The Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival is one of the world’s largest and most famous winter festivals.
Welcome to the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival, a dazzling spectacle that turns China’s “Ice City” into a frozen fairyland. Unlike most places on Earth, Harbin comes alive in the winter months in the form of the world’s largest and most famous winter festivals.
This annual extravaganza is a masterpiece of frozen artistry, boasting colossal ice sculptures, towering ice castles, and an ethereal luminosity that will leave you spellbound.
So in that case, here’s everything you need to know about the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival.
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Table of Contents
What Is the Ice and Snow Festival?
The festival traces its origins back to the early 1960s when Harbin decided to embrace its frigid climate and make the most of its long, harsh winters. What started as a modest ice lantern show has since evolved into a grand international extravaganza that draws millions of tourists from around the globe.
The events begin in early winter as soon as the nearby Songhua River has frozen over. This is when teams of workers equipped with specialized tools begin carefully cutting and extracting ice blocks, which are renowned for their transparency and purity, to be used in the festivities.
The blocks are then transported to the festival grounds where talented ice sculptors and artisans craft intricate, towering ice structures and elaborate snow sculptures, all illuminated with colourful neon lights, turning the city into a stunning winter wonderland.
Today, the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival symbolises the city’s resilience and adaptability to its challenging climate. It also provides visitors with jaw-dropping displays of ice structures that defy logic and dwarf the awe-inspired visitors.
Where Is The Ice and Snow Festival?
The main festival venues are scattered across Harbin, which include Ice and Snow World, Sun Island Park, and Zhaolin Park.
Each spot within the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival has its own unique charm and dedicated theme, promising a diverse and captivating experience at every turn. These frozen wonderlands are meticulously crafted with distinct themes running through each one, ensuring there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
When Is the Ice and Snow Festival?
The Ice and Snow Festival is unique as it lasts for nearly the entire winter and the exact dates change on a yearly basis. The early stages of the events typically start in early December when the ice can start to be harvested from the nearby Songhua River which flows through Harbin. The colossal ice blocks are then transported to the festival grounds, where the construction of these megalithic structures can commence.
Around late December, the festival has its first soft opening which allows visitors a glimpse at how the structures and, more importantly, the ice/snow sculptures get made.
The festivities kick off in early January, signalling the official opening of the festival. The event will until early March, or until the sculptures, like frozen dreams, slowly begin to melt away.
Top tip, AVOID visiting during Chinese public holidays – between December 31st to January 2nd and February 9th to 15th for Chinese Spring Festival, otherwise you’ll be drowning in a sea of people!
How To Get To the Ice and Snow Festival
As Harbin is a central hub for Heilongjiang Province, the city is well-connected by various transportation options.
However, due to its secluded location, it’s incredibly far from most other major cities around China. Though you could easily get a train or even a bus in some cases, be prepared for a very long journey.
Getting to Harbin
Your first step is getting to the city of Harbin itself. There are a number of transport options available, but whichever you choose, it’s going to take you a while to get there.
Getting to Harbin by Plane
Getting to Harbin by Train
Harbin is well-connected to other major cities in China via its railway network split between two stations – Harbin West Railway Station, which serves mostly high-speed trains, and Harbin Railway Station, which serves the normal trains and some high-speed trains.
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1st Class: ¥895
Business class: ¥1,765
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Business class: ¥3,395
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Hard sleeper: ¥279
Soft sleeper: ¥427
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Soft sleeper: ¥767
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Hard sleeper: ¥487
Soft sleeper: ¥826
The best way to book train tickets in China is through Trip.com. The English language web page makes the process very easy and even gives you the ability to pre-book tickets before they’re released.
For a detailed guide on trains in China, check out The Ultimate Guide To Chinese Trains.
Getting to Harbin by Bus
Long-distance buses operate between Harbin and many cities in China. This is often a more budget-friendly option, but it can be a longer and less comfortable journey compared to trains or planes.
Logistically speaking, Harbin is in the far north-eastern corner of China, making it an incredible distance to travel by bus and the number of routes is very limited.
There is a long-distance bus from Beijing which takes 17 hrs and costs ¥457.
Getting to the Festival
Now that you’ve arrived in Harbin, now it’s time to get to the festival itself! The event is spread out between three venues – Ice and Snow World, Sun Island Park, and Zhaolin Park. Thus, you will need to have separate transportation to get to each place.
Sadly, transport routes are also pretty limited in Harbin. The city has 2 subway lines and a pretty extensive bus network which will be your only options for getting about.
If all else fails, you could always rely on taxis or the Didi app (essentially China’s version of Uber). Taxis set a base fare of ¥9, which includes the first 3 km of travel. The price then rises ¥1.9 per km during the day and ¥3.8 at night (23:30 to 06:00).
