Planning on visiting the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival this winter? We’ve got you covered! We’ll help you plan your visit with a few must do and the few things you might want to avoid. With extremely low temperatures, if you come to this Chinese town that, somehow, looks a bit more like Russia, you want to get a few things ready to not spend too much time freezing outside.
During the festival you will find a few major sites: Ice and Snow world, Sun Island, the Ice Lantern show and Songhua River, they are mostly all worth a visit, as is Central Street that fills up with different Ice and Snow sculptures for the next few months of the festival.
Harbin Ice and Snow Festival is usually held around winter and during the Chinese New Year holiday. From December to February, you will get a chance to witness some of the most exquisite and impressive sculptures, all of which are painstakingly crafted each winter, only to melt again in the spring. But in a town where temperatures regularly drop below -20°C, you will want to explore this place well covered and make sure to pick a hotel where the heating works.
We’d advise you to spend 3 days in Harbin to get enough time to visit everything. If you would like to visit the surrounding areas please note that transport in the area can be slow and intermittent, and that a day of travel from one spot to another may need to be taken in to account!
Ice and Snow World.
A must-do when visiting Harbin. It would really be a shame to miss this one. Located a fair way out of town, the Ice and Snow World lights up at night to give a magical touch to those huge ice sculptures that are resting there in the snow.
Most of the sculptures are fully interactive, you will be able to climb on top of an ice castle, sit on chairs made of ice and play in the icy slides. It’s not just a place for art lovers, it’s the perfect place for the whole family.
A few restaurants can be found inside the area to keep you warm but we wouldn’t especially recommend them, as prices are hugely inflated and there’s plenty of good street-food stalls to keep you fed. We’d also suggest that you steer clear of the guys charging people to hold snow foxes. It might make for a nice photograph, but from what we saw, the well-being of these little critters doesn’t seem to be a priority for the owners and we’d rather people didn’t support this kind of business.
One thing definitely worth checking out though is the Ice Bar. Most years the site includes an entire bar inside a huge igloo, wherein the bar itself, the shelves, the tables, chairs, and even the shot glasses are made exclusively from ice. Try to resist ordering your vodka shot “on the rocks”, however.
How much does it cost? 300RMB per adult (or 330RMB if visiting during the Chinese New Year) but the tickets can be bought at a cheaper price online.
How to get there? We’d recommend a bus if you can catch one or to plan it with your hotel. You could try to catch a taxi but around that time they will drop you off at another bus instead of driving there.
How much time do you need? Count at least 2 hours (ideally 3 or 4) to fully enjoy every area of the Ice and Snow World.
Sun Island Snow Sculpture Expo.
On another site can be seen the Sun Island Snow Sculpture Art Expo, with a name like this you sure know what you are going to find! Sun Island is a big park that is open all year around but it transforms for the festival and takes a whole different look.
Snow sculptures are made in between alleys and trees and are continuously undergoing work from the artists, so unlike the Ice & Snow World, you should actually get the opportunity to see new creations taking shape.
With an ever changing landscape, you are led to the main spot where the biggest snow sculptures can be seen. There’s nothing better to make you feel small than to stand near full reproductions of famous monuments in a white paradise.
In this Sun Island Snow world, the sculptures are only one of the reasons to visit, the beauty of the park covered by snow will surely strike you.
How much does it cost? 240RMB (this was the price for 2015, price might be different for 2016)
How to get there? You can easily get a taxi from the city centre or a bus. The return is a bit tricky, make sure to get a taxi on metre, otherwise take the bus.
How much time do you need? Take a few hours, if you are not too cold stay for an afternoon.
Ice Lantern Show (Zhaolin Street).
Often referred as the most traditional part of the festival with sculptures supposed to refer more to the Chinese culture, we found it difficult to agree with this statement, and while it’s much cheaper than the other sites, it was also the most underwhelming. If you have time to spare then there’s nothing to lose by dropping in, but if your time is short and you’re not sure you can make it to everything, then in our opinion, this is the one to cut from your tour.
The sculptures are not as impressive as those in the Ice and Snow World and this park doesn’t seem to receive as much care with regards to the upkeep of the displays. Sure you can still give it a go if you are in Harbin, since it’s in the town centre and very easy to access, but do not expect some amazing architecture that will make you dream of the past Chinese dynasties, that’s not what you’ll get.
How much does it cost? 150 RMB
How to get there? It’s a short walk from the city centre, it should take you a maximum of 30minutes but in that cold you might want to get a taxi.
How much time do you need? An hour should be enough.
Songhua River Happy Valley.
If you’ve got some spare time then you’ve got to go to the Songhua River! Located in the city centre this spot is perfect for having a bit of fun! On the frozen river all type of ice related activities are present. Ever wanted to slide down an icy ski-slope in a tractor tyre? Or try your hand at racing snowmobiles? Or charge around the frozen river on a dog sled? There are plenty of fun activities, including a variety of home-made contraptions such as ice-bicycles, and school chairs bolted to skis all of which can be rented, for very low prices. I doubt that health & safety gets much of a look in here, but since when was anything fun, entirely safe?
The Songhua River is free and all you’ll need to do is to pay for the activities (prices vary depending on activities; the ski chairs for example are about $1.50 for as long as you want them, while the snowmobiles worked out at close to $50 for a 15 minute ride). It’s a great way to enjoy the cold a bit differently, just don’t be afraid of a few bumps and bruises- falling over a lot is guaranteed, you’re standing on a frozen river after all. And if you come back at night you can join people and launch a few Chinese lanterns.
How much does it cost? Entrance is free, you will need to pay for each activity.
How to get there? Walk down the main street for a few minutes and you’ll quickly get there.
How much time do you need? You can easily spend an entire afternoon there.
The Ice and Snow festival in Harbin has been recognised as one of the best in the world and it’s really an impressive sight. If you are visiting China around that time of year we do recommend adding it to your itinerary.
While there are many great activities in town we’d like to advise you to avoid the Siberian Tigers as well as Polarland. Instead visit Gogol and Central street or take a few days and visit Snow Town.
How to get to Harbin?
You could fly in or take a train to Harbin. From Beijing trains are fast and there are a few everyday. Make sure to book them 60 days in advance since tickets might sell out fast. It should take you around 8 hours to get there.
Where to stay in Harbin?
Most hotels are very… well… Chinese, in Harbin so make sure to check them online for reviews and maybe opt for a hotel chain. Heaters should always be provided in the room due to the awful weather conditions. Try to stay near the Central street to get easy access to food at night.
When is the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival?
While some parts of the festival started in late December 2015, this year’s festival will really start on the 05th of January and be up to the end of February 2016.