January 7, 2019

China’s freezing Disneyland: Harbin Snow and Ice Festival

When I think back to my favourite trips during my time in China, it’s never visiting the Great Wall or the Pandas.

It’s actually my trip to Harbin.

I ended up going to Harbin with a big group of colleagues and we had the best time exploring the northern Chinese city during the time of the Ice and Snow Festival.

Because of its Russian influences, it almost felt like being in a completely different country at some points.

Sophie in the snow

All eight of us arrived at Harbin’s airport dressed like we were heading on an arctic expedition – i’m glad we did as temperatures at night dropped to -35C!

I’m not a big fan of the cold but upon seeing the stunning ice sculptures at the Ice and Snow festival, suddenly the cold didn’t really bother me.

Harbin ice festival during the day

There are three big things to see during a trip to Harbin – the Ice Lantern Show, the Snow and Ice Festival and the Sun Island Snow and Sculpture expo.

The Ice Lantern Show is definitely worth a visit. We stopped there on our first evening after taking a look around the town and visiting St Sophia’s Cathedral.

Playing the ice piano in Harbin

It’s a hands on experience, with lots of interactive sculptures including an ice piano which works!

Sophie slides down a ice slide in Harbin

And make sure you try a famous Harbin ice cream while you’re there!

Harbin Ice and Snow Festival

This is the big one. The one that is always on the TV.

Sculptors from around the world join together to create the amazing ice and show wonderland, carving the blocks of ice from the Songhua River.

Thousands of people work on the sculptures, carving the ice, creating the structures and installing the lights.

It’s usually open until late February but it’s best to see it around January time.

Part of the ice festival

A section of the ice festival in Harbin

And pack some comfy clothing as the area spans 600,000 square metres.

While you can also visit during the day, the wonderland is best seen at night as it comes to life with all of the bright colours.

An ice palace

Walk around and you’ll be able to spot famous landmarks such as the Forbidden City and even the Coliseum.

It’s basically Disneyland on ice.

Frozen fruit snacks

Harbin ice festival overview

Sun Island Snow Exhibition

Another must-visit is the Sun Island Snow Exhibition.

The exhibition has giant 3D snow structures and must be seen during the day.

Sophie at the snow festival

It’s apparently the largest snow theme park in China and is definitely worth a look around.

I can’t imagine the amount of effort that goes into making something that huge out of snow!

Harbin snow festival

A frozen lake

Where to stay:

I stayed at the Ibis right in the centre of town. Accommodation gets quite expensive during the festival and the Ibis had everything we needed – and I can say, it was very warm!

If you’re looking for something a bit more cosy, then there is also a Sofitel and a Shangri-La in the city.

While there are many hostels in the city. I’d recommend Harbin Maitian International Youth Hostel. 

How to get there:

I booked my Harbin trip fairly mast minute and flew from Xi’an via Jinan. At the time it was fairly expensive, around £200 which seems rather expensive for flights in China.

However if you book further in advance you can still get a good deal.

Alternatively, you can take a train from Beijing to Harbin. The high-speed train now runs between the two cities, with the journey time around 7-8 hours.

There are also long-distance buses that travel to Harbin.

Read more: How to travel by train in China

What I wore:

It’s always tricky to know exactly what to take with you. So here’s what I ended up wearing every day.

Six pairs of socks. Yes. Six.
A thermal top
A vest
A t-shirt
A sweatshirt
A fleece
A Canada Goose coat
Thin pair of gloves
Thick pair of gloves

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