Getting to Ice and Snow World
Your only option to get to the Ice and Snow World is via one of the public buses. You can bus numbers 552, 551, 346, 219, 216, 212, 211, 85 or 54, and get off at Sun Island road junction, then walk a few minutes to its entrance gate.
Getting to Sun Island Park
Located in the centre of Harbin and standing in the middle of the Songhua River, the island is surprisingly easy to get to. You can take bus numbers 29, 54, 80, 85, 88, and 346, which will pass through Sun Island Park.
You can also take a ferry or cableway by the riverside of Songhua River to board the island park.
Getting to Zhaolin Park
To get to Zhaolin Park, take bus 8, 23, 29, 52, 53, 83, 114, 132, 136, 201, or 206, and get off at Zhaolin Gongyuan (Zhaolin Park) Station.
The Venues of the Ice and Snow Festival
The event and the unique ice sculptures are split between a number of sites around Harbin at three main venues – Ice and Snow World, Sun Island Park, and Zhaolin Park.
Ice and Snow World
Harbin’s Snow and Ice World stands as the festival’s crowning jewel, whisking visitors away into a wondrous realm of frosty enchantment. Here, towering ice sculptures, intricate snow carvings, and mesmerizing ice lantern displays weave a magical tapestry of winter wonder.
As the sun dips below the horizon, the displays come alive with a breathtaking symphony of colours, illuminating the ice sculptures like a vivid kaleidoscope.
Navigate the labyrinth of mazes, life-sized castles, mythical creatures, and renowned landmarks, each painstakingly crafted from ice and snow. Many of these icy marvels even double as exhilarating ice slides, inviting you to climb atop and embark on a thrilling descent.
For those seeking more active pursuits, opportunities abound, from ice climbing to skating and even ice biking. However, the pièce de résistance for many is the awe-inspiring Ice and Snow Grand Theater. Nightly performances feature talented artists from across the globe, showcasing the sheer beauty and artistry of ice and snow in a mesmerizing display.
Sun Island Park
Amidst the Ice and Snow Festival’s frigid backdrop, Sun Island blossoms into a radiant oasis. Nestled on the tranquil Songhua River, this captivating island undergoes a remarkable metamorphosis, becoming a sanctuary of leisure and artistry during this grand winter spectacle.
Stepping ashore from the frosty banks, you’ll arrive in a surreal realm where colossal snow carvings and a dazzling array of lights. The festival’s theme changes with each passing year, guaranteeing that every visit to Sun Island is an extraordinary adventure, yet one constant remains – the enchanting ambience that envelops this island, rendering it an absolute must-visit destination during Harbin’s winter revelries.
Beneath the spellbinding spectacle of ice and snow, Sun Island beckons with a wide array of activities for all ages. Glide down gentle slopes on sledges or gracefully twirl across frozen ponds while ice skating – there’s no shortage of wintertime enjoyment.
Zhaolin Park truly comes alive during the enchanting Harbin Ice and Snow Festival. The park undergoes a mesmerizing transformation, turning into a breathtaking spectacle adorned with ice sculptures, radiant lantern displays, and a captivating array of vibrant lights that gracefully dance across the shimmering snow.
As you leisurely stroll through the park, you’ll find yourself transported into a world straight out of a fairytale. Enjoy the realm of frozen artistry that’s been painstakingly created by college students and young ice sculpture enthusiasts alike. Many of these sculptures reach towering heights, showcasing an astonishing level of detail, ranging from majestic castles to whimsical creatures.
The park’s tranquil ambience is further heightened by the gentle radiance of traditional Chinese lanterns, weaving an enchanting spell over all who wander through its frosty pathways. Yet there’s even more for thrill seekers in the form of ice-related activities, from graceful ice skating to thrilling sledging.
Tips For Visiting the Ice and Snow Festival
Before visiting the Ice and Snow Festival, there are a few things you need to keep in mind to ensure you have the best possible experience.
- Dress For the Weather: Harbin’s winters are extremely cold, with temperatures often dropping well below freezing. Wearing layered clothing is essential and you should consider bringing high-quality cold-weather gear to stay comfortable.
- Plan Your Visit: Be sure to book all accommodation and transport in advance!
- Visit at Night: The sculptures are most impressive once the sun goes down and the lights come on!
- Respect the Artwork: Remember that the sculptures are made of ice and snow, and take a LOT of effort to create. Thus touching them could cause damage!
- Transportation: Remember that there are only a few transportation options available and they might be overrun during the festive period. Be sure to plan your routes out far in advance and leave yourself enough time.
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