If you think enduring teeth-chattering cold is part of the fun when you travel, then the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival is the carnival for you.
Set in Heilongjiang Province in northern China, it’s the world’s biggest snow and ice festival and features plenty of spectacular installations and activities.
The annual festival officially runs from January 5 to February 25, but some attractions open to visitors before the opening ceremony, including the most popular of them all – Harbin Ice and Snow World.
This year’s sculptures are made from approximately 220,000 cubic meters of ice blocks, all pulled from the nearby Songhua River.
The festival also plays host to several events set against the cold-weather creations. In 2020, those events included a mass wedding, where most brides wore parkas over their white dresses, and a swim in the ice-cold Songhua by a few brave individuals.
Throughout the festival, there are opportunities to ski, ice skate, play “ice soccer” and ride bicycles.
Opening night kicked off with a fireworks display against the illuminated sculptures.
Entrance to Harbin Ice and Snow World costs RMB330, or $48.
There are also many free activities around town to enjoy until the end of February, including 2,019 snowmen of different shapes and sizes built along the river.
First celebrated in 1985, the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival was inspired by Heilongjiang’s traditional lanterns, which were carved out of ice and illuminated by candles.
Celebrating its 36th year in 2020, it’s now considered one of the world’s top winter festivals, joining the ranks of the Sapporo Snow Festival in Japan, Canada’s Quebec Winter Carnival and Norway’s Holmenkollen Ski Festival.
Chinese state-run media outlet Xinhua also notes that the government has invested heavily in increasing winter tourism, particularly as the country prepares to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
According to Xinhua, there were 224 million winter tourists in the 2018-2019 winter season, up 13.7 percent from the previous year.