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Icebreaker ships and snow hotels in Kemi, Finland

visit kemi finland

Hands up if you’ve ever dreamed in sleeping in a snow hotel. Just me?

If there is one place I imagined visiting in winter, it would no doubt have to be Finland. For me, Finland in winter is the most photogenic fairytale land. A world completely turned white, it is quiet, still and peaceful, three of my favorite things. Finland in winter rocks!

Last March I was lucky enough to spend a week exploring Finnish Lapland, and let me tell you, it’s the best time of year to go. Even though it’s most definitely still winter, the harsher months are long past so you have normal hours of daylight, not too extreme cold and lots of fresh springy snow.


visit kemi finland

visit kemi finland

I’ve shared with you guys before some of my favorite shots from Lapland, but this time I thought I’d go ahead and spill one of my favorite days in the arctic. I spent most of my time in arctic Finland around Luosto and Rovaniemi, but was excited to head down to Kemi on the sea for a few days. While Lapland seems vast and wild, there is so much to explore I could spend a year there.

And trust me, with the Finnish penchant for being total introverts combined with the most glorious tradition of cozy cabins in the wilderness, I could definitely see myself hiding away up there for extended periods of time doing nothing but thinking and writing.

Sigh, one day I will be rich enough I can do just that!

visit kemi finland

Basically lived in my Parajumpers parka in Lapland

visit kemi finland

But until that day, I still have a huge desire to explore as much as possible, and I was excited to head to the frozen Bothnia Sea. Why you might ask? Because I have not, in fact, ever seen a frozen sea before.

Sure a couple of ponds back home in Virginia, the lakes on my college campus in Massachusetts, but a genuine frozen huge body of water? Never! I was stoked.

Lucky for me the weather was on my side when I arrived in Kemi with what can only be described as pea-soup fog.

Can’t win them all.

visit kemi finland

I headed straight over to the wharf to catch my afternoon trip on the famous Sampo Icebreaker. Ok, ok, it’s only famous in Finland.

Before climbing aboard I didn’t have many expectations except being ridiculously excited to see frozen sea ice. But what ended up happening really surprised me – Sampo ended up being one of my favorite experiences of the whole trip.

If I had to put a finger on it, I think it would have to be because it’s so unique. Sure you can take day cruises pretty much anywhere there’s water. But to do so on an old icebreaker vessel as it crunches through fresh sea ice is pretty damn special.

Kemi is pretty one-of-a-kind!

My tips for not destroying your stuff in extreme environments

visit kemi finland

visit kemi finland

visit kemi finland

As we took off from the harbor, I spent most of my time outside on deck watching the ice swirl by as we made our way through an already cut shipping lane.

Sampo was build in 1960 in Helsinki and used for almost thirty years cutting channels through the ice in northern Finland for shipping vessels before it was retired and turned into a tourist cruise. To be honest, that is not something I would normally be super interested in but I found myself really enjoying learning something new, and even pestering the crew to let me see how things work, the engine room, can I toot the horn? No you may not.

Can’t win everything but I reckon they appreciated my enthusiasm. Probably.

visit kemi finland

visit kemi finland

visit kemi finland

Before long the ship was crunching fresh tracks through the ice and the crew was asking everyone who wanted to go for a swim. Literally parking the ship in the ice, it’s so thick and stable they can pull a gangway down and you can walk off the ship onto the ice.

Raising my eyebrows I thought to myself, oh hell no. Who knows what sea monsters are lurking under that ice and those dry suits do not look flattering. Then I remembered I didn’t know anyone on that ship and thought, oh fuck it, how many chances do you get to swim in the frozen sea in the Arctic?

Those red suits are completely waterproof you just pull them over your clothes and jump in! But they are so buoyant you couldn’t sink if you wanted to. I couldn’t even put my feet underwater, and I tried.

visit kemi finland

visit kemi finland

visit kemi finland

Apart from the fact that it was such a unique experience, I ended up loving the moody weather because it completely set the scene. It truly felt like we were at the end of the world, sailing off into the mists. At some points we couldn’t see the horizon and it just looked like we were in another world.

And if being home to a badass ship isn’t cool enough, Kemi is also home to the biggest snowfort in the world – the SnowCastle. OBVIOUSLY I had to stay there.

I’ve never been in an ice anything before, so I was frothing pretty hard at this opportunity.

Getting my Elsa on from Frozen. What a surprise.

visit kemi finland

The main check in area and bathrooms are in a beautiful heated cabin, and I headed straight there. You also keep your stuff in lockers in there so they don’t freeze. The average temperature inside the snow hotel is a balmy -5 so bundle up! It was actually colder inside than outside when I was there, especially as it was snowing heavily.

