Kirsten and John from Melbourne, Australia married at the Icehotel in Swedish Lapland on the 27th of January, 2009.
My husband had been to the Icehotel years earlier and had always raved about what an amazing place it was. He’d seen a few weddings during his stay and had always said that it would be an incredibly cool place (literally!) to get married. I loved the idea of doing something completely different, and I also loved the idea of a small and intimate wedding ceremony. I wanted us to be completely relaxed on the day, to really enjoy ourselves and be able to take it all in. In addition, both families lived on opposite sides of the world. We decided that someone was going to have to travel, so we might as well all jump on a plane! We settled on having our wedding ceremony at the Icehotel in Sweden, followed by a Catholic blessing with John’s family in Dublin. We also planned a more traditional wedding reception for 65 guests at a winery in the Swan Valley, just outside our home town of Perth, Western Australia.
We booked the Icehotel within a few days of our engagement, about 13 months before our wedding day. This involved booking not only the Ice Church and the restaurant but also the onsite accommodation for ourselves and our guests. We had been told that the accommodation books out a long way in advance and wanted to make sure that no one missed out. Because the Icehotel is only open for a very limited season (December to April) and because there is such a huge demand for weddings there, it’s very common to have multiple ceremonies per day. By booking early we were able to request that ours was the last wedding of the day. This gave us more time to take photos inside the church afterwards and it also meant that we weren’t dangling about for hours and hours between the ceremony and reception.
The Icehotel has an onsite wedding planner named Eva who coordinates all of the wedding bookings. Eva was able to recommend and book our photographer, order my flowers and book my hairdresser. She was also able to assist with lodging the legal paperwork for our Marriage License. The most important point is to lock in your date and book your accommodation as early as possible. I would also recommend that you start getting your paperwork organized early on, as this can sometimes take longer than you’d think. Once you’ve got the main points under control however you can take your time arranging the rest.
Throughout the planning, Eva had some really helpful and practical advice for the extreme conditions. For example, she advised choosing roses for my wedding bouquet as they are one of the few flowers that can withstand the temperature changes (-5 degrees in the church, -10 degrees outside, 20+ degrees inside), and to use a professional photographer who was familiar with the Icehotel (she was right, a lot of our own shots were quite blurry, and the professional shots showed up a lot more detail in the ice sculptures).
Overall, the planning was relatively easy as we gave ourselves over a year to arrange everything. Aside from one phone conversation with Eva, I was able to coordinate everything via email.
Legal / Medical Requirements
The marriage is legally recognized in our home country of Australia and aside from some basic identification such as copies of our passports and birth certificates, the only other document required was a ‘Certificate of No Impediment to Marry’.
This should have been simple enough to organize, however each state in Australia issues its own certificate. We spent weeks running around applying to every state that we’d ever lived in, only to realize that the certificate we actually needed was something else entirely (yet with the exact same name!), issued by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Apparently, this document varies from country to country and has various different names and formats. So it’s probably best to ask exactly what information the certificate needs to show, and this should guide you in applying for the correct one. Note that each of you will need to provide this certificate.
Once we had forwarded all of the paperwork to the Icehotel, Eva lodged it with the local Tax Office in Kiruna for us. On the day of our wedding, she arranged a car to take us into Kiruna to meet with the Tax Office, where we had to show our original documentation and sign the Marriage Application.
We took the overnight train from Stockholm to Kiruna, although it is possible to fly instead (at the time, direct flights were only operating on certain days of the week however). We booked our tickets quite a few months in advance online via the SJ website (SJ is the Swedish Rail Network). The website can be quite difficult for a foreigner to navigate but we were lucky to have a little help from a relative who had used it before.
The train left from Centralen station in Stockholm at around 5:00pm and arrived in Kiruna at around 10:00am the next morning. We booked a sleeper cabin and it was definitely worth the money. The cabins are tiny, but they do provide some privacy and a flat bed. We then took a taxi from Kiruna train station to the Icehotel, about 20 minutes away.
I did find that transporting my dress was a major drama as it had to travel all the way from Melbourne via Dubai, Paris and Stockholm. I was lucky enough to have it hung up on every flight, and I was also able to hang it in our cabin on the train. There were three other brides on our flight out of Kiruna after the wedding however, and we all had to store our dresses in the overhead lockers. This wasn’t such a problem after the wedding, but if your dress is huge or easily creased it could be an issue on the flight there. I’d definitely recommend discussing this with your dress designer or bridal store. They should be able to advise the best way to pack your dress, in case you need to at some stage.
