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The Kemi Snow Castle

14 August 2017

Less than 100 miles below the Arctic Circle, the Kemi Snow Castle pushes the boundaries of possibility, with annually re-constructed architecture that melts each summer, only to be re-built once more. For over 20 years, this wondrous Finnish hotel has been a cyclical fixture of winter travel, offering an icy escape amidst the spectacular landscape of Finland. Whilst the structure changes every year, core rooms are retained, including the hotel, a restaurant with a chill bar, and a chapel, where couples flock each year to get married in a unique, if frosty, style.

If you're looking for a true winter wonderland, the Kemi Snow Castle is quite possibly the destination for you. Here are our ten favourite facts about this incredible site.

  1. The Kemi Snow Castle was first conceived as a gift to the children of the world, from the children's charity UNICEF. Its magical atmosphere is perhaps more easily understood in this context, though the site remains an attraction for adults who are of the whimsical persuasion. The tradition of building an ethereal structure entirely from ice in Kemi has been repeated annually since 1996, and its appearance continues to enchant visitors from around the world, who come to marvel at its fleeting yet unforgettable presence.
  2. The ice used for the structure comes entirely from local seawater. With the structure situated each year close to the Bothnian Bay, frozen slabs of saltwater are readily available, and when the castle melts each spring, its foundations return to the sea from where it draws its building material. This cyclical nature adds both to the sustainability of the project, and to its charming fairytale narrative, as well as ensuring the Kemi Snow Castle is always firmly rooted in the town of Kemi itself, adding a little local pride.
  3. The castle takes approximately 5 weeks each year to construct, in temperatures that must remain consistently -7 degrees centigrade or less, and lasts from January until early April. Every December construction starts, and until its grand reveal, no one but those involved in its making know what exact design the Kemi Snow Castle will take each year. Each castle is based on a theme, with previous iterations including motifs of fire, travel, the sea, and comics. Artists contribute carvings to the walls, with dragons, goblins, and even Angry Birds having decorated the insides of the castle, alongside the bright lights that help the structure to shine.
  4. Thanks to annual variations, the Kemi Snow Castle ranges from 42,650 square feet to over 65,600 (13,000-20,000 square metres), with up to three storeys, and walls that can range up to 65ft (20 metres) high, and 3,280 feet (1,000 metres) long. The regularly-reconstructed Snow Restaurant can seat up to 200 people, and the furniture is also made of ice; the tables are topped with plexiglass for protection, whilst wooden seats topped with warm reindeer furs provide a comfortable perch. Rest assured, the drinks here are served chilled, with plenty of ice to keep your beverage cool.
  5. The Kemi Snow Castle also serves as a magical wedding venue, with a chapel one of the features that is always recreated. Couples have travelled from all over the world to wed here, and following a ceremony in the frozen chapel and a reception in the stunning restaurant, they can retire to the honeymoon suite, for an unforgettable, sub-zero beginning to married life.
  6. Ice sculptures litter the inside of the Kemi Snow Castle, in a range of elaborate poses and ornate designs. Spotting them is a delight, and their presence adds to the charms of the ever-changing structure of the castle - even returning visitors can look forward to something new, thanks to the year-on-year changes of this ever-evolving castle.
  7. There are warmer areas to escape from the cold. Although the inside of the castle is around -5 degrees C, a permanent (read: not made of ice) structure is adjacent to the hotel, allowing you to store luggage, relax with a hot drink, and generally warm up. Importantly, this is also the location of the toilets for the site (there are none available in the ice structure itself) - it's advisable to pay them a visit before you retire in the chillier part of the complex. The area has a typical Finnish feel, and is mostly of wooden construction, offering a cabin-like feel. Perhaps settle in here with a hot chocolate one evening; blankets are available if you need a little extra warmth, so just ask.
  8. The magic continues outside. An ice slide is constructed each year, for an extra slice of delight. Unleash your inner child, and take a ride on the ice slide - an unrepeatable experience.
  9. The castle took part in the celebration of Finnish independence, which had its 100th anniversary this year (2017). The castle based its theme on 'Finland 100 Years', joining in the national celebrations of this tiny country.
  10.  The Snow Castle is only a stone's throw away from Kemi, a Finnish city that is home to less than 1 million people in Finland's Southern Lapland. This proximity to a modern urban centre simply adds to the magic of a surreal structure, that draws visitors in the thousands to Kemi's snowy shores each year.