Photo: Hôtel de Glace

Everything to Know About Ice Hotels, From Staying Warm to Using the Toilet

Ski and Snow Outdoor
by Melissa McGibbon Apr 10, 2024

ever dreamed of staying in a hotel made entirely of shimmering, glistening ice? Whether your vision is one of Elsa’s ice palace or more of a Viking Valhalla-type getaway, an overnight stay in a fairytale winter chateau will delight your inner penguin.

But if you’ve never stayed in an ice hotel before, you may have some questions about how it works. Here’s everything you need to know, from the scoop on ice hotel toilets to what happens if you get too cold at night.

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Where are the ice hotels?

Sweden is home to the world’s oldest and largest ice hotel (the Jukkasjärvi Ice Hotel, first built in 1989), and there are impressive ice hotels in Finland and Norway. But there’s no need to travel as far as the Scandinavian Lapands if you live in the states. Just head north to Canada’s only ice hotel: the Hôtel de Glace in Quebec. It’s North America’s only ice hotel and about 20 minutes from Québec’s city center on the grounds of the Valcartier Hotel.

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How are ice hotels made?

A sclupted chess set at Hôtel De Glace

Photo: Hôtel De Glace Ice Hotel in Québec

According to the team at the Hôtel de Glace, it takes 30,000 to 40,000 tons of snow and roughly 500 tons of ice to make the ephemeral architectural wonder. Each snowtel takes about six weeks to construct and is first built with metal frames that are later removed once the ice is frozen into place and stabilized. The hotels become a freestanding icy auberge, complete with sculptures, chandeliers, and other features like discotheques, chapels, and all-ages slides and interactive areas.

What’s the one thing guests should know before booking?

If you ignore basically everything else about ice hotels, pay attention to the packing list. According to Catherine Dumont, who works in marketing at the ice hotel in Quebec, staying at an ice hotel is a once-in-a-lifetime experience — so long as you pack accordingly. “If you read our instructions and follow our guidelines carefully, you won’t get cold, and it could be one of the best nights you could ever have.”

But in case you do get cold, you probably have an easy opt-out. When booking a room at Hôtel de Glace, you’re also booking a room at the partner hotel. It can be used for the private bathroom (since ice hotel toilets aren’t really a thing), as luggage storage, or as a bail-out option if you get too cold in the middle of the night.

Stays that don’t come with an accompanying room will always have 24-hour access to a cozy heated space, like at the IceHotel in Sweden. Guests have access to a warm communal space with showers, saunas, and places to hang out that aren’t well below freezing.

Hotels always give guests tips about what to pack for a successful stay.

How cold is it?

A bedroom (minus the ice hotel toilet) at Quebec's Hôtel De Glace

Photo: Hôtel De Glace

The temperature of your frozen flat hovers between 23-27 degrees Fahrenheit, so you’ll want to leave everything you’re not wearing to bed in your other hotel room (or warm storage space). Make sure you have some kind of case on your phone to protect it from drops and ice if you plan on texting in bed.

Most hotels will have a bag or storage area to keep your outer layers warm and dry since you likely won’t want to sleep in your puffy jacket. And since you may not have a phone, or it may die, staff will always offer in-person wake-up calls (outside your door). Guests usually have to clear out by mid-morning as most ice hotels do tours during the day — no late check-outs here.

By the way, speaking of doors: some ice hotels have proper hotel-style doors, while others have accordion-style doors with slightly less noise buffering. Because the hotels are small and not exactly a top spot for partying, you usually have plenty of privacy regardless.

Is there entertainment?

Ice Bar at the A sclupted chess set at Hôtel De Glace (but don't drink too much - there are no ice hotel toilets!)

Photo: Hôtel De Glace

Most ice hotels have ice bars and restaurants on the property. There’s free entertainment every night at the ice hotel in Quebec at the appropriate named La Niege — French for “snow.” On some nights, guests can make their own ice glass for the complimentary cocktail that comes with every overnight stay. Be sure to bring waterproof gloves with you when visiting your ice hotel’s bar. And while most bars have fur seat covers, it doesn’t hurt to wear ski pants (or otherwise waterproof pants) in case all the covered seats are taken.

