The Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival is the largest of its kind in the world attracting over 10 million visitors a year. Held since 1963, the festival features thousands of ice and snow sculptures and entire buildings and bridges made of ice.
The event is spectacular and well worth putting on your travel bucket list if you can withstand the cold temperatures. On average, the temperatures during the festival run at about 0 degrees F (-18 degrees C).
The festival runs from around the last week of December through the end of February. We were in Harbin January 4-7, 2018. This year, the festival officially opened January 5th, although I understand the venues, especially the Snow Sculpture Art Expo, will open earlier.
There are three major venues for the festival:
- Zhaolin Park Ice Lantern Festival – best viewed at night, this features hundreds of relatively small sculptures and ice lanterns illuminated by LED lighting
- Sun Island International Snow Sculpture Art Expo – viewed during the daytime, elaborate sculptures carved out of compressed snow are featured through the park
- Ice and Snow World – the highlight of the festival, it features huge structures – some up to 150 feet high (46 meters) – built out of ice blocks and illuminated with colored LED lighting
Zhaolin Park Ice Lantern Festival
Sun Island International Snow Sculpture Art Expo
Ice and Snow World
Getting There and Getting Around
Harbin is in north-west China and is only about 200km away from the Russian border. There are no direct flights from the USA or Canada, but you can connect through numerous airports in China and surrounding countries. We flew from Bangkok to Guangzhou, China for our connection to Harbin. Our son flew from Vancouver to Seoul to get his connecting flight. There are numerous high-speed trains from Beijing to Harbin as well.
The airport is about 60 km (40 miles) from the actual city of Harbin but is fairly easy to catch a cab from the airport. As always in China, you should have the address of your hotel written out in Chinese to give to the taxi driver as few will speak English. Try to get them to use the meter, but if they refuse, make sure you negotiate before you get in. We were originally told 300 yuan but negotiated down to 200 yuan ($32 USD). Our son, who arrived later, did not negotiate and got charged the full 300 yuan ($45 USD). When we took the taxi from the hotel to the airport on our way out, we paid the meter rate and ended up paying about 150 yuan ($23 USD).
We used some of Starwood Hotel points and stayed at the Sheraton Hotel about 15 km (9 miles) from the Ice Festival venues. We used a taxi from our hotel to get to the various sites. From the hotel, the taxis always used the meter and were quite reasonable. The hotel did have one shuttle bus a day that went to the Ice and Snow World.
I did a fair amount of research online, as I usually do before visiting an area, but had trouble finding complete, accurate, up to date information about the festival. The vast majority of the visitors to the Ice Festival are from within China, so I assume that most of the promotion is in Chinese in China based websites. Most of the information I found online in English was from tour companies that gave you a little bit of information about the festival, but were obviously focused on selling you a package tour. Apparently, there are cultural events, concerts, sporting events, etc. surrounding the Ice Festival, but I could not find any of these details in English online.
You can get tickets at each of the venues. However, there are numerous outlets around town that sell tickets as well. Our taxi driver took us to get tickets off-site for the Snow Sculpture Art Expo. It was the same price as if we bought at the event, but theoretically, we avoided having to wait in line outside at the venue.
At the Lantern Festival, we were approached by a young man who spoke perfect English offering us tickets at a 20 yuan ($3 discount). The trick was he could only take two of us in at once. I later learned that they must sell tickets to “guides” at a discount but that the only thing these guides will do is guide you to the entrance.
We ended up buying our tickets three different ways for the three different venues: from an offsite vendor for the Snow Sculpture Art Expo, from the “guide” for the Lantern Festival, and from the on-site ticket station at the Ice and Snow World.
Lantern Festival – 150 yuan each ($23 USD)
Snow Sculpture Art Expo – 240 yuan each ($37 USD)
Ice and Snow World – 330 yuan each ($52 USD)
Relative to admission prices for many other sites we have visited in China and South East Asia, I found these a little on the expensive side, but still well worth it.