Sweden Served Cold: Tips for Traveling in Sweden

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polar bear–themed suite

What made Paul dream of escaping to a hotel constructed almost entirely of snow and ice?

I am proud to say that I did it: I stayed overnight on a BED OF ICE. I nearly destroyed a snowmobile on a frozen river. I lived to tell the tale. But a visit to the ICEHOTEL is not something to undertake on a whim. It’s a bit of a trek to get to there — to the tiny village of Jukkasjärvi in a part of Sweden that is literally within the Arctic Circle. And when they named it ICEHOTEL (icehotel.com), they were not exaggerating. From the chapel to the bar to the bedrooms, almost the entire structure is made of ice and snow. It takes no small amount of courage to commit — not only to spending the night in a sub-zero bedroom, but then to spend more time getting further chilled by participating in snowy outdoor activities. So here are two lists of lessons gleaned from my visit to the

ICEHOTEL: One is for those of you who think this sounds like a great idea, and the other is for those who are a bit more skeptical.

If You Think This Sounds Like A Great Idea…

You’re an adventurer, you’re not afraid of the cold and you’re ready to collect the diploma that says you made it through a night at the

ICEHOTEL. Before you depart, here are some practical tips to consider:

1. Don’t overbook.

You will be tempted to sign up for every excursion possible, and while it may seem like a great idea to pack dog sledding, snowmobiling, ice carving and hunting for the Northern Lights into one day, you’ll be much better off building time into your schedule to warm up between each outing. And don’t count on being well-rested after a night in one of the ice rooms — that’s an adventure in and of itself.

2. Don’t party too hard.

It could be very easy to over-indulge at the ICEBAR — especially as the mixers in its drinks are sugary (to keep them from freezing) and it’s fun to drink out of “glasses” made entirely out of ice. But before you order another round, ask yourself: “Would I rather have this drink or not have to run through the Arctic cold to the bathroom at 4 a.m. in nothing but my long johns?”

3. Save where you can.

Creating and maintaining a hotel entirely out of ice and snow is not cheap, and that is reflected in cost of accommodations, excursions and food. So don’t be afraid to fill up on the complimentary breakfast and take advantage of excursions that offer a meal: We had quite a delicious dish of reindeer on our snowmobiling adventure.

4. it’s kind of like the gym.

Obviously you’re not going to be able to take care of bathing, dressing or bathroom needs in your ice room. This takes place in a non-icy locker-room-like setting where you will be afforded either a locker or a dressing booth (depending on what level of accommodations you’ve reserved). So leave your modesty at the door and be prepared to shower with strangers.

5. You are not invincible.

Even if you’re the kind of person who braves freezing temperatures in a light jacket, this is no time to be a hero. We had fantastic weather while we were there, but within days of our departure, a cold snap hit — bringing temperatures down to about -20˚ Fahrenheit. That’s frostbite weather; so be prepared to sport a great deal of outerwear.

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If You Think This Sounds Like A Scary Idea…

Perhaps you’re the kind of traveler who prefers the idea of lounging on a warm beach rather than a block of ice. Before you nix the Arctic Circle as a vacation destination, here are a few things to keep in mind.

1. You Don’t need a whole new ice wardrobe.

While it certainly might make sense to invest in a new pair of boots and some long underwear, you certainly do not need to overpack. The hotel will be happy to lend you everything from gloves to full snowsuits.

2. Everybody speaks English.

There will be some instructions you’ll need to follow in terms of what to wear to keep from freezing your snowglobes off, but the staff is helpful, universally fluent in English and will always gladly help you find a place to get warm.

3. It is beautiful.

ICEHOTEL is one of the most impossibly beautiful places I’ve ever visited. Hundreds of artists vie for the chance to help design a room, and each year, it’s brand new. If you don’t take some of the best pictures of your life here, you need a better camera.

4. You can ride shotgun.

If you’re intimidated by the idea of dog-sledding or hiking through the wilderness, no one’s going to force you to blaze the trail alone. On our snowmobile safari, the guide encouraged me to give driving a try, but after I almost flipped the snowmobile three times, I was more than happy to let my boyfriend take the wheel.

5. It’s an adventure vacation with the perks of a luxury vacation.

If you’ve got a friend or significant other who would love nothing more than to take you camping or mountain climbing, this is a nice compromise. Yes, there’s some “roughing it” involved, but there are also upscale restaurants, terrific souvenir shopping opportunities and — unlike in the wilderness — places to escape if it all becomes too much.

Last modified: May 15, 2018