A deluxe suite at the Swedish ICEHOTEL.
Arctic reindeer wander through the snow in a Swedish forrest.
Arctic reindeer wander through the snow in a Swedish forrest. Photo by Kiruna Lapland

Whoever wrote the song, “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” hasn’t spent a summer in the United States. No matter what part of the country in, you’re likely to encounter at least a few days of skyrocketing heat and humidity that make you wish you had a magic carpet to the icy Swedish realms of Elsa and Olaf in Scandinavia. 

While Frozen is only a Disney creation set in Norway, the Arctic, and especially northern Sweden, offer real-life chances to cool off while exploring and, perhaps, travel-dreaming.

Craving some Swedish meatballs, a few cloudberries and a touch of aquavit, I turned on my computer, propped myself on some comfortable cushions, and prepared for my flight across the pond to the land of fika, Ikea and the Northern LightsSweden

While I can’t exactly explore the culture and meet the Sami residents at the moment, I can feed my travel hunger with a virtual voyage that reminds me that “oh, the places you’ll go” waits just around the corner for me.

A Virtual Tour of Swedish Lapland

Virtual itinerary set, virtual passport in my virtual carry-on and with no travel border restrictions to worry about, I set off to the chilly realms of Swedish Lapland. Heatwave and travel restrictions be damned — I’m ready to project myself into a world where my mind is open and ready to receive new experiences that are the foundations of travel dreams. 

Relaxing with friends for fika, a time to enjoy coffee and free time.
Relaxing with friends for fika, a time to enjoy coffee and free time. Photo by Tina Axelsson

First Stop Stockholm

I check in with my virtual tour guides and my exploration of Swedish Lapland begins. This is my third trip to the Arctic and I can’t wait. Being that far north is refreshing, especially now when open spaces and comfortable temperatures are more enticing than ever. 

I pretend that I’ve just landed in Stockholm, a city I’ve visited before, where I had my first experience with Ikea, BRIO toys and the wondrous relaxation experience that Swedes call fika. Fika is more than just having a cup of coffee. It’s sitting with friends, catching up with life, and taking a much-needed pause while sipping Sweden’s wonderful coffee. 

You could say that the entire world is experiencing fika now, albeit without close friends and with a heavy dose of stress. If only we could meld Swedish fika with Danish hygge, we’d have the Scandinavian sense of comfort that we so sorely need. The coffee tastes really good.

The Icehotel glowing under a blanket of snow.
The Icehotel glowing under a blanket of snow. Photo by Asaf Kliger

Experience the Icehotel

My next stop is Kiruna, a little under 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle, where I’m just in time to see the Icehotel before it melts back into the river. The two-and-a-half-hour flight whizzes by with the click of a mouse and I’m at the ethereal hotel, a place I’ve always wanted to experience after braving frigid temperatures at Finland’s Ice Festival in Rovaniemi many years prior. 

A modern room in the Icehotel with an ice bed to lounge on.
A modern room in the Icehotel with an ice bed to lounge on. Photo by Asaf Kliger

I have fond and somewhat delusional memories of numb toes while standing on the ice at an outdoor theater and of sitting on the banks of the frozen bay waiting for the Northern Lights. At the Festival, I visited ice rooms and enjoyed icy schnapps in an ice bar, but I didn’t have the chance to overnight snuggled under a reindeer skin covering. This was my chance to find out how cold (and cool) it would be.

I’m greeted with a wooden cup filled with Swedish schnapps known as aquavit. The drink is powerful liquor made from grain laced with anise and fennel and it has served a purpose for nearly 800 years – it keeps me toasty as I walk through the icy corridors. 

Hand-carved wooden cups to serve the traditional aquavit drink.
Hand-carved wooden cups to serve the traditional aquavit drink. Photo by Pernilla Ahlsen

The guide Matilda takes me on a personal tour through four of the jaw-dropping, individually designed and carved ice rooms while explaining how the Icehotel came to be. As I look around in amazement, she describes the transformation from river ice into these beautiful masterpieces, with rooms equipped with icy angelic sculptures and wall carvings. 

It’s like an architectural museum of ice with rooms that disappear and reappear each year. Just like Brigadoon. As mini icicles form on my uncovered nose, I take another sip from the tiny Sami guksi, attached by a string to tie to my parka when it’s empty. I spot the reindeer covering that will keep me warm throughout the night.

Swedish Safari in Lassbyn

A traditional campfire meal of reindeer, Arctic char, potatoes and peppers.
A traditional campfire meal of reindeer, Arctic char, potatoes and peppers. Photo by Arctic Retreat

On the second day, we meander south to Lassbyn to the Aurora Safari Camp. I channel the camper in me here and enjoy the camp’s simple lodge and tent accommodations along with a campfire meal of grilled reindeer and Arctic char. 

Founder Fredrik Broman is a font of knowledge when it comes to everything about the frozen Swedish wilderness. With Fredrik, I suit and glove up (in my mind) and zip off on one of my favorite Arctic adventure activities, snowmobiling, visiting two frozen lakes and learning about local wildlife and landmarks on the way. 

Although I’ve never done this in Sweden, I’m a bit of a snowmobiling veteran from speed-thrilled tours in Finland and Vermont, and I love the exhilaration. I don’t even mind the cold – I’m mentally prepared and I’m craving the chilly temperatures now that the mercury has soared to near triple digits.

Virtual travelers tour the frozen landscape riding on snowmobiles.
Virtual travelers tour the frozen landscape riding on snowmobiles. Photo by Markus Alatalo

Tour the Treetop Hotel

After the thrills of the day, I welcome the slower but still exciting visit to another of my bucket-list resorts, Swedish Lapland’s famous Treehotel. At leisure, I take a personal tour inside four of the seven amazing treetop hotel rooms. 

Each room has its own theme, which is showcased in the design interior with names that convey: The UFO, Mirrorcube, Dragonfly and Birds Nest. It’s icy but I climb up the ramps and onto outdoor decks in structures impossibly suspended among the trees, each affording the perfect chance for social distancing. 

If I smile all alone in the forest, does anyone notice? Perhaps this is the perfect virtual dreamscape after all.

  • The UFO themed room at the Treetop hotel.
  • Walking up the bridge to the microcube theme hotel room.
  • The bird nest themed hotel room in the snow.
  • The nest room hanging from the surrounding trees.
  • The nest room almost looking natural in the Swedish forest.
 

Dogsledding in Finland

My last day in Sweden takes me 50 miles to the East to the wilderness around Kroktask where I set off on another outdoor challenge, dogsledding in the icy wilderness. In Finland, I dogsledded both seated in a sled and standing up on skis with blue-eyed, spirited huskies that seemed to be just a few genes shy of their wolf cousins. 

I’m eager to relive the experience. Erik Hordijk of Yellow Snow Husky tours teaches me how to harness the team and we set off. I’m a little light so my braking doesn’t convince the dogs to pay attention to me, but no matter: they’ve done this before and they know the route. I’m not worried and the exhilaration is freeing.

An excited group ready for a day of dogsledding through the Swedish wilderness.
An excited group ready for a day of dogsledding through the Swedish wilderness. Photo by Gwen Tavares

For planning tips for an IRL Swedish winter trip, Visit Sweden has the answers. For the moment, check out Virtually Visiting for a cool dose of the Arctic.

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