Sweden, February 2024: Icehotel, Dogsledding and Skis


My vacation in Sweden in 2024 had a similar structure as the one in 2023. If you want to know about a specific part of it, here are some shortcuts.

If you want to know about all of it, read on...


Once again, I visited the ice hotel in Jukkasjärvi.

It's a bit odd. I had been there once in 1998, by now more than a quarter of a century ago, and it took me 24 years to visit it again.

And now I've seen it four times in a row.

Mostly it's due to the flight connections to Gällivare.

The plane from Stockholm arrives late in the day (around 22:00 according to schedule, but this time it was more like 23:15). And there's no flight on Saturday.

As I needed to be in Jokkmokk on Monday for the dog sledding tour, theoretically I could have flown in on Sunday afternoon, taken the bus to Jokkmokk on Monday and be there in time for dogsledding. But if there's any issue with the flight (such as the flight being cancelled), I would have missed the dogsledding trip.

So, again, it seemed prudent to fly to Gällivare on an earlier flight. Just in case. And as there is no Saturday flight, that means arriving in Gällivare on Friday night.

Meaning that I had, once again, two days in Gällivare with nothing to do.

Not doing much for a day is fine, but two days is a bit of a stretch.

So I did what I did in the previous years. Rent a car, drive up to Jukkasjärvi and have a look at the ice hotel.

After all, (most of) it changes every year, so there's something new to look at.

Of course, there was a brand new ice hotel on the river, as the previous one had melted away in the summer.

Icehotel 2024

And while most of the rooms in the 'Icehotel 365' (which should probably have been relabeled 'Icehotel 366' in this leap year) remained the same, there were new ones there as well.

The basic layout of the annual ice hotel hadn't changed much. Opposite the main entrance was the Ceremony Hall.

From the corridor leading to that hall, there are two corridors to the left and right. And from each of these corridors, there are two other corridors, which lead to the rooms.

The corridor to the right of the entrance hall leads to 'standard rooms', which all look similar.

Icehotel 2024 - standard room

A few large 'inverted icicles' in the room, some more on one wall, some random patterns in the snow and a large bed. (The rooms have different sized beds. The picture above is of a family room for four sleepers.)

The corridor to the left leads to the (usually) more interesting 'art suites'.

This time, the place looked less spacious than in the previous years.

While the entrance area used to be a large, empty space (except for the ice columns holding it up and the chandelier) it now contained a lattice of ice blocks. It was interesting to look at from various angles, due to the way it was breaking and reflecting the light, but it took up space and made the entrance look cramped.

Icehotel 2024 - Entrance Hall Icehotel 2024 - Entrance Hall

I'm not sure why they had that inside. There was more of the same structure outside and as that was in the sunlight, the light there was more variable, changing and interesting, while the diffuse light inside didn't have as much of an effect. Having only the outside structure might have been enough.

Another thing that made the ice hotel look smaller this time was the non-continuous corridor.

Previously, the corridors to the left and right parts of the building joined the entrance corridor opposite to each other, so if you stood in one of the side corridors, they looked like one long corridor. This year, they were not aligned. If you stood in one of them, you could only see to the opposite wall of the entrance corridor. Again, with the effect of making the ice hotel look smaller. Odd choice.

But as the main attractions are the rooms and not the corridors, it doesn't really matter.

The Ceremonial Hall (named Ceremonial Hall Slava this year) felt a bit more formal than in previous years.

Icehotel 2024 - Ceremonial Hall Icehotel 2024 - Ceremonial Hall

In 2022 it looked a bit more like having a party, with 'balloons' made from snow. And 2021 was more ' out in nature', with a large ice carving of a tree dominating the place. And 2023 had a somewhat 'leafy' look as well.

This year, the walls were mostly bare, with large motives carved into circular areas. There were still outdoor motives with leaves and branches, but given the shape and depth of the pattern, it looked a bit like someone had pressed giant Oreo cookies into the wall.

The head end of the room had two large ice columns with a regular geometric pattern in it, making it look a bit like two large scarves.

In addition, unlike in other years, the guest seating had carved backrests.

All nice and tastefully done, of course, but lacking the playfulness that earlier versions of the hall had.