After checking in, I wandered around and explored for a bit, totally blown away by all the amazing snow sculptures. While most similar places you’ve might have seen were made of ice, this hotel is actually made from snow. Carved from huge snow blocks from the nearby sea, each year has a different theme that an artist uses in designing the building and rooms.

And I lucked out with fairytales. Do they know me or what?

Magical guys, magical! Do you want to build a snowman?

visit kemi finland

visit kemi finland

visit kemi finland

After a yummy dinner in the frozen dining room, I was ready for bed. What an epic day.

After getting briefed, I prepped myself for a chilly night. The sleeping bags and liners are so warm you can actually just wear your normal pajamas inside of them. I never sleep well inside sleeping bags and have trouble sleeping with face covered, so I did have a cold nose for most of the night but in general it was pretty cozy. I thought I’d wake up super early but instead I overslept big time, which isn’t like me at all. Something about being that cozy that makes you sleep in I reckon!

Somehow Kemi won me over being such a quirky and unique place to explore in Finland. It was definitely by far the highlight of my trip and I know I’ll be back for round 2 one day!

What do you think? Does this winter travel sound appealing? Would you cruise on an icebreaker or sleep in a snow hotel?

visit kemi finland

visit kemi finland

visit kemi finland

Many thanks to Visit Finland for hosting me in Lapland – like always I am keeping it real – all opinions are my own, like you could expect less from me!


50 Responses to Icebreaker ships and snow hotels in Kemi, Finland

  1. Ferna October 23, 2016 at 3:33 am #

    That is an absolute experience there. I love it! And from someone who lives in the tropical place this for sure is also going to be difficult yet much fun experience

    • Liz October 23, 2016 at 7:08 pm #

      So much fun!

  2. Maria October 23, 2016 at 4:04 am #

    It is certainly very interesting to read about! I’m not sure I would go for a trip with an icebreaker, but there is definitely something romantic and appealing about the snow hotel.. Were there a lot of people on the icebreaker?

    • Liz October 23, 2016 at 7:08 pm #

      I can’t remember, maybe 50?

  3. Brooklyn Murtaugh October 23, 2016 at 8:53 am #

    This trip sounds so perfect and a very “me” type of trip. I have always wanted to experience Finland in winter.
    Do I want to build a snowman? Absolutely!
    Do I want to be an introvert and do my own thing exploring? Hells yes!

    I’ve never seen the frozen sea either but have always wanted to. And I admit it, I have Googled Ice Hotels more times than I can count!

    Such a fun trip you had!

    • Liz October 23, 2016 at 7:09 pm #

      Sounds like you’d love it!

    • Sheri November 4, 2016 at 12:57 pm #

      awe! me too, this trip sounds amazing! I was just trying to convince my husband that he can head to the Caribbean and I to Finland 🙂 Then we can meet up in Iceland…. so many wonderful places to visit!

  4. Danny October 23, 2016 at 11:37 am #

    Looks like you had an amazing experience! I’ve only been to Finland in the early fall, but my Finnish friends keep telling me I have to visit Lapland. I think I’d visit sometime around March like you, though, since the notion of 24-hour darkness and extreme temperatures isn’t super appealing to me.

    • Liz October 23, 2016 at 7:10 pm #

      March was perfect winter

  5. Laure October 23, 2016 at 5:13 pm #

    this is completly incredible! especially the snow castle

    • Liz October 23, 2016 at 7:10 pm #

      It was spectacular!

  6. Neni October 23, 2016 at 7:16 pm #

    The whole experience around the ship seems amazing, so intriguing! I want to do that next time I’m going to Finland.

    • Liz October 28, 2016 at 7:58 pm #

      It’s really worth it!

  7. Kate Newman October 23, 2016 at 11:24 pm #

    This is the most amazing thing! I have dreamt of going to the arctic/antarctica for so long, it is number one on my bucket list.. this post has made me crave it even more. Thank you X

    • Liz October 28, 2016 at 7:59 pm #

      that makes me happy to hear, the Arctic is amazing!

  8. Michelle October 24, 2016 at 2:18 am #

    Wow! What a cool trip! Definitely making me consider the ice/snow hotel even more. Glad you had a great time.

    • Liz October 28, 2016 at 7:59 pm #

      Do it!

  9. Sarah October 24, 2016 at 8:11 am #

    Yes I do what to build a snowman! Awesome post. The swimming/floating looks like a fantastic experience as does the ice hotel. With all these amazing wintery activities how long do you suggest that travelers spend in Lapland? Thanks again for sharing 🙂

    • Liz October 28, 2016 at 8:00 pm #

      I would go for a week!

