Icehotel: Sweden’s Coldest Hotel Reinvents Itself Every Year

Published February 18, 2015
Updated August 5, 2020
Published February 18, 2015
Updated August 5, 2020

Sweden's IceHotel hosts 70 weddings a year and is a hotspot for viewing the Aurora Borealis.

Ice Hotel Entrance
Banished Dragon Art Suite
Main Area Ice
Local Artists Design Art Suites in Ice Hotel
Icehotel: Sweden’s Coldest Hotel Reinvents Itself Every Year
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In the small, Arctic village of Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, there's a hotel that's so chill, it's made completely from ice.

Icehotel is Sweden's answer to boutique hotels, and it is rebuilt with snow and ice every single year. When the weather turns to spring, the hotel melts back into the waters that brought it to life: the Torne River.

A seasonal operation by necessity, during the frozen months — December through April — the ice hotel is absolutely breathtaking. It is the world's biggest luxury hotel made entirely of ice and snow.

However, due to the nature of the ice hotel, while you're staying in one during say, March, ice for the next year's model is already being harvested.

Humble Beginnings Of The Ice Hotel

In the late 1980s, river rafter Yngve Bergqvist invited some ice sculptors to Torne River to lead an art workshop for sculptors from northern Sweden. Before long, an igloo called Arctic Hall opened as an art gallery — with art created out of of ice and snow. On a cold night, one adventurous group of visitors asked if they could stay overnight in the igloo.

They got the okay — and the next day, they had so many good things to say about the experience that Bergqvist decided perhaps a hotel made of ice would be a successful tourist attraction.

Icehotel Entrance

Markus Bernet/Wikimedia Commons
Entrance to the Icehotel.

And so the hospitality hot spot, just north of the Arctic Circle, was officially born in 1990. Evolving from a relatively small igloo, the Icehotel has now become a full-featured hotel composed of 55 rooms, a bar, a chapel, and a movie theater.

Now, the Icehotel hosts 70 weddings a year and is a hotspot for viewing the Aurora Borealis.

What To Expect

Expect it to be cold, but not that cold. The hotel keeps the temperatures approximately 23 degrees Fahrenheit inside the rooms. Saunas and warm rooms are available for guests who need to shake the chill.

You'll be sleeping on a bed of ice, yes... but reindeer hides and an insulated sleeping bag will keep you wrapped in warmth. Take a stroll down to the Icebar, where bar patrons huddle in heavy coats, hats, and mittens. Order a drink, and it will arrive in a glass made of ice. What more would you expect from an ice hotel?

Note: There are no bathrooms in the cold rooms, except for deluxe suites. If you have to use the restroom in the middle of the night, you'll likely need to venture to the heated service building, which is open 24/7.

Sweden's trademark minimalist aesthetic is evident almost everywhere. The rooms, though gorgeous, do not employ much in the way of furnishings. The ice that surrounds you everywhere you look is the star of the show.

Sweden Ice Hotel

Stephan Herz/Wikimedia Commons
Inside the Icehotel.

Alas, all good things must end when the weather warms up. Ulrika Hellby, who helps build the hotel each year, says "It's a strange feeling to wander the ruins of the hotel, it feels like yesterday that temperatures were minus thirty degrees Celsius and the hotel was about to open for the season, but now it is almost gone—completely still except for the sound of water dripping."

Perhaps the toughest rooms for people to say goodbye to might be the famous art suites of the Icehotel. Individually themed and hand-carved by artists commissioned from around the world, these art suites are truly one of a kind.

Building An Ice Hotel

This enormous undertaking isn't so much a yearly process as a never-ending one. The first snow typically falls in October as the river begins to freeze. November is usually when the building of the suites begins. It's also the time when builders begin cultivating raw material for the next year's hotel.

A section of the river measuring 14,000 square feet is measured out. The building team tends to it like a garden. No snow is allowed to accumulate on it. This ensures that the ice here grows deeper into the still waters, rather than hardening any snowfall left on top.

Doing this also produces crystal-clear ice — with no bubbles or cracks. This naturally formed, glass-like ice is what gives Icehotel its trademark pristine opulence.

By December, the entire river — which reaches depths of over 60 feet — is frozen solid. The tending and cultivating the perfect ice continues. In February and March, the river slowly begins to thaw. Luckily, this happens from the bed up. Now is when the harvesting of ice for the next year's hotel starts — when the ice is three feet thick.

The team cuts through the ice using a vertical saw that sits on a front-end loader. It's a tool specially designed for the difficult task of creating giant ice cubes. Each cube weighs in at almost two tons, and they're lifted from the frozen river with a forklift. Approximately 5,000 tons of ice are harvested this way.

The ice blocks sit in sub-freezing warehouses until winter comes again. Then, a steel structure is erected for the hotel, and the floor and walls are made from "snice," a man-made mix of snow and ice. "Snice" is structurally stronger and melt-resistant than sheer ice, and it insulates the hotel better, too.

Add in the ice from the cubes and the artistic vision, and there you have it. Until, April, that is.

Next, take a virtual tour of another Arctic hotel in Norway. Then, check out these photos from Oymyakon, Russia, the coldest populated city on Earth.

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