If you’ve been on Pinterest or Instagram in the last two years, you’ve likely seen a picture of a glass igloo in Finland and thought to yourself – I MUST GO. Though they are small resorts that only operate a few months a year, these drool-worthy accommodations have recently topped bucket lists around the globe and the influx of tourism to otherwise less-traveled destinations in Finland has risen tremendously.
While that certainly brings about a few negative aspects (more people around during your stay, inflated prices, and a more commercialized feel), an evening in one of these glass-topped abodes really is a must for the discerning traveling family.
There are several (now) infamous glass igloos in the Lapland area of Finland. This area is above the Arctic Circle and is cold nearly year-round. The igloos are typically only open from December or January through late March or early April. The reason for the VERY short season is mainly due to the geodesic design of the igloo itself. As air temperatures and sunny days increase, the heat trapped in these babies is stifling and without air conditioning (a common theme across much of Europe) there is no way to stay comfortable. Further, many of the winter activities such as snowshoeing across frozen lakes, husky safaris, snow castle tours, etc. are unable to continue with much of the snowmelt.
Staying at the Arctic SnowHotel and Glass Igloos (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book here) was an experience we will never forget. Located in Sinetta, Finland, just over the Arctic Circle border, it is likely a latitude parallel you haven’t been to before – so pack accordingly! That means lots of layers and good snow boots.
Driving up to the hotel we were greeted by a snow tower with the hotel name carved into it. The hotel uses the snow and ice from the lake it lies next to, to build the snow hotel from the ground up every year!
Check in is in a cabin near the igloos and provides a warm reception area with plenty of hooks to dry wet snow boots and coats if needed. There is also a nice and cozy sitting room in which you can enjoy a hot chocolate or other drink from the hotel bar as you check in – if the fire isn’t lit when you arrive, simply ask and they will send someone to get it going.
After check in, you can take your luggage to your igloo. The hotel provides “sledges” or small sleds upon which you can place your luggage to take it from your vehicle to your igloo.
• Note: Although this hotel is a luxury hotel, and touted and priced as such, there are no porters. Guests are expected to take their own luggage to the rooms. Although this is not a problem and even adds to the charm of the location and visit, some families may be surprised – so be ready!
Upon entry to the igloo, one is immediately struck by the beautiful Scandinavian/Nordic decoration – clean lines and modern finishes.
We stayed in a family igloo, which had 1 queen-sized bed (two twin beds together) and two twin beds. The beds were all electronic articulating beds so one could adjust the head and legs to view the sky throughout the night. This was a really nice feature and the beds were very comfortable. The family room can easily accommodate 4 people, but is not large by any means – there is no wasted space.
The bathroom is small, but to be expected in a room such as this given the constraints they must work with. Although small, it is well-appointed and comfortable keeping with the minimal Scandinavian/Nordic theme.
The room has a coat rack but no closet, so clothing will need to be kept in your luggage for the duration of your stay. While this was initially surprising, it worked out fine. In these northern climes, your inner layers are easily reached in the suitcase, and your outer layers are hanging on the coat rack.
There is also a tea kettle with cups and tea, a side table with two chairs to relax in, and a mini-fridge to store snacks and drinks.
The draw of this family vacation are the outdoor activities – you won’t be spending much time in the room. In addition, during the day, especially if the sun is out, the interior gets very warm. Prepare for this if you have small children who nap, it might be difficult to fall asleep at mid-day due to the heat in the room. We propped our door open during the day when we were inside and this resolved any issues we had.
The hotel has quite a bit to keep you occupied during the day, and if you find that you want more, there is plenty to do in nearby Rovaniemi.
• Tour the SnowHotel – Guests of the hotel can tour the SnowHotel at any time. It is nicest to visit in the evenings, after the tour buses from town have left and guests have the place to themselves.
• Snowshoeing – The hotel provides snowshoes and trekking poles for those that want to take a hike across Lehtojarvi, the lake that the property lies adjacent to. They have snowshoes in sizes from teen to adult. Smaller children can be pulled along in a sledge behind the snowshoe participants. This excursion is a great workout, and a beautiful way to get into nature.
• Sledding – There is a small hill and sleds for the children to play on on site. In addition, you can borrow a sled and hike to find other hills nearby.
• Build a Snowman – Every child loves to build a snowman, and there are plenty of opportunities here!
• Sauna – The hotel has a traditional sauna and an ice sauna which you can take advantage of using. There are set times for reservations and a reservation includes a dip in the hot tub.
• Husky Ride – The hotel works with a company to take guests on husky safaris. The excursion leaves directly from the hotel so there is no need to drive to town.
• Reindeer Rides – The hotel works with a company to take guests on a reindeer sleigh ride. The excursion leaves directly from the hotel so there is no need to drive to town.
• Snowmobiling – The hotel works with a company to take guests snowmobiling. The excursion leaves directly from the hotel so there is no need to drive to town.
• Reindeer on site – The hotel has two resident reindeer which guests can visit.
There are several options for food at the resort.
