Looking for a cool holiday destination this winter? It’s hard to get much cooler than the Ice Hotel. Since the first ice hotel was established more than two decades ago, there have been many copycats, but most would agree that the original is still the best.
The Ice Hotel was born in 1990 in the Swedish Lapland village of Jukkasjarvi, some 200km north of the Arctic Circle, within easy reach of Kiruna airport. Like many great inventions, the idea was stumbled upon almost by accident following a string of events. In late 1989 a group of Japanese ice artists had created an ice art exhibition here whilst visiting the area, which included an igloo that was used as an exhibition space by a French artist. When a group of visitors found themselves without a room for the night it was agreed they could be put up in the igloo, in sleeping bags on top of reindeer skins. And so the Ice Hotel was born.
Since then ice sculptors have returned to the area year after year to construct the Ice Hotel to ever-more sumptuous specifications. Everything inside is expertly sculpted from ice taken directly from the local River, the Torne, from sculptures and artwork to chandeliers, chairs, beds and of course, the ice bar.
The ice from the river Torne is what sets the original ice hotel apart from its many emulators. No-one is quite sure why it has such an extraordinary blue hue and clarity that shows off the gleaming rays of refracted light to such perfection. Some believe it is because the water is so free flowing that it has almost no bubbles trapped inside, making the ice perfectly clear when it is frozen. Others believe it is simply down to magic.
Certainly, there is a magical feel to the hotel from the moment you enter via the glistening arched entrance. A quick skip past a series of ice sculptures and other ice-based art works brings you to the ice bar where even your shots of flavoured Absolut vodka are served in ice glasses. If the cold is too much for you, try a hot cocktail to warm the cockles and ask for a reindeer skin cover for your stool to keep the cold at bay.
The ice hotel is surprising warm inside thanks to the insulation provided by the thick walls. However there is some let up at breakfast, lunch and dinner when meals can be taken in a separate heated restaurant in an adjacent building or at a traditional Lappish restaurant in the outskirts of the village.
The best time to visit is around Christmas or early January, when the artists and architects will still be hard at work putting the finishing touches to this year’s masterpiece, but the rooms will be all ready and waiting for your occupation. The ice hotel makes the perfect base for exploring the local area and if the idea of sleeping in a reindeer skin on a slab of ice is not your idea of luxury, there are plenty of heated cabin rooms as an alternative. We do recommend at least one night in the hotel proper though – no matter how cold you get, you are guaranteed to leave with warm memories of your stay in the coolest hotel on earth.