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Architectural Wonder at 14 Hotels Made of Ice and Snow

The Game of Thrones hotel in Finland is just one in a long history of ice hotels.

AnnaSofia Mååg & Niklas Byman, “Follow the White Rabbit,” 2017. Art suite inside the Icehotel Sweden (photo by Asaf Kliger, courtesy Icehotel Sweden)

By now, you’ve likely already heard of the new Game of Thrones-themed ice hotel in Finland. But the 30-room, snow-and-ice SnowVillage in Kittilä — which, for the record, is now in its 17th year, and decided to take on the HBO show as a this year’s theme — is far from the first ice hotel. There are dozens of hotels around the world made with “snice” (snow mixed with ice), many of them rebuilt every winter after having melted into nothingness the previous spring.

Empress Anna Ivanovna staging her mock wedding in Valery Jacobi’s “Ice House,” 1878. Oil on canvas, 52.6 × 85 in (image via Wikimedia Commons)

The first ice hotel was actually built in St. Petersburg, Russia under Empress Anna Ivanovna in 1739, not as a beautiful getaway, but as a “torture chamber,” as Jennifer Wright explains in a 2015 article in Slate. Apparently, the empress was both vengefully heartbroken by the death of her husband and madly upset that one of the noblest princes of Russia had married a Catholic. The Catholic bride died soon after the wedding, but Anna Ivanovna was still unappeased, staging a mock wedding between the widower prince and one of her maids, forcing them to sleep naked in the ice-carved nuptial bed in the newly constructed ice palace. The couple would have died had it not been for the bride trading a string of pearls for a guard’s coat.

In a strange historical twist, today ice and snow hotels are popular wedding and honeymoon destinations (many have ice chapels, go figure!) and fear not, you’ll never have to sleep “on ice,” as it were. Contemporary ice hotels provide high quality sleeping bags, furs, and fleece to keep you warm through the night. Many also have ice bars and restaurants, where even the glasses are made of ice. Elaborate snow and ice sculptures abound, and heated lobbies and storage areas for luggage are also standard. And in Scandinavia, hotels have the obligatory sauna. Below, you’ll find some of the ice hotels currently open around the world.

Ice Hotel Chapel, Quebec, February, 2006 (photo by Chensiyuan via Wikimedia Commons)

Hôtel de Glace (Valcartier, Québec, Canada)

Located just outside of Québec City, the first Hôtel de Glace opened in 2001. It’s the first and only ice hotel in North America, and its season runs for three months every year. This year, it’s open until March 25, and rooms start from CAN $219. All the furniture in the 45 guest rooms is made of ice (the provided sleeping bags thankfully are not ice). Perhaps somewhat ironically, in early January, a fire broke out at the hotel, temporarily shutting it down. Apparently one of the sleeping bags caught fire; luckily no one was hurt.

Dining room in the SnowCastle in Kemi, Finland (image via the Art of Backpacking Flickrstream)

Kemi SnowCastle (Kemi, Finland)

Technically a snow hotel, the Kemi SnowCastle opened its first iteration in 1996 in the small town on the Gulf of Bothnia, just 30 km from the Swedish border. It’s constructed with snow and ice made from seawater and boasts the world’s largest “SnowRestaurant,” which seats 200 people at ice tables, and where you can eat a hot bowl of reindeer soup. Rooms in the hotel start at €225 and are entirely made of snow, with beds covered in lambskins. The castle is open through April 14 this year, and they’re working on constructing a new, year-round castle, which is scheduled to open in 2019.

Kakslauttanen, Lapland, Finland, 2014 (photo by Greenland Travel via flickr)

Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort (Saariselkä, Finland)

A small village in northern Finland hosts a winter resort featuring individual chalets, glass and snow igloos, and even Santa’s house. The geodesic glass igloos provide views of the Northern Lights, and the snow igloos (€376 per night) are open through the end of April. The resort also organizes activities, like reindeer safaris and ice-fishing trips, and they have an art gallery that hosts works by Finnish and Lappish artists.

Inside the Sorrisniva Igloo hotel (photo courtesy Rita Willaert’s Flickrstream, and used with permission)

Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel (Alta, Norway)

First started in 2000, Sorrisniva claims the title of northernmost ice hotel in the world. Open through April 8 this year, the hotel provides warm bedding covered in reindeer hide, but recommends you pack some wool underwear, just in case. Rooms start at 2300 kr (roughly $300).

Kirkenes Snowhotel in Norway (via Paul Horsefield’s Flickrstream)

Kirkenes Snowhotel (Bjørnevatn, Norway)

Located just outside a village in northern Norway, only about 10 km from the Russian border, the Kirkenes Snowhotel first opened in 2006. Each of its 20 rooms is “uniquely decorated by artists from around the world.” (The website doesn’t mention specific artists, unfortunately, but according to the photos, the movie Frozen is a common theme.) The Snowhotel is open through April 20 this year, and activities include husky and king crab safaris. Rooms usually cost around 3000 kr (about $380), but toward the tail end of the season, they’re on sale for 1450 kr (about $180).