  10. Danielle October 24, 2016 at 1:08 pm #

    As a Florida dweller, I’m already prone to making grabby hands anytime I see a picture of snow, ice, or anything wintry, but you put me on a completely different level with this post!

    Love the shot of the icebreaker with solid snow and ice all around it. Just drives home what a special experience that must have been.

    The SnowCastle is enchanting. I love how intricate the wall carvings were. And the idea of being wrapped up all toasty while surrounded by snow on all sides sounds really nice. I love to be warm while it’s cold all around me, if that makes sense.

    Looks amazing, icebreakers and snow hotels are definitely on my list now!

    • Liz October 28, 2016 at 8:01 pm #

      Totally makes sense, same for me!

  11. Shweta | Golden Triangle Tour 4 days October 24, 2016 at 9:08 pm #

    This is really fascinating! I agree with you, why go all that way and not really go all the way! Thank you so much for sharing it.

    • Liz October 28, 2016 at 8:02 pm #


  12. Chloe October 24, 2016 at 11:34 pm #

    Oh wow, this is going straight to the top of my to do list!

    • Liz October 28, 2016 at 8:02 pm #


  13. Cate October 25, 2016 at 1:37 am #

    OMG this is totally my dream! I would love an Arctic cruise, and especially sleeping in that ice hotel! Can’t wait to hear more

    • Liz October 28, 2016 at 8:02 pm #

      It was super cool!

  14. Kate October 25, 2016 at 2:22 am #

    What an unbelievable experience! I’m totally adding the icebreaker cruise to my bucket list!

    • Liz October 28, 2016 at 8:03 pm #

      It’s really cool!

  15. Madi | Restless Worker October 25, 2016 at 5:36 am #

    This looks like an unbelievable experience Liz! Secretly so jealous. Being from Canada I’m definitely a lover of the ice and snow. You have me wanting to visit Finland now!

    • Liz October 28, 2016 at 8:03 pm #

      Finland is seriously fun!

  16. Jeremy. T1D traveler October 25, 2016 at 2:22 pm #

    Quite a bit different than Virginia! This is like a perfect trip – you can keep your Hawaiian beaches, I want to break ice and sleep in the snow and watch the Northern Lights too!

    • Liz October 28, 2016 at 8:04 pm #

      Very different from Virginia, that’s where I’m from!

  17. Shweta | Taj Mahal tour by train  October 25, 2016 at 8:49 pm #

    this is completely incredible! especially the snow castle. Thank you so much for sharing this post.

    • Liz October 28, 2016 at 8:05 pm #


  18. Online Flight Booking October 26, 2016 at 12:01 am #

    Great, that place is looking so beautiful and have so many good things to get fun. So stunning photos you shared of that place.

    • Liz October 28, 2016 at 8:05 pm #


  19. Stephanie Craig October 26, 2016 at 11:33 pm #

    Gorgeous! Some of this is too adventurous for me, but I could definitely hang out in a snow hotel.

    • Liz October 28, 2016 at 8:06 pm #

      It’s so cool!

  20. Carissa Owens October 29, 2016 at 8:14 am #


    You are so rad! i love all of your adventures they are so real and fun! It’s awesome to read about all the different destinations you pick! Keep it up!

    Xoxo Carissa Owens
    One World State of Mind

    • Liz October 29, 2016 at 1:03 pm #

      Thank you!

  21. Lynn October 30, 2016 at 1:13 am #

    Do you have to use a special type of camera due to the cold?

    • Liz October 30, 2016 at 1:25 pm #


  22. sophie nadeau October 30, 2016 at 6:44 am #

    Wow, what an amazing adventure- you always have the most adventurous travels! The Ice Hotel literally looks like something straight out of Frozen- wow!

    • Liz October 30, 2016 at 1:25 pm #

      Doesn’t it??

  23. Suze - Luxury Columnist November 1, 2016 at 10:28 am #

    It must have been amazing to swim in the frozen sea – definitely a once in a lifetime experience

    • Liz November 1, 2016 at 1:20 pm #

      It was pretty cool!

  24. Jamie December 21, 2016 at 7:14 pm #


    You’re so cool.
    Loved reading all your posts about Finland. You’ve inspired me to travel here in January 2017.I’m currently going over your post and making notes! Can I ask if your adventure with the icebreaker Sampo was part of a package? And if so do you know which one?


    • Liz December 23, 2016 at 11:01 am #

      awesome! I am not sure, I didn’t book it but think it was individually booked


  1. Icebreaker ships and snow hotels in Kemi, Finland | - October 22, 2016

    […] By Liz […]

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