Tips, tricks, and the full lowdown on what it’s really like to spend a night sub-zero in an ice hotel and how not to freeze!  Is this wintry bucket list adventure worth the investment?

A Jolly Festive Exclusive
Building made of snow with tall ceilings and circular stacked ice blocks making pillars down the middle of the room and a chandelier suspended from the ceiling and ice table below it. The far end of the hallway is illuminated with reindeer hide covered doors.

Imagine a night spent sub-zero in a room built of snow, surrounded by intricately hand-carved ice art displays as the Northern Lights dance in the dark skies above. It’s the stuff of that winter dreams are made from!

Thanks to the creativity of a small number of hoteliers and arctic architects, this dream can become reality.  So, if you’re wondering whether to take the plunge into the world of ice and snow, we share the lowdown on what it’s really like to stay at an ice hotel.

The information shared below is based on firsthand experience from our stay at the ICEHOTEL in Sweden, together with further visits to ice hotels in Finland and Romania as well as considerable research around ice hotels and experience of winter travel more generally.

Want to find your nearest Ice Hotel?  Check out our complete guide to all the world’s ‘coolest hotels’!

What Happens During A Stay At An Ice Hotel?

This is top-of-the-bucket-list stuff!  It truly is an experience quite unlike any other.  Each hotel has its own take on the stay, but the format is broadly the same at most of the hotels.*

Jo and I have been fortunate to experience firsthand a night at the original ICEHOTEL in Sweden – the very first ice hotel – as well as my further visits to other ice hotels since.  So, we are speaking from personal experience.

*The Iglu-Dorf hotel group offer a slightly different experience as they are focussed more on the alpine ski market.

Two women in arctic suits sitting in ice chairs covered in animal hides in front of a round ice table in a snow carved room of an ice hotel.

Hannah & Jo At The ICEHOTEL In Sweden ©Hannah Bartlett www.jollyfestive.com

A Typical Experience

Typically, the hotel is open to the public during the day for visitors to come and explore.  But once the day-trippers have headed back to their heated accommodation, it’s over to the brave!

Possessions are left in warm locker rooms overnight and you’ll be pleased to hear that evening ablutions also take place in the adjoining warm shower rooms and WCs.  You’ll typically be given a briefing from the team at the hotel before heading off to your ice bedroom for the night.

Rooms don’t generally have doors; whilst walls are often 1+ metres thick, the doorways are typically just blocked with a rope and/or small curtain.

Beds are constructed from ice but topped with specially designed mattresses and, in many cases, reindeer hides for extra warmth.  And you’ll be provided with an Arctic-grade sleeping bag to keep you tucked up warm.  Hard as it might be to comprehend, you could even find yourself overheating!

Will I Actually Sleep?!

Don’t expect the most restful night of your life.  You may be lucky of course.  But between remembering the guidelines for a safe stay, adjusting to the sensory experience and unusual temperature, wondering whether you need a bathroom trip(!), and the sheer novelty of the occasion, it’ll likely be a relatively short sleep.  But, wow, is it one for the memory book!!

Woman in Arctic clothing sitting with legs stretched out on carved bench in ice bedroom with ice bed visible behind covered in reindeer hides and ice partition to side.

Hannah Investigating Ice Bedroom ©Hannah Bartlett www.jollyfestive.com

Are Ice Hotels Really Made Of Ice?

Believe it or not, yes, ice hotels really are just made from ice and snow.  The vast majority are rebuilt fresh each winter and then simply melt as the weather warms.  Ice is used like building blocks, with snow acting as a kind of cement! 

Whilst aspects of the design and creation are seriously impressive, other techniques are surprisingly traditional.  For example, at the Arctic SnowHotel in Finland, staff are employed to march on top of snow in metal moulds to compact it down, walking up to 20km a day in some cases.  Once fully compressed, the moulds are removed to leave ice walls which stand firm until the late spring thaw.

Two young children wearing bobble hats face away from camera looking at large arched hallway made of snow with doorways off to sides and lights hanging from ceiling and evidence of building work underway with wheelbarrow full of snow and tools.

Hannah’s Family Check Out The Main Hall Being Built At The Hotel of Ice in Romania ©Hannah Bartlett www.jollyfestive.com

What’s The Temperature In An Ice Hotel?

Amazingly the ice and snow act as a kind of insulator.  So, even when the temperature outside plummets, as low as -40C in some cases, inside the hotel remains at a constant (and manageable) -5C on average.

What Should You Wear To Stay At An Ice Hotel?

It’s all about layers.  Outside can be as cold as -40C, depending on the location and time of year.  But as mentioned above, inside the hotel will likely just be a few degrees below freezing.  So, you’ll want to have clothing that can be adjusted for different temperatures.

Many of the hotels either include outer clothing layers in the booking price, or offer a facility to rent them during your stay.  This will typically include either snow suit or two-piece trousers and jacket set together with mitten-gloves, snow boots and a balaclava.  Focus your attention on ensuring you have sufficient base and mid layer clothing.  As well as layers of thin gloves and socks to put under thicker ones.  And a thin head and neck cover or balaclava to go under a thicker hat.

