Tromsø Ice Domes: A magical night in an icehotel
This article is also available in: Dutch
I created Lost in Norvana as a combination of ‘Norway’ and ‘nirvana’. Nirvana is a place of perfect peace and happiness, like heaven. In Buddhism it’s the highest state that one can attain, a state of enlightenment, meaning a person’s individual desires and suffering will go away. It’s a feeling I’ve been desperately chasing since I first discovered the magical powers of Norway. And it’s the place I found myself in when we visited the Tromsø Ice Domes. That feeling of being completely whole and satisfied, having nothing left to wish for. I found it there. And it was pretty hard to describe how that felt.
During our stay in the Ice Domes there’s been multiple times I caught myself just looking around speechless, or being completely absent minded while staring into the fire. It’s not easy to find words for how much I cherish the fact that I got to experience all of this with my mom. For this blog I tried really hard to describe my memories as detailed as possible. Not just because I really want to share this with you guys (something about “happiness only real when shared”), but also because I desperately want to keep this memory as lively as possible for myself. I will carry this experience with me for as long as I shall live.
How do you get to the Tromsø Ice Domes?
First things first! The beautiful ice palace is located 95 kilometers away from the city Tromsø. You’ll find it in the gorgeous Tamokdalen valley, close to the village Øverbygd. It’s an hour and a half drive from the city centre of Tromsø to the Ice Domes.
When you book a visit to the Ice Domes, transportation is included in most cases. They do pick-up and drop-off in the harbor of Tromsø at fixed times. However, if you want to drive there on your own, you can navigate to: Tamokveien 1386, 9334 Øverbygd, Noorwegen. There’s one long road that runs through Tamokdalen, from Øverbygd to Øvergård, called Tamokveien. There’s a small exit along that road that meanders towards the Ice Domes. You can’t really miss it.
In addition: Let me just clear up that you can actually visit the Tromsø Ice Domes without spending the night there! It’s quite expensive to do the whole package, so they offer day tours as well. You can buy tickets for +-/ €50,- per person or combine a visit to the Ice Domes with for example dog sledding!
A paradise made of ice
For a very long time I could only dream of spending the night in a hotel made of ice. I’ve always been a big fan of cold winters and snow, but especially after my whole Fjällräven Polar adventure in 2017, this was something that was at the top of my bucketlist. During that week I found out how amazing it is to sleep in the cold! So when I was putting together this trip of a lifetime for my mom, I had to include a stay at the Ice Domes.
The Tromsø Ice Domes were built for the very first time in the winter of 2017-2018. Because the domes are not being cooled (or heated) in any way, it melts down every spring, just to be built back up again in autumn. This causes the Ice Domes to look different every year! During our stay there was a cinema, seven unique rooms, an ice bar and tons of breathtaking sculptures made of ice. The sculptures are lit up by colored LED’s, which gives each sculpture their own little character. It’s just so well done, it takes your breath away!
Our visit to the Tromsø Ice Domes
After driving from Tromsø to Tamokdalen in a private tour bus, we were welcomed by our very own Dutch guide: Dave. He told us that we were going to be the only two guests for the night. Wow! The driver carried our suitcases inside while Dave welcomed us into the cosy cabin-like-lavvu they call a ‘Gabba’. We enjoyed a steaming hot cup of coffee at the fireplace and immediately felt right at home.
Dave talked us through the programme for the night. We had booked a package that contained snowshoeing, campfire dinner, a guided tour through the Ice Domes, a night in one of the rooms, breakfast, dogsledding and then a final lunch. I was looking forward to this for such a long time and suddenly I was in the middle of it. And we had the whole place to ourselves too, you can’t make that sh*t up!
Snowshoeing through Tamokdalen
For the snowshoe hike, our guide gave us warm overalls, proper boots, headlights, mittens and of course snowshoes. After double checking if we put them on correctly, we went off into the wilderness. It takes a couple of minutes to get the hang of walking with tennis rackets tied to your feet, but it’s a lot of fun once you figure it out. Of course we fell on our faces a couple of times as well, but falling down in the snow is not that bad. It even made us laugh.
