The number one activity on most people’s lists of things to do in Harbin is the Ice & Snow Festival, which runs every year from early December until at least the end of February, with a formal grand opening on 5 January.
The Harbin Ice & Snow Festival is by far the world’s largest ice sculpture festival and it’s hard to express how magical the city becomes, despite temperatures which routinely drop below -30°C at night, with ice sculptures and fairy lights decorating roads and roundabouts, and the frozen Songhua River transformed into a playground.
There are three main locations for the Ice & Snow festival proper. The most famous one is Ice & Snow World, set a little way out of the centre on the north bank of the river, a winter wonderland of elaborate ice buildings, ice sculptures, incredible ice slides and an ice bar (a metered taxi from the centre costs 15-20 kuai, or you can take the no. 29 bus).
The sculptures look their best by day but it’s worth coming before sunset, not only to watch the sculptures transforming as they illuminate but to enjoy ice sports in the playground at the back.
The ticket cost, 200 kuai outside Spring Festival, 300-330 kuai over Spring Festival, also allows you to play on ice slides, ride ice bikes or toboggan chairs, go ice skating, skidoo-ing, ATV-ing tobogganing and even skiing on a small slope with its T-bar lift.
The other two main locations are Zhaolin Park, a block east of Zhongyang Dajie, with a dazzling display of ice lanterns, and Sun Island, home to elaborate, enormous snow sculptures. Tickets for these displays start from 200 kuai.