I had arrived in China in November and several friends recommended that I visit the annual Harbin Ice Festival. Indeed, the main attraction is the city of ice creation as part of the Harbin Ice and Snow World. As a result, I quickly made this an addition to my China travel itinerary.
Fortunately, the year I attended the Harbin Ice Festival was also the 30 year anniversary celebration. Additionally, the festivities at Harbin Ice and Snow World officially start at the end of December and usually last until February. However, exhibits usually open early and stay open until after the official closing dates (weather permitting).
Furthermore, there are many winter activities to partake near the ice festival including the Harbin Siberian Tiger Park and Harbin Polarland!
The History of Harbin Ice Festival
The ice festival in Harbin is very much part of modern China. Originally, it got started as Harbin’s ice lantern and garden show which began in 1963. Thereafter, it evolved into the ice festival in closer resemblance to what occurs today.
Unfortunately, the festival went through a rough patch during China’s cultural revolution and it was interrupted for several years. However, the festival was restarted in January 1985 and has been running strong every year since!
The largest snow and ice sculptures in the world are constructed for the Harbin Ice festival. In fact, in 2007 a Canadian themed snow sculpture was erected featuring Niagara Falls and the crossing of the Bering Strait. As a result, the enormous sculpture was 250 meters long and used over 13,000 cubic meters of snow! Therefore, this gigantic sculpture was awarded the Guinness book world record for largest snow sculpture in 2007.
Harbin Ice Festival Accommodations
From our accommodation at the Shangri-La Hotel it was only a short drive across the Songhua River to get to festivities. Additionally, there was an outdoor winter restaurant featured at the Shangri-La called Ice Palace Restaurant. As a result, I believe this is the coldest restaurant in the world at minus 18C inside! It was FREEZING!
Harbin Ice and Snow World
The Harbin Ice and Snow World is the highlight of the festival. Indeed, they construct an entire arctic village out of ice blocks and snow as part of the annual festival. Additionally, Harbin Ice and Snow World is illuminated at night with lights. As a result, the ice structures were all beautifully translucent and inviting.
Visitors must dress warmly for the festival because of the bitter cold temperatures. Therefore, unprepared visitors may have frozen feet and noses to deal with. However, tickets are available at the gate which makes access more efficient.
Harbin Ice Festival Facts
- Average temperature in summer 21.2 degrees Celsius
- Average temperature in winter is -16.8C and -35C is not uncommon, especially at night (see below)
- All of the ice used for construction is taken from the nearby Songhua River
- The Harbin Ice Festival is the largest ice festival in the world
- Harbin is located in Heilongjiang Province in NE China
- The Harbin Ice Festival features the world’s largest ice sculptures
- In 2007 the Guinness World Record was set for largest snow sculpture.
Harbin Ice and Snow World Atmosphere
The other visitors at Harbin Ice and Snow World were very friendly. The festival is very popular in China and as a result there are many Chinese tourists. However, we did see a few westerners in the hotel although our traveling companions around the Harbin winter attractions were mostly from China. Indeed, at the hotel I specifically recall these goofy Italians in the restaurant trying to teach the chef to cook ravioli!
The temperature was extremely cold at the festival, especially at night! Fortunately, to offset the bitter cold there were little heated cafes to step into that were situated around the ice sculptures. This is very fortunate because it would not have been possible to stay outside for very long if the warming stations were not available.