While we were walking, Dave taught us how to read tracks in the snow. He also told us about how he was being followed by a little friend earlier that week, so cool. I tried as hard as I could, but sadly didn’t see any wildlife. We then learned about the birch trees and how convenient the bark is to make fire with. You’re not supposed to strip the trees from their bark, but if you see it hang loose, you can take it. We found some lichen as well, better known as reindeer moss. I already knew about the moss, as I am a big fan of reindeer, but what I did not know is that lichen only grows in places where the air is clean. If I would take some home with me to Utrecht, it would probably die super fast. Fascinating!
Chopping wood and making a fire
After snowshoeing for about 20 minutes we arrived at the fire place. In Norway you are allowed to make a fire anywhere you like (except during really dry summers!), but the guides use the same spot every time to prevent the area from having tons of fireplaces when summer comes around. Dave layed out a couple of reindeer skins for us to sit on and grabbed his pocked knife. He showed us how to chop wood into tiny sticks to help you build a fire. Mom got to try it, but she kept saying how it looked a lot easier when Dave did it!
After the wood was chopped, I got to try to light the fire with a fire stick. Luckily, Dave had a little something to help me out. He reached into his pocket and took out a tampon! It made me laugh, but it turned out that tampons are actually really good to start a fire with. It lit up instantly! Because of the plastic you can also keep them dry really easily and they’re tiny enough to carry around in your pocket. Brilliant!
Moonlight dinner with chef Dave
While mom and I were enjoying a cup of tea in a guksi, Dave prepared a delicious (vegetarian) dinner for us. With just one pan and the campfire he put together an entire meal. Because of the clouds we didn’t get to see any northern lights, but we felt so complete and happy. There I was. Sitting in the snow, in my favorite country in the world, together with my mom, underneath the moonlight, while this really handsome guide with a beard prepared our dinner on a campfire that we made together. What else could you wish for?
During our dinner we chatted with Dave about his life in northern Norway and how he drove all the way here from the southern part of the Netherlands in this campervan he customised himself. The freedom, the adventure, hiking in the mountains, snowmobiling, working in the snow and making sure people go home with super special memories… That’s the good life.
After an hour – or so, I totally lost track of time – we grabbed our stuff to hike back to the domes. This time we took a different route, so we could cut off the trail with a slide made of snow! Dave went first and made a small pile of snow for me to land in. I am glad he did, because I accidentally went a little too fast in my overalls! Dave had to stop me to prevent me from flying into the (NOT FROZEN) river a bit further ahead. Whoops! My mom had second thoughts for a little bit, but she then came down the slide anyways. She was on one hip and laughing really hard, that totally cracked me up as well. Another thing to cross off of our bucketlists!
How do they build the Tromsø Ice Domes?
Once we returned at the paradise made of ice, it was finally time to do a tour around the work of art! We’ve only seen the domes from the outside until then. As soon as you walk through the wooden front door, you’ll step into the first dome: the cinema. The acoustics in the domes are super cool. Everywhere you stand, voices sound different. It’s fun to play around with. On the screen made of snow we got to watch a short film on how the Tromsø Ice Domes were built. It’s pretty special to see. I thought that they built it like they would build an igloo, by stacking blocks of ice on top of eachother, but I was wrong!
The domes of snow are built like a giant paper mache craftwork! They use a giant balloon, which they blow up and then go around it with a machine that blows snow against the outsides of the balloon. They let it freeze for a bit and then make another round to blow snow on top of the already frozen snow. They keep repeating this process until there’s a dome. They then deflate the balloon, take it out and start connecting and decorating the domes. Isn’t that cool? (See what I did there?)
Getting ice from Kilpisjärvi
To decorate the inside of the Ice Domes, artists from all over the world fly to the northern part of Norway. The amount of detail is just insane. You can hardly believe that everything in here is made of water! Every room is decorated by a different artist, which gives every single one of them a unique character. The sculptures in the hallways and cinema are cut from stacked blocks of ice. This season the ice in the area was too mushy to use for sculpting, so they had to use trucks to drive from Tamokdalen to Kilpisjärvi (at the Finnish border) to saw out ice blocks from a frozen lake and take them back to Norway! It reminded me of that one scene from Frozen, tell me I’m not the only one..