Maybe it was time for a change. It's also a bit mean to complain that things are looking a bit same-ish year after year and then criticize when something is actually different. So why not?

For the rooms in the ice hotel, let's start with the "I get the idea, but wouldn't spend the night there" rooms.

While the ice hotel is also a tourist attraction for day visitors, having a look at the rooms, but staying somewhere else (like me this year), it also is a hotel, so the rooms should also be fun to stay in.

And one of the rooms I'm not sure about whether I'd want to was "Inception".

Icehotel 2024 - Inception suite Icehotel 2024 - Inception suite

All there was to see was a long ice block with the text "Here everything began..." embedded in it and a couple of irregular piles of snow on top. Above the bed was a circular snow shape with a slightly irregular surface. And that's it.

The idea behind the room is a creation myth, with the world being made by thunder and lightning.

Entering the room will trigger a series of light and sound effects, with flashes moving across the room, created by LED lights hidden under the snow. And thunder emerging from hidden loudspeakers.

Aesthetically, it makes sense that the room looks austere. With almost nothing in it but the bed, the elaborate effects are a bigger surprise and there's little in the room that distracts from them.

As an art installation, it works. But as a room to sleep in, it is strange. You probably don't want to have flashing lights and thunder noises on all the time, as they're distracting. But if you turn them off, you are in a room that's even less decorative than a standard room, but costs a lot more.

Another room that feels like it seemed a good idea at the time (and a fitting pun), but isn't that great (even though it is well done) is "Minus 10".

Icehotel 2024 - Minus 10 suite Icehotel 2024 - Minus 10 suite

The name partly refers to the temperature in the ice hotel, but it also refers to the fact that the design elements in the room are slanted by 10°. "Minus 10" has temperature as well as angular degrees.

Although, when you're in it, it doesn't feel disorienting. But it should.

I expected it to have some funhouse effect with things looking subtly wrong and your vision conflicting with your sense of balance.

But being in there, it felt like a normal room, with some of the stuff knocked over. A bit disorderly, but not interesting so.

I assume that, visually, the main issue was that the floor was flat and the room was one of the normal ice hotel rooms, with the curves of the walls being symmetric and the highest point in the middle of the room. There was also a 'picture frame' on one side that was hanging normally (and not at a -10° angle). The main visual clues all cried out "this is a normal room". And the elements in the room couldn't irritate the brain. The benches looked more like a leg had broken off and they were a bit off because of this. And not like the room is tilted.

Maybe it would have helped if they had built the whole room slightly tilted (and not only the elements in it).

While the room is probably good for Instagram pictures, especially if you tilt the camera the other way, it does not work that well when you are in it.

Which is a pity, as the elements in it are well done and have a clear, almost iconic, design.

And there's a cute looking cat hiding in one corner. (Although it turned out not to be the cutest cat in the ice hotel.)

Continuing the "Assuming I had free choice of which room to stay in, which one would I not choose" theme, the next one would probably be "Sea inside"

There's nothing wrong with the room itself. But as it is highly unlikely that I'll ever spend a night at the ice hotel with Uma Thurman, I'll give it a miss.

Icehotel 2024 - Sea Inside suite

The reason is that the main element of the room is a bed built into an open seashell, made of ice.

Which would be perfect to re-enact Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus" painting, provided you have a girlfriend or model with you who doesn't mind the cold. (Hence the mention of Uma Thurman - there's a scene in the 1998 movie "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" where she rises (in her first film role) from a seashell similar to this (though, obviously, not made from ice) in homage to the Botticelli painting.)

If you don't go for the Botticelli motive, it would certainly also be possible to recreate scenes from Ariel (or some other mermaid) in that room. For a man traveling alone, it simply doesn't seem the best choice.

A room I didn't understand when I visited it was "Eternal Flow".

Icehotel 2024 - Eternal Flow suite Icehotel 2024 - Eternal Flow suite

It was a case of "not seeing the forest for the trees".

I liked being in the room, as it had an interesting pattern all over the wall. Most other rooms had mostly a flat white surface. And the ripples reminded me a bit of the texture of a hunchback whale's mouth. Standing in the room, it looked a bit like I had been swallowed by a whale.

However, on the side of the room was an oddly shaped column (the tonsil?) with some sort of bird (or anteater?) perched on it.

