Every winter in China’s far north, the city of Harbin turns into the ultimate Winter Wonderland. With the entire center looking like a scene straight out of Disney’s Frozen, gigantic white and light blue snow and ice sculptures are towering over the frozen grounds.
The Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, as the full name goes, is an annual winter event that takes place in the capital of Heilongjiang province. The festival boasts the world’s biggest ice sculptures which are revolving around a specific theme every year. Among the structures are world-famous buildings and monuments, animals or mythical creatures as well as huge ice slides. Over weeks, sculptors work day and night with saws and ice picks carving these masterpieces from ice blocks taken from the frozen surface of Songhua River. A wide range of techniques are used to create the wildest and most impressive sculptures you will ever see!
The world’s largest festival of its kind!
As one of the world’s four biggest ice and snow festivals, attracting around 18 million visitors every year, Harbin Ice Festival competes with Japan’s Sapporo Snow Festival, Canada’s Quebec City Winter Carnival, and Norway’s Ski Festival.
While the gigantic snow and ice sculptures are the absolute stars of the festival, there is a huge variety of fun activities surrounding the two month long event. Along with those directly connected to the ice spectacular such as ice carving competitions, there is a multitude of experiences making use of what Harbin has to offer – dog sledding, Siberian tiger safaris, ice sailing, performances of folk songs and dances or even wedding ceremonies on ice, among many others.
The festival officially starts on January 5 every year and lasts until the end of February, though, always depending on weather conditions. As most ice lanterns and sculptures are already completed by the third week of December, locals usually start celebrating before the event is officially opened and welcomes its guests from all over the world.
The next Harbin Ice Festival 2019 will take place from Saturday, 5th January 2019, until Thursday, 28th February 2019.
Harbin, where the icy magic happens
Harbin – a Manchu word meaning “a place for drying fishing nets” – is well known for its ice-cold winters. An average temperature during the cold months of -16.8 °C (1.8 °F) got it the nickname “Ice City.”It is the capital of Heilongjiang Province in Northeast China and the tenth most populated city in China making it an important economic and cultural hub.
The festival as a whole spans all across the city, incorporating the Songhua River, streets, parks as well as ski resorts. The spectacular ice sculptures are concentrated in two main exhibition areas – Sun Island, a recreational area on the opposite side of the Songhua River from the city featuring an expo of gigantic snow sculptures, and Ice and Snow World with full size buildings which are illuminated in the brightest colors at night.
Origin and history of the Ice and Snow Festival
What has become a tradition over the years and now the largest ice festival in the world, once started as a small ice lantern show and garden party in the winter of 1963. By the 1980s, the event had already gained awareness all across China with more and more Chinese tourists flocking to Harbin to enjoy the beautiful ice lanterns and be spectators at the various other winter sports and activities. When local representatives heard from the overwhelming feedback from oversees tourists, the idea for the massive festival as a promotion measure of Harbin’s tourism was born. Shortly afterwards, on 5th January 1885, the first Ice and Snow Festival opened at Zhaolin Garden. Over the years, the city added more and more areas with ever growing ice sculptures due to the increasing popularity and international awareness.
How to get to Harbin Ice Festival
Harbin Airport (HRB) has flight connections with all major cities in China such as Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chengdu as well as Hong Kong, amongst many others. There are also several international services to cities in Russia, Japan, Seoul, South Korea and the USA.
While the journey by train is very easy, it can take a very long time across the vast distances of China. There are good connections from cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Jilin, Changchun, Shenyang, Mudanjiang, and Jinan. If you want to take the train from other places, please plan your trip carefully and expect long travel times.
Sapporo Snow Festival in Japan
Quebec City Winter Carnival in Canada
Ski Festival in Norway
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Photos by Hans Domjan