Welcome to Quebec City’s Ice Hotel, a magical ephemeral place where rooms adorned with ice and glittering sculptures combine to create a unique experience.
What is the famous ice hotel in Quebec? Essentially, the world’s largest igloo
This ice hotel isn’t doing much to dispel the myth that Canadians live in igloos. But it’s not trying to. If the world wants to believe that, then Quebec City will build the mother of all igloos. An architectural marvel carved out of 35,000 tonnes of snow, 500 tonnes of ice and a whole lot of whimsy.
I’m not going to lie, I’m nervous about spending the night here. Despite my Canadian pedigree, I chill easily. And it turns out, you can’t just go about your stay willy-nilly. There are rules. There are guides. There’s an instructional video.
For five minutes, I watch a film in which a young lady at the ice hotel shows me what to bring, what to wear, all the different positions in which to arrange my boots (there are five) and how to sleep in a sleeping bag in a way that makes me feel like I’ve been camping wrong all my life.
By the time the video ends, I have questions. Lots of them. Like where’s the TV in the room? And the door? And the bathroom? A lovely guide who speaks French distorted by an Australian accent answers them all. There’s no TV. No door (just a curtain). No bathroom (there are chemical toilets outside).
Entering a magical world
It’s finally time to enter the ice hotel. I walk through its wing-shaped doors and into a big top. An ice trapeze artist is frozen mid-swing from the high ceiling. A wizard in a pointed hat and cape peeks from behind a billowing snowy curtain. A guffawing clown in a joker hat threatens to leap out of the snowy wall. Every year, the ice hotel is built anew, with a playful design. This year’s theme is the circus.
I feel like Alice, fallen down the rabbit hole into a wonderland inhabited by over-the-top characters that would shame the Mad Hatter.
I head to the ice bar. The constant crunch of snow under trampling boots makes me feel like I’m in a Rice Krispies bowl. I order the Ski-Doo Accident cocktail. It comes with a twig— evidence of the tree you hit in the accident. I linger by the fireplace, which I fear might melt the whole place to the ground with a single stray spark. I whoosh down the ice slide. When I can no longer chase away sleep, I head to my room.
Stepping out of my comfort zone
It’s pitch-dark. I fumble for the light switch on my bed. The room is bare but for a mattress on a block of ice—an ice bed!—and a single ice nightstand. Yet it doesn’t feel empty. The deafening silence fills up the cavernous room like an oversized piece of furniture.
I dismantle my sleeping bag, which comes with an inordinate number of strings, and place my boots in Position No. 3 from the video. I wriggle in, grope at random strings and zip up. My face and head feel dangerously exposed. I burrow in deeper, but the cold insinuates its way in. This is going to be a long night.
Suddenly, I remember the video telling me to keep my body warm before bed. The hot tubs!
I exit into the cold and run, barefoot on snow, to a hot tub and plunge in. My body immediately thaws. A flurry of white swirls around the hotel, as if we’re in a shaken snow globe. Billowing clouds of steam shroud the night air in a dreamlike haze, and when they vanish, I see everything in a new light.
An ephemeral place to celebrate winter
Quebec City’s Ice Hotel won’t be here next month. Nor will the frozen waterfalls or Carnaval. None of these would even exist without winter. Winter is a season of fleeting once-in- a-lifetime moments. Quebec City has known this all along, and all it can do is celebrate it. Right here and now. And if I can get past the can’t-feel-my-face cold, ice axes and beds mounted on ice, surely I can, too.
So I sink deeper into the hot tub. Not because I’m dreading sleep. But because I don’t want to miss a thing.
How to plan your stay at the 2024 Quebec City ice hotel
- Ice hotel Quebec tours are available during the day and evening if you do not wish to book a room for the night.
- Rates for one night vary according to the room (or suite) chosen and include the reservation of a room at the Valcartier Hotel on the same night as your stay at the ice hotel. Special packages are available for weddings.
- The hotel is generally open from January to March, when conditions are favourable. Visits start at 10am and access to rooms is reserved for guests staying from 8pm. See the full schedule here.
- The Hôtel de Glace is located at Village Vacances Valcartier, a family resort featuring a hotel, spa, indoor water park, snow sliding centre and illuminated skating trail.