Several friends had recommended that I visit Harbin’s world famous ice festival in China’s Northern Heilongjiang Province. The main attraction there is the Harbin Ice and Snow World “city of ice” creation. Indeed, the photos of Harbin’s ice city are captivating and the colorful lights very alluring.
The warm lights belie the frigid arctic temperatures! Nonetheless, we bundled up and visited the festival for three wonderful days. Although the ice city is the main attraction, there is lots to see and do at the festival.
Weather permitting, Harbin Ice and Snow World officially opens in early December and usually stays open until February. However, weather can be unpredictable and therefore opening and closing dates can fluctuate.
Fortunately, we visited during January when the weather is perfectly cold and the arctic nights crystal clear! Tickets are easily acquired through your hotel but are also conveniently available at the entrance gate.
The History of Harbin Ice Festival
Originally, the festival got started in 1963 as “Harbin’s Ice Lantern and Garden Show”. Unfortunately, the festival was rudely interrupted for several years during China’s Cultural Revolution.
However, the festival was restarted in January 1985 and has been running strong every year since! The Harbin Ice Festival has since evolved to become China’s most exciting winter attraction.
Harbin Ice Festival Accommodations
Our Harbin accommodation was the Shangri-La Hotel. To be clear, Harbin itself is mostly an industrial city and the attractions worth seeing are solely related to the ice festival. Additionally, hotel accommodations are marginal. However, the Harbin Shangri-La was conveniently located on the banks of the picturesque Songhua River and was only a short taxi ride from the festivities.
Additionally, our hotel had an ice exhibit of its own called Ice Palace Restaurant. The Ice Palace was an outdoor restaurant made entirely of ice! I believe this is the coldest restaurant in the world at minus 18C inside! It was certainly the coldest restaurant I had ever been to – absolutely FREEZING! Fortunately, they also have an indoor heated restaurant!
Harbin Ice and Snow World
Harbin Ice and Snow World is indeed the festival’s main attraction. Additionally, at night the colorful lights of the ice city are in full display. As a result, visitors are awed as they meander through ice buildings, Buddha statues, temples and even a giant ice thermometer (see below). Indeed, the ice structures were all beautifully translucent and inviting.
Tourists would be wise to dress warmly for the festival lest you have frozen hands and feet! Indeed, the arctic temperatures are frigid at night! Fortunately, there are some heated cafes in the arctic village to warm up.
Harbin Ice Festival Facts
- Average summer temperature is 21.2 degrees Celsius
- Average winter temperature is -16.8C to -35C
- Ice used for construction is taken from the nearby Songhua River
- The Harbin Ice Festival is the largest ice festival in the world
- Harbin Ice Festival features the world’s largest ice sculptures including the 2007 Guinness World Record for largest snow sculpture.
Harbin Ice and Snow World Atmosphere
The Harbin Ice Festival is very popular in China. As a result, there are mostly Chinese tourists at the Ice and Snow World plus the other Harbin winter attractions. Additionally, the Chinese are very friendly to us and would occasionally ask for photographs.
As expected, the temperature was extremely cold. To get an idea how cold it really is there is a giant ice thermometer at the festival. Visitors can observe the frigid arctic temperatures in real time. It was -33C during our visit and the temperature is still dropping!