Spending (Most of) the Night at Quebec’s Ice Hotel

When I had the recent opportunity to stay at Québec’s Hôtel de Glace, the only ice hotel in North America, I jumped at the chance.

The only problem with combining “jumping” and “ice”:

No matter how beautiful your surroundings, you’re bound to wipe out at least once.

Hôtel de Glace/Ice Hotel Québec, inspired by the famous ice hotel in Sweden, sits (temporarily) on a forest-rimmed plain just 30 minutes west of Québec City and 20 minutes from Jean Lesage International Airport (YQB). The hotel is generally open for about three months, from early January to late March.

Each year, the hotel is built anew: the project begins each year in early December and takes about 30 days to complete. The structure itself, a winding warren of bedrooms, a huge bar, a wedding chapel and an art exhibition space, is erected on a steel frame, assembled with a mix of synthetic snow and real ice and sculpted by a team of artists. Wandering through the ornately carved interior feels like being inside a piece of art nouveau. Every year, the theme is completely different; 2011’s theme is biodiversity, which has inspired carvings of everything from cactus flowers to towering trees to a small sea’s worth of fish.

You can drive or take a shuttle from Québec City and tour the Ice Hotel during the day and/or evening, but if you’re jonesing to test yourselves and make a night of it, please allow me to present the drill.

When you book a room at the Ice Hotel, you’re simultaneously booked into the nearby Four Points by Sheraton Québec, just in case you decide this experience isn’t for you. You can check into the Four Points by 3pm, leave any extra stuff, and return here in the morning. There’s a 24-hour shuttle between the Four Points and the Ice Hotel, or you can drive yourselves.

At the Ice Hotel site, there’s a mid-sized welcome center that holds a gift shop and, when necessary, a bus-full of waiting tour-takers. About 500 feet away is the hotel structure, adjacent to a little sugar shack (I’m pretty sure it’s against the law not to have one at every major site in eastern Canada, but don’t quote me on that) and a big public building called Celsius. Inside Celsius: a prepared-foods café (never saw it open during my 16 ½-hour visit); a living room area; a small sauna/hot tub complex where you can hang out to your collective heart’s content; and men’s and women’s bathrooms.

These bathrooms are the only bathrooms in the Ice Hotel. But, um, more on that later.

My travel companion on this trip was my friend Mike, and we arrived at the Ice Hotel around 4pm to take our own private tour. We watched a laughing kid sail down the ice slide. We marveled at the Narnia-esque beauty of the ultra-romantic wedding chapel, where ice pews are laid with synthetic pelts. We saw every single one of the hotel’s 36 guest rooms, including the fancy couples’ suite with a high-tech, in-room gas fireplace and sauna. In the cathedral-ceilinged bar, we sipped sparkling maple cider from ice-carved glasses to the soothing strains of Lady Gaga, all while an LED-light show thumped in time with the bass.

Post-tour, we skedaddled to the Four Points’ Le Dijon restaurant for one of the longer dinners of our lives. The service was friendly and efficient (and our French meals quite tasty), but we were postponing the inevitable risk of sleeping in a hotel made of winter: being really, really cold.

We finally returned to the Ice Hotel in time to take our orientation session; several times during the evening, a staff member briefs guests on how to bed down at 25° F (-4° C). We were shown how to maneuver the (truly serious) sleeping bag they provide, strip carefully down to our non-cotton thermals, and store our clothes and electronics safely. The hotel’s site provides instructions on what to bring/wear/do, as well, but it’s still helpful to see a human being act out the full pantomime.

We chose to skip the saunas and steam rooms for two reasons: 1) we’d been warned that the slightest bit of residual moisture on our skin and hair could create ice crystals as we slept and 2) we forgot bathing suits. Instead, we popped a couple of over-the-counter sleep aids and joined a hushed, milling group near the living room area’s gas fireplace. The guests around us, mostly couples aged 25 to 65, were from across the globe and all had one thing in common: wondering why the super-canoodly couple stretched out across an entire couch didn’t, quite literally, get a room.

At midnight, Mike asked me if I was sure I didn’t want my Four Points room key out of his bag, just in case; I said no, determined not to wuss out. We took one last trip to the bathroom, high-fived with great solemnity, and trudged off to our respective suites.

Mine featured soft pink and purple LED lighting, a big snowy feather carving and a little carved snow-and-ice seating cove. Like every other room in the hotel, it had a platform bed made of ice topped with a fleece-wrapped boxspring mattress; as instructed, I laid out my sleeping bag on top of the bedcover and climbed up on the bed to undress. The cold-sensitive camera and iPhone went in the pockets of the shearling coat, which then folded up neatly in the bottom of the sleeping bag. One boot stuffed inside the other boot, joining the rest of my clothes in the sleeping bag’s carrying bag, until it was just me, my thermals, wool socks and the feeling of having swallowed snow.