Overnight, tucked up inside an arctic-grade sleeping bag, you should only need one layer of thermals (preferably woollen), warm socks, and maybe a mid-layer fleece or jumper.   The sleeping bags generally cover the entire body and head so that the only bit of the body that will be exposed directly to the cold overnight is the area around your nose and mouth.   You may also want to keep a hat and thin pair of gloves close by.

Tip: store any clothes you remove during the night at the bottom of your sleeping bag so that they are warm to put back on when you wake up. 

Woman opening reindeer hide covered doors in an ice brick wall at an ice hotel.

Jo entering the ICEHOTEL in Sweden ©Hannah Bartlett www.jollyfestive.com

Where Do You Keep Your Things?

Most of the hotels provide a warm locker room for storing possessions overnight.  Expect to take the absolute minimum necessary into the ice room with you overnight. 

Some of the hotels have a socket in the room for overnight charging of phones but not all so do check. And consider bringing booster packs for additional battery charge in case, particularly as phone battery drops quickly in cold conditions. 

At the Hôtel de Glace in Québec, Canada, each cold room comes paired with a complimentary warm room in the sister hotel on site, to use for washroom facilities and storage of possessions. 

Huge serpent snow sculpture in colourfully illuminated ice bedroom with two beds covered in thick throws and ice-carved edges.

Serpent Ice Sculpture in Ice Bedroom ©Hannah Bartlett www.jollyfestive.com

When’s The Best Time To Visit?

Most of the hotels are open from December through to February and some even as late as April.  December and February tend to be the busiest months.  Each month has its advantages.

  • Nights are longest in December with amazing colours in the sky during the long slow winter sunrise and sunset. There is something magical about being a snowy wonderland on the run up to Christmas of course as well (no wonder it’s a festive dream destination).
  • January is often the coldest month but also quieter than some others so availability can be higher and costs lower.
  • For hotels within the auroral oval (area of solar magnetic activity), there’s a chance to see the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) at any time of year but the colder, clearer skies of February – March typically offer the highest chance.
  • By March & April, the days are getting longer. With the first hints of Arctic Spring in the air, it’s a great time of year to enjoy outdoor activities and the slightly milder weather.

Are Snow Hotels Open All Year?

Most of the snow and ice hotels are unsurprisingly open for the winter season only.  As the weather begins to warm, the hotel is closed and emptied, ready for it to melt away into the memory bank and nearby water system (they are typically built by a river, lake, or sea edge).

However, you can now even spend a night in an ice hotel during the summer.  In fact, there are two ice hotels that offer year-round overnight stays:

  • The original ICEHOTEL in Sweden has a small number of ice suites available year-round in its purpose-built Ice Art Hall.
  • Snowhotel Kirkenes is now a 365-day ice hotel due to a special summer coat and air-conditioning system. Enjoy the summer’s nightless night under ice high up above the Arctic Circle as well as the winter’s dayless day!
Winter sunset and darkening blue sky in background with ice building and snow-covered trees to foreground.

Winter Sunsets Over The Lake Are A Common Scene At Ice Hotels ©Hannah Bartlett www.jollyfestive.com

Can You Visit An Ice Hotel If You’re Not Staying?

Yes, all the hotels offer day guest options.  Typically, these include access to the facilities of the ice hotel and a tour which explains how it was constructed.  You are normally allowed to explore the bedrooms and ice art of the hotel as well. 

Lots of the hotels offer a drink at the ice bar or meal at the (ice or warm!) restaurant on site.  Guests staying in sister warm accommodation on the same site as the ice hotel will also typically be allowed to visit the ice hotel during the day. 

We spent an evening at the Arctic SnowHotel in Finland enjoying a tour, drink at the ice bar, meal in the ice restaurant, and play on the snow tubing slide.  We even got to see the Northern Lights whilst we were there!  Everything was prebooked as a package including transfers to and from the hotel – the only thing we paid for on site was the drinks.

Raspberry Cream Torte slice served on a plate made of ice and shaped as a snowflake at a table setting in the Arctic SnowHotel Ice Restaurant.

Dessert Served On An Ice Plate At The Ice Restaurant At The Arctic SnowHotel ©Hannah Bartlett www.jollyfestive.com

Can Children Stay In Ice Hotels?

For obvious health and safety reasons, the ice hotels don’t permit very young children to stay.  It seems that 8+ is the average age for children to join overnight trips to stay in igloo hotels. But be sure to check with the individual ice hotel.

How Long Do People Stay?

Whilst incredible and an unforgettable experience, one night in an ice hotel is enough for most.

It’s not like staying in a typical hotel room.  You don’t keep your possessions with you in the room (they’d freeze and become part of the installation!) and you’ll be sharing communal bathroom facilities.  Plus, during the day all the rooms are open to the public to visit – it’s not really a “hang out and relax” kind of room!

However, most of the hotels (except the Iglu-Dorf hotel group) have a ‘warm hotel’ operating alongside the snow venue so you’ll be able to remain onsite and enjoy the rest of the activities on offer during subsequent days.

