Ever since the first ice hotel opened in Sweden in 1989, bunking down on a bed of ice surrounded by frozen furniture, art and décor has been a rite of passage for the serious winter traveller. Recently, more ice and snow hotels have opened all over the world to include variations on the theme as designs get increasingly extravagant.
Rebuilt every year, specialist artists carve out everything from in-room statues to arched passageways, all lit by ethereal blues and whites. While temperatures are definitely below zero, they’re thankfully in the single figures as metre-thick walls rely on the age-old insulation principles that have kept many an adventurer warm. What’s more, thermal sleeping bags and thick reindeer skins ensure that you’re fully wrapped up.
When thinking of unique accommodation, chances are that you’ll start with the much-imitated Swedish ICEHOTEL. Start with a trip to the ICEBAR where cocktails are served in – you guessed it – glasses made of ice before heading to the restaurant where plates are equally frosty. You’ll even come away sporting a certificate of the day’s temperatures – both inside and out. Nearby, you’ll find excellent skiing opportunities while, for a spot of culture, the local Sámi village answers all your questions on the life of Sweden’s hardy indigenes.
Concept art for ICEHOTEL Sweden, winter 2016/2017
More recent offerings include the Kirkenes Snowhotel in Norway. Smaller than its counterparts, it’s truly a designer hotel – meaning intimate atmospheres and excellent service, a warm respite from icy climes. You’ll also enjoy impressive Norwegian fjord views along with husky sledding and arctic king crab fishing while those with a healthy dose of good luck might catch a glimpse of the inimitable Northern Lights. If you continue to travel in Norway, you’ll also find the world’s most northerly ice hotel, in Alta. Here, thrilling snowmobile excursions and crystalline igloos set it apart.
Concept art for a bedroom in ICEHOTEL Sweden, winter 2016/2017
There’s also Finland’s Lainio Snow Village, a collection of grottos that combine art galleries, igloos and a lively bar; it’s probably the most comprehensive complex with ice-hewn rooms and suites leading to a warm subterranean area complete with fireplaces, an ice cocktail bar and even a chapel. Lastly, there's Canada's Hotel de Glace. While you'll have to change continents, it's only ten minutes from downtown Québec. And, it's well worth the trip with ice slides, cauterised translucent bricks and grand sculptures all making an appearance.The giant friezes depicting folklore scenes are particularly impressive.
When to go
By their very nature, ice hotels are temporary. As such, you’ll find them shut from spring and reopening at the start of winter. However, considering their different latitudes, it’s well worth checking ahead as times do vary. Also, many feature year-round accommodation in heated traditional log huts.