• You can have dinner in the Snow Hotel (a chilly -5 degree dinner on ice tables) which is a fun experience. They serve a three-course meal for around 70€, children are free under 4 and half price after that. The choices are reindeer or chicken both with vegetables. Dinner is served quickly and arrives piping hot in a foil pack from the grill. It cools off quickly, so you have to eat a little faster than normal!
• You can have a 3-course dinner in the traditional Finnish kota. This experience is much warmer than the Snow Hotel dinner. Salmon is the offering in the kota, and it is cooked traditionally on the fire in special grills as you watch. Your meal is served on traditional (but modern) Finnish dinnerware. Dinner here was delicious.
• Reservations are required at both restaurants as they order food each day for that night’s dinner. If you visit in peak season and decide last minute to eat at the hotel, they may not be able to accommodate you. Plan ahead to avoid disappointment!
• If you have any special dietary needs, be sure to tell the hotel at least a day or two in advance so they can accommodate the request. They do not keep things in the kitchen for last minute reservations.
• Breakfast is included in your stay and served each morning buffet-style, traditional of Finland. The spread was good, but not excessive. There is something for everyone in your party to be satisfied for the morning.
In Lapland, the Northern Lights are common from November-April. If you have a clear night, your chances of seeing them are high. You can use a website to track storms in order to gauge your chances of seeing activity, but the hotel also has an “Aurora Alarm.” This is an alarm you can turn on (if you want) and it will alert you to Aurora activity if it is present during the night. This is helpful if you don’t want to go trekking on your own to hunt the lights, and so you don’t have to stay up all night checking. However, the Northern Lights are a naturally-occurring phenomenon and often appear for very brief periods of time. Therefore, it may not always go off in time for you to view the activity.
Our suggestion is to check the aurora forecast using this website. We found it to be fairly accurate and helpful to know the peak times of activity. We then set our alarm for those times. The first night we chased them in our car on our own and had an amazing experience finding a laavu and open access to a frozen river. However, the second and third nights we stayed at the hotel and simply walked out onto the frozen lake to view them. We were lucky and saw activity all three nights we visited, the first two nights being the most spectacular.
It’s important to note that weather conditions change rapidly in this part of the country so be prepared if you are away from the hotel. Also understand that there is no guarantee of activity. If you are lucky enough to see the lights, it will be an experience you will never forget – it will also leave you wanting more! There are several companies that you can hire to take you out to hunt the lights. They visit areas they know about that have the best chances of seeing activity.
We did not utilize any of these companies as we found it a much more organic and awe-inspiring experience to see them alone – just our family.
There is a large frozen lake on the property and you can walk out onto this to get away from the light pollution of the resort to view the Northern Lights if they are active. This was much easier than trying to wake the family, get them bundled up and into a car, drive out 15-30 minutes to find a viewing location, and then sitting in the cold only to have to drive back. We found it much more convenient to stumble out of our room and head to the lake.
Know Before You Go
• Temperatures in Lapland typically range from -5 to -30 Celsius in the winter, so make sure you pack ski suits or bibs, as well as layers. Layers are key as you will often go from one extreme to the other when entering the lodge/reception area.
• Light pollution can be an issue at night, so ask your neighboring igloos to please turn off their lights (the hotel doesn’t have a policy). This will increase your chances of being able to view the Northern Lights from your igloo without having to get outside.
• Although the igloos are a 5-star accommodation, Finland is NOT known for hospitality. Therefore, at this hotel, you will not find a concierge to answer every question, a butler to tend to your every need, etc. That’s part of the charm of the resort, but also surprising given the price of the rooms. Be prepared so you aren’t disappointed.
Bring With You
• A good camera with manual settings. The Northern Lights are not easy to photograph, and you will need LONG exposures (up to 30 seconds if the lights are not very active).
• A sturdy tripod. In order to take photos with long exposures, you will need a tripod. Lightweight ones might NOT be the best if it’s windy outside. We had calm weather and still got a small amount of shake in our long exposures.
• Headlamp. When walking out onto the lake at night, it’s DARK! While a headlamp isn’t necessary, it does make things easier when you are trying to carry the camera, tripod, tired children, and more!
• Snacks. Once the front desk closes at 11 pm, there is no opportunity for food! Since you are up during the night (to see lights), someone is bound to get hungry. Bring snacks to store in your mini-fridge to satisfy those midnight cravings.
Visiting the Arctic SnowHotel and Glass Igloos is an experience that will certainly differ from The Four Seasons or The Ritz. However, the differences are part of the charm of this unique adventure. Staying is a glass igloo watching the snow fall under the Northern Lights is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that every discerning traveling family should experience. It will be something the kids will talk about for YEARS to come.
About Arctic SnowHotel and Glass Igloos
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About Cat Holladay
Cat Holladay is a Finland-based family travel writer with a degree in Journalism and a Masters in Art Education. After more than a decade as a VP and operations manager in the corporate world, she stepped back to focus on working to live, not living to work. She now spends her time freelance writing, blogging, and traveling the world with her husband and their four year-old son. Follow Cat on her blog, and on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
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