Only after reading the description of the room and looking at the pictures (especially the wider angled ones), I understood that this was supposed to represent an ice phoenix. The "whale skin" were the wing feathers. And the odd column was the body of the bird, with the 'anteater on top' being the head of the phoenix and its beak.

It all makes sense, but when I was standing in the room, I didn't see that at all.

"Torne River Anomaly" was a bit silly.

The basic idea is that there's something strange, probably alien, in or under the Torne River, where the ice hotel is located. Consequently, the room is decorated with "alien artefacts", looking a bit like decoration items from the Stargate series.

Icehotel 2024 - Torne River Anomaly suite

Two of the other rooms were dominated by giant body parts. And one by a giant body.

"Obscura" had a large ear in it.

Icehotel 2024 - Obscura suite

And "Oh my goddess" was dominated by a giant face.

Icehotel 2024 - Oh my Goddess suite Icehotel 2024 - Oh my Goddess suite

Due to the lack of any botanical competence, I didn't realize that this was supposed to be the goddess of cacao and chocolate. (White chocolate, presumably.)

There were a number of pods on the floor, as well as a small plant, supplemented by the ice carving of a small tree with pods on the back of the room. But I wasn't able to identify it as a cacao tree with the corresponding pods and beans. So I assumed that the room had something to do with the Japanese manga. But as I don't know anything beyond the title of this either, I didn't notice that the room didn't fit that in any way. (Although the eyes might have been a hint - these clearly weren't big round manga-style eyes.)

"Don't get up" had a giant woman (and a huge teddy bear) in it.

Icehotel 2024 - Don't get up suite Icehotel 2024 - Don't get up suite

At the core, it's like Alice in Wonderland after eating the "Eat Me" cake.

The inhabitant of the room has somehow grown large and is now no longer able to stand up or get out. (It might have been an "Easter Egg" to put a potion labeled "Drink Me" in the room as well, but I didn't notice any.)

Outside the room, there was a giant shoe in the corridor, but I don't know whether this had anything to do with the contents of the room or was meant as a stand-alone element.

Icehotel 2024 - Giant Boot

Three of the remaining rooms were more abstract in their art.

"Morning Song" had a large ice sculpture behind the bed, but things that are carved from ice are notoriously difficulty to photograph, so there's not much to see in the picture.

Icehotel 2024 - Morning Song suite

But the ice snowflakes, which were set into the snow wall, are easy to see.

Icehotel 2024 - Morning Song suite

"Siella" had a number of round shapes and patterns, based on Sami art. It seems that "Siella" is a bit like a dreamcatcher to be hung over a child's bed, but it's in the form of jewelry, so it can be worn later, when the child is older.

Icehotel 2024 - Siella suite Icehotel 2024 - Siella suite Icehotel 2024 - Siella suite

The last of the rooms with abstract designs was "Nebula's Child", supposed to represent the creation of a star (although I assumed that it was showing the final moments of a star, as it is about to become a supernova).

Icehotel 2024 - Nebula's Child suite Icehotel 2024 - Nebula's Child suite

The dominating element of the room is a half-sphere with many cracks in it and light shining through the cracks.

In that sense, it's a bit like "Inception". A plain room design with simple shapes. And only the effects bringing "meaning" to the room.

But "Nebula's Child" makes better use of colours (it's the only room that doesn't simple appear white). It also uses different colours for the sphere's surface and the light shining through the cracks, making the colour scheme feel more intense. By far the best use of colours in the ice hotel. (Although there is one room that uses a simple yellow colour highlight for great effect - but more about this soon.)

And colours change gradually, so it's nicer to be in this room than in "Inception". A bit like the difference of having a mood light in a room compared to having a stroboscope running all day.

Before we come to the "Animal Trilogy", there was one room using the "Which would make the least sense for a room made out of ice?" approach.

Similar to the "Sauna" room in the Icehotel 365, where the perceived heat of a sauna contrasts with ice and snow it is made of, "Dream with a thorn" takes a landscape that is generally associated with heat and renders it in snow and ice.

Icehotel 2024 - Dream with a Thorn suite

Icehotel 2024 - Dream with a Thorn suite

The room features a desert landscape (maybe Arizona?) with cacti made from ice. And a coyote howling at the moon.

