Forget what you said about that beach vacation because this winter you’ll want to chill out in these spots.
One reason to travel during winter is to view artsy attractions on ice. From China to Minnesota, these whimsical beauties run the gamut of “water slides” to hotels you can check into for the night, proving that ice is a new medium for creatives and a reason to share on your Instagram feed. You’ll want to book your visits to these spots soon, though, before they melt come spring. And don’t forget to pack a warm jacket and wool socks. Chilly temps are the norm—as any Northerner knows—when you’re in an icy environment.
Top Picks for You
Hôtel de Glace (Ice Hotel)
WHERE: Charlesbourg, Quebec, Canada
Since opening in 2001, the notion of paying $300+ to sleep in a sleeping bag on a block of ice has attracted many, many bookings to this 42-room unique lodging option. Only open during the winter months, it’s constructed in the same location every year, five kilometers from Quebec City. Theme suites (including one with a carved owl above the bed) go above and beyond what you’d expect. The resort-level experience includes Aroma Spa and an ice-skating rink, plus hot tubs and saunas outdoors.
INSIDER TIPCome winter, the Old Port Farmer’s Market along the waterfront in Quebec City stays open, serving cheese, ice cider, ice wine, and other treats.
Magic Ice Bar
WHERE: Oslo, Norway
This isn’t the world’s only ice bar but what makes Magic Ice Bar in downtown Oslo cool—pun intended—is that the LED lighting makes it feel like a nightclub, and the sculptures of animals and human figures look like they were carved by pros. Drinks are served in glasses carved from ice to help keep them chilled. This is thoughtfully included in the NOK 195 (about US$23) admission price along with a cozy poncho and gloves so you don’t freeze your butt off.
Aurora Ice Museum
WHERE: Fairbanks, Alaska
On the grounds of Chena Hot Springs Resort—a great spot to warm up post-visit—is Aurora Ice Museum, celebrating its 14th anniversary this winter. Constructed from about 1,000 pounds of ice and snow, the attraction claims it is the world’s largest year-round ice environment. (That’s right: it never melts, not even during the Midnight Sun.) Upon entering this igloo-meets-church building, you are handed a parka. Appletinis served in an ice glass run $15, the same price as admission.
INSIDER TIPYou’re so close to the town of North Pole—like 90-minutes close—that you really should go. The town goes all out for Christmas, of course.
Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center
WHERE: Fort Washington, Maryland
Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center is always reinventing itself every season and holiday. Winter is no exception. That’s when the family-friendly resort rolls out four two-story-tall ice slides as well as 40 ice sculptures (its carvers hail from Harbin, China), protected at a temperature of 9 degrees Fahrenheit. You don’t need to be a guest to experience this interactive spectacle, which costs $24-$32 per person and includes the story of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” There’s even a nativity scene carved from ice.
WHERE: Neustift im Stubaital, Austria
Below the Stubai Glacier, this ice grotto in Austria’s Tyrol region is an intimate spot back-lit in a pretty blue due to the glacier’s natural color. The entrance fee is not too expensive (6 euros for adults and three euros for kids between 10 and 18 years of age). Because it’s reachable by foot on a 10-minute hike, definitely wear sturdy shoes so you don’t slip and fall before you’ve even immersed yourself in the cave’s beauty.
INSIDER TIPVisiting during November or December? Innsbruck’s many Christmas markets are a festive experience.
Ice Village Manchester
WHERE: Manchester, Great Britain
Celebrating its first year in 2018, Ice Village has the esteemed honor of being the first ice attraction in the United Kingdom, which is somewhat hard to believe given its cool winter climate. All in one spot are an Ice Cavern (huskies and polar bears carved from ice), Ice Rink, Arctic Huts (heated private huts you can rent), and Arctic Bar (not just a place for adults to drink, it’s also kid-friendly). Santa greets visitors in his very own grotto, too.
INSIDER TIPMake sure your smartphone is charged because you can actually snap a selfie that looks like you are trapped in a block of ice.
WHERE: Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Gatlinburg is often linked to Great Smoky Mountains National Park but we bet you never thought it’s also where you go to play ice bumper cars. This is basically like a lazy river on ice. (You’re in a tube outfitted with controls on an ice rink.) Ober Gatlinburg transforms into a winter wonderland between Thanksgiving and Easter, thanks to snow-making machines. While the slopes are fun, the ice bumper cars are even better.
Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival
WHERE: Harbin, China
Harbin, China, is where all the best ice carvers learn their craft. As the world’s biggest winter festival, Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival is actually four separate theme parks, including Wanda Ice Lantern World (ice lanterns) and Harbin Ice and Snow World (see lit ice buildings and ice sculptures here).
INSIDER TIPThis is the coldest city in China during winter so pack appropriately. There’s a reason why Harbin is nicknamed “Ice City.”
WHERE: Excelsior, Minnesota
Located on the shores of Lake Minnetonka in this Twin Cities ’burb, Ice Castles—hosted in several cities each winter since 2011, including this one—is like going to the theater due to all the many events surrounding it. In addition to walking inside the castles, you can view fire performances Friday and Saturday nights and take photos alongside Enchanted Frozen Sisters (princesses) during the day on Saturday and Sunday.
INSIDER TIPHave young kids? Bring a sled because a stroller is just going to roll away from you.
Hotel of Ice
WHERE: Balea Lake, Romania
The more you walk around this icy resort, the more eye candy you see. First, there’s the Hotel of Ice and then there’s the church. And check out the Ice Restaurant and Bar, where you can dine by candlelight. This entire property is carved from ice. Each year is a new theme used to design each of the rooms. In 2018-19 it will be music.