We arrived at the Icehotel on a Monday morning, the day before our wedding. We checked in at the reception building and were then taken to our rooms. We were staying for two nights and had decided to book a two-bedroom cabin plus an Ice Suite for our wedding night. We were advised by Eva to book warm accommodation for the entire duration of our stay, and I definitely recommend this. The Icehotel is basically a museum by day, open for all guests to wander through and look in each of the rooms, and a hotel by night. There are warm showers and lockers to keep your clothes, bags etc. in, but unless you’re out on tours all day, there really isn’t anywhere to spend your time other than a small reception area.
We couldn’t wait to see the church, so we basically threw our bags down and went exploring! Because the Icehotel is built from scratch each year, the church and all of the rooms are different each time, so we had no idea what it would look like. The church and the Ice Suites were amazing, but it really wasn’t until we went back later in the evening and saw all of the rooms lit up that we were completely blown away. It was incredible. I’d never seen anything quite like it in my life. I knew we’d made the right decision and I was so excited to be getting married in this amazing place!
The temperature (-10 degrees outdoors and -5 degrees inside the Icehotel) was a lot more comfortable than you would imagine. The air is very dry, so as long as you’re covered up, you actually don’t really feel the cold at all. We wore our ski gear and we were perfectly warm in this. If you don’t have cold weather gear, the Icehotel will loan you snowsuits, hats, boots and gloves, and this is all included in the price of the accommodation.
There are two restaurants, the Icehotel Restaurant just over the road from the Icehotel, and the Old Homestead, a short walk up the road. The Icehotel Restaurant was definitely the nicer of the two and had the most incredible buffet for breakfast and lunch, then became a fine dining restaurant in the evening. The Old Homestead had more traditional food and was quite cozy inside.
The Icehotel is also home to the original Icebar and this was definitely a highlight. They serve a long list of (rather strong) vodka cocktails. After a couple of drinkies here, you’ll be feeling perfectly warm and toasty in minus 5!
There were ten of us in total, comprising family and two close friends. Everyone had come from different directions and it was great to see that everyone had made a real holiday out of the trip, and had been off exploring various parts of Europe beforehand. We all met in Stockholm and spent two days there, basically just sightseeing and exploring the old town, which was absolutely gorgeous at that time of year. We all stayed at the Hilton Stockholm Slussen, which was a great hotel and really well located. Everyone caught the train up to Kiruna and we all stayed onsite at the Icehotel.
We had arranged a dogsled ride for everyone on the first night, followed by dinner at the Old Homestead and cocktails at the Icebar. A bus collected us from the hotel and drove us out to the kennels. The dogs were hilarious and obviously loved their job. They were leaping all over us to get going! The sleigh ride was actually quite terrifying at first – it was pitch black in the forest and the dogs were weaving incredibly close to the trees – but once we got into the clearing it was the most amazing experience, getting whisked across the ice at top speed. One of our guests said that it felt like being in a James Bond movie! You can arrange tours via the Icehotel however we actually saved quite a lot of money by booking directly with a company called Kiruna Guidetur.
We started the day with breakfast at the Icehotel Restaurant before being picked up and driven to the Tax Office in Kiruna to complete our paperwork. Straight after the Tax Office, I had an appointment with a hairdresser in the town. The salon was about a ten-minute walk from the Tax Office and Eva had printed off instructions on how to get there, along with photos of landmarks along the way so we wouldn’t get lost. It was like a little treasure hunt, very funny! After my appointment, a car collected us and took us back to the Icehotel.
We said our very excited goodbyes at about 3:00pm and John headed a few doors up to his family’s cabin with tuxedo in hand. I spent the next few hours getting ready and was actually feeling really calm. My dress was floor-length silk with a small train. I also had an elbow-length fur cape to keep my back and shoulders warm, and opera length evening gloves to keep the rest of my arms warm. And after months of hunting high and low, I’d managed to find some white thermal tights to wear underneath – not very sexy, but 100% necessary in the arctic conditions! The ice in the church can be incredibly slippery and Eva advised me to wear sensible shoes. I was determined to get married in heels however, and I ended up wearing some very ‘ABBA’ white ankle boots! I definitely wouldn’t recommend wearing open toe shoes as you’ll be freezing. And regardless of your heel height, the thicker your soles the better, as your feet can get quite cold after standing on the ice for a while in thin soles. I’m not sure if it was the excitement of the day that kept me warm but I found that as long as my skin was covered, I really didn’t feel the cold at all. Thankfully, I was perfectly warm in my outfit.
Our ceremony was at 5:00pm and my Dad knocked on my door a few minutes before to pick me up. It was pitch black outside and looked like the middle of the night, so already my wedding day felt quite unique! It was only a short walk from the cabin to the church and the other hotel guests smiled, waved and took our photo along the way which was lovely. By the time we reached the church I was feeling so incredibly happy and excited, so the absolute highlight was stepping into the church and seeing my husband-to-be with the same enormous grin on his face as mine!!
