January 7, 2019

Visiting Harbin Ice and Snow Festival

Harbin ice festival during the day

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

My favourite trip is actually my holiday in Harbin, northern China’s Heilongjiang province.

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

Our main reason for travelling there was to see the Ice and Snow Festival but honestly, I left thinking it could be somewhere I could live (for a while at least!).

Because of its Russian influences, it almost felt like being in a completely different country at some points. Rumour has it, that Harbin Mandarin is actually the easiest to understand – which is definitely a bonus!

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! It was so funny seeing all of the other passengers start putting their ski jackets and thermals on in the baggage hall. 

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.

Playing the ice piano in Harbin

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.

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

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

Sophie slides down a ice slide in Harbin

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.

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

Part of the ice festival

A section of the ice festival in Harbin

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.

We must have spent hours walking around – it seemed like every corner you turned, there was something else amazing to look at.

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. They even play some Disney tunes in the background (although not sure Disney will be pleased about that!). 

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

Where else can you visit?

Aside from Harbin ice festival, there are lots of things you can do in Harbin. Here’s a few things that I would recommend seeing:

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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