While most people hit up warm-weather destinations for winter getaways, others are going the opposite way. These brave folks are traveling to some of the coldest locations across the globe to stay inside ice hotels and get an ultimate winter wonderland experience.
To be completely honest, the thought of sleeping on ice seems less than desirable — at least, that’s what I initially thought. But once I started reading about ice hotels, all that changed.
So, What is an Ice Hotel?
What is an ice hotel? Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like. These hotels are constructed using sculpted blocks of ice and snow. That means that they rely on the sub-freezing temperatures in certain regions during winter months. That also clearly means there’s no central heating inside!
Because the construction of an ice hotel is dependent upon sub-freezing temps, expect it to be below zero Celsius inside the hotel. Hey, at least it’s still warmer than it is outside.
These structures feature all of the things you would expect from a regular hotel, like guest rooms, restaurants, bars, ceremony halls, and lounges. Of course, just about all of it is made from ice and snow. That means that you will find chairs, tables, walls, fixtures, and even cups made out of the frozen stuff.
Guests sleep on beds made of snow and ice, too. Don’t think you’ll just be laying on a block of ice, though! Ice hotel guests take advantage of expedition-style sleeping bags, furs, blankets, and more to provide warmth. These items have been designed to withstand the extreme cold temperatures.
Some amenities, such as bathrooms, saunas, and hot tubs, aren’t made out of ice and snow — for obvious reasons. Certain ice hotels have restaurants, cabins, and other structures that aren’t frozen, too.
What Do You Do at an Ice Hotel?
While staying inside of an ice palace fit for the likes of Queen Elsa sounds cool on its own, most travelers hit the sub-arctic for various other activities. There is plenty to see and do that you can’t experience anywhere else.
- Dog sleds and snowmobiles – Visit a sled-dog kennel, tour the icy landscape from a sled, drive your own dog sled, or experience the thrill of driving a snowmobile.
- Learn wilderness skills – Experience the elements of nature, and learn basic skills for surviving and navigating the wilderness.
- Get steamy in the sauna – Some ice hotels also feature a sauna on site. It’s not made of snow, but it sure is a relaxing way to warm up!
- See breathtaking Aurora Borealis views – Get a once-in-a-lifetime view of the Northern Lights. Far away from bustling cities with artificial light, you’ll get the best view in the world.
As with other traditional upscale hotels, you’ll find the regular stuff, too.
- Indulge with food and drink – You’ll find amazing dishes and three-course meals fit for an upscale restaurant, and can you imagine how cool it would be to drink a cocktail in a glass made of ice? Some places even offer unique dining experiences, like seasonal delicacies prepared over an open fire with the Northern Lights overhead.
- Relax with a spa treatment – Some ice hotels offer relaxing spa massages and facial treatments.
What Do You Wear to an Ice Hotel?
This isn’t the place to break out all those cute vacay clothes. Guests have to dress extremely warm with functional clothing.
That includes thermal underwear, breathable layers, plenty of socks, warm hats, and more — and that’s just the underpinnings! You’ll also be wearing a snowsuit, boots, gloves, and more on the outside.
Ice hotels should provide proper thermal protection, but guests should absolutely verify that when booking a stay.
The Coolest Ice Hotels
If you’re hoping to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience staying in an ice hotel, there are around 20 worldwide to choose from. Here are the best of them all.
Situated in the tiny town of Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, Icehotel is the original. It first opened in 1990, and is rebuilt each year to host guests from December to April. Icehotel even features a chapel made of ice and snow where couples can get married. Everything is built from the frozen waters of the Torne River.
The Kirkenes is located in the northeast part of Norway, less than 10 miles from the Norwegian-Russian border. This ice hotel has real beds with mattresses, but you’ll still sleep inside a sleeping bag to keep warm.
Hôtel de Glace in Canada
This ice hotel first opened in 2001 and was the first one established in North America. The hotel is just outside of Quebec City and operates from January to the end of March each year.
Ice Hotel in Hokkaido
This ice hotel in Japan only exists for a limited time — from mid January to the end of February. The building itself has a seamless dome made from a single sheet of ice. It sits within the Hoshino Resorts Tomamu in the Shimukappu village of Hokkaido Island.
Bâlea Lake Ice Hotel
Deep in the Carpathian Mountains, this ice hotel sits at an elevation of 2035 meters above sea level. It’s only accessible by cable car during the winter. It was the first ice hotel in Eastern Europe; local craftsmen use the ice from Bâlea Lake to build the small 12-room hotel.