How an Ice Hotel Works


Guests have a drink "in the rocks."
Guests have a drink "in the rocks."
Peter Grant/Getty Images

On the River Torne, 124 miles north of the Arctic Circle, sits the ICEHOTEL, the original large-scale, frozen destination hotel. The company that now runs ICEHOTEL began with summer river tourism -- whitewater rafting and nature hikes. In 1990, they built an igloo, the 197-square-foot Arctic Hall, as a venue for an art show.

Arctic Hall attracted extra visitors to Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, and one night, foreign tourists with reindeer skins and sleeping bags decided to sleep in the igloo. The tourists raved about their thrilling night and ICEHOTEL decided to create a working lodge for the next season.

Now ICEHOTEL boasts unique rooms, a starkly beautiful church and the ABSOLUT ICEBAR, where the bar and the glasses are all made from ice. During the day, the hotel opens to visitors who tour the rooms without staying the night. But at 6 p.m., the ice museum closes and overnight guests take over. They leave their luggage with a porter, who takes it to a heated storage area. Bathrooms and changing rooms are also heated. By 9 p.m., most people retire to their rooms. Guests wear long underwear and sleep in mummy bags on ice blocks covered by mattresses and reindeer skins.

The ICEHOTEL's design changes annually. The ICEHOTEL's design changes annually.
The ICEHOTEL's design changes annually.
Peter Grant/Getty Images

Hotel employees wake up guests with a cup of hot lingonberry juice -- that is, if the guests make it through the night. No, not like that; this isn't "Call of the Wild." Ice hotels avoid unfortunate incidents by creating nearby heated chalets and lodges for guests who can't get cozy and want a warm bed in the middle of the night.

The hotel actually encourages guests to combine warm and cold accommodations, passing their first night in the ICEHOTEL and relaxing in warmth for the rest of their stay. Plus, a room at the ICEHOTEL doesn't come cheap. Simple rooms start at about $169 with current exchange rates and go up to $800 for a package that also includes an ice sculpting class and airport transfer.

ICEHOTEL distinguishes itself with thrillingly transitory art -- all made from ice, of course. Every season, the hotel invites artists and designers to create the entryway, suites and public spaces. An Art and Design Jury reviews applicants' resumes and renderings and selects a group. Their designs have ranged from starkly modern crystalline halls to Seuss-like four-poster beds. The artistic directors and ICEHOTEL architect supervise technical issues and, because the hotel rebuilds annually, the designs are never the same.

In the next section, we'll visit an establishment in Quebec, Canada, and learn about igloos -- the forerunners of ice hotels.