Harbin's Annual Ice and Snow Festival is a Huge Tourist Spectacle

harbin ice and snow festival
Illuminated sculptures at the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival. Photoy by Kathryn Pauli. All rights reserved.

Making the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival Part of Your China Travel

While winter can be a tough month to travel in much of northern China, there are reasons to visit this part of the Middle Kingdom. And if you are planning travel to China in the winter, then why not embrace the bitter cold and visit the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival?

As long as you have the right winter gear, seeing the amazing snow and ice sculptures as part of your trip to China will be unforgettable. Harbin is a fascinating city to visit in itself, with its history as part of Manchuria and Russian influence.

What is the Ice and Snow Festival?

The city of Harbin has a significant snowfall and since the mid-eighties, they've been turning their winter wonderland into a fantastic playground of ice and snow. Designers create incredible copies of famous landmarks such as St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow and the Great Pyramids. The ice sculptures are illuminated at night with beautiful colored lights and many have associated activities like snow and ice slides. In addition to the ice sculptures, there are also massive snow sculptures. Where the ice sculptures tend to take on a more architectural theme, the snow sculptures are more artistic and creative.

What to Do and See at the Festival

The main activities at the festival tend to be walking around and experiencing the incredible snow and ice sculptures. As mentioned above, there are snow and ice slides as well as other activities for children and adults. It is essential to make visits during the day and during the night to get the full effect of the lights that illuminate the sculptures in the evening.

Location

Zhaolin Park (pronounced "jow lihn") in central Harbin next to the Songhua River.

History

The Ice and Snow Festival has been celebrated annually since 1985 in the city of Harbin in Heilongjiang Province.

Read more about the fascinating history of Harbin in this article.

Features

  • Historical monuments as well as other themes re-created in ice and snow, colored lighting at night so the sculptures can be enjoyed both day and evening.
  • Fantastic fireworks display on opening night.
  • Giant ice slide in the shape of the Great Wall for kids and adults.
  • Winter swimming in the Songhua River, not for the faint of heart!

Getting There

Harbin is linked by air and train to most major Chinese cities. Once in Harbin, you'll be hard-pressed to miss the festival.

Essentials

The festival officially starts January 5 each year and lasts one month.

The weather is very cold in winter:

  • Average Harbin Temperatures
  • Average Harbin Rainfall

Harbin Winter Packing List

The key to packing and dressing for Harbin to visit the festival is layering. The outdoors will be freezing, with temperatures dropping way below zero. Inside hotels and restaurants will be very warm and highly heated. So you'll want to be able to pull off your outer layers rather easily when you get inside.

  • Outerwear - your outerwear needs to be subzero or you need to have enough layers to handle extreme temperatures. Do not underestimate the cold. A down ski suit isn't a bad idea, especially for children
  • Inner Layers - start with long underwear and work up. You'll want plenty of warm layers and the ability to strip them off when necessary.
  • Boots - you'll want very warm, lined boots and wool or other warm socks. The frozen rivers and pathways can be slippery so make sure you have good treads.
  • Accessories - bring along a hat that covers your ears, good gloves and a scarf. Something like a balaclava that will cover children's noses and cheeks is a good idea for the little ones.
  • Other - Chapstick, lotion. You'll find with the dry weather and heating on, your skin will begin to shrivel and crack. Bring along various types moisturizers to keep you and your family comfortable.