Everything You Need to Know About Ice Hotels

Where are they?
Not Jamaica, for starters. Since ice hotels require constant subzero temperatures — and their proprietors like a steady stream of clientele — there are few places in the world where they can be built. In addition to the aptly-named ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden (see next paragraph), ice hotels that currently accommodate guests include Quebec’s Hôtel de Glace (‘Hotel of Ice’) and Romania’s Bâlea Lake Ice Hotel. Not surprisingly, both Finland and Norway are home to multiple ice-based establishments. Visitors to Finland can stay at the Arctic Snowhotel of Sinettä, SnowCastle of Kemi or the Lainio Snow Village of Levi. And in Norway, snowhounds can hunker down at the Kirkenes Ice Hotel, Bjorligard Hotel Ice Lodge or the Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel, Alta.

When was the first one built?
In 1989, but ‘discovered’ might be a more accurate description. You could argue that indigenous Arctic-dwellers have been constructing ice-based domiciles (or ‘igloos’) for thousands of years, and the world’s first ice hotel — constructed by French artist Jannot Derid — was essentially an upgraded, much larger version of the traditional model. He built the igloo to house an ice art exhibition in the village of Jukkasjärvi, Sweden. Then one night, as the story goes, some out-of-town visitors were unable to find a room in town, so they asked permission to sleep inside Derid’s glorified snow fort. They cozied up in some reindeer skin, presumably made some jokes about poor room service and went down in history as the first guests of the world’s first ice hotel (in the most technical sense).

How are they built?
Ice hotels must be built within relative proximity to a sizable body of water (typically a river), from which construction crews can draw water, freeze it and divide it into uniform blocks before shipping the materials to the building site. While building crews construct the edifice, artisans are hard at work designing ice-based furniture, fixtures and even kitchen utensils. According to How Stuff Works, the entire process usually takes five to six weeks — but keep in mind that building an ice hotel is not a one-time project. Even in the coldest parts of the world, annual temperature changes eventually cause the structures to melt — not always completely, but usually enough to negatively affect their Yelp rating.

Are they expensive?
Relatively expensive — but like most hotels, the price varies greatly on the room’s size and amenities. A night in the deluxe suite at ICEHOTEL, for example, will cost you more than $1,000. But for two people in a standard room, the price typically sits between $300 and $400 per night at most ice hotels. In most cases, meals are included with the price, and Hôtel de Glace and ICEHOTEL are known to offer package deals throughout the season. Of course, you should bear in mind that costs of transportation to these isolated establishments will be considerably higher than the average airport shuttle or cab ride.

What do I need to bring?
Layers, in short. You’ll be provided with sleeping bags (and animal skins, in some places), as well as a box-spring mattress that acts as a buffer zone between you and the icy bed frame. But when the temperature drops to roughly -4 degrees Celsius/24.8 degrees Fahrenheit, you’ll be happy you brought those longjohns and wool gloves. And while the rooms are outfitted with lights, chances are you won’t have a television or Wi-Fi at your disposal — so maybe bring along a book or deck of cards to pass the time.

Have you ever stayed at an ice hotel? Tell us about your experience!

By Brad Nehring