This festival, along with the lantern festival (Yi Peng) in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was the main reason we came to Asia. So we had very high expectations. And our expectations were smashed. So cool. Here's a video of just one part of the festival: Ice and Snow World.
I'll try to make this guide simple and concise, because there is a LOT of info to digest.
What: Largest collection of ice and snow sculptures in the world, both in size and quantity.
When: January 5 through the end of February, although these things aren't built in a day, so you can see construction beforehand and various sculptures and buildings/castles are done in December and (weather permitting) last through March. But to be safe, go in January when everything is new and the tourists haven't broken everything yet.
Where: Here's where it gets complicated. The Ice and Snow "Festival" is a collection of lots of ice sculptures and structures strewn all over Harbin, the Songhua River, and Sun Island. Here is a map showing the top five attractions during the Ice and Snow Festival:
|Click the map to enlarge it.|
Buses to Ice and Snow World: 88, 118, and 336
Buses to Snow Sculpture Art Expo: 29, 54, 85, 88 and 346
On the Harbin side, you can catch these buses from the main bus station on Youyi Street, a block up Zhongyang from the Flood Control Monument, in between Zhongyang and Zhaolin Park. They go every 10-15 minutes.
Note. This is Bus 88:
You can walk between Ice and Snow World and the Snow Sculpture Art Expo, but keep in mind that it's -25 degrees, so that's a long time to be exposed. A taxi between the two parks is 30 yuan (ish) because they know you're stuck so they charge more.
Which location is which?
Ice and Snow World
The main attraction that you've seen in pictures and the only thing that could make a sane person venture into -25 degree weather on purpose is Ice and Snow World. That's what the video above is. Go at night, since you'll get to see all the lights.
There are also free shows included in your admission price.
Snow Sculpture Art Expo
Whereas most of the other parks and exhibits focus mainly on ice sculptures, this park is almost entirely snow sculptures. Some are small (like 10'x10' cubes), but others are massive.
There are a few sculptures they let you interact with, but most of them are roped off to just look at.
Zhaolin Park (aka Ice Lanterns)
This is a relatively smaller park, but it's right in the center of town so it's so much easier to access. Zhaolin Park has been the location of the annual ice lantern sculpture festival for over 40 years. This has more intricate ice sculptures than any of the other parks and it was far less crowded when we went.
Songhua River (aka Winter Wonderland)
We didn't see an actual name for this area, so we nicknamed it the Songhua River Winter Wonderland. This is an area about the size of a carnival staked out ON the Songhua River. (Read: It's slippery because you're on ice.) It's a chaotic fun mess of random rides and attractions, just like an American carnival, except they're all on ice.
This is probably better experienced in a 30-second video. So here:
This is the main street in town, and restaurants and shopping abound. Throughout the street, you can find various ice sculptures and interactive ice/snow displays (like an ice maze!).
How much is everything?
Zhongyang Street is completely free. (Yay!)
Songhua River is free to walk around, but you have to pay for each attraction (10-30 yuan, they've got a few slides, a banana boat pulled by a tractor, chairs on skis to rent, bumper bikes and cars, etc).
Zhaolin Park is 150 yuan (about US$25, I think this is slightly overpriced, but still worth seeing.)
Snow Art Expo is 240 yuan (about US$40, pretty dang cool. Mostly worth the price.)
Ice and Snow World is 300 yuan for night, which is any time after noon. (US$50 each, and worth every penny.)
So if you do all five, you're looking at a minimum $115 USD per person.
What should I wear?
Everything you own. It's cold. Think of the coldest you've ever been and then think how much colder you would have been if you were naked and completely exposed. It's a little colder than that.
Wear layers. Lots of layers. Here's what we wore:
Are there any places to get warm?
Yes. You can only stay outside for about 2 hours at a time before you need to come inside and defrost. Harbin knows that so they've provided warming stations in most touristy areas.
Ice and Snow World has the most heated buildings and rest areas, and they also have the free shows to attend which give you some entertainment while you thaw out.
The Snow Sculpture Art Expo is really spread out, so watch the map and plan accordingly.
Zhaolin Park only has one building we found, and although it was warmer than outside, we're pretty sure it was still below freezing inside. It's amenities were the worst of the three parks, but it's the smallest too so you don't need as much time to see everything.
Zhongyang Street has shops all along it for warmth.
The Songhua River has no amenities or buildings, but you're only a block from Zhongyang Street.
Probably, but I can't think of anything right now. Ask me in the comments below or on any of the YouTube videos on my channel and I'll tell you anything you want to know.