Travel and Adventure

9 cosy ice hotels and igloos for a chill-out holiday

Don't forget your thermal socks for a stay at one of these glacial getaways. Monday, 10 December

By Meghan Miner Murray

Intrepid Arctic dwellers have comfortably weathered unforgiving winters in the northern latitudes for more than 5,000 years. The Inuit, Inupiat, and Yupik—who spend months at a time on pack ice amid a snowy terrain often devoid of trees—crafted insulated havens out of something that otherwise seems counterintuitive: snow and ice. Indeed, the shape and snowy composition of igloos help trap heat, and their insides can hover a toasty 40 to 60°F warmer than the surrounding air.

Taking cues from the ingenuity of these early Arctic abodes, hotels around the world have successfully tapped into our modern frozen fantasies and built incredible experiences to immerse us comfortably in the glory of winter. Eat on ice plates, sprawl out on a frozen bed atop furs like royalty, spend posh evenings in heated eco-luxury pods eating seasonal locavore cuisine, and witness the majesty of calving glaciers and swirling auroras.

If you’re ready to experience a true winter wonderland, consider booking a stay at one of these nine ice and igloo hotels around the world.

Borealis Basecamp, Alaska

While most Alaska visitors arrive in summer, Borealis Basecamp, tucked into a hundred private acres of black spruce and birch forest 25 miles north of Fairbanks, makes a solid case for a wintery foray. Ten domes, each with 16-foot-long, clear viewing roofs, provide a cozy hideaway and optimal viewing for the nearly nightly sky parade of the aurora borealis. The fiberglass habitats resemble those used by polar researchers, but feature heated interiors, private bathrooms and porches, and locally-sourced birch countertops and European-style interior design. Take an aurora photography seminar or dog sled excursion before tucking into a King Crab dinner in the dining yurt with views of the distant Wickersham Dome and the snowy White Mountains.

ICEHOTEL, Sweden

Each winter since 1989, the world’s longest running ice hotel earns its status by reincarnating itself using 5,000 tons of saw-harvested blocks from the frozen River Torne in Sweden. Ice artists fly in from around the world for the honor of carving its themed suites; this year’s 29th icy iteration has 35. “Guests can sleep inside a sweets shop among giant lollipops, watch a thousand Arctic Terns playfully fly above the bed, or glamp in the depths of the woods,” says hotel representative Beatrice Lind. A new adjacent, permanent structure is home to year-round winter: Solar panels keep an ice bar, art gallery, and 20 more themed ice suites frozen even in cloudberry season.

Hotel of Ice Balea Lake, Romania

The Hotel of Ice Balea Lake sits at a cool 6,500-foot altitude on the shores of a glacial lake in Romania. It’s recreated each December from ice harvested offshore. Though the popular Transfagarasan—a winding road through the southern Carpathian peaks—is nearby, the route is closed to traffic in winter and the hotel’s only access is by cable car. When they’re not nestled into thick sleeping bags, guests can enjoy snowmobile rentals, snow rafting, banana tubing, or guided trekking from the surrounding Winter Park. In the evening, a four-course dinner is served in the onsite ice restaurant where everything except the cutlery and cuisine is made from frozen water.

Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel, Norway

The Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel, constructed anew in Norway each year, boasts 26 bedrooms, four themed suites, an ice chapel, and an ice bar, just outside the world’s northernmost inhabited city. Built by as many as 30 local workers and artists, ice walls in this year’s 20th anniversary seasonal hotel are chiseled with popular scenes from igloo hotels past: Vikings, trolls, and local Alta Valley wildlife. Guests slumber in sleeping bags on ice beds topped with mattresses and reindeer hides. During dark days, take a snowmobile safari to explore the Finnmark plateau, or head to a traditional lavvo (tent) via reindeer-drawn sled to learn about Sami culture.

Whitepod Eco-Luxury Hotel, Switzerland

At the foot of the Dents-du-Midi range, at the start of the Swiss Alps, Whitepod Eco-Luxury Hotel is the place to go for family friendly igloos with a view. Set on a slope at 4,600-foot elevation, themed pods have stylings that range from futuristic (black and white leather furnishings) to forest-y (birch trunks surround the bed). Available throughout the year, all are comfortably heated by pellet stoves and have exterior panels that change seasonally to blend in with Switzerland's landscape. In winter, kids will love a snowshoe trek guided by young sleigh dogs, and parents will appreciate the warming sauna and massage options. [Reserve your spot on a National Geographic Private Expedition to Switzerland.]

Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, Finland

Along the road to the Arctic Sea near Urho Kekkonen National Park (Finland’s largest), dozens of two and four-person glass igloos, arranged for optimal northern light viewing, glow in neat rows amid Lapland forest. Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort’s large property also boasts 84 cozy Lapland Kelo-pine log cabins built with glass igloo domes, traditional kammi, or earthen accommodations with turf roofs, an art gallery hosting works by members of the Lapland Artists’ Association, five traditional smoke saunas, and an ice swimming spot.

Hotel Igloo Grandvalira, Andorra

Like many ice hotels, Hotel Igloo Grandvalira, shape-shifts each year. Some years the hotel has few rooms, in others, elaborate icy corridors connect a series of guestrooms to outdoor jacuzzies. Occasionally, the hotel even moves locations, but it’s always within the large ski resort of Grandvalira. Last year, it featured five guestrooms with popular artworks from Andorra’s Museu Carmen Thyssen recreated in ice. For the 2018/2019 winter season, the hotel is forgoing overnight accommodations altogether to focus on an ice restaurant offering a three-course Andorran feast with dishes such as cod gratin with garlic muslin, escudella soup, and Catalan duck leg, all served on ice.

White Desert Antarctica’s Whichaway Basecamp, Antarctica

Though Antarctica lacks hotels, the cozy igloos that comprise Whichaway Basecamp for White Desert Antarctica’s luxury expeditions replicate the creature comforts of other less remote resorts. Sure, Wi-Fi can be hard to come by on the White Continent, and there’s certainly no infinity pool, but the outfitter’s six heated fiberglass igloos resting at the foot of a glacier do have wood floors, writing desks, modern bathrooms with vessel sinks, and plush faux fur bedding. Other camp pods house the reception, a library and lounge with a wood-burning stove, and a luxury dining room. It’s all tucked into the Schirmacher Oasis, an icy plateau that hosts the continent’s Indian and Russian science bases, and where guests often see breeding pairs of Adelli penguins. The only way to stay is with a tour booking; arrivals are by private jet departing from Cape Town.

Hotel Arctic, Greenland

While many global ice hotels and igloos have boreal forest or mountain landscape views, five igloos in northern Greenland get a front row seat to a steady stream of massive icebergs. The aluminum, two-person habitats are part of the Hotel Arctic, and sit at the end of a wooden bridge overlooking Disko Bay, the outlet for UNESCO World Heritage Ilulissat Ice Fjord, one of the fastest moving and most active glaciers in the world. Not only are iceberg sightings virtually guaranteed—each year the glacier calves an estimated 35 cubic kilometers of ice into the waters fronting the igloos—the accommodations aren’t bad either. Each has a double bed, minibar, flat-screen TV, writing desk, and a bathroom with a shower. Dinner in the hotel restaurant completes the immersive experience; expect exotic local proteins such as musk-ox, sea urchin, and Arctic hare and herbs including sheep sorrel, knot weed, and knotted pearlwort.

Meghan Miner Murray is a freelance travel writer and contributing researcher with National Geographic Traveler magazine and has fond memories of the blustery northern Michigan winters while she lives and works on the tropical Big Island of Hawaii. Follow her on Instagram @meghanminermurray.