If you're looking for some new winter vacation ideas, forget snowboarding and skiing and get into something really wild: ice hotels. They're cropping up everywhere (well, where it's cold) these days, but they're not all, ahem, carved from the same mold: some stand out from the tray with their adventurous blend of luxury and art. Check out our guide below and decide which one you're just crazy enough to book. Don't forget your long undies!
The Swedish ICEHOTEL was the first ice hotel in the world, and remains arguably the best. Built from the frozen waters of the Torne River, the hotel comprises 30,000 tons of snow and 10,000 tons of ice, and features 50 cold rooms and 30 warm rooms with surprisingly warm ice block beds topped with reindeer skins. If you need to warm up a bit, stroll around the photography and light exhibit that showcases the hotel's construction, or join a horseback tour into the surrounding wilderness for a glimpse of the elusive Northern Lights. The restaurant serves food on plates made of ice, and you can even get married in the ice church.
When it's open: December through April
Kakslauttanen's igloo village is probably what you've seen in all those wanderlust-inspiring images floating around the Internet, where glass igloos featuring frost-resistant thermal glass give you an unobstructed view of the Northern Lights - from the comfort of your own icy abode. (You can opt for a snow igloo as well, without the glass ceiling, at a slightly lower rate.) By day, check out the impressive ice sculpture gallery, hire a personal sculptor to decorate your igloo, or book a ride on your own reindeer-drawn sled.
When it's open: Open year-round; go between December and April for the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights
The Snowcastle of Kemi is indeed a real castle made of ice and snow, rebuilt every season in a different architectural style. The castle takes about six weeks to construct, usually led by a celebrity or renowned sculptor. The castle complex features a SnowHotel with 21 hand-carved rooms, a SnowChapel (for that frosty wedding of which you've always dreamed), and a SnowResturant serving local specialties like cream of smoked reindeer soup. If staying in a castle made of ice isn't enough entertainment, catch a live performance on their SnowStage.
When it's open: January through April
Quebec City, Canada
Hￃﾴtel De Glace is more a snow art gallery than anything, offering incredible snow art pieces and sculptures, with a Behind the Scenes tour demonstrating how the building is constructed each year. Upon arrival, you'll be greeted with iced cider in an ice flute, which you can learn how to make yourself at the Ice Workshop before heading out to go tube sliding or snowshoe hiking on the nearby slopes. At night, chill out (literally) at the overnight guests-only Nordic Relaxation area with outdoor spas and sauna. Why even bother looking at any other Quebec City hotels?
When it's open: January through March
Nestled in one of the most prestigious holiday regions in Switzerland, Iglu-Dorf Gstaad offers many uniquely hand-carved igloos, ranging in size from doubles to six-person suites. You can also opt for the Romantic Suite, with your own fireplace, music, and private bathroom. Warm up in the whirlpool or tuck into cheese fondue at the restaurant before braving the dark wilderness on a complimentary nighttime snowshoeing expedition.
When it's open: Every winter (check their website for specific yearly dates)
6. Hotel of Ice
Nestled high up in the Carpathian Mountains, Romania's Hotel of Ice is accessible only via a wild cable car ride. Each year, the hotel is rebuilt to reflect a different theme, offering you the option to stay in a hand-carved ice room or private igloo, all equipped with furs, blankets, and sleeping bags to keep you warm in the 25-30 degree temperatures. Try the hot wine punch at the Ice Bar, or head outside for a myriad of snow-inspired games, like ice bowling, snowman-building, and snowball fights. Though the hotel is open to day visitors, overnight rates of about $150 average per night make this one of the most affordable of the world's ice hotels.
When it's open: December through March (ice chapel opens in January)
Aptly named, the Arctic Snow Hotel is situated within the Arctic Circle -- making it a popular choice for Aurora Borealis-hunting. If you're seeking the elusive phenomenon, ask for the Northern Lights alarm - the staff will wake you if it starts. Or, just opt for the glass igloos and watch the lights from the comfort of your own bed. In the morning, enjoy free breakfast in the log restaurant, where you can warm up by the fireplace or enjoy one of the saunas.
When it's open: Late December through March
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