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Scandinavia is one of the "coolest" travel regions at the moment, thanks to its unspoilt nature, welcoming people, and quirky perspective on accommodation. And while traveling at large can sometimes feel like you're walking along a typical tourist trail, Scandinavia allows travelers to channel an intrepid spirit, trekking through untouched natural surroundings and grappling with foreign culture — without requiring a sacrifice of creature comforts.
Thankfully, we've been seeing regular airfare sales of late that can get you there on the cheap. For example, right now Norwegian Airlines offers discounts on 1-way flights to Europe (from $193.90, a low by $220; expires February 28), which includes several major Scandinavian cities, opening up this corner of Europe for adventuring! And, if you're interested in acting on that stellar sale, then you'll also want to take full advantage of the unusual accommodations that the region has to offer. Below we've picked a selection of dream hotels, ranging from primitive to awe-inspiring, to get you excited about a trip to the land of vikings, fjords, and ice hotels.
The one thing that jumps to mind when we picture Scandinavia is (obviously) snow, because let's face it: it's not tropical. But rather than see this as a disadvantage, many Scandinavian destinations actually build their tourist industry around it.
The Ice Hotel in Sweden is one such place. Located just 125 miles above the Arctic Circle near a village with as many dogs as people (about 1,000 of each), this hotel is the world's first and largest hotel to be built out of snow and ice. The hotel runs from mid December to the end of April and includes hand-carved concept-art suites, complete with ice statues, fur blankets, and even en suite saunas.
This Norwegian boutique hotel aspires to bring you as close to nature as possible before you start to get bugs in your hair. Juvet is tucked into a forest glade, and the seven detached guest suites are suspended over the crytal-clear river to give the impression of standing inside a photograph. The rooms are deliberately minimalist with panoramic glass walls so that nothing distracts from the breathtaking view. From here you can easily explore the nearby glaciers and fjords in the area.
The Sala Silvermine offers travelers a unique opportunity: the chance to spend the night 500 feet underground in an old silver mine. The mine is thought to have been started in the middle ages, and it was a working silver mine from the sixteenth through the twentieth century.
An overnight stay in the Mine Suite will allow you to reach a level of detachment from jobs, kids, and the internet that most people can only dream of; your cell phones won't even work this deep down! In the morning, rouse your partner with a cheerful round of "Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it's off to work we go" (but not too loudly, as you don't want to wake any dormant orks) and explore the numerous tunnels around the suite before an underground breakfast and finally a trip back up to daylight.
Sweden's Utter Inn (Otter Inn in English) looks like any other small typical Swedish house — except that it floats alone in Lake Mälaren, the third-largest lake in Sweden. Guests are ferried to the inn by boat and then left in peace to settle into their unlikely accommodation. The above-water portion of the inn is a kitchenette with dining area, and there's room on the "balcony" to sit out in the afternoon sun with a glass of wine and feed the fish.
But where this inn takes a drastic departure from the norm is when you descend 10 feet under the surface of the lake to the submerged bedroom. And to make sure you and the fish become intimately acquainted, there are large panel windows on all four sides of the room, like an inverted aquarium. If you get a bit of cabin fever, just hop in the canoe and visit one of the many uninhabited islands in the lake.
This magical igloo village comes straight out of a fairy tale. Upon arrival, a wooden sleigh brings you to the door of your igloo, a delicately constructed glass dome with an unrivaled view of the stars. Finland offers some of the best views of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), and if seeing that isn't on your bucket list it should be. (Cross-out zorbing; it's not that great.) Fall asleep to the green light dancing across the sky, then wake to the gentle sound of snow falling on glass.
During the day you can learn to drive a husky sled and have lunch over a fire in the snow-bound forest. Oh, and did we mention? Santa lives here and even lets guests visit his home, provided they're on the "nice" list (and their mommy and daddy have booked in advance).
Scandinavians have a reputation for finding innovative approaches to living in harmony with nature. The results can be seen in the Tree House Hotel in Sweden, where the cabins have been designed to integrate with their environment and provide visitors with uniquely unobtrusive accommodation.
For example, the Mirror Cube cabin has an entirely reflective exterior, whilst the Birds Nest cabin is actually built in the shape of a giant nest and blends seamlessly into the forest surrounding. (Of course, the UFO cabin sticks out a bit.) Visitors should also try an "Ice Dining Night," in which a tent is set up on a frozen lake and patrons dine in the middle of this wilderness tranquility.
Iceland is the least developed country in Scandinavia, but also has the most dramatic landscape. To get inspired, watch The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, much of which is filmed in Iceland. Hostel Kex is situated in the center of the capital (Reykjavík), making it an ideal base to explore the city or to chill out with other intrepid travelers and get the low down on what to do (and what not to!).
The hostel takes its name from the Icelandic word for biscuit because of the building's past history as a biscuit factory. This incorporation of the past mixed with the hostel's hip and edgy decor creates a trendy and relaxing environment. Beer was actually prohibited in Iceland until 1989, but the country has caught on quick and now there are several local Iceland lagers and ales, which can be sampled in the hostel's bar while looking out over Mt. Esja.
This unusual lodge bills itself as "Sweden's most primitive hotel," and that's no small feat. The word "primitive" is certainly apt as there's no electricity, internet, or even plumbing! Set deep in the wilderness, each hut is molded into the shape of an earthen mound and furnished with only wooden beds and a fireplace.
But despite these missing modern conveniences, what could be more relaxing than lighting some candles and sitting back on a sheep-skin rug in front of a crackling fireplace with nothing but the sounds of the forest to interrupt your thoughts? (The floating sauna in the middle of the lake sounds pretty relaxing too.)
This Norwegian Ice Hotel is plowed over and rebuilt with a different theme every year; currently, it's sporting a "Viking Kings" theme. Sorrisniva is the perfect place to view the Aurora Borealis and the hotel organizes Northern Lights snowmobile tours to better view this natural wonder.
Or you might be keen to try dog-sledding through the Alta canyon; you can meet and play with the dogs before the tour, learn to harness and control them, and then ride your own dog sled through the valley. The tour leads to a traditional Scandinavian Lavvu tent (similar to a teepee) where the guide tells stories about the dogs around an open fire before leading you back to Sorrisniva. To get more of a feel for Sorrisniva, watch the BBC documentary Joanna Lumley in the Land of the Northern Lights.
Trust the Swedes to take a decommissioned 1976 Boeing 747-212B and convert it into a living space! The hostel is situated right next to Stockholm Arlanda Airport so you can choose to "crash" here if you've had a long trip and can't face finding a hotel, or if you've got an early connection. The hostel is even decked out with a restaurant in the nose of the aircraft and a lounge bar on the upper deck.
With so many options available, we hope you've found a Scandinavian destination that makes you feel like exploring this side of the world. If you're looking for a different kind of vacation be sure to be sure to check out our weekly travel deals for other car rental deals, discounted cruises, bargain hotel stays, and vacation packages.