In this episode of our Lapland travels we are going to visit Kemi in Sea Lapland region. Sea Lapland is situated in South-West Lapland, on the shore of the Gulf of Bothnia. Kemi is small city yet it features some of Lapland’s biggest attractions – wonderful Snow Castle and Sampo Icebreaker.
Kemi is a great example of Lapland’s diversity. Occupying the third part of Finland, Lapland features vast lands and forests, beautiful fells, and even the frozen Baltic Sea!
It’s on the shore of the Baltic Sea that the Kemi Snow Castle is situated. Having been built every winter since 1996, it has become synonymous with the city of Kemi. It is one of the largest and most beautiful snow constructions in the whole of Scandinavia and a must to visit for any traveller.
Some of the most skilled ice sculpture artists are involved in the construction of this frozen beauty. Every year, they are inspired by a particular theme to make their unique creations. This year’s theme is, of course, Finland’s 100th Anniversary! Some of the historically important events and Finnish people who have played a big part in country’s life are all reflected in the engravings. Naturally, the theme will be different when you visit the Snow Castle.
The Snow Castle is open daily from mid-January until the beginning of April, weather permitting, of course! With an entrance ticket of about 15€ you are able to access all of the Castle’s beauties.
A particularly interesting area is the Snow Chapel. It has a very special feeling and appearance!
There’s also a nice cafe inside the Castle where you can take some hot chocolate to “warm up”. Actually, it is not that cold inside the Snow Castle. Snow is a great insulating material and the temperature is usually just slightly below freezing point in such structures, regardless of the outside temperature.
The other option, besides a simple visit, would be to dine inside the unusual surroundings of the Snow Restaurant!
As in many snow structures in Lapland (Lainio Snow Village in particular!) you can also spend a night a the Snow Hotel. There are about 10 regular snow rooms in the Snow Hotel, as well as 3 snow suites (in 2016-2017 version, at least!). This is what the regular room looks like.
And this is the suite. We did play around with the pillows there 😉
In order to survive a night in sub-zero temperatures, you are given a proper winter sleeping bag and some blankets. Sleeping in such places is quite rough indeed (reminds me of hiking in the end of autumn!) but it is indeed unique.
For those who are not accustomed to sleeping in such temperatures, there’s a much better option on offer. These beautiful Seaside Glass Villas are situated just outside the Snow Castle, overlooking the Gulf of Bothnia. Naturally, unlike in the Snow Castle, you can be accommodated in the Seaside Glass Villas all year round.
Having witnessed this beautiful sunset on our first night in Kemi, I believe staying in the Villas is a beautiful experience!
The Snow Castle Shop doubles as the reception building for the residents, and this is also where the breakfast is served.
There are also a myriad of programs, offered by Lapland Safaris that can be booked here. These include snowmobile safaris, ice fishing, excursions in an Olokolo sled, reindeer safaris and what not.
Kemi’s second major attraction is the Sampo Ice Breaker. This diesel-powered beast was built in 1961 and has served for almost 30 years, until it became too small and narrow to guide the ships through the ice. Instead of being scrapped, it was sold to the city of Kemi in 1987, where it started to make tourist cruises. At the time, the city of Kemi was criticized for spending about 1 million Finnish marks one Ice Breaker, however, it has quickly proved to be an excellent decision.
Nowadays, Sampo, named after the magical artifact from Finnish Kalevala mythology, provides a unique and exciting journeys in the frozen Gulf of Bothnia, and helps keeping the lanes clean in the port of Kemi.
Excursion on the Ice Breaker lasts several hours and includes crushing the ice, floating in the wet suites in the frozen water, lunch, as well as access to almost every part of the ship.
One you step on the ship, you are surrounded by the tons or iron, and even though the ship is over 50 years old, you still feel that she is “high-tech”! With several hundred passengers on board, she heads out into the Gulf of Bothnia.
Before we get too far into the frozen see, we have a planned rendez-vous with a snowmobile safari by Lapland Safaris.
The ship stops her engines and lowers the ladder. These guys will be joining us for the adventure!
Sampo puts on some speed again and we start one of the most exciting parts of the journey – crushing the ice. Her powerful diesel engines already put on a great roar, however, once the ship starts pressing down the ice, there’s an enormous trembling and noise!
It is an enigmatic feeling to watch the half-a-meter thick slabs of ice cracking under her weight.
During the excursion, there’s a guided tour all over the ship, including the deckhouse and engine room.
After the excursion, we are served a good lunch in the ship’s restaurant.
Having crushed the ice for a few hours, we are headed back towards the city. However, we do not enter the harbour just yet – the most fun part is about to start. The captain stops the engines and clears out a patch of the sea behind the ship. The guests put on some special rescue suites on.
Everything is ready for action!
The ladder is lowered on the ice again and we get off the ship. Next we experience floating in the frozen water!
The rescue suits are designed to hold enough air to keep you afloat and even keep you relatively warm for a good few hours.
However, our purpose is just to have some fun!
While some are enjoying their “ice bath”, others have time to stretch their legs on the frozen sea. Unsurprisingly, the snowmobiles are still in place!
Soon, the safari guests will get on these vehicles and head back to town. The others, us included, will get on board and head back to the port of Kemi.
Before we go back, we are treated with the most wonderful sunset. What an amazing finale for a great journey!
Read more about our explorations in Lapland!