The International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival that takes place in Harbin, China, each year is rightly considered the largest ice and snow festival around the globe. Growing from a nation – wide festival to an international fair, magnetizing the most skilled and imaginative ice – sculptors of the world, making this colourful event an arena of fierce but civilized artistic competition and one of the best winter holidays destination in the whole world.
In addition, the festival is continually evolving, featuring a new theme every year, thus offering visitors a genuinely unique experience.
Harbin is the largest city and capital and of the Heilongjiang province, dominating China’s northeastern corner. Harbin is one of the most densely populated cities in China and an economic giant, but also a place of great cultural wealth and vibrant nightlife.
The city’s location and arctic climate guarantees abundant snow and hills of crystal clear ice, making Harbin the Asia’s ultimate ice capital and, ever since the ice festival begun, has gained international fame as the world’s cradle for ice and snow creations of great artistic value.
This year, the festival starts at January 5, 2017 and will remain open until March. The nice thing, though, is that most of the exhibits are erected far earlier and remain open longer after the official closing of the festival.
The best collections of ice artworks were exhibited in the following five main places:
One of the nicest thing about the festival is that the whole Harbin becomes a maze full of sophisticated ice art, a gigantic labyrinth waiting to be explored.
Of course, there are also 2 main exhibition areas:
- The so called “Sun Island”, just across the Songhua River, which usually envelopes ice sculptures of gigantic dimensions.
Lying on the north bank of the Songhua River, engulfed by azure waters, crystal lakes and wooden rockeries houses some of the most enthralling ice or snow exhibits, covering an area of almost 9,400 acres, along with some other small nearby islands.
The area is actually divided into 3 parts:
- the Animals’ world, at the northwest side,
- the centre of the garden, teaming with small lakes,
- the south side, home to ice and snow series, a gallery and a memorial garden.
Despite hosting some the creations of the festival, Sun Island is a landscape beauty just by itself. The Deer Garden, the Swan Lake and the Squirrel Island, a playground for children and finally the numerous great species, including deer, squirrels, black swans, whooper swans, tundra swans, mandarin ducks, swan geese and many more create a great attraction just of their own.
The Ice Sculpture Garden recaptures many awarded works. The Ice and Snow Art Hall is actually the largest indoor one in the world. The striking Cloud-water Gloriette is a must, relying on the Sun Lake and offering a panoramic view of the lake and the Sun Hill.
- The “Ice & Snow World”, featuring illuminated ice – made buildings and being by far the largest ice and snow art exhibition premises around the globe.
The Ice & Snow World boasts 4 of the most important “mosts”:
- most of the art attractions,
- the most beautiful night views,
- most of the festival’s recreational activities
- and most diverse entertainment.
The ice creations there are considered by art experts as some of the world’s finest examples of ice art, and you will be able to marvel some of the most gigantic and magnificent ice – carved masterpieces, based on each year’s theme and offering visitors an array of cultural variety.
Of course, the best time to explore the exhibition is during the night, when multicolored lights illuminate the creations and highlight their exquisite carvings. The whole contrast of lights against the dark night sky makes the whole spectacle even more impressive. Throughout the festival, most visitors join tours, especially during the night, when the illuminated exhibits breathe an unworldly and bewitching air of charm and elegance.
The Ice and Snow World is also home to an array of amazing ice buildings, such as an ice labyrinth, ice bars, or even an ice hotel!
Other Activities During the Festival
While surely the exhibits will effortlessly take most of your time during your visit in Harbin, the festival offers you the chance to enjoy an array of great winter activities.
- Ice & Snow Games
If you are a fan of snow games, there are several fun and exciting activities you can join, like ice rock – climbing, skating, sliding, snow fights, ice golf, or even ice archery. Furthermore, special themed performances are presented throughout the event which will no doubt greatly entertain those in search of something a little less physically tiring.
- Alpine skiing
Just 180 kilometers southeast of Harbin, up on the Yabuli Sun Mountain, lies the famed Yabuli Ski Resort who is considered China’s biggest and best skiing resort, which serves as the primary training venue for China’s national skiing teams – something that tells a lot about the snow coverage and the quality of the runs both on and off piste.
In January, the resort boasts one of the best snow coverage in the world and the slopes are suitable for skiers of all levels – beginners, intermediates and advanced. Snowfall in the region boasts an average of 100 cm per year close to the mountain’s top, around 50 cm midway down the mountain, and around 20 centimetres down in the valley below.
So if you are an ardent skier or just want to have fun on the slopes, the Harbin festival won’t disappoint you!
- Winter – swimming in the Songhua River!
Harbin’s winter swimming show in the icy waters of the Songhua River is by far the most popular addition to the International Ice and Snow Sculpture! Whether you have the courage to immerse your body to the freezing water or just love watching other doing it, it is a great and fun – packed occasion!
The event includes all kinds of winter swimming shows, as well as tournament games that attract thousands of winter swimming lovers from all over the world. Especially during the Harbin Ice Festival, visitors can enjoy an array of spectacles, from comical diving shows to professional swimming competitions!
Before considering the dive, it would be wise to know that the water’s temperature is usually less than 20 degrees below zero! Still winter swimming is, after skiing and snowboarding, the most popular outdoor physical activity among locals and visitors, who have the stamina and physical level needed to master Songhua River’s winter waters. If you still want to have a taste of it, there will be swimming pools of professional dimensions waiting you on the surface of the frozen Songhua River, just 200 m upwards the west of Harbin Songhuajiang Road Bridge. Godspeed!
- Check the Ice – lantern Garden Party!
Serving as the forerunner of the Ice and Snow Festival, the Ice Lantern Garden Party is in fact the biggest artistic ice lantern exhibition in the world, covering an area of almost 16 acres (!) and using more than 70,000 cubic feet of ice! Many consider it the best loved part of the overall event and is ranked among the 35 absolutely rare and wonderfully beautiful scenic spots by the National Tourist Office and it is surely something you do not want to miss – a genuine once in a lifetime experience.
The Party actually started in 1963 and held annually ever since in the Zhaolin Park, and usually includes more than 1,500 traditional hand – made ice lanterns, made exclusively by ice taken from the nearby Songhua River. Each lantern is an artwork of its own, and nothing like it was ever made before or will ever be created again. Only your snapshots can keep it alive in history. It is actually a dying piece of art and that thought only make this whole exhibition unique and a great place to visit.
The International Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival in Harbin is a great family – friendly occasion, as well as a wonderful even for groups of friends or colleagues that wish to try something totally different of what they can find back home. If your budget leaves room for it, you should definitely try it!