The Coolest Hotel on the Edge of the World: Kirkenes’ Snow Hotel
Kirkenes, a little Norwegian town just four miles east of the Russian border, is about as far north as you can go in mainland Europe. Positioned squarely within the Arctic Circle, the town experiences continuous daylight from May to September, and polar night from late November through January.
In the depths of winter, daytime temperatures hover around a constant 11 degrees Fahrenheit, and the sun sits on or below the horizon, just high enough to muster a faint blue glow visible at midday.
You might think that the cold and darkness would send people running, but travelers searching for uncommon experiences have discovered that winter is when Kirkenes really comes alive.
You can take an exhilarating snowmobile ride, race teams of sled dogs, fish for king crab and, given the town’s near-perfect northern location and dry subarctic climate, catch a glimpse of the beautiful phenomenon known as the Northern Lights or the Aurora Borealis. And for unusual experiences like this, you need an equally unusual hotel to top everything off.
That’s where the world’s coolest hotel comes in: the Snow Hotel.
Like many others, he grew up seeing that Kirkenes had a lot of potential as a tourist destination, but it wasn’t enough to pique anyone’s interest. It wasn’t until he made a trip to Finland in the winter of 2004 that things changed.
While he was there, he had the unique opportunity to stay in a hotel made entirely out of snow and realized that he could take the same idea back to Kirkenes, where the winters are cold enough to keep the snow from melting. He started the Snow Hotel in 2006, and since then, it’s grown and attracted more guests every year.
Starting with the central point of the hotel, the rooms are made by inflating a giant balloon and blowing about six feet of snow over it. The snow is left to set for a few hours, then the balloon is deflated and the process repeated throughout the rest of the hotel.
As a finishing touch, all of the rooms are decorated with beautiful ice sculptures and finely detailed designs carved right into the snow walls. These sculptures are made every year by some of the world’s best snow and ice sculptors. They use more than 70 tons of ice for their creations each year, and decorations are always different from season to season.
You won’t find many manmade materials inside the hotel; even the beds are made of ice in each of the 20 guest rooms. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be sleeping on a frozen solid block. Guests are given air mattresses, heavy-duty sleeping bags made for temperatures up to -30 degrees F, and warm sheets and pillows, so it’s actually quite toasty once you slip under the covers. For less adventurous guests, the Snow Hotel has the option to stay in heated cabins modeled after the traditional dwellings of the Sami people, with modern furnishings, panoramic windows and heated floors.
The big draw to this area is the celestial wonder of the Northern Lights. The hotel is located about 6.5 miles outside of town, far away from any light pollution, and the dry winters and abundance of clear nights make this the perfect destination for sky-gazers looking to catch a glimpse of the unearthly phenomenon.
When guests start to feel the chill, they can relax in the hotel’s heated service building, which houses showers, a sauna and a handsome timbered restaurant serving locally-sourced fare.
The tour also explores Western Russia and includes visits to the ice-free Arctic port of Murmansk, the Golden Ring towns of Vladimir and Suzdal, and magnificent Moscow and St. Petersburg. The Robb Report, a leading luxury lifestyle publication, recently highlighted this tour in their Luxury Newswire section.
You can also design your own winter adventure with the help of MIR’s custom, private journey specialists. MIR has 30 years of award-winning experience handcrafting custom journeys and fulfilling personal travel dreams to this slice of the globe.
Top photo: Outside the Snow Hotel in Kirkenes, Norway. Photo credit: Kirkenes Snow Hotel / Nevra Pictures
PUBLISHED: December 17, 2015