Hôtel de Glace
The Hôtel de Glace (Ice Hotel) in Quebec is the first and only ice hotel in North America. It is rebuilt every year in December and lasts for just a three-month season. The month and a half building process requires 30,000 tons of specially formulated snow and 500 tons of ice. Those weary of cold weather should be wary—even the beds are made of ice.
Sapporo Ice Castle
Every year, ice artists from all over the world come to Sapporo a month in advance of the famous Sapporo Snow Festival to begin construction of elaborate ice castles and sculptures. The festival dates back to the 1950s, when high school students constructed six ice sculptures in Odori Park. Today, the festival plays host to more than 100 beautiful, frozen edifices.
Harbin Ice and Snow Festival
One of the four largest snow and ice festivals in the world takes place in Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang Province, in northeastern China. The monthlong celebration and showcase of icy architecture happens every January and boasts enormous buildings people can wander through, admiring the sheer size of these constructions—as well as how nice they look lit up!
The Ice Camp in Kitzsteinhorn, Austria, is a series of interconnected igloos that feature 60 tons of ice, an ice bar, ice lounge, sun deck with lounge chairs, and modern ice art for a totally unique après-ski experience... and for the brave out there, nearby igloos are available for a few nights' stay, cheese fondue dinner included!
Believe it or not, these ice castles in Midway, Utah, are manmade. Comprising nearly 20,000,000 pounds of ice, the castles are built entirely from icicles. Nearly 5,000 icicles are made each day and frozen in place by a healthy drenching in freezing water. Visitors are allowed to explore the castles—and, of course, take lots of photos sure to inspire Instagram-envy.
If the promise of bone-chilling sleep doesn't deter you, you can venture to the village of Ruka in remote northern Finland to rent an igloo for a night—a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You might guess the structures are built from blocks of ice, but they're actually formed by piling a thick layer of snow over an enormous inflated balloon. Once the walls are strong enough to support themselves, the balloon is deflated and a door is added.
Asahikawa Winter Festival
Coinciding with the Sapporo Snow Festival, the Asahikawa Winter Festival presents a collection of grand ice sculptures of its own; some are rumored to be the biggest in the world. The festivals aren't far from each other, so it's possible to visit both. We were drawn to this unusual sculpture, a replica of the Daisetsuzan Mountains, built for the 2011 celebration.
Ice Castle at the Rink
Every year, chefs at a nearby resort construct an ice castle on Lake Louise in British Columbia, Canada, to adorn their popular skating rink. Carved details accentuate the crisp, clear ice and provide an attractive backdrop for ice skaters (or those who prefer to ogle the unbelievable mountain scenery).
Every February, as part of their winter festival, the city of Saranac Lake, New York, erects a giant ice castle. Festival-goers are allowed to walk through the giant structure, considered the centerpiece of their cold-weather festival. As beautiful as it is, this ice castle becomes yet more stunning with the highlight of fireworks—several times a week!
National Geographic/ Mark Kurtz, My Shot
Since the 1920s, this 20-foot-tall ice castle has been built every winter by volunteers in Eagle River, Wisconsin. Twelve-inch-thick bricks are cut from a nearby lake and transported to the location in a process that takes nearly 700 man-hours. The castle's form varies slightly from year to year...usually growing larger.
Flickr.com ; Akahodag
Milk Carton Igloo
While not quite as grand as the others on our list, this colorful igloo earns points for ingenuity. Composed entirely of snow and colored ice blocks formed by milk cartons, this backyard project was taken on by a New Zealander visiting Canada, making it an international undertaking. This recycled igloo really shines at night when lit from the inside!
If you are interested in more unusual structures, consider:
Today's artificial Christmas trees are looking more lifelike than ever! Spring for an artificial Christmas tree this year, and you could save significant cash on your holiday decorating costs for years to come. Click through to see our top picks.