Cool steps inside Kemi Snow Castle

We wander around this magnificent fortress, visiting the Snow Hotel, the Snow Restaurant and the Snow Chapel while pondering the meaning of ice.

A snow castle rises each winter in Kemi, a northern Finnish town at the top of the Gulf of Bothnia. Our slideshow takes you into the castle’s passages, hotel, bar, chapel, sculpture gallery and more.

Each year the town of Kemi witnesses the construction of a castle made of snow. In an idea that was brought to life for the first time in 1996, the fortress is built on the coast, with a new floor plan and different towers each time. The ice for the furnishings and decorations is pulled from the Gulf of Bothnia, the northernmost area of the Baltic Sea.

What started out as a novelty – why not spend a night sleeping in a hotel made of snow – now forms a tradition, not to mention a huge tourist event, drawing about 100,000 visitors each year. About 1,500 of them stay overnight in the Snow Hotel. This slideshow demonstrates the true meaning of “on ice”, and will preserve the cool atmosphere of the castle long after it melts (usually in mid-April).

Enter here: Kemi has constructed its Snow Castle at the top of the Gulf of Bothnia every year since 1996. Photo: Tim Bird

Walk past the watchful eyes of these bears if you dare. Photo: Tim Bird

National Romanticism, referring to the art and architecture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is the theme of this Snow Castle sculpture hall. Photo: Tim Bird

Kemi Snow Castle includes exhibition spaces – this one was devoted to celebrating Lapponia Jewelry’s 50th anniversary. Photo: Tim Bird

The cold atmosphere doesn’t get in the way of a good time at the Ice Bar in the Snow Restaurant. Photo: Tim Bird

The castle contains a snow chapel, where dozens of couples have gotten married and dozens of babies have been christened. Photo: Tim Bird

A corridor of doors in the Snow Hotel wing of the Snow Castle. Photo: Tim Bird

Bedding down or just tossing and turning? The room temperature of five degrees Celsius below zero won’t keep you awake in the Snow Hotel – arctic-standard sleeping bags are provided. Photo: Tim Bird

Living on the edge: You can sled along the ramparts. Photo: Tim Bird

Alternative Sibelius Monument, for a limited time only: When this statue of Finland’s most famous composer, Jean Sibelius, melts in the spring, the better-known Sibelius Monument in Helsinki will just be emerging from under the snow. Photo: Tim Bird

No coat check needed: After touring the castle, warm up in the restaurant. Photo: Tim Bird

Would you like ice in your drink? Why not just put the drink in the ice instead? Photo: Tim Bird

At Kemi Snow Castle the lighting, not just the snow and ice, forms part of the experience. Photo: Tim Bird

Photos by Tim Bird
Text by Peter Marten