The room has a bit of a cartoonish look, as the cacti are mostly flat, like cardboard cut-outs. It felt a bit like being in the scenery of a Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner cartoon. (However, the coyote howling at the moon, while simplified, doesn't look Wile E. Coyote at all. And the room didn't feature a roadrunner either.)

I've kept the three "animal themed rooms" for last. (At least as far as the annual ice hotel is concerned.)

"Light Collectors" has a simple, powerful idea behind it.

Most animals in the North collect food for the winter, either by hoarding supplies or building some fat reserves on the body.

But what if they also want to bring some of the light from the warmer seasons into the cold, dark winter?

Icehotel 2024 - Light Collectors suite Icehotel 2024 - Light Collectors suite Icehotel 2024 - Light Collectors suite

The room depicts a number of animals out in the woods, collecting bits of light to help them through the winter.

I liked that room a lot, as the light effects used are integral to the story. The lights are not simply for illumination, but there is a reason why there are lights in the objects the animals are carrying. And it makes sense in the context that the light the animals are carrying is reddish-orange, representing the warm sunlight of the summer, while the room itself is illuminated in the cold white light of winter.

A simple idea, but it gives meaning and reason to all the elements in the room. Possibly even to the bed for guests, which has a large orange light behind it, even though it is not clear whether this is some light the human inhabitant has collected ot whether that represents the light of the sun setting behind the forest.

Somewhat similar to "Dream with a thorn", the room "Frozen Moment" resembles a still from a cartoon.

Two rats are trying to get away with bits of cheese, while a cat (with an amazing light effect of shiny yellow eyes) looks at them.

Icehotel 2024 - Frozen Moment suite Icehotel 2024 - Frozen Moment suite Icehotel 2024 - Frozen Moment suite Icehotel 2024 - Frozen Moment suite Icehotel 2024 - Frozen Moment suite

The situation feels a bit like a cartoon that is paused right at the moment of the double-take. The cat has seen the rats, but it hasn't started to react yet.

As if someone needs to press the 'Play' button again and a wild chase will start.

Or possibly not.

The cat seems unexpectedly relaxed. It doesn't seem to be ready to pounce yet.

Maybe it will, once it realizes what it sees.

Maybe the cat will let the rats escape this time, hoping to catch them as fatter rats later.

Maybe this is a fairytale world, where cats and rats live in harmony and the cheese is a gift from the cat.


At the "Frozen Moment" nothing is decided yet.

The final room, the "Beaver lodge" is the cosiest one and also the one I would have liked to spend a night in.

The idea is simple. It's the inside of a beaver dam, assembled by a pair of beavers.

It's by far the most "naturalistic" of the rooms (though, of course, everything is scaled up a bit).

And it's the one that deviates most from the 'generic room template'.

The other rooms look (as rooms) essentially the same. They are essentially half-cylinders with smooth walls. The 'artistic elements' give the impression that they are simply placed in the rooms, like sculptures presented in a museum.

The "Beaver Lodge" looks more organic, more like entering a cave-like environment assembled from twigs, leaves and branches (made from snow...)

Icehotel 2024 - Beaver Lodge suite Icehotel 2024 - Beaver Lodge suite Icehotel 2024 - Beaver Lodge suite Icehotel 2024 - Beaver Lodge suite Icehotel 2024 - Beaver Lodge suite

It gives more of an impression of an unusual (but cozy) environment than any of the other rooms does.

And that's it regarding the annual ice hotel, the one that is built out on the river ice and will be gone in summer.

But there is also the Icehotel 365, technically a giant refrigerator, which has a number of rooms in it which will be available all through the year. And often for a number of years.

Most of the rooms in the Icehotel 365 were the same as in the previous year, but there were two newcomers. They were "The Breach" and "Mystery on the Icehotel Express". Gone are "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Lost and Found"

Here's a timeline for the suites in the Icehotel 365 since 2021.
34 Meters+
A Midsummer Night's Dream ++
Blue Houses++
Cabinet in the woods++++
Dancers in the dark++++
Danger! Thin Ice+
Dreaming in a dream++++
Early Spring++++
Hang Loose++++
Kodex Maximus++++
Lost and found+++
Mystery on the Icehotel Express +
Oh deer+
Raindrop Prelude++++
Strobilus Land +++
The Breach +
The Drift++++
The Ice are the Window to the Soul ++
Wanderlust +++
You are here++++

I'm still not sure whether it makes sense to keep the rooms for such a long time.

