You don’t have to dream about being in an icy castle in a winter wonderland anymore – you can now do so in Harbin.
The city of Harbin, in the Heilongjiang province of northeast China, hosts the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival each year, which features massively stunning ice and snow sculptures.
The Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, commonly known as Harbin Ice Lantern Festival, or just simply Harbin Ice Festival, consists of three main theme parks: Sun Island Park (theme park for snow sculptures) that holds the International Snow Sculpture Art Expo, Zhaolin Park Ice Lantern Fair (theme park for ice lanterns), and Harbin Ice and Snow World (theme park for ice/snow sculptures, shows, lighted ice buildings and a variety of ice/snow activities – the most significant theme park of the three).
Started in 1963, and resumed in 1985, the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival has now been listed as one of the top ice and snow festivals around the world, along with Japan’s Sapporo Snow Festival, Canada’s Quebec City Winter Carnival and Norway’s Ski Festival, with Harbin’s being the world’s largest.
Traditionally, Harbin Ice Festival opens on 24 or 25 December till the end of February. However, its official opening ceremony is normally held on 5 January each year, which is when it is considered the official commencement of the festival. The opening and ending dates vary sometimes depending on the weather.
This year, the festival will be held from around 24 December to the end of February, marking its 34th year held.
Excited for it yet? To ensure you make the most out of your time, here are 6 things to add to your to-do list while at the festival.
1. Visit the Sun Island Park Snow Sculptures by day and Ice & Snow World by night
Be wowed by the spectacular display of snow sculptures at Sun Island Park in the day and come to the Ice and Snow World after the sun goes down to view the stunning lights that come on. Most can’t brave the bitter cold for too long, hence we recommend coming back to visit the Ice and Snow World at night when it’s at its best. There are often shows going on inside the park so do check them out – they can be a way for you to take a break from the cold too! And don’t forget to visit the slides all over the park!
2. Visit the Saint Sophia Cathedral
This beautiful cathedral is stunning by both day and night; however, we suggest you be there at night to catch its glow amidst the falling snow. Let yourself immerse in the Russian atmosphere of the cathedral too.
3. Have some Local Fozen Milk Lolly
These milk lollies are here to satisfy your sweet tooth and are undeniably toothsome. They can be found all over the main street areas with some being plain and some having fruits in them. Be sure to give them a try!
4. Visit the rare Siberian Tigers at the White Siberian Tiger Park
The park is a reserve that protects the white tigers and is one of few places you get to view them up close and learn about them. Strips of meat can be purchased for you to hand feed them (using prongs and through a gap in the bars) too. So don’t miss the chance!
5. Ski around the lake on "ski-chairs"
See people on chairs comically skiing their way through? Hop on one of the make shift chairs attached to skis and glide down a purpose-built ice slide, rent a jeep to skid pan or trek across the frozen Songhua River. Join in the fun and let loose!
- Avoid visiting during Chinese New Year (15 -23 February 2018) when the parks are most crowded and hotels very expensive.
- Note that you are required to purchase tickets for each of the theme parks for entrance to each of them.
- If you enter Zhaolin Park before 3.30pm, you are entitled to a discount, but the best time to view the ice lanterns is after 5.50pm, however at no discount.
- For Harbin Ice Festival 2017, the theme parks will open for trial operation from around 24 December to 4 January 2017, with its official opening on 5 January 2018, lasting till the end of February 2018.
- Besides thick arctic wear, have sunglasses on, or better, snow glasses, to prevent snow blindness as the temperature in Harbin in winter can get down to -25°C (without wind chill!).
- If your hands or feet start feeling cold, do some exercises or go indoors to warm them up. If your hands, feet, ears or nose start to numb due to the cold, don’t run them under hot water or toast them, instead, head to a warmer indoor environment and rub them vigorously to restore blood circulation.