Ice castles are a marvelous sight. Not as ephemeral as sandcastles, they are nevertheless works of art that won’t last. When temperatures rise, these works of love will simply melt away, until the next winter when the tireless ice sculptors will start all over again. There are two, however, that are in such cold places, they will not melt. From the U.S. to Finland and China, ice castles delight locals and travelers alike around the globe. And it’s not just the structure you can explore, there are tunnels, slides, and festivals as long as the fun lasts. To give you a complete picture, we start with the castles that are open this winter and, in the end, mention those that have been open in past years. They are closed this winter but may well be reconstructed in the future. This is specifically the case with Canada. So, get your winter woolies ready and take your pick of destinations you might well want to visit this winter for a fabulous ice castle adventure.
1. Kemi Snow Castle – Lapland, Finland
Kemi is a town in the Finnish Arctic near the Gulf of Bothnia and famous for the Snow Castle and the Snow Experience365. It is the largest snow fort in the world and goes back to 1996 when UNICEF and the City of Kemi created it as a gift to the children of the world. It takes about 5 weeks to build the castle from 741,000 cubic feet of snow and every year it’s created with a different theme. But there is more to the Kemi Snow experience than the castle. There are restaurants, sea glass villas for accommodation, a trip on an icebreaker called Sampo, and, of course, sauna visits.
The attractions of Snow Experience are open year round, the snow castle opens again in January 2022 with a new theme. Kemi is easily reached from Helsinki, either on a 1.5-hour flight or by train. The train passes through Rovaniemi, where you can alight if you wish and visit the Santa post office.
2. JungfrauJoch Ice Palace — Switzerland
Located in the heart of the Swiss Alps, Jungfrau is one of the highest peaks. You reach it from Grindelwald by the Eiger Express gondola and from there with the Jungfrau train to Europe’s highest railway station. What awaits at the top, apart from breathtaking views of the other gigantic mountains, is the Ice Palace, carved out of the Aletsch glacier. It was originally created by mountain guides in the 1930s, using pickaxes to make a pass through the glacier. Nowadays, it’s skilled artists and ice sculptors using more sophisticated tools to create a palace that will leave you in awe. There are vaulted rooms, animal sculptures such as birds, ice furniture and even the floor is shiny ice. Needless to say, you need warm clothes and non-slip boots to wander through this ice wonderland. It’s open year round but make sure to check the timetable for the train. You don’t want to get stuck on a glacier at night.
3. Ice Castle Lake Geneva — Wisconsin
Ice castles in Wisconsin are a huge adventure and icy playground for the entire family. This one is located inside the Geneva National Resort & Club. The massive complex, entirely crafted by hand by stacking thousands of icicles that form daily together, contains slides, thrones, sculptures, manmade stalactites, and much more. It’s even more magical when illuminated at night. Accommodations are nearby, and this icy fairytale is reached via Highways 50 and 67. The ice castle opens in January 2022.
4. Harbin Ice Festival — China
Do you fancy a trip to China to visit the world’s largest ice festival? Harbin Ice Festival, located in Mongolia on the shore of the river Songhua, is a truly massive event. On 4,300 square feet, there are several handcrafted ice castles illuminated at night, as well as ice lantern parades, an ice and snow carnival, sled rides, and watching fishermen catching fish from the frozen river.
The festival lasts from 23 December 2021 to February 28, 2022. Organized tours from Beijing and other Chinese cities are available. Make sure to check visa and COVID requirements for China before booking your trip.
5. Saranac Lake Winter Carnival — Adirondacks, New York
The winter carnival on Pontiac Bay/Lake Flowers was first celebrated in 1898, when, as a center point, an ice palace was added. The huge structure was made from massive blocks of ice, pulled out of the lake, at the time, by horses and dragged up to a hill where they were painstakingly assembled into a palace. In modern times, the methods of bringing the ice blocks out of the frozen lake have become easier, but the final shaping is still a labor-intensive work of art by skilled ice sculptors. Of course, a palace needs a king and queen, therefore ice thrones were created inside the palace. In the past, the “royalty” were often celebrities, but now they are chosen from the citizens and reign over the carnival which, in 2022, lasts from the 4th to the 13th of February.
The same goes for the design of the palace. In past years, it was designed by famous architects, but, when that became too pricey, the locals took matters into their own hands. Although not trained architects, those with drawing and engineering skills, volunteered in the creation of their ice palace. The story has it they met in a restaurant and started drawing on paper napkins.
During the carnival, there are many activities and at the end, with fireworks, a slide show is projected onto the walls of the ice palace. The theme changes every year and in 2022, it’s Totally 80s. Expect a lot of fun if you decide to visit.
6. Ice Castle New Brighton — Minnesota
Another fabulous ice castle experience is already being prepared in the Long Lake Regional Park in Minneapolis. The New Brighton ice castle will be a spectacular structure with tunnels, caverns, towers, fountains, crawl spaces, and even an ice sculpture garden. Twenty artists are already busy getting it ready for the opening in January 2022. The park, by the way, is great family fun in the summer too.
7. Ice Castles Midway — Utah
Come to Midway, Utah, just 30 minutes drive from Park City for another amazing ice castle experience. There are several castles, or rather a castle complex, with a great variety of attractions to be enjoyed by the whole family. The huge structures are all handcrafted from thousands of icicles, and shaped into an arctic alcove, frozen waterfalls, an ice maze, crawl tunnels for those who aren’t claustrophobic, and plenty of artistic ice sculptures. Why not also indulge in a sleigh ride or whizz down several slides. It’s open in 2022 as long as temperatures are low enough. And the whole magic is illuminated in all colors of the rainbow.
8. Lincoln Ice Castle — New Hampshire
Loon Mountain Adventure Center is not far from North Woodstock in New Hampshire. From January 2022 until March (weather permitting) you can enjoy the marvelous Lincoln Ice Castle. Be awed by 50-foot-high walls, 63 ice towers, a frozen throne, and ice slides which you are free to use. In the evening, LED lights, frozen into the ice, bathe everything in a mysterious light.
9. An Ice Castle You Can Live In — Sweden
We have told you about ice castles and palaces around the world that are there for entertainment. But we couldn’t leave out a castle that is actually an ice hotel where you can spend a night or two. It’s located in the town of Jukkasjarvi in Sweden. The Ice Hotel that gets recreated every year features 100 suites, an outdoor sauna, restaurants, and bars, but no plumbing! Each room is different and carefully designed by artists. Everything is made from ice, even the drinking glasses, and the beds, but sleeping bags and animal furs keep you warm at night. The Ice Hotel, located 120 miles above the Arctic Circle, is a 10-minute ride from Kiruna airport and train station. If you book accommodations it will arrange a transfer by sleigh! Note: The hotel is cash-free.
Finally, we told you we would mention stunning ice castles that are closed this season but will eventually reopen in years to come.
They are Lake Louise, Alberta Canada; the winter carnival ice palace of Quebec, Canada; and the Ice Castles Edmonton. Dillon, Summit County, Colorado, is one of the few U.S. ice castles closed this season.
Check out these other cities with ice attractions: