Each year in late-November, a thousand truck-loads of snow and massive blocks of ice carved out of a nearby river are used to create a winter wonderland like no other: the Snow Village in Finnish Lapland. Situated deep in the forests near the ski resorts of Ylläs and Levi, the Snow Village is a place where local snow and ice sculptors let their creativity and skills run wild and the result is simply phenomenal! Within a space of a few weeks, the sculptors construct a 3,000 square meter village consisting of the Snow Hotel (igloos; each with a different design), the Ice Bar restaurant/bar, tunnels and a wedding chapel, made solely from snow and ice that lasts for several months until the spring thaw. The subtle LED lighting and the sculptures that adorn the walls and open spaces create an enchanting ambiance throughout the village. Visitors can go on a guided tour of the village, spend the night in one of the suites, have a drink and dinner at the Ice Bar or get married in the gorgeous Ice Chapel! Scroll down for a tour of the village (there’s a video too!) and my account of what it’s like to spend a night in a bed made of solid ice!
A tour of the Snow Village
It doesn’t look like much from the outside – a discreet entrance and mounds of snow surrounded by lovely pine forests.
Visitors are greeted in the heated Reception area – this area, along with the adjacent restaurant, is the only permanent structure in the Snow Village. There’s also a television that shows a fascinating documentary of how the village is built (it’s absolutely worth watching!). From the Reception area, two doors lead visitors to two separate sections of the Snow Village: the igloos and chapel, and the Ice Bar. These sections are naturally isolated and remain at a steady minus 5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit); cold but warmer than the winter temperatures outside, which often hit minus 20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit)! I decided to check out the Ice Bar first!
The Ice Bar at the Snow Village
Two things you have to do in the Snow Village: dress warm and enjoy a shot of peppermint vodka served in an ice glass (which you then smash onto the floor!).
Watch a short video of my stroll around the Ice Bar:
The Snow Hotel
A long passageway from the Reception area takes visitors past all the rooms in the Snow Hotel. It truly is a surreal sight and I had to stop, stare and touch the surfaces many times to allow my mind to properly register the scenes! See for yourself:
My favourite passage was the Passage of Fire, with its fiery ice sculptures and bright red lighting.
The main passage ends at the Ice Chapel, a bright space covered by a dome, with ice benches, ice columns and classical lines along the wall. Gorgeous!
The Snow Village is a popular spot for weddings. I guess it’s a novel, romantic idea – I was told that the bride arrives at the Chapel in a reindeer sled – but standing there in the Chapel, I couldn’t help but think how cold it was and how long the ceremony would take. In addition, with the virgin white walls, floor and ceiling, I wondered if the bride would simply disappear if she wore a white gown.
What it’s like to spend a night at the Snow Hotel
The Snow Hotel has 20-odd rooms or igloos, some of which are individually decorated suites. Each room has beds made of ice, with a mattress on top. The illuminated ice and snow art in the suites were absolutely beautiful.
The snow and ice provides excellent isolation. As a consequence, the temperature remains stable, albeit below freezing, throughout the hotel. There’s a heated common area in a separate building (exclusively for guests) with bunks, showers, toilets and a Finnish sauna (of course!). Each guest is provided with Arctic thermal sleeping bags and pillows – you take these with you from the heated common area to your room when you turn in for the night. I found the sleeping bags sufficiently warm – there was no need to go to sleep dressed in multiple layers. Climbing into the bed without slipping off the icy edge was a bit of a challenge, as was taking off my jacket and quickly diving into the sleeping bag! I made sure I didn’t drink too much before turning in – I dreaded the consequence of a struggle with a sleeping bag and a long, cold walk to the loo in the middle of the night!
It was surely a unique experience to sleep in an illuminated igloo and be surrounded by ice and snow. The ethereal light in the igloo combined with the incredible silence was simply bewildering. However, I felt very confined in the Arctic sleeping bag – I admit, I’m not used to sleeping bags. Moreover, the constant blue glow in the igloo (see the photo of the Cupid suite above) each time I opened my eyes was a bit too otherworldly for me to have a restful sleep. At eight o’clock the next morning, the guests were awoken by the hotel staff who also brought a glass of hot berry juice. I gathered my sleeping bag and pillows and stumbled back to the heated common area before heading to the heated restaurant for breakfast – the hot cup of coffee never felt so good in my hands!
A visit to the Snow Village is a fantastic experience and one I would highly recommend to anyone travelling through Finnish Lapland in the winter. Spending the night in the Snow Hotel is an extraordinary experience but keep in mind that it’s not the most comfortable place for a good night’s sleep.
Getting there: the closest airport is in Kittila, about a 40-minute drive away. There are scheduled flights from Helsinki as well as a variety of chartered services from various points in Europe. The Snow Village in Lainio is also easily accessible from Ylläs.