The Snow Hotel in Kirkenes: REVIEW
When you imagine adventure, what images does your mind conjure up? Perhaps that of roaming through untamed rainforest, with danger imminent at every turn. Maybe it’s exploring a deserted island, unchartered territory that you’re the first to stumble upon.
Whatever it is, it doesn’t come close to that of sleeping in a hotel made completely of ice. Every room, bed and step is completely carved from ice in the Kirkenes Snow Hotel. Heck, even the bar serves all of its shots in frozen glasses, that you can smash after drinking from (much to my delight).
Nestled amongst the vast lakes and towering fjords lies the quaint town of Kirkenes; population 3498. The town is that out of a postcard, picture perfect with a thick layer of snow covering every rooftop, tree and car.
We begin our journey at the Kirkenes airport, which is located about a 20 minute bus drive from the Snow Hotel. There is a lovely man wearing a high-vis vest holding a sign with our names on it, and as he ushers us onto the bus he jokes about having to mush here as there wasn’t enough room on the bus.
He wasn’t kidding. As we left the airport, we watched him walk to his sled attached to his huskies, who were patiently waiting for him. We drove to the airport on the heated bus, and were pleasantly surprised at just how mild -2 degrees felt. It was no Sydney weather, but it wasn’t as uncomfortable as we thought it might have been.
When we arrived, our luggage was whisked away to the elusive luggage room and we were met by smiling staff. It was Mother’s Day in Norway, which meant special Norwegian chocolates for everyone; whether you were a mother or not!
Our tour of the grands was super interesting, as we discovered that there are 200 dogs on the grounds (for mushing) and 80 staff in total; 20 Norwegian and the rest from around the world. Heck, there was even the token Aussie bloke working there. People had travelled far and wide to spend a winter working at one of the most incredible hotels in the entire world.
There are 22 rooms in the snow hotel in total, each hand carved to a different theme for the year. The only one that stays as is the infamous ‘Marilyn Monroe’ room – the website says that’s because it’s the most popular… but a staff member told us it’s because one of the owners loves Marilyn more than anything on Earth!
If you can’t bear the thought of spending a night rugged up in the cold, you can also opt for the cozy wood cabins. They’re the epitome of romance, with matching reindeer hides and large, opulent windows to gaze onto the Norwegian fjords.
Have you ever eaten King Crab? Known as the King Crab capital of the world, the Kirkenes Snow Hotel offers the unique experience to actually go and catch the enormous crustaceans. If you’re on the tour, ask to sit on the snowmobile with the tour guides rather than be pulled by the sled behind. Feel the icy cold wind whip through your hair (and balaclava, beanie and helmet!) as you take in the sights of the Fjord and magnificent sunset.
The crabs themselves are massive, and you watch on as the experienced guides pull them out of the box and humanely kill them. Please note; if you’ve got a weak stomach or small children, this might not be the activity for you. You’re given a crab to take a photo with, and often the clear blue blood was still falling as you held it. We weren’t phased by it, but there were a couple of smaller kids that were devastated watching.
After you’ve taken photos and listened to how and why the crabs are important to the Kirkenes region, you’re then transported back to a local restaurant and served the very king crab that was caught on your trip. I’ve never been a fan of crab, but this was something else. Incredibly fresh, tasty and authentically cooked; the crab caught on the Kirkenes Snowhotel King Crab expedition is out of this world. I can’t recommend this trip enough, particularly if you want to see the landscape and try one of the most famous Northern Norwegian foods in the region.
You’ll then be transported back at the Snowhotel just in time for the welcome dinner, where you’re served Reindeer sausages with traditional Norwegian pancakes. The host for the night tells us stories about the Snowhotel, the owners and the Shabbi – the locals and ancestors of the land.
Then, you’re taken to feed the four reindeers that live on the property, including one called Dot Com… which means ‘prick’ in Norwegian as he’s apparently quite naughty. The reindeer eat right out of your hands, and they’re very tame. Great activity for the whole family to enjoy together.
Make sure you attend the welcome dinner, where you’ll meet the local reindeer on site, served a traditional Norwegian snack and told stories about the Sami – the ancestors and owners of the land. After having a drink at Norway’s largest ice bar (conveniently located in the Snowhotel), you’re whisked away upstairs for a three course traditional meal. The night we were there it was mushroom soup, freshly caught Atlantic Char and a brownie served with snow for dessert.
The most important part of the entire night is the demonstration for how to use your sleeping bag. When you’re sleeping in arctic conditions (a cool -4 degrees), it requires special equipment. The Kirkenes Snowhotel provides sleeping bags that are designed to handle up to -32 degrees, as well as woollen socks, balaclavas and a cotton sheet.
Sleeping overnight in the ice hotel isn’t comfortable, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There is a thin rubber-esque mattress on top of the ice bed base, and when you’re in your sleeping bag, sheet, socks, balaclava and one layer of clothing; it’s actually quite warm. The only part of your body that feels the cold it your nose and eyes, as they’re all that are exposed.
The night we slept in the ice hotel, I slept a full eight hours. Here’s a hint; if you need to go to the bathroom, make sure you go just before you go to sleep. The midnight run to the bathroom isn’t fun, especially when you’ve got to get back into your sleeping bag in the dark.
Awaken and head straight for the sauna… don’t ask, just do it! It’s optional to wear clothes, but as it’s a unisex sauna we opted for towels. A local man joined us in the sauna, and explained how he likes to go outside after and rub snow into it. The obvious choice? Join him of course.
We stood that morning in the -13 degrees completely starkers (bar towels) and watched the heat visibly steaming from our skin. Rubbing snow into your face almost pushes you over the edge, but there isn’t a more unique opportunity so it has to be done!
Breakfast is a decent buffet that includes cheeses, meats, eggs, bacon, fruit, yoghurt etc. If you’re flying out of Kirkenes airport the next morning, don’t opt for the 400NOK (per person) bus organised by the hotel. Instead, order a private taxi. It’ll cost you around 350NOK for the entire taxi, which is much cheaper.
If you’re looking for the adventure of a lifetime, you can’t go past the Kirkenes Snowhotel.