When I was finally wrapped up in the microfiber sheet and zipped into my bag from head to toe, I leaned over to the edge of the bed and clicked off the light; now it was cold and dark. I wriggled ever deeper into my bag like a wild animal in a den, willing sleep to come, until—at last—it did.

But then came that old familiar feeling, fluttering at my eyelids and willing me towards the bathroom: I had to pee. And badly, too, that way you only have to go when you’re stuck in a meeting or a crowded subway car or, I don’t know, in the freezing cold. I put it off for as long as I could, but after all, the bladder wants what it wants. I had to unwrap myself from my sausage casing, put all my clothes back on, and find my way outside through the hotel’s maze of hallways, back to the public area.

While there, I greeted the night staff guy and saw that it was 5:10am. If I did manage to fall asleep back in my icy room, in approximately three hours I’d only be woken again; Ice Hotel rooms have to be vacated by 8am to prepare them for tour-group viewing by 10:30. So that decided it: beside the gas fireplace, I took off my boots, made a pillow of my scarf and hat, bedded down on a comfy leather sofa…and was out.

At 7:15, I awoke to find another young woman asleep on the couch across from me…and felt vindicated. I stretched, made myself a cup of hot cocoa, and journeyed outside to see the hotel in the pale morning light of the Québec countryside. The ground was packed solid and shiny by a night in negative temps, and I chose my steps carefully. Just past the sugar shack, I had just about made it back to the public building when whoosh—up I sailed. My hot chocolate sprayed in a perfect arc, as if shot through with a bullet. Down I slammed, hard. I blinked for a minute, patted at my limbs, realized I was okay and burst into tearful laughter.

I still can’t believe no one was around to witness Le Wipeout Chocolat.

Dragging myself back into the bathroom, I finally encountered two awake guests, a couple who’d spent the night in the sauna/fireplace suite. As I patted myself dry, these women told me how putting themselves and then their clothes in the sauna made for a more pleasant evening of sleep. They’d zipped their sleeping bags together, but on second thought wished they hadn’t: they actually ended up being a little too warm.

I emerged to find Mike in the living room, a little dazed. He’d had to get up in the middle of the night not once but twice, returning to his icy room each time. (That’s undressing and re-dressing, navigating outside and back in, not once, but twice.) Brave, intrepid and well, good for him for sticking with it.

I was glad to have had this (almost entirely) overnight experience, but won’t be doing it again…without Adam and that sauna/fireplace suite.

A tour is a fantastic idea, because you’ll rarely see a more fanciful structure. The last guided tour of the day is over by 4:30pm, but the hotel, open to the public until 10pm, is at its most beautiful in the evening; I loved exploring the chapel and then having an ice cocktail at the bar amidst a colorful glow.

At present, the hotel has 36 bedrooms that can accommodate up to 80 overnight guests, but more rooms are being planned for the future. For more information on tour bookings, staying the night and special packages, please visit the Hôtel de Glace website.


My overnight stay was made kindly possible by the Hôtel de Glace


See also
Off to Québec
Québec Winter Carnival: Vive Bonhomme!
Québec City: French for “Canadian”
TWT Travel Binder: Québec


  1. What a great post! I am so envious that you got to experience this – this is something I have always wanted to do (and someday we will). I love that you made it all the way to 5:00 a.m. – that’s probably better than most.

  2. Thanks, Akila! I can now hold my head high…and not have to wear two hats and a scarf while I do it. 🙂

  3. Hey! Your site is blue. To match the Ice Hotel post? 😉

  4. My site is blue because @hopandjaunt just spruced it up for me — the new look is just debuting today!

  5. Very cool accommodations.:)

    I love all the lighting effects.

  6. Great post, fabulous photos, and excellent decision to not get in the tub! I stayed at the Hotel de Glace a few years ago, back when it was further away from Quebec City, and it was both wonderful and “oh-my-gawd-why-are-we-doing-this-are-we-insane?” painful. Yet, strangely, I’d be willing to do it all over again.

    If you’re interested, I just wrote a blog post last week about it, based on what we did wrong: http://tammyburns.wordpress.com/2011/02/07/how-to-survive-a-night-in-an-ice-hotel/

  7. @Tammy, your post is brilliant — thank you! I imagine we both feel much wiser now…you know, in hindsight. 🙂

  8. Thanks for sharing. I dont think that we are that brave! The pics make my teeth chatter!

  9. What an experience! We would love to stay in an ice hotel just for the novelty sake although, yes, i can see that getting to/from the bathroom could be challenging.

  10. This is SO SO SO SO badass!
    It is on my bucket list to stay in an ice hotel 🙂

    Another cool note – I’m not too big on cruises, but on some of the bigger ships they’ve added ice bars! They supply the coats since when you’re in the carribbean you don’t typically bring a North Face haha 😛

  11. What a cool post, literally! At least staying at this hotel is certain to make for a memorable experience, right. And you sure don’t need a mini-fridge in the room.


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