Harbin's Ice and Snow Festival

The annual Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival is Harbin's main tourist highlight. It is the world's biggest winter festival. The bitterly cold winters are just right for this festival.

Photo Credit: Reuters

Photo Credit: Reuters

As the festival grows in international participation, and as China's economy grows, the size of the snow sculptures and ice architecture exhibits keeps growing. The work going into making these exhibits is astounding, and their size and beauty is amazing. The lightning effects on the huge ice sculptures in the Ice and Snow World are technologically sophisticated. They use computer controlled LEDs and regular lighting to animate stunning displays of colour and design.

When is it?

Photo Credit: Kim Kyung-Hoon

Photo Credit: Kim Kyung-Hoon

The festival is officially held from the end of December through February. Opening dates keep changing, and ending dates partly depends on the weather. Check with our travel advisers for current information. The Sun Island Scenic Area will be opened from Dec. 21 to Feb. 28.

Venues for the Festival

Photo Credit: Fred Sullivan

Photo Credit: Fred Sullivan

In general, each of the three venues have different ticket prices and hours. The Zhaolin Park Ice Lantern Festival venue and the Ice and Snow World venue are evening exhibitions, and the snow sculptures on Sun Island are for viewing during the daylight.

Sun Island Scenic: This area only displays snow sculptures that can be only visited during daytime.

The Ice and Snow World: Here displays ice sculptures of huge scale such as palace buildings, the Great Wall of China etc. It is best visited when they are colourfully lit at night.

Zhaolin Park: More than 1,000 ice sculptures are displayed such as internally illuminated ice lanterns, magical figures, and animals that are loved by children. It is mostly an ice world focused on kids. There are interesting activities that kids may enjoy such as ice slides.

Now, of course, here are some need to know travel tips for the first time traveller;

Sub-Zero Clothing:

In Harbin in winter the temperature is from -25°C (-13°F) to -10°C (14°F), and that's without wind chill! Hence thermal underwear, gloves, (scarves, earmuffs), hats, (face masks), and thick arctic clothing and boots are necessary. If you have ski boots they would be ideal.

Wear snow glasses and Drink Water

Wearing sunglasses, or if you can, snow glasses will come handy to prevent snow blindness, and despite the cold it is very dry in Harbin (average humidity 2%) so don’t forget to fuel up on fluids.

Photo Credit: TripBuddies

Photo Credit: TripBuddies

Frostbite prevention

If your hands or feet start feeling chilled, do some exercise to warm them up or go indoors. If your hands, feet, ears, nose, or other extremities lose feeling due to the cold, don't toast them or wash them with hot water. Ideally retreat to a warmer indoor environment, and rub them vigorously to restore circulation slowly.

Protect your camera batteries

The average January high in Harbin is -13°C (8°F). The cold saps battery life. Usually a fully-charged camera battery will last for 50 photos (without flash), but in these cold conditions around 25 is good. If you take the battery out and warm it for a while, you may be able to take another ten. You can try repeating this action. It is also recommended that you keep your camera inside your down jacket when not use it. If you want to take lots of photos prepare more batteries for your camera, and keep them warm.


In Harbin (and the rest of China), if you use a taxi, make sure that the driver turns the meter on. If you don't, when you arrive, they will charge you their own price! Also, carry small denomination bills because you may be handed fake money if you try to get change. From the airport or the train station, it is better to take a cab that is waiting in the official taxi waiting line to avoid problems.