Marshmallows and a throne made of ice
Dave took us around all the amazing artworks, served us some vodka shots in the ice bar and showed us all seven bedrooms. Everything is so extremely well done, you could just keep staring at it. My heart jumped out of my chest when we entered the reindeer room. I think I squealed a little as well, haha. Luckily there was no one sleeping in any of the rooms.
After the tour it was time to say goodnight to our guide. Guides need sleep too, you know. He handed us a box of marshmallows, put some more wood onto the fire inside the gabba, gave us fluffy socks for the night – such a keeper! – and wished us a good night. After we got all warm and a little nauseous from the marshmallows, we went back into the Ice Domes. As soon as I discovered that there was a throne made of ice in the Ice Domes, I just had to pack my enormous cape. It is really big and was hard to get into my suitcase, but I just had to get a picture on that throne in my cape. Of course I posed with the shield-maidens as well. It’s really hard to take pictures inside a building made of snow in the middle of the night, but the results make me so happy.
Into The Unkown
Since we were the only ones in the entire place, we got to pick which room we wanted to sleep in! Of course there was the reindeer room, but they also had an inuit, owl, salmon, wolverine, wolf and lynx. I really wanted to stay in the reindeer room, but my mom wanted to sleep in the inuit room, so we compromised and slept in the inuit room. 😉 My inner Elsa was the happiest person alive when we were walking through the frozen hallways. Flaunting around in my cape I was humming the “Into The Unknown” tune from Frozen II and I just couldn’t get enough of it. We ended up wandering around until 3:30 in the morning to admire everything! I really didn’t want this day to end..
Spending the night in Tromsø Ice Domes
For the night the guides of the ice domes recommend you take as little stuff as possible to your room. I took my hat, mittens, phone and some of those hand warmer thingies. All of our other stuff stayed in the heated building. We brushed our teeth in the bathroom and took our sleeping bag and liners (some sort of duvet cover to put inside your sleeping bag). You leave your clothes behind as well! So you walk towards your room in your thermal underwear, wearing boots only and carrying a sleeping bag and liner. It’s not easy to get into your sleeping bag with a liner and all, but once you get it right, at least you’ll be super warm. I zipped up my sleeping bag and felt like the queen of the castle. Afterall, we kind of were the queens of the castle for this night. I fell asleep with a big smile on my face. Together with my mom, on a bed made of ice, in a toasty warm sleeping bag.
Having breakfast with a viking
Waking up in an icehotel really is something else. It was SO quiet, the light was beautiful and I was so toasty warm, all curled up in my sleeping bag. The worst thing is having to get out of the sleeping bag, putting on your boots and then running back to the ‘gabba’ in your thermal wear with a sleeping bag in your neck. You are picturing this right now, aren’t you?
As soon as I stumbled back into the little hut, I stood eye to eye with a viking that smiled at me and said “Good morning!”. I’d swear he just stepped out of a time machine, but he said he was from Sweden and his name was David. David made us coffee and breakfast and started talking. We soon found out that I already followed him on Instagram for a while. Just take a look at his account and you’ll understand why. His content is amazing! (And he’s really handsome too..) It was kind of a bummer that we had to hurry up to catch the bus, because I would have loved to hear some more about his adventures.
Adventuring with Alex and his dogs
Of course it wasn’t really a bummer, because we were going DOGSLEDDING this morning! I was really looking forward to being on a dogsled again for the first time since my 300 kilometer adventure in 2017. And especially to be able to share this experience with my mom. I couldn’t wait to show her what my love for dogsledding was all about. After a short ride with the bus we arrived at the husky camp. Musher Alex welcomed us and handed us the smurfy blue overalls again to keep us warm. He gathered us around a sled to give us instructions for the trip. The most important rules: don’t hit your dogs (Really, don’t. I’m pretty sure he will kick your ass..), don’t overtake other sleds and NEVER EVER let go of your sled. Not even to take pictures. Or when you fall on your face.
