It’s not naïve to presume Iceland, the 'land of ice and fire', whose very name explicitly suggests a large volume of the stuff – would have its fair share of ice hotels. Yet, it isn’t home to a single one.
Is there an ice hotel in Iceland?
The answer to the burning question? There are no ice hotels in Iceland. The reason: a lack of frozen water. To build an ice hotel, you need a supply of frozen water from nearby rivers or lakes. While some areas of Iceland are always covered in snow, they're remote and largely inaccessible. Add on the fact that two thirds of Iceland’s entire population live in Reykjavik, away from the areas of snow, and that the majority of tourist-based activity is in the south, a region that, due to the Gulf Stream, is warmer than the rest of the country, means building a permanent hotel made of ice is simply not feasible.
But what Iceland ironically lacks in, well, ice, it more than makes up for in other architectural wonders, dotted among a wild interior of lava flows, glaciers, giant waterfalls and thermal springs. There's luxury design hotels among dramatic national parks, private blue lagoon cabins and Scandi-style delights. But if you are just hankering for a night bunking down among frozen beds, Iceland's Nordic neighbours have more than enough offerings, from Finnish Lapland's aurora-surrounded sculptures to Sweden's eternally-frozen ice rooms.
But if you're just yearning to bunk down on a bed made of snow, it’s hard to beat the original ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi, in the far north of Sweden. Blocks of snow and ice are carved into suites, galleries and even a small church, but it’s the nights that steal the show, when a thermal sleeping bag keeps you toasty against the chill – choose from minimalist rooms or sculpture-adorned suites. Daytime affords activities to explore the alluring Swedish wilderness, from snowmobiling under the Northern Lights to dogsledding and even visiting a Sami village, perfectly culminated with a trip to the ICEBAR, where you’ll sip cocktails in glasses made of ice.
And it's just got one better, because the ICEHOTEL 365 is now open during the summer months, kept cool using solar-powered technology under the ethereal glow of the midnight sun. Here, you'll also get a heated en-suite bathroom and 'relax' room, if you're seeking a quick hiatus from the frost. There's delicate lighting showing off magnificent ice sculptures, and come daytime (or night – the sun affords 24/7 activity), hike through virgin forests, go fishing in tranquil lakes or take a guided rafting tour down the Torne River.
Perhaps you'd prefer to head over the border to the delights of Norway in its coastal fjords, mountains and glaciers. The cosy Kirkenes Snowhotel’s insulating ice comprises themed rooms, adorned with snow art and reindeer skins to bunk up after a delicious local dinner round a crackling fire, enjoying steaming bowls of fresh fish soup. Spot reindeer roaming among the grounds as you head on husky trips, Northern Lights safaris and Arctic crab fishing tours, juxtaposed when summer briefly rears its head with rafting under the midnight sun and rowing among the spectacular fjords.
Not one to be outdone when it comes to innovation, Finland offers its fair share of ice hotels, most notably in the form of the Arctic Snowhotel & Glass Igloos, deep in the frozen fir forests of Finnish Lapland. They offer spectacular glass igloos as well as a snow-and-ice carved hotel, where Arctic sleeping bags and reindeer furs shelter from outside's frozen expanse. Expect to awake to an aurora alarm when the Northern Lights – luck depending – make their grand entrance. Outside's snowy canopy is perfectly explored with guided snowshoe hikes and ice fishing adventuress, and back at base, there’s an outdoor hot tub, steam room and paradoxical Snow Sauna.
Finnish Lapland's frozen delights under the glow of the aurora don’t end there, with their Snow Village offering painstakingly-carved Game of Thrones sculptures. Expect to be joined in dazzling icy rooms by frozen White Walkers, fearsome direwolves and looming dragons. Beds are strewn with cosy reindeer furs and warm sleeping bags so you wont even notice outside’s chill – except when you step outside to witness the shimmering aurora, the appearance of which is more than likely under Finnish Lapland's clear, dark skies.
Head into Iceland’s remote, blustery inland, and you're met with ION, a luxury adventure hotel combined with incomparable landscape views on the edge of the Thingvellir National Park, where rocky cliffs sit in an enormous rift valley, natural lakes are framed by lava fields and the Northern Lights shimmer for several months of the year. There's a distinct Nordic theme at ION, where concrete walls and light wood floors are adorned with soft sheepskins. And, you’re right within the famous Golden Circle – spend days exploring the colossal Strokkur geyser and dramatic waterfalls of Gullfoss, go glacier hiking, white-water rafting, fishing, horse-riding, and climb to the top of a dormant volcano.
The much-unexplored far north offers stark, wild landscapes, looming mountains and acres of isolated, utterly epic scenery – the setting for Deplar Farm, in the spectacular Troll Peninsula. This former sheep farm comprises turf-topped cabins, home to wood-burning fires, modern-Scandi suites and panoramic windows that bring the fjord and mountain views in. Head out snowmobiling, snowshoeing or even on the hotel's Arctic sno-cat for epic exploration, and back at base, there’s a geothermally heated pool, steam room, turf-mound sauna, plunge pool and immersion salt water floatation tanks. It's all perfectly culminated with a dip in the open-air hot tub, either under the glow of the midnight sun or, luck depending, winter's auroral lightshow.
Think of Iceland and bubbling hot springs in bright shades of turquoise jump to mind. It's not surprising, then, that there are complementary hotels aplenty, such as the personal geothermal lagoon of Silica. Enjoy private soaks minus the hordes of tourists before sampling a seasonal Icelandic menu of haddock and langoustines. The design-awarded hotel is all timber floors, blonde wood furnishings and private verandas to observe the spectacular lava field surrounds, but naturally it’s the private lagoon that hogs the spotlight, enjoyed alongside a waterfall, steam baths, sauna and in-water massages.
Hotel Ranga sums up the best of Iceland; a luxury lodge where pinewood and furs lie alongside continent-themed touches from thatched roofs to sweeping monochrome furniture, making for an eclectic atmosphere. The aurora is the shining glory here, though, best viewed from the hotel’s thermally-heated outdoor Jacuzzis. Enjoy views over the salmon-dense Rangá river and the looming snow-topped summit of Hekla, one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes, before days spent indulging in activities just as unique as Iceland itself, from shark fishing and helicopter rides to winding jeep safaris across the epic scenery.