Last week, I traveled to one of the coldest places on the planet, completely on my own free will. It was a surreal, magical experience – and not just because it broke one of my life’s most debilitating existential barriers.
Exploring China’s Harbin Ice and Snow Festival brought me indescribable joy – three days here made up for all the “winter wonderland” magic I’ve missed most of the rest of my life and, believe it or not, it’s even made me eager to explore more wintry destinations. After you’ve finished enjoying my photos, continue reading to get the 411 on how you can visit the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival.
How to Visit the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival
The Harbin Ice and Snow Festival takes place every year, starting on January 5 and lasting until sometime in February.
The Harbin Ice and Snow Festival consists of two main exhibitions: Harbin Ice and Snow World, which takes place in a park of the same name on the north bank of the Songhua River (and carved from ice blocks hauled out from it!) and the Harbin International Snow Sculpture Competition, which takes place on nearby Sun Island.
Many snow and ice sculptures can also be found within Harbin itself, particularly along the city’s central Zhaoyang Road and in Zhaolin Park, which is the site of the smaller Harbin Ice Lantern Fair.
Most of the online resources devoted to the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival will try to sell you tours, but don’t waste your time or money: It is completely possible to visit the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival on your own. After flying from to Harbin from Beijing, Shanghai or any of several other Chinese cities, navigating the festival is a matter of hailing a few taxi cabs and paying entry fees, which range from 150 yuan to enter Zhaolin Park to 300 yuan at Harbin Ice and Snow World.
(Hint: If you don’t speak Chinese, print out the paragraph below and show it to your taxi driver to reach your intended destination.)
Harbin Ice and Snow World – 哈尔滨冰雪大世界 (Ha’er bin bing xue da shi jie)
Zhaolin Park – 兆麟公园 (Zhao lin gong yuan)
How Cold Does It Get in Harbin?
My existential fear of the cold notwithstanding, I really psyched myself out before arriving in Harbin. It was very cold, of course, but it was surprisingly easy to deal with. Depending on the day, you can expect temperatures in Harbin to range from 0º to -20ºF (-15º to -30ºC).
Most of the reason I was fine was because I packed well. In addition to a warm coat, I recommend getting yourself some high quality long underwear (Smartwool is great!), as well as at least two pairs of gloves (I ended up having to use three!), a warm hat and scarf and some fleece-lined snow boots.
If you don’t have any of these items, of still find yourself feeling cold when you arrive in Harbin, you can of course buy additional cold weather gear at the festival itself, likely for much cheaper than in your home country.
Another reason not to worry about the cold weather at Harbin Ice and Snow Festival is that a heated, indoor place is never far off. All of the festival venues boast dozens of food and drink stalls, which allow you to escape the cold as frequently and for as long as you like. The merchants realize how desperate you’ll be, and prices are higher than you might pay in the city, but trust me, it’s worth every penny.
Robert Schrader is a travel writer and photographer who’s been roaming the world independently since 2005, writing for publications such as “CNNGo” and “Shanghaiist” along the way. His blog, Leave Your Daily Hell, provides a mix of travel advice, destination guides and personal essays covering the more esoteric aspects of life as a traveler.