Winter might have a reputation for being cold, disparaging, and relentless, but there are plenty of good things that come with its frigid temperatures, as well. Things such as freshly fallen snow, ice skating in the park, and stunning ice sculptures are often found at festivals around the world celebrating this unique season. In one country, an entire town is transformed to reflect a world that one might think was only possible in the Frozen movies.
From sculptures to entire buildings carved from ice, as well as lantern walks and various snow-themed activities, one city in China is showing the world how much fun winter can truly be.
The Largest Ice And Snow Festival In The World
Located in the northwestern corner of China, Harbin is the capital of Heilongjiang, which also happens to be the northernmost destination in the country. Due to its unique geographical location, Harbin does see cooler temperatures than the rest of China with winters that are longer than most. Its climate is influenced by monsoons which leads to long, dry winters, with temperatures sometimes falling below -15 degrees throughout the month of January. However, despite its freezing climate, the city has found a way to embrace its extended winter temperatures in order to create something truly unique.
The Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival sometimes referred to as the Harbin Ice Lantern Festival or Ice Festival for short, completely transforms this city. During the coldest time of the year between late December and February, this festival brings visitors from all around to explore its five icy theme parks and a wide array of snow and ice art on display. The theme parks that open annually each winter are:
- Sun International Snow Sculpture Art Expo: Known for its incredible ice sculptures that are on display for several months.
- Harbin Ice and Snow World: A haven for winter activities, ice sculptures, shows, and light displays.
- Harbin Wanda Ice Lantern World: Known for being the largest home of snow-themed lantern walks.
- Zhaolin Park Ice Lantern Fair: Also known for its winter-themed lanterns.
- Songhua River Ice and Snow Carnival: This can be found on the frozen Songhua River and is known for its unique winter activities.
In addition to these five theme parks, visitors will have the chance to watch various winter-themed competitions and sporting events, as well. These often include:
- Ice fishing
- Ice skating, ice hockey, ice football, Alpine skiing, speed skating, and other competitive winter sports
- Snow sculpture competitions
- Winter-themed parades and various celebrations
- Special events that include all things ice and snow-related
The festival itself continues to be the largest in the world to this day and has been ongoing since 1963. According to icefestivalharbin.com, it's also consecutively named one of the four best ice festivals in the entire world. As one can imagine, a festival as large and incredible as this one has the potential to bring thousands of visitors - and it often does!
- Fun Fact: The Ice Festival brings about 300 'ice miners' to the region annually to show off their best ice sculpting skills. Some of these structures are large enough and strong enough, to hold festival-goers who wish to climb their stairs or stand on their upper floors. When lights and details are added to these ice 'buildings,' it truly looks like a winter wonderland come to life.
Building The Frozen City For The Harbin Ice Festival
The process of setting up the city to become an icy wonderland is no small feat. According to BBC, massive ice blocks are brought into the city via way of the Songhua River, which freezes during Harbin's winter months. These pieces of ice are then used to chisel buildings, sculptures, and whatever other landmarks are needed in order to transform the city. One year even saw pagodas, castles, bridges, and even a fully-functioning hotpot restaurant! Natural ice from the Songhua River is often stronger and serves to be more reinforced than man-made ice, which makes the festival's features last longer and allows them to stand up to the region's strong winter winds.
Using a collection of chainsaws, ice picks, and chisels, crews work extraordinarily long hours in