beginning or end of your visit), and then spend the rest of the nights in a warm room.  The cold room was safe and appropriate for our family of four with young children (our boys were 8 and 5 when we visited).  The room chosen for us was the King Kong art suite, which featured artistic lighting in addition to the sculpture.


The rooms maintain a temperature of -5 to -8 degrees Celsius.  Your luggage is kept in a large locker/dressing room in the adjacent warm building, as the minimalist room is primarily artistic ice sculpture plus a bed (which includes a thick mattress covered in reindeer hide).  When it comes time to sleep, you are provided instruction on what to wear (including hats, socks, and thermal underwear), along with thermal sleeping bags that enclose your whole body with the exception of your face. 


I have to say that the sleep was surprisingly comfortable!  Even the jet-lagged kids handled it without any issue or complaint, sleeping solidly through the night.  We were awakened in the morning by the staff presenting a hot cup of lingonberry juice to each of us before a complimentary visit to the hotel sauna.  The only difficult part came after we exited the comfort of our thermal sleeping bag in the morning.  Our bodies had adjusted to the temperature in our sleeping bags, therefore it felt even colder once we woke up and got out of bed. 

Our second night was spent in a warm room (we had one of the Nordic Chalets).  Simply but fabulously appointed, our two-bedroom chalet had everything we needed for a comfortable (and warm) night's sleep. 

Where to eat in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden

There aren't many restaurants in Jukkasjärvi, as it is a small town. You could go into the bigger town of Kiruna (about 15 minutes away), or one of the on-site restaurants at Icehotel. I will say that the Icehotel restaurants were delicious when we ate on-site for the breakfast and lunch buffets. A short walk from the hotel in Jukkasjärvi is Icehotel's Old Homestead restaurant. Here we had one of the most delicious hamburgers we've ever had... but make note that the price is a little steep (as is the case for many things in Scandinavia, so we learned).

What to do in Jukkasjärvi and Kiruna, Sweden

As I said earlier, there is no shortage of activities in this part of Swedish Lapland. While the Icehotel is an amazing sight in and of itself, it is just the tip of the (pun intended) iceberg of things to do. 

Try and see the aurora borealis.  As mentioned at the beginning of this post, one of my hopes was to see the northern lights. I knew it wasn't a guarantee, but I hoped! Icehotel and other local tour companies offer different northern lights safari experiences (including an option to trek farther north to Abisko). Luckily for us, all we needed to do was to step outside at night! Our family got to witness this natural phenomena on our first night at Icehotel from the bank of the frozen Torne River (several meters away from the hotel lights). I do not have any photos, as I didn't take the time to fool around with my camera settings, and instead we took it in with our eyes. Wow. Just wow. I recommended downloading the My Aurora Forecast & Alerts tracker app so you don't have to stand aimlessly outside in the cold for longer than you have to.

Dog sledding (Kiruna Sleddog Tours).  I highly recommend a dog sled experience, and Kiruna Sleddog Tours is as great as they come, with phenomenal customer service and a proven history of taking great care of their dogs.  As we could see for ourselves, the dogs were healthy and happy... in fact begging to be chosen to take us on a ride!  They picked us up from the Icehotel and brought us to their kennel in Kiruna.  After swapping out our snow clothes for the extra warm snow clothes they provided, we got to spend time playing with the doggies (and puppies!) and learning about the process before we harnessed up our sled. 

 


Husky puppies!!!!!


 
This guy was one of my favorites.  Look at him eagerly hoping to be chosen for a run!
 

 
We got to help get the dogs harnessed.
 
 
 
Ready to run!
 
 
Ready to ride!
 
 
 
We had a great ride through the wilderness, hearing the soft sound of paws on the snow and feeling the crisp, fresh air on our face.  Mid-way through, we stopped for a break to play with the dogs (they were so friendly and sweet!), play in the snow, and enjoy some tea and a sweet treat by the fire in a Sámi-style teepee. 
 



These doggies just love attention!  Look at him leaning in for some snuggles. 


The snow was so deep and untouched, that we had to make snow angels. 




Reindeer farm and learning about the Sámi people (Nutti Sámi Siida).  When our kids realized we'd be anywhere in the vicinity of the North Pole, they really wanted to see Rudolph and his friends.  Fortunately, there is an open-air museum and reindeer farm within walking distance from the Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi.  At Nutti Sámi Siida, we got to learn about the indigenous Sámi people and their relationship to reindeer, feed and pet real reindeer (though not Rudolph), and enjoy a lunch of traditional Sámi food. 

 

 



 

Nutti Sámi Siida is incredibly kid-friendly, with lots of interactive, hands-on ways for the kids to learn about Sámi life and culture. 



"Explorer boxes" for the kids to borrow as they engaged with the open-air exhibits. 

 


After the kids "cooked" their play food in a replica Sámi teepee, we went inside to the café where we had some traditional food for lunch, including reindeer meat sandwiches.



Other winter activities.  Anything you can think of doing in the snowy weather is available in or around Jukkasjärvi.  Your hotel or a local tour guide can help to arrange excursions for cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, snowmobiling, sauna, ice fishing, vodka tasting, and more, along with transportation as needed. 

Visiting this part of Sweden and staying at the Icehotel was a completely unique experience, and one that every family should have on their travel bucket list.  Stay tuned for the next chapter of our adventures in Scandinavia: our day-trip to Helsinki, Finland. 

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