Revival of Fjällräven Polar 2017
After a short briefing it was time to walk towards the sleds! The dogs were already devided into teams and their harnesses were hooked up to the sleds. Meeting our team made me a bit emotional. Sled dogs have so much energy, all they want is to go for a run. That is why they start jumping up and down and make a LOT of noise as soon as they see the guests arriving. Hearing the dogs bark and seeing the sleds waiting for us in the snow brought up a lot of amazing memories for me and I totally teared up.
We decided that my mom got to steer the sled first, so I sat down on the reindeer skin on the sled. Alex and his dogs went off first, then two other sleds and shortly after it was time for us to start moving too. Mom slowly let go of the break (such a natural) and off we went. From the moment the sled starts moving, the barking stops. All you hear is the panting of the dogs, the trampling of their feet and the crunching of the snow beneath the sled. With the cold thin air petting your cheeks and the wind in your hair, you get to enjoy the scenery while the happy fluffers pull you through the snow. There is no feeling in the world that can top this.
Like mother, like daughter
You would think that you would get used to the feeling of mushing through the snow when you’ve done it for 300 kilometers, but you’re wrong. I was stunned once again. And I wasn’t the only one. My mom kept shouting how amazing it was and she even cried. Now we know where my passionate expressions come from, haha. Of course it was amazing to be on a dogsled again, but it was extra super special to be able to share this experience with my mom. We are super close and I’ve always had the feeling I couldn’t really explain how amazing the whole Fjällräven Polar experience was to me. Now I got to show her a tiny part of that memory and it blew her away. I really loved seeing how she enjoyed all of this. The picture below pretty much sums up how we felt. I think I’m going to frame it!
Cuddling with the huskies
Halfway the trip we had the chance to switch and I got to drive the sled. It was just as if I never left it. The team behind us was a little too fast for the musher, so Alex took one of the huskies away from the sled and added her to my team of dogs. “I’m pretty sure you can handle this”, he said. My smile was so big, it hurt my cheeks.
It went by way too fast, but I loved every second of it. Once we got back to camp, it was time for my favorite part: thanking the dogs for all of their hard work with some proper cuddles and belly rubs! They are just the cutest. While the dogs received their morning snacks, the mushers were treated to some hot lunch. I couldn’t really eat, because I was just so caught up with emotions and feelings.. This was true happiness..
Bonus: Feeding the baby reindeer
Shortly after, we arrived back at the Ice Domes and it was time to say goodbye to this amazing place. Right before our bus came to take us back to Tromsø, we were given the chance to feed the baby reindeer! David gave us a little bowl filled with the lichen I told you about earlier. To reindeer it’s as if you’re feeding them chocolate, they just love that stuff! David challenged me to try some of the moss myself, because people can eat it too. Of course I had to try, but let me tell you.. That stuff does not taste like chocolate to humans! It wasn’t bad though, it tastes a little like mushrooms. I was super excited, so I accidentally fed all of the other lichen to the reindeer, totally forgetting my mom was there as well. Luckily it made her laugh and she photographed me going full Snowwhite with my new-made friends.
And that’s how our own little fairytale came to an end. I was the last one to get on the bus, because I wanted to walk around the domes one last time and take it all in. Tamokdalen is just so beautiful. It hurt a little to leave. I couldn’t have wished for anything else during our stay here. I always try to find a balance between speaking my mind and managing expectations, but this was truly magical. We look back at our stay with such warm hearts. Thank you so much, Dave & David. And hopefully until next time!
Practical information about the Tromsø Ice Domes
- The Tromsø Ice Domes are open from December 10 until March 31;
- The Ice Domes are located 95 kilometer outside Tromsø, that’s an hour and a half drive;
- You can just visit the Ice Domes, but also do a Northern Lights expedition, go snowmobiling and dogsledding here;
- When you book a trip to the Ice Domes, transportation from Tromsø city centre is included most of the time;
- It’s also possible to visit the Ice Domes with your own car. Make sure you inform beforehand about ticket availability;
- There is a bathroom in the Ice Domes, but you share it with other guests;
- There is an ‘escape room’ in case you get too cold to be able to sleep;
- You can buy drinks, snacks and even light meals in the tiny restaurant when you go visit the Ice Domes, but most of the time meals are included in the packages.