Our ceremony was beautiful, intimate and personal. Everything I had hoped it would be. We were very lucky to have a brother-in-law who spoke fluent Swedish, so having the priest conduct the service in Swedish and having our brother-in-law translate was a really personal touch. The priest sang us down the aisle and my Dad passed my hand to John. The priest delivered the service, and my brother and John’s sister each read a verse. The priest then blessed our rings before we exchanged our vows and were pronounced husband and wife. It was absolutely perfect.
After the ceremony we headed next door to the Icehotel with our photographer. He came equipped with his own lighting and even set up a mini studio inside the grand hallway at one point! He took photos in quite a few areas of the hotel, including the spectacular Ice Suite where we would be sleeping that night. At first we weren’t feeling the cold at all, and I was even able to take my fur cape off for quite a while. I have to be honest though, after 45 minutes inside the Icehotel in ‘normal’ clothes, we finally started to feel pretty cold. By the time he had taken the final shots inside the Icebar, we were racing each other back to the warm cabin!
When we walked into the cabin our family and friends were all waiting. They had decorated the room with dozens of candles, which looked absolutely stunning. We had some nibbles and some Champagne before heading across the road for dinner at the Icehotel Restaurant. When we booked, Eva had said that they would try to make our table as private as possible but we would probably be in the main area of the restaurant. So we were surprised to find that we had been given a private room complete with rose petals and crystals on the table! It looked gorgeous and they really had gone to a lot of trouble for us. We had chosen a three-course menu with matching wines and the food was sensational, one of the best meals I have had, anywhere.
After dinner we all headed back to our cabins to get changed back into our ‘Snow Suits’ before reconvening at the Icebar. I really can’t explain the atmosphere in this place. It just feels like the most amazing party you’ve ever been to! We found our own little corner of the bar and proceeded to work our way down the cocktail list. Our friends had put together a playlist on their iPod for us which the barman happily played, and everyone danced the entire time, parents included!
The Icebar closes at 1:00am so after saying goodnight to our guests we made our way to the Ice Suite. The sky outside was the most amazing colour of orange and pink, and if only the cloud cover wasn’t so thick, I’m sure we would have had the most incredible sky show courtesy of the Northern Lights. We checked in at the warm reception of the Icehotel and were given a double sleeping bag and a sheet to go inside. We had to leave our clothes in the locker room and head to the suite in our thermals, and it was pretty funny seeing everyone wandering the halls in their long johns! Our room was called ‘The Queen of the Ice’ and it was jaw-dropping. The huge ice bed had a thin mattress with a reindeer skin on top, and it was actually reasonably comfortable (if not extra firm!) once we were inside the sleeping bag. I’m not sure if it was exhaustion or the vodka, but we actually slept like logs! I know some people have said that it’s not worth the money to stay in one of the Art Suites instead of one of the basic ice rooms (yes, they do all look the same in the dark) but waking up in the morning and looking out over the huge ice sculptures surrounding our bed was a spectacular sight.
Advice for others considering this destination
Do it!!! The Icehotel is not a cheap destination, but it is totally unique and unlike anywhere else on earth. You will not be disappointed. We felt that two days was long enough as there really isn’t a great deal to do there once you’ve seen the hotel, eaten in the restaurant and done a few tours. Spending a night in the Icehotel is an absolute must, even if it’s just for the experience, and people will be absolutely blown away when you show them a photo of where you slept! I would definitely recommend booking warm accommodation for your entire stay, and get in early because the rooms really do book out. Booking early will also give you a much better chance of getting your preferred ceremony time. We found that having our ceremony at 5:00pm worked perfectly, as our guests were able to go straight from our wedding to pre-dinner drinks, then dinner and finally the ‘after-party’ at the Icebar. I think it would have been a shame if we’d had to try and kill time for a few hours in between. Finally, I would also strongly recommend spending the money on a professional photographer. You won’t get a second chance to take your wedding photos. My only regret is that we didn’t get to see the Northern Lights during our stay. This is pot luck however, so my husband and I have decided to go back on our 5th wedding anniversary to try our chances again!
Ceremony Venue: Ice Church at the Icehotel
Celebrant: Provided by the Icehotel. We were very lucky to have a Swedish speaking brother-in-law to translate during the wedding service, however the Icehotel can provide a translator if required.
Reception Venue: Icehotel Restaurant at the Icehotel
Accommodation: All at the Icehotel; a Nordic Hotel Chalet (warm) for two nights and an Art Suite (cold) for our wedding night.
Hair: Salong Vingttner in Kiruna
Photographer: Hans-Olof Utsi
Wedding Coordinator: Eva Lundquist at the Icehotel