With 18 permanent suites available and, on average, only two of them changing each year, most suites need to be useable for six years. (Although it would be interesting to find out why "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was replaced after only two years.)

And most of them haven't aged well.

In 2021, the lines on the wall of the "Sauna" suite were still clearly distinct from the background, the bathrobe looked fluffy and there was a towel on the bathtub. Now the lines are less sharp, the bathrobe looks like it's made from plastic and the towel from the bathtub is gone. As is the ladle from the 'water bucket' behind the bed.

Things you might not notice if you haven't visited over multiple years, but the rooms are decaying.

Last year, the room where it was most noticeable was "Hang Loose", where, even without knowing how it looked in earlier years, the room seems in a bad state. The "pictures" hanging on the wall are hardly recognizable anymore. And their frames are broken and still haven't been repaired.

"Toybox" doesn't fare much better, with the blocks saying "Welcome" still no longer readable. Which is odd, as they are made from ice and it's probably the frozen condensation on the ice that makes them translucent instead of transparent. But that should be easily fixable by wiping the blocks with some lukewarm water. But at least the rabbit's ear is still there.

The same applies to the signs in "You are here", which by now look like some faded posters. Which should also be easily fixable. And it's similar for the "carved panels" in the "Cabinet in the woods", which are essentially unrecognizable by now.

Rooms that have mainly large, blocky elements, like "Crescents", "Téckara", "Early Spring", "Kodex Maximus" or "The Drift" cope with aging a bit better, as it's the small details that suffer first, but they also tend to be the duller rooms.

I doubt that this would make economic sense, but I think the best solution would be to close half of the rooms in the Icehotel 365 in November and put in new rooms at the same time the annual ice hotel is built. Or maybe do that in March, while the annual ice hotel is still standing, but the builders had a bit of a rest and the resources are still available.

That would mean that the rooms in the Icehotel 365 only exist for a maximum of two years, which is short enough to keep them pristine looking and interesting.

Still pristine looking and interesting were the two new rooms, of course.

"The Breach" represents the engine room of the Titanic. At the moment the iceberg breaches the ship's hull.

Although, when seeing the room, my first association was the steampunk look of the dramatization of a Jules Verne novel, most likely "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea".

Icehotel 2024 - The Breach suite Icehotel 2024 - The Breach suite Icehotel 2024 - The Breach suite Icehotel 2024 - The Breach suite Icehotel 2024 - The Breach suite

Actually, I think the Jules Verne theme might be a better explanation for the room, as it seems a bit strange that the Titanic would have a "Feet below sea level" indicator going down to 12500 feet, unless one of the engineers had a really bad feeling about the future of the ship...

But the description of the room clearly states "Our room concept The Breach places you in the engine room of the Titanic". So let's go with that.

The last room was called "Mystery on the Icehotel Express".

I liked the room a lot, but I hate the name.

The room is obviously themed after the Agatha Christie story "Murder on the Orient Express", so why not call the room "Murder on the Icehotel Express"?

The name felt like a recommendation coming from a worried, timid committee, arguing "No, we can't use a word like "Murder" for one of the rooms. That might have negative connotations for potential customers. Better use a safe, non-committal word instead."

Which seems wrong. Yes, Disney does that all the time and very often even harmless swear words like "hell" and "damn" get replaced by terms like "heck" and "darn". But that's mainstream US culture, not wanting to possibly offend anybody. (And I'm not even going to rant about how idiotic that is, as the whole thing only works when viewers are aware what words have been replaced. So it is mostly an annoyance for viewers who have to do a mental search and replace every time a 'safe' swear word is used.)

But in Sweden, that seems odd.

In general, there's a lot of pragmatism. So, if a room alludes to "Murder on the Orient Express" the natural thing is to call it "Murder on the Icehotel Express". Or, if you really want to avoid any association with that, then leave out the reference and focus on the train. Simply call it the "Icehotel Express". Or reference some other famous train, like the "Flying Scotsman" or "The Ghan". But the half-hearted attempt to replace a word with negative associations by a weaker one, while at the same time misrepresenting the original work - such bowdlerism seems at odds with that part of the world.

