Winter may be cold, but that doesn’t mean it’s not pretty. Every year, talented artists and craftsmen add to the season’s natural beauty by building incredible ice castles, seasonal structures that last only as long as the thermostat stays low. Whether created using complex sprinkler systems or carved by hand, these ice castles reach astonishing heights and are filled with frozen sculptures, slides, and even waterfalls. From Vermont to China, here are 10 amazing ice castles you can visit this winter.
By Annie Bruce
Stratton Ice Castle
WHERE: Sun Bowl Lodge, Stratton Mountain Resort, Vermont
Featuring tunnels, 31 towers, waterfalls, and arches that reach up to 20 feet in height, this acre-sized ice castle was constructed by “icicle farmers” from thr Utah-based company Ice Castles, which has been creating ice structures throughout the U.S. since 2009. Built using a patented sprinkler system, the Stratton Ice Castle took 17 days to “grow” and is open in the evenings for everyone to enjoy. Lights are frozen into the more than 20,000,000 pounds of ice used to construct the castle to brighten up your evening visit, while soothing music played over speakers adds to the ambiance.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Vermont Travel Guide
SnowCastle of Kemi
WHERE: Kemi, Finland
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the SnowCastle of Kemi is the biggest snow fort in the world. The castle is redesigned each year with a new theme but always contains a chapel, hotel, and restaurant. Located near the Gulf of Bothnia, the castle dates back to 1996, when it UNICEF and the City of Kemi created it as a gift to children around the world. The structure typically takes about five weeks to construct and is made up of more than 741,000 cubic feet of snow, sometimes reaching three stories in height. This year, there is a new SnowCastle Anniversary Exhibit, where visitors can look back at the tradition’s evolution.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Finland Travel Guide
Lincoln Ice Castle
WHERE: Lincoln, New Hampshire
Double the size of last year’s New Hampshire ice castle at the Loon Mountain Adventure Center (also created by Ice Castles), the Lincoln Ice Castle is made up of towering 50-foot walls, a frozen throne, 63 ice towers, and an ice slide that visitors are welcome to try. In the evening, LED-lights frozen into the ice create a glow around the acre-sized castle.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s New Hampshire Travel Guide
Jungfraujoch Ice Palace
WHERE: Jungfraujoch, Switzerland
Travel by electric railway and high-speed lift to reach the secluded Jungfraujoch Ice Palace (or Eispalast), which is open year-round to visitors. Located in the Swiss Alps, the Jungfraujoch is the highest railway station in Europe, making its ice castle among the highest in the world. Created from the Aletsch Glacier, the palace features animal sculptures, vaulted rooms, and ice-furniture—even the floor is made of ice!
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Berner Oberland Travel Guide
Eden Prairie Ice Castle
WHERE: Eden Prairie, Minnesota
Located just outside of Minneapolis, Eden Prairie Ice Castle's construction was delayed due to an unprecedented heat wave in the area, but now the ice castle is up and ready for an estimated 50,000–70,000 visitors. Ice Castles, LLC “grew” a similar structure two years ago next to the Mall of America, but this new location gives the creators a chance to incorporate more slides and water elements. With 20-foot towers and a series of tunnels to explore, the ice castle is a must-see to make Minnesota winters a little more fun.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Minneapolis-St. Paul Travel Guide
Harbin Ice Festival
WHERE: Harbin, China
As the largest ice festival in the world, the Harbin Ice Festival features a number of expertly crafted ice castles. Located on the bank of the Songhua River, the entire Ice and Snow World theme park spans more than 4,305 square feet. The festival itself dates back to 1985 and features sculptures, slides, and plenty of ice castles (designs are illuminated at night) to keep you entertained during your visit.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s China Travel Guide
Saranac Lake Winter Carnival Ice Palace
WHERE: Saranac Lake, New York
Constructed using ice from the nearby Pontiac Bay on Lake Flower, the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival Ice Palace is a crucial part of the annual festival. The tradition dates back to 1898, when an Ice Palace was first added to the festival, and continued at many of the carnival celebrations throughout the 1900s. In past years notable architects have designed the structure (including Michael L. Bird and Max Westoff), but now local community members meet to map out and build the castle based on the year’s Winter Carnival theme. Be on the lookout for “IPW 101,” (International Palace Workers Union 101) which, due to unknown origins, is written using slush on one of the castle’s walls each year. In the past, the castles have been built as large as 60 feet tall, 90 feet long, and 30 feet wide using mostly two-by-four blocks of ice.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s The Adirondacks and Thousand Islands Travel Guide
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise
WHERE: Lake Louise, Alberta
Constructed with giant blocks of ice, this Ice Castle on the Lake Louise ice rink is the perfect backdrop for skating. Located on the Victoria Glacier with the Rocky Mountains in the background, you’ll feel like royalty as you skate through and around the castle, which is illuminated in the evening.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Alberta Travel Guide
The White Pines Cottage Resort
WHERE: Calabogie, Ontario
After last year’s inaugural ice castle, which developed out of a corporate team-building session, members of The White Pines are hoping to continue the success with an even bigger and better structure this year. Built using chainsaws and ice tongs, last year’s castle was 30 feet by 20 feet and featured two turrets. More than 800 blocks of ice from Black Donald Lake were used to create the structure. As part of the process, resort guests can help make the ice castle during the building period, which takes a couple of weeks.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Ontario Travel Guide
Quebec Winter Carnival
WHERE: Québec City, Québec
Dating back to 1955, the Ice Palace has become a Québec Winter Carnival tradition. The structure is sometimes referred to as Bonhomme’s Palace, named after the carnival’s guest of honor the year the castle was first constructed. Last year’s structure was 40 feet tall and used approximately 300 tons of ice. And, of course, there’s a Bonhomme mascot roaming the crowds to take pictures with visitors inside his palace.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Québec City Travel Guide