Every winter for the past three decades, Icehotel in Sweden has reinvented itself as a hotel and art exhibition made of ice and snow.
In the small Arctic village of Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, there's a hotel that's so cool, it's completely made out of ice and snow.
Icehotel is Sweden's answer to trendy hotels, and it's 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 colder months — December through April — the ice hotel is absolutely breathtaking. It's also the world's biggest luxury hotel of its kind. But it didn't start out that way.
Humble Beginnings Of Icehotel
In 1989, river rafter Yngve Bergqvist invited some ice sculptors to Torne River to lead an art workshop. Before long, they opened an igloo called Arctic Hall as an art gallery — with art made out of ice and snow. On a particularly 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 their experience that Bergqvist decided that a hotel made of ice would be a successful tourist attraction.
And so the hospitality hotspot, just north of the Arctic Circle, was born. Evolving from a relatively small igloo, the Icehotel has now become an elaborate resort composed of 55 rooms, a bar, a chapel, and a theater.
Now, the Icehotel hosts 70 weddings a year and is a popular place for viewing the magnificent northern lights.
What To Expect
Expect it to be cold, but not that cold. The hotel keeps the temperatures at approximately 23 degrees Fahrenheit within the rooms. Warm rooms are also available year-round for guests who need a break from the cold. Simmering hot saunas are an added bonus.
If you choose to stay in a cold room, you'll be sleeping on a bed of ice, but reindeer hides and an insulated sleeping bag will keep you wrapped in warmth. For a nightcap, you can take a stroll down to the Icebar, where bar patrons huddle in heavy coats. 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 the deluxe suites. So 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.
As for the artistic designs, Sweden's trademark minimalist aesthetic can be found almost everywhere throughout the hotel. The rooms, though gorgeous, do not employ much in the way of furnishings. The ice that surrounds you everywhere you look is the indisputable star of the show.
Alas, all good things must come to an 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 30 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 are the art suites of the Icehotel. Individually themed and hand-carved by artists from around the world, these suites are truly one of a kind.
Building Sweden's Ice Hotel
This enormous undertaking isn't so much a yearly process as it is a never-ending one. Each year, the first snow typically falls in October as the river begins to freeze. So November is usually the time when sculptors begin building the suites. But this is also the time when builders begin cultivating raw material for the next year's hotel. It's an incredibly intricate process.
First, a portion of the river measuring 14,000 square feet is sectioned off. The building team tends to this section like a garden, and no snow is allowed to accumulate on it. This ensures that the ice here grows deep into the still waters and that the snowfall doesn't harden on top.
Doing this also ensures the production of crystal-clear ice — with no bubbles or cracks. This naturally formed, glass-like material is what gives Icehotel its trademark pristine opulence.
By December, the entire river — which reaches depths of over 60 feet — is frozen solid. And so the cultivation of the perfect ice continues. By February and March, the river slowly begins to thaw. Luckily, this happens from the bed up. And this is when the harvesting of ice for the next year's hotel starts.
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 these cubes are lifted from the frozen river with a forklift. Approximately 5,000 tons of ice are harvested in this way.
The ice blocks sit in below-freezing warehouses until winter comes around. Then, a steel structure is erected for the hotel. Once the structure is in place, the hotel's floors and walls are crafted from "snice," a man-made mix of snow and ice. This "snice" is structurally stronger than sheer ice. It also does a great job of insulating the hotel throughout the season.
Add in the artistic vision, and there you have it. Until April, that is.
After seeing the astounding Icehotel of Sweden, take a virtual tour of another Arctic hotel in Norway. Then, check out these photos from Oymyakon, Russia, the coldest populated city on Earth.