Snow Tubing Slide Down Hillside Between Warm and Ice Hotels in the Snowy Mountains of Romania at the Hotel of Ice. Photo ©Hannah Bartlett www.jollyfestive.com

Snow Tubing Slide Between Warm and Ice Hotels in the mountains at Romania Hotel of Ice. Photo ©Hannah Bartlett www.jollyfestive.com

What Is There To Do At An Ice Hotel?

Activities vary between venues but all the ice hotels are eager to embrace their surroundings and the winter weather with an array of seasonal activities on offer.

Common activities on offer include thrill seeker opportunities such as snowmobiling or snow tubing.  In areas where the Northern Lights are visible (see below for more), there are typically nighttime safaris to light-free areas to look for them.  During the day, activities with reindeer and huskies are common, as well as ice fishing and even king crab fishing in northern Norway.

At the hotel itself there’s usually sauna and jacuzzi facilities to enjoy. And perhaps even a dip in the frozen lake for the very brave!  Often, you’ll find snow slides and sledding available and perhaps the opportunity to try some ice carving or other local crafts.

And then of course there’s the food.  All the hotels are eager to showcase local produce and cuisine and the vast majority have an Ice Bar where you can enjoy cocktails in glasses carved from ice.

Blue cocktail shot in an ice glass on counter at the ice bar of the Arctic SnowHotel with illuminated spirit bottles visible in background.

Cocktail In An Ice Glass At The Icebar In The Arctic SnowHotel ©Hannah Bartlett www.jollyfestive.com

Ice Hotels & Northern Lights

Can you see the northern lights at ice hotels?  By virtue of these hotels being predominantly in northernly locations, you can expect a reasonable chance of seeing the Northern Lights during a stay at many of the ice hotels.

You’ll need a clear night and magnetic activity for the sky to come alive but many of the world’s ice hotels sit under the auroral oval (area around the magnetic North Pole where the lights are most likely to be seen) and are of course best enjoyed in the months of extended darkness.  So, chances are way better than average.

We saw the Northern Lights repeatedly during our stay at the ICEHOTEL in Sweden and Hannah enjoyed a faint display during a recent trip to the Arctic SnowHotel in Finland too.

Details of which ice hotels are in the auroral oval are shared here.

Fuzzy photo of Northern Lights streak in the sky above the ICEHOTEL in Swedish Lapland.

Northern Lights Over ICEHOTEL in Sweden ©Hannah Bartlett www.jollyfestive.com

Can You Get Married At An Ice Hotel?

Yes!  Many of the ice hotels have an Ice Chapel incorporated within their design.  What an amazing idea for an unusual wedding venue!  Although we imagine you’ll want to keep the wedding ceremony brief to avoid the guests (or indeed the happy couple themselves) getting too chilly…

Benches carved from ice covered in reindeer hides lined up in Ice Chapel facing towards ornate ice carved tables and sculptures in an arched room.

Ice Chapel at the Arctic SnowHotel ©Hannah Bartlett www.jollyfestive.com

Are Ice Hotels Eco-Friendly?

Each hotel has its own eco credentials.  However, many of them pride themselves on their sustainable management and design. There is a clear end-to-end recycle story to their design.  Built anew each winter using ice from nearby rivers and snow, they leave little to no footprint when they melt away in the spring, returning to their watery origins. 

Innovations in design and operations have further reduced the environmental impact of these icy retreats. For instance, some ice hotels incorporate solar panels to power lighting and other needs, capitalising on the endless daylight hours of the Arctic summers to generate clean energy for their next incarnation.  LED lighting used in the hotels not only generates less heat (an obvious benefit when preserving ice!) but consumes less energy as well.

Many of the hotels contribute substantially to the local economy, providing employment opportunities, supporting local crafts and culture, and showcasing local produce in their restaurants.  They provide an opportunity for guests to discover and appreciate an extraordinary but fragile part of our world.  There is always a balance to be struck and you’ll have to draw your own conclusions about each organisation’s commitment to corporate responsibility of course but there is plenty of eco merit at many of the ice hotels. 

Illuminated wooden chalet-style building with snow covered roof and edge of snow building with colourfuly illuminated snow art sculpture in between and view of snow covered trees and lake in background beyond at end of sunset.

Buildings & Sculptures at Finland’s Arctic SnowHotel ©Hannah Bartlett www.jollyfestive.com

Looking for more inspiration?

And be sure to check out our Top Christmas Holiday Destinations – whether you’re looking to lean into the festivities or escape from them entirely, we’ve got a magical Christmas vacation idea for everyone!

Thinking about taking a trip to an ice hotel?  Hopefully we’ve helped answer your questions before visiting.  Comment below if you’d like to know anything else.  And if you’ve been to an ice hotel, be sure to let us know what you thought of the experience.  Where else is on your Christmas holiday wishlist?

MORE LIKE THIS: Travel

Share Your Creations!

Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram @jollyfestive. And be sure to tag #jollyfestive in your photos.  We love to see which Christmas activities you’ve been enjoying!