The largest ice and snow festival all happens in China – where else! Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival beats other ice festivals with their gigantic ice and snow sculptures of famous landmarks, personalities, and other creations.
For more than 30 years, the ice festival is a positive adaptation to the region’s frigid winter temperature. In recent years as it gains more global popularity, snow and ice sculptors the entire world participate and compete at China’s top ice and snow festival.
As early as December 28, the festival is launched with the formal opening occurring on the 5th day of January. Harbin’s Ice and Snow Festival is a month-long event culminating on February 28th.
The City of Harbin
Harbin can be located in northeastern China, the capital city of China’s northernmost province of Heilongjiang. Being on the frontier, Harbin and its neighboring cities and villages are closer to Russia than Beijing.
Unlike other Chinese towns and cities, Harbin is a “baby” city with history only spanning for more than a hundreds of years. Russian engineers established Harbin during the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, building a terminus in the city.
Thus, part of the city’s unique charm is the rich Russian influence – including its more Russian-sounding name, Harbin, which has been regarded as “a Russian enclave in Manchuria”. Churches and other structures of Russian influences and styles contribute to the city’s landmarks.
With its location, Harbin experiences one of the harshest winters all over China. Receiving winter wind from Siberia, winter goes below sub zero at -13 degrees Celsius, reaching up to -25 degrees Celsius.
Harbin can reach via train or plane (2 hours) from Beijing. To further promote the festival, the city offers 72-hours visa-free transit policies to over 52 countries.
Harbin Ice Festival. Through the Snowy years
The festival gave locals and tourists to brave the chilly winter day in Harbin for more than three decades. Tracing its history, the festival started as an annual ice lantern show and garden party, which until today is part of the many activities during the festival. Making ice lanterns was not just for local children to play but a tradition on how locals make wind-proof lanterns during winters. From 1963 until the rule of Communism, Harbin held their annual ice lantern snow.
With the fall of Communism, there was widespread revival of many traditions all over China including Harbin’s ice lantern show. The ice lantern show was celebration again in 1985 at Zhaolin Park.
In 2001, it officially became known as Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. Year after year, exhibitions grew larger and larger, even getting world records with at least 800,000 visitors.
The Ice City of Harbin
The Ice festival of Harbin has some similarities with other cities hosting such chilly events like Japan’s Sapporo Festival and Sweden’s seasonal Ice hotels. Many of them drawing their own traditions and way of life when winter comes.
Just like places with below freezing winter temperature, Harbin’s magical frozen life relies on a river – Songhua River. Turning into solid during winter, ice blocks are harvested to make the sculptures.
Blocks and blocks of ice from the river are harvested and turned into wonderful masterpieces using picks and saws. The festival is also famous for their ice crystal creations using deionized water.
There are many exhibition venues in Harbin during the festival, in fact, the whole city is a big exhibition hall for the best and most over-the-top ice and snow structures you cant find anywhere else in the world.
Even during the high volume of tourists pouring in to the city during the festival, spectators wont feel the crowd with up to five different exhibition locations all over Harbin. Tourists can check out impressive ice and snow creations at Ice and Snow World, Ice Lantern Garden Party, Sun Island Scenic Park Yabuli International Ski Resort, and Zhaolin Park.
Among these five locations, the most popular are Sun Island Park and Zhaolin Park. Sun Island Park is the world’s largest indoor ice and snow museum that opens as early as November. Zhaolin Park on the other hand is a must-stop for spectators who want to witness traditional events like ice lantern shows and programs.
What to See and Do during the Festival
During the day, be amazed with the level of intricacy of the designs that are larger than life. Big and massive, it is hard to imagine how they have successfully played such masterpieces using ice and snow and simple tools like saws and picks.
Many of the sculptures are record breaking including the 26-meter Crystal Castle, a frozen castle made entirely of ice. See enormous structures from Chinese gates, famous buildings like Moscow’s Kremlin, and personalities like Buddha, as well as things that reflect the city’s culture and history like trains, fishermen, and whales.
At night, Harbin becomes magical with all sculptures illuminated in different colors, inspired from the ice lanterns that locals used to create. This night illumination sets Harbin from other ice and snow festival all over the world. With coffee huts all over the place, it is one magical winter night to experience.
The festival is not only a feast for the eyes as many are interactive. Tourists are free to mount on sculptures like horses, have fun on the ice slides or try to get out at a maze made of ice. With the city’s vast open space, tourists are free to run around, touch and be one with the all the creations.
Employing more than 10,000 workers, the festival turn the city into one enchanting place made of ice. The festival also shows the natural beauty of ice, making fantasies into reality.
On top of the exhibitions, the festival offers many winter activities many of them in public places like Songhua River. Enjoy skating, sledding, and skiing in Harbin.
Indeed Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival gives us more reasons to brave the cold, put on our thick gloves and coat and enjoy winter.