Visiting the Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi is one of the absolute highlights of a trip to Swedish Lapland. For many people a journey to this living art project, which melts each spring to be rebuilt again in the winter, is a bucket-list experience matched only by seeing the northern lights and going mushing with a pack of huskies – both of which you can actually do near the hotel.
But for budget travellers, there is a glaring problem: trips to the Icehotel cost a helluva lot of money.
As we write this article, holiday companies in the UK are charging in excess of £1000 (12,000 SEK) for a three-day trip to the Icehotel. Per person, that is – and that’s before you even start adding up the cost of dogsled tours and other fun activities you’ll want to try when you arrive.
Needless to say, if you’re travelling as a couple, you won’t come home from your short trip to northern Sweden with much change from around £2500. Unless, that is, you do things slightly differently.
Here’s our guide to seeing the Icehotel on a budget.
When is the Icehotel open?
Work starts on the Icehotel in October using ice that was harvested the previous winter (it’s stored in big warehouses onsite). The hotel is opened to the public in December and then stays open until the melt starts – usually in early April. From the end of 2016 onwards, an indoor structure will also house icy rooms all year round.
Where is the Icehotel?
The Icehotel is located in a small, historic village called Jukkasjärvi, deep inside the Arctic Circle in Swedish Lapland. All things considered, Jukkasjärvi is surprisingly easy to reach. The hotel itself is just off the long, straight road that runs through the middle of the village, right beside the Torne River.
How do you get there?
If you want to get to the Icehotel cheaply, your first target should not be Jukkasjärvi but Kiruna, Sweden’s northernmost city. It’s around 17km to the west of the Icehotel and has very good transport connections with the rest of Sweden.
There are a few different options for getting to Kiruna – we’ll assume you’ve already arrived in Sweden.
Fly direct from Stockholm: quick but pricey
During the Icehotel’s winter season, there are direct, daily flights from Stockholm to Kiruna’s airport. Norwegian and SAS both have planes operating this route, so you may be able to find cheap seats – though in our experience, ticket prices rarely drop. If you do manage to find a good deal and want details of how to get to and from Kiruna Airport, see our Kiruna guide.
Take the train to the Icehotel: slow but scenic
Night trains take around 16 hours to get from Stockholm’s Central Station to Kiruna. They’re comfortable and warm, and can be great value if you book ahead online (see this article for tips on how and when to book). However, you’ll need to balance any cost savings with the fact that you’ll be losing time – and probably spending money on snacks and beer along the way.
Plane and train combo: the compromise
If you want a solution that balances cheap fares with time spent travelling, consider mixing a quick domestic flight with a train journey on to Kiruna. You may find that by flying to another destination in northern Sweden first, and then taking the train, you can save a lot of money and still get to enjoy some snowy scenery along the way.
Onwards from Kiruna
Whichever of the above options you go for, the next step is to take the bus from Kiruna to Jukkasjärvi. It’s a 30-minute ride and, as we explain in our Kiruna guide, the bus stops right outside the Icehotel. The fare? A very reasonable 41 SEK.
Where to stay near the Icehotel
Let’s be totally honest – if you want to stay inside the Icehotel, it will be expensive. Bear in mind that you’re competing with wealthy folks from all over the world for what is a very limited amount of space (there are only around 60 ice rooms available at any one time, and the original, icy part of the hotel is only open for a few months each year).
To give you an idea of prices, rates for the cheapest doubles at the Icehotel – known as ‘snow rooms’ – start at around 2,500 SEK per night. Proper art suites, the carefully sculpted rooms you’ve seen in the glossy travel magazines, begin at around 4,200 SEK.
Because of the high prices and limited availability, many people visiting the Icehotel on package tours have just one night in the cold rooms before transferring to the ‘warm’ part of the complex, which has fairly standard hotel-style rooms. These rooms are also extremely expensive, however.
So how do you keep it cheap?
You may decide that you simply cannot visit the Icehotel without sleeping in the thing, which is completely understandable. But it is possible to get a good feel for the place without actually staying the night.
In winter, guided tours of the Icehotel take place in English twice a day, at noon and at 4pm. They’re open to the public and cost 325 SEK per person (200 SEK for students) – expensive, but not a patch on what you’d pay to sleep inside.
During the tour you’ll get to see the individually designed art suites and learn about the way the hotel is built. You’ll probably share the tour with overnight guests, who will be itching to see how their rooms compare with others around the hotel. After the tour you can wander around at your own pace and grab a drink at the Icebar.
To book a place on the tour, just register in the reception building near the car park when you arrive.
Buses running between the Icehotel and Kiruna are reliable, so you should be able to base yourself at one of the cheap hostels there and do the Icehotel as a day trip. The last bus service back to Kiruna leaves at around 6.15pm (or 2.30pm on Sat & Sun). See our Kiruna transport guide for more details.
What about activities near the Icehotel?
If you’ve made it all the way to Jukkasjärvi and the Icehotel, you’ll probably want to join a dogsledding tour and maybe even go snowmobiling. You will almost certainly get the best rate by contacting a local guiding company direct, rather than booking through your hotel or an agent in your home country. We’ve listed some of the local tour operators in our Kiruna guide.