Visit an Ice Palace This Winter Vacation

For the young and the young at heart, live a scene from a fairy tale over this year's winter vacation. In very cold climates, palaces of pure ice and snow rise every winter and open their doors to visitors, lasting until spring's thaw arrives and the palace melts away... to return again next year.

More than just an alternative to typical winter holidays, a visit to an ice palace is an escape from the mundane. It's a step into another world of magic and excitement.

Bring a childhood fantasy to life by visiting one of these locations, from the easily accessible to those far from home. Be sure to pack the warmest clothes you have, including long underwear, hats, and gloves. Ice palaces can be found only in places with especially cold winters, and you won't find a single heater inside. Plan for a visit of only as long as you can stand (some of these places are extremely cold), and stop by a nearby cafe for a hot chocolate to thaw you out - as much fun as visiting an ice palace can be, your safety and comfort come first.

st paul winter carnival palace

Saint Paul Winter Carnival

St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
January 22 - February 1, 2009

Hoping to prove that their fast-growing but frigid hometown was a wonderful place to live, the people of Saint Paul, Minnesota began their winter carnival in 1886 and have kept it going ever since. In addition to parades, snow sculpting, and ice carving, the carnival includes its most amazing feature: a gigantic ice palace. Though the palaces aren't built every year, when they are built, they are among the most spectacular in the world, large enough to host a hockey game! If you happen to visit during a year without a palace, don't despair - a giant snow slide and other attractions will give you and your family plenty of entertainment. Make it a comfortable trip by booking a vacation home near St. Paul and you'll have a warm place to come home to after the day's adventures.

Saranac Lake Winter Carnival

Saranac Lake, New York, USA
First week of February (ten days)

The Saranac Lake carnival began as a way to cheer up local citizens and tuberculosis patients in the dark, cold winter, but it has become a brilliant celebration that people from all over the world come to see. Saranac Lake's ice palace is built every single year, and it's always worth a visit. Each year, the carnival has a different theme and different palace design. The festival itself lasts for over a week of parades, carnival games, hockey, scavenger hunts, theater productions, and more. Come in from the cold and stay in a cozy Adirondack rental for just a day or the whole festival; either way, you'll have a great time celebrating family, community, and friendship.

Ice Hotel/Hôtel de Glace

Duchesnay, Quebec, Canada
First week of January - last week of March

The Ice Hotel, or Hôtel de Glace, is a spectacular feat of engineering. It's huge, large enough for visitors to stay the night on beds made of ice. It also hosts weddings in a breathtaking ice chapel. Although sleeping in the hotel can be a bit scary or uncomfortable, especially for children, you can take a day tour of the facilities and have just as much fun. In addition to the hotel rooms, you can see galleries of ice paintings and ice sculptures, feel like a child again on an ice slide, and visit the unique Ice Bar at the end of your trip. Once you've had the full Hôtel de Glace tour, enjoy the rest of the area around Duchesnay and try dogsledding, snowmobiling, and more. Staying in the hotel itself can be very expensive, so save money and rent a home in Quebec to accommodate your entire family.

kemi finland snowcastle

SnowCastle of Kemi

Kemi, Finland
January 30 - April 12, 2009

A little different because its castle is built of snow, not ice, the SnowCastle of Kemi holds its own in size against the largest of the ice palaces. Like the Hôtel de Glace, the SnowCastle has hotel rooms where visitors can sleep in the cold overnight, but the castle also offers day tours that include access to a restaurant, a chapel, and an entire play area dedicated to children. Make a reservation at the restaurant in advance and experience a unique (if upscale) meal in sub-freezing temperatures. Bring the kids and let them frolic in a labyrinth or on a merry-go-round. Day tour visitors can also attend weekly events like concerts, magic performances and more. Round out your trip with an exploration of all that Finland has to offer, based out of your own nearby rental with all the comforts of home.

harbin china ice snow world

Harbin Ice and Snow World

Harbin, China

Although it's a little out of the way compared to the rest of the list, Harbin's festival is perhaps the most impressive of all. Brightly-colored fluorescent bulbs light blocks of ice from within, creating a winter wonderland of themed creations, gigantic towers, massive snow sculptures, and recreated cathedrals built entirely of ice. Even the walkway leading to the park is lined with ice. Harbin inherits history from both China and Russia, so if you're up for braving the frigid weather, you'll find the city is an architectural treat with its multicultural inspirations. View the city by day, and when the sun sets, visit the ice and snow festival or the nearby winter lantern display for an experience you won't soon forget.





If you like unique vacation ideas like these, then check out Miscellaneous Vacation Ideas!



Photos by Steve Lyon, Erez, and Kevin.