But, ignoring the name, the room is great.

It represents the last carriage of a train (the Icehotel Express) standing in the station.

There's an "outside environment", with a bench, a lamppost, a clock and an elevated platform with some luggage on it, as well as an animal sitting on the bench. (I'm not entirely sure whether that's supposed to be a cat or a dog, but most likely a cat.)

Icehotel 2024 - Mystery on the Icehotel Express suite Icehotel 2024 - Mystery on the Icehotel Express suite Icehotel 2024 - Mystery on the Icehotel Express suite Icehotel 2024 - Mystery on the Icehotel Express suite Icehotel 2024 - Mystery on the Icehotel Express suite Icehotel 2024 - Mystery on the Icehotel Express suite Icehotel 2024 - Mystery on the Icehotel Express suite

And there's the train carriage itself. Obviously a sleeper department with a bed in it (so having a bed in the ice hotel room makes sense for the depicted environment). There's also sofa in the cabin, as well as some things left behind by the current inhabitant - a newspaper, a coat, a hat and a bottle.

Icehotel 2024 - Mystery on the Icehotel Express suite

As it is the last carriage on the train, there's a little platform at the end of it, so that the passenger can, presumably, stand on that platform and enjoy the landscape going by.

Icehotel 2024 - Mystery on the Icehotel Express suite

The train windows aren't plain sheets of ice (or left empty), but feature elaborate carvings in an art-deco style.

Icehotel 2024 - Mystery on the Icehotel Express suite Icehotel 2024 - Mystery on the Icehotel Express suite

A lot of effort has gone into the room.

I assume that's one of the rooms that will be in the Icehotel 365 for a long time. The overall structure should age well, but I assume the first thing that will be gone (or at least unrecognizable) will be the patterns in the windows. And the animal is likely to be gone soon as well. It's a separate object (not connected to the bench), so you can pick it up and pose for pictures with it. Or simply put it on the ground if you're taking a picture on the bench with more than two persons. And at some point, someone is likely to drop it.

Time will tell...

In any case, it was time to leave the ice hotel and head back to Gällivare.

Of course, there was still enough time for having a (non-alcoholic) drink at the ice bar, served in an ice glass, before doing the walk from bar to car.

Icehotel 2024 - Icebar Icehotel 2024 - Icebar

The next day was a rest day in Gällivare.

I didn't do much. Partly because it was a rest day, but more because there isn't much to do in Gällivare on a Sunday.

But at least I did see the town from another viewpoint.

There's a hill called Dundret south of Gällivare, which I could see from my hotel window.

View towards Dundret

So, on Sunday, I decided to go to that hill and have a look to my hotel window.

View from Dundret

Well, there was a bit more of a view than seeing only the hotel window. Nice panorama, but that's about as exciting as it gets around Gällivare.

I also spotted a reindeer by the side of a road, but that's pretty much the default when driving on winter roads in northern Sweden

Reindeer on road

One thing that I did find noteworthy in Gällivare was the light in the toilet.

The wall between the bathroom and the hotel room was made from glass bricks.

Some hotel designers like to do that. During the day it brings some light into the bathroom and it feels a bit friendlier and more spacious.

Toilet and shower at hotel

But this one also had a motion activated light.

Which also makes sense. You don't want hotel guests to turn on the light in the bathroom, forget about it and then having the light on all day. Having the light come on automatically and then turn it off five minutes later saves energy.

However, the combination of both features was annoying.

I went to the toilet in the middle of the night and then went to bed again.

But there was no off switch for the bathroom light. So it stayed on for five minutes, illuminating the hotel room (because of the glass wall). which meant that I was lying on my bed in the middle of the night, not being able to get back to sleep, having to wait for five minutes until the light went off again.

I'm not sure whether there's a word for a situation where two things, which by themselves are good ideas and sensible, become annoying when combined. I could need that here...

That was the most exciting thing to tell about Gällivare.

In any case, it was definitely time to go on and do things that were interesting. So the next day I took the bus to Jokkmokk and went on the dog sledding tour.

More about that part of the vacation here