In a world before Disney’s Frozen, hotels – or any kind of building – made of ice probably did not have a prominent position on your Must See list. About the biggest thing you’d care to see made of ice is the inevitable cruise ship buffet sculpture or, if you live near a Gaylord property, the annual display of icy artwork carved up by master Chinese craftsmen.
Over the past decade, though, icy attractions have been working their way into the tourism industry: Ice bars (even on cruise ships!), ice festivals, the Chena (Alaska) Hot Springs Ice Museum (which sounds like the world’s biggest dichotomy). Where there is ice, apparently, there is fire, which draws people to gather around and witness the spectacle. Or, in this case, spend the night on ice.
Not surprisingly, the phenomenon is concentrated in places where it is substantially cold for a substantially long period of time. (This means you can escape the craze by going to, say, Bora Bora.) What we do find surprising is that it seems to be absent in some of the coldest places we can think of, like Russia and China. Perhaps they have more common sense than given credit for. On the other hand, after spending countless years solidifying its reputation as the last place on earth you want to be, perhaps the Siberian chamber of commerce thought it would be counterproductive to lure visitors with a nice, icy hotel.
At any rate, there are some very nice icy hotels on both sides of the Atlantic. Here are (arguably) three of the hottest cold spots on the map.
#3: Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel, Norway
Given the name, we imagined a giant domed igloo filled with furs and delicious salmon. We were not too far off. The Igloo Hotel is not the giant dome we expected, but it is one very big (about 2500sqm) igloo, completely made of ice and snow, about 20km outside of Alta, Norway. Though the design and theme vary from year to year, inside are about 30 rooms and suites, an ice chapel, and an ice gallery. Thankfully, there is a non-ice “service building” which houses things like bathrooms, showers, and a sauna. (Yes!) Being the furthest north igloo hotel, it’s a prime location for viewing the Aurora Borealis. The hotel also offers a snowmobile safari, and you can visit the hotel without checking in.
#2: Hôtel De Glace, Canada
The first word that comes to mind when you see the Hôtel De Glace is likely “Wow.” It truly is a stunning work of art, unbelievably made entirely of ice and snow. Never mind the fact that it’s also a big building made entirely of ice and snow just 10 minutes from downtown Québec City. Hôtel De Glace has been drawing visitors since 2001, and has 44 rooms and suites decorated with beautiful snow art and ice sculptures. Inside you will also find the requisite ice bar and ice chapel, and a sauna to help you thaw out. Speaking of keeping warm, the premium suites have their own fireplaces; something we find very intriguing. The Hôtel De Glace also offers a “day pass” for visitors who want to see the spectacle without checking in.
#1: IceHotel, Sweden
The Swedish IceHotel in Jukkasjärvi is literally the trendsetter, building the first ice hotel more than 25 years ago. It’s not only the best, it may be the biggest, with 50 cold rooms, 30 warm rooms, and the usual assortment of ice attractions (chapel, bar, etc.). To be fair, the warm rooms are not made of ice, but they are a nice, toasty alternative. IceHotel was conceived as an art exhibit. One year, when all of the hotel rooms in town were sold out, guests asked if they could sleep at the exhibit and the ice hotel concept was born. IceHotel continues that tradition with truly unique and breathtaking art and architecture, made new every year.
At this writing, the ice hotels of the world are quite literally melting down, but most will re-open by January. Because of the limited space and fairly high occupancy rates (Hôtel De Glace had 95% occupancy last season), it’s best to watch their websites and book early if you’re interested. IceHotel has already begun taking reservations for stays starting in December; rates begin at 2500SEK ($287US)/night.