Do you do anything to prepare for the cold?

Why yes, yes you do. Most hotels encourage guests to take advantage of a Nordic relaxation routine, similar to a nordic spa. The idea of the Nordic relaxation routine is to raise your body temperature before sleeping in the cold so you stay warm and cozy through the night. You’ll want to have a good, long soak and sauna session before changing into your jammies and heading to bed. Every ice hotel has a sauna and steam rooms for guests as it’s an essential part of the experience.

What’s the deal with ice hotel toilets?

There isn’t any running water in ice hotel rooms, but there are always nearby bathrooms with flush toilets should nature call in the middle of the night. But don’t expect an all-ice hotel to have indoor plumbing. It’s a good idea to refrain from drinking too much the night of your stay, lest you deal with the ado of entering and exiting your arctic cocoon in the night.

Photo: man pouring champagne at an ice hotel bar (where there are no ice hotel toilets, just regular toilets)

Photo: Hôtel de Glace

When is the best time to go?

As just about anyone could figure out, ice hotels are only open during the winter. Some are available as early as December, and nearly all are razed by the end of March. You’ll want to plan ahead and book your stay early so you can get the specific night you want. Ice hotels usually have no more than 40 or so rooms and tend to be popular.

Do you have to spend the night?

If you don’t want to stay the night at the ice hotel, you can always take a daytime tour of the property. Themes change each winter, so the artwork and sculptures are different every year. Tickets usually cost around $60 for a day tour (versus $400-$600 for a one-night stay). If you do spend the night, plan on just one night in the actual ice room. Sleeping there lowers your overall body temperature, and it’ll be much harder to stay warm on any subsequent nights.

Is there anything else to do, or is it just about sleeping on ice?

Sleeping on a reindeer fur-clad ice bed is part of the experience at most ice hotels, but it’s not the whole thing. Most ice hotels are part of larger year-round resorts that offer everything from snowmobiling and snowshoeing to ice carving or gourmet restaurants.

According to Dumont of the Hôtel de Glace, many guests think the experience is just the hotel. “But people might want to spend at least an extra night to experience the whole resort. We have a large winter playground with snow slides, a huge indoor waterpark, and our regular hotel with a spa. We recommend not to spend more than one night (per getaway) at Hôtel de Glace, but we have our regular hotel to book extra nights.”

Q: Anything else to know before booking?

Sunset outside the ice hotel in Quebec, the Hôtel De Glace

Photo: Hôtel De Glace

The properties are exceptionally remarkable in the daytime, but they truly ooze romance and beauty when lit up at night. Seeing the features illuminated makes the whole experience even more magical. So try to arrive early to give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the grounds before you tuck in for the night.

What to pack for an ice hotel stay

Your hotel will always provide a specific packing list and preparation guide with recommendations for what to wear for your below-freezing stay.

Good jacket for an ice hotel - Nuuk

Photo: Fjällräven

As a general rule, you’ll want a clean base layer made from a moisture-wicking, non-cotton fabric. Thicker options from brands like IceBreaker or SmartWool will be a good choice. You’ll also want a very warm insulated jacket. If you’re staying in an ice hotel as part of a longer cold-weather trip, it may be worth it to spring for a high-quality down jacket you can wear year after year. Consider high-end options like the Skogso Jacket (mens) or the Nuuk Insulated Parka (for women) from Fjällräven or the packable Cerium Down Jacket from Arc’teryx (women’s here), which stuffs into its own pocket to save space in your luggage.

Bring warm small accessories — thick socks, a beanie, and warm gloves like you’d wear to ski in. You may also want ski pants (or a suitable waterproof alternative). Look at the Columbia Bugaboo Pant (for men and women) if you want a budget-friendly, size-inclusive pair.

Footwear-wise, you’ll want a thick, warm boot, plus a pair of slides you can easily slip on and off for the Nordic relaxation routine. And since ice is not very forgiving, you’ll probably want a cold-weather phone case. The Lifeproof Fre is a reliable, durable choice. Finally, most hotels recommend avoiding metal jewelry as it tends to get quite cold.

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