The Ice Cathedral at Hunderfossen (photo by Esben Haakenstad, courtesy Hunderfossen)

Hunderfossen Snow Hotel (Fåberg, Norway)

Just north of Lillehammer, Scandinavia’s southernmost snow hotel is part of a whole complex that also includes an ice cathedral and ice bar. Each year, the hotel invites an artist to design its interior. This year, Elisabeth Kristensen’s carved designs take their inspiration from Norwegian folktales. The hotel is open for the season February 9 though March 3.

Javier Opazo & Christian Winckler, “Tolackuntur,” 2015. Deluxe suite inside the Icehotel Sweden (photo by Paulina Holmgren, courtesy Icehotel Sweden)

Icehotel Sweden (Jukkasjärvi, Sweden)

One of the few ice hotels that’s open year round — cooled by solar power during the summer — Icehotel Sweden is probably also the artiest. Founded in 1989 (and open 365 days a year since 2016), it calls itself a “hotel and an art exhibition made of ice and snow.” Since its inception, more than 500 artists have designed the hotel’s “artist suites,” which have featured everything from giant ice gorillas and elephants to carved snow latticework and minimalism reminiscent of something out of a science fiction movie. Prices vary depending on the season and day of the week, but the average is about 5000 kr (roughly $630) for the ordinary ice rooms and a bit more for the artist-designed rooms

Hotel of Ice Balea Lake (Transfăgărășan, Romania)

Nestled in the Carpathian Mountains, about 230 km northwest of Bucharest, sits the Hotel of Ice Balea Lake. Unfortunately, not much information can be gathered from its website, but according to Romania-Insider.com, rooms go for €150 per night and igloos for €100, which is a steal when compared to other ice hotels. (Thank you, Eastern Europe!) This year, the theme is “music stars,” with ice sculptures of people like Freddie Mercury, Elvis, Michael Jackson, Prince, ABBA, Madonna, and the Rolling Stones inside the rooms.

Views of the Alpeniglu Village in Austria (image via Sascha’s Flickrstream)

ALPENIGLU (Brixen im Thale, Austria)

Located in a ski resort in the Alps about 100 km southeast of Munich, ALPENIGLU hosts overnight guests in 18 igloos. The igloos are available each year from the end of December through March. Prices start from €185 per person per night (it’s cheaper in March). There’s an ongoing special exhibition of ice sculptures, and the bar has not only ice tables, chairs, and glasses, but also ice plates.

Iglu Village Kühtai (Kühtai, Austria)

In the middle of a ski resort just 35 km west of Innsbruck, igloos at Kühtai start at €124 per person per night. Ice mattresses are covered in sheepskin and visitors can participate in a curling tournament, snow soccer, or an igloo-building workshop.

Schneedorf Igloo (Oetz, Austria)

Located at the base of an Alpine ski resort 10 km west of Kühtai, igloo lodging in “Austria’s first igloo village” starts at €119 per person per night. Like at Kühtai, visitors can sign up for an igloo-building workshop.

Inside an Iglu-Dorf igloo, 2010 (photo by Stephanie Kroos via flickr)

Iglu-Dorf (Gstaad, Switzerland)

At Iglu-Dorf, you can choose between a traditional and a “hot” igloo. (Granted, the insulated hot igloo isn’t as aesthetically pleasing as the cold one.) Standard igloos start at €119 per person per night and in the past have included carvings of mammoths, dinosaurs, faces, and even cacti on their interiors. If you’re looking for a more “high art” experience, stop by in 2019, during Gstaad’s biennial site-specific public art show, Elevation 1049, which last year included works by Allora & Calzadilla, Ryoji Ikeda, Thomas Schütte, Superflex, and Tatiana Trouvé & Grace Hall, among others.

Igloo Village Morzine-Avoriaz (Morzine, France)

At an Alpine ski resort just over the French border about 80 km southwest of Gstaad, the igloos at Morzine-Avoriaz accommodate up to eight people each and start at €99 per person per night, which includes food (plus aperitif and digestive before and after dinner, of course) and a snowshoeing excursion. Snow beds are covered with animal skins, and separate bar and restaurant igloos host overnight guests and resort ski-ins alike.

Tomamu Ice Village and Ice Hotel (Shimukappu, Hokkaido, Japan)

On the island of Hokkaido, about 120 km east of Sapporo, Tomamu has a whole complex of ice buildings inside the ski resort. There’s a bar, a “sweets cafe,” an “ice flower gallery,” an ice maze, an ice slide, a skating rink, an ice chapel for weddings, a snow & ice studio for learning to make sculptures, and, of course, the ice hotel. The ice hotel is open through February 28 this year, and guests stay overnight at a cost of ¥20,000 (a little less than $200) per person, which includes access to the outdoor arctic bath and neighboring ice lounge, where you can taste 20 different Japanese whiskeys. (They also give you fancy pajamas in addition to a sleeping bag.)

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