Winter in China can be brutal. The pollution level usually rises, temperatures plummet, and people start to count the days until spring arrives. As you can imagine, tourism usually takes a hit during the winter because of this. Despite all of this, winter is the best time to visit Helongjian province in northern China because this is when the Harbin Ice Festival takes place.
Every winter, thousands of people flock to Harbin in northern China to catch a glimpse of the magnificent ice sculptures that are on display during the Ice Festival. Buildings, statues, and interactive exhibits entirely made out of ice are on display during the festival. Even more impressive is that most of these structures are lit up at night, creating an amazing, fairytale-like atmosphere. You can also walk across Harbin’s froze lake to Sun Island to take a look at some amazing snow carvings.
So much detail goes in to these sculptures, it is absolutely ridiculous. You could spend hours looking at everything on display, but make sure you are bundled up! Even with 3-4 layers, I still felt like I was going to freeze to death.
Harbin used to be part of Russian Siberia, and you can see a lot of Russian influence around the city. St. Sophia church is a wonderful example of Russian architecture that you can see while in Harbin.
Harbin can be seen in a weekend, and it is extremely cold (as you can imagine any place where an entire festival made of ice would be), so most people spend about 2-3 days exploring the city and the festival. There are plenty of options for accommodation, ranging from cheap backpacker style places to five star hotels. Just book early to make sure you get the accommodation you want.
While winter is the most popular time to visit Harbin, it would also be worth a stop over in the warmer months when you could spend more time outside exploring the architecture and the Siberian Tiger Park. The tiger park is famous for its elevated walkways that allow visitors to observe the tigers inside the park. Tigers are treated decently, but it can be a shock for people who are only used to Western-style zoos. The park also has a Liger, but it is kept in less than ideal conditions.
So, how do you get to Harbin?
Harbin is a quick 2 hour flight from Beijing or 3 hours from Shanghai. Many airlines operate flights daily, but prices tend to skyrocket as the festival gets closer. Your best bet is to purchase flights and book hotel rooms early in order to get a good deal.
You can also take the train, but it is a long 10 hour journey from Beijing and will take more than 24 hours from Shanghai, so this option is definitely more suited to people who have of plenty time to travel.
Though it is a big obscure, Harbin’s Ice Festival is absolutely worth the visit!
Have you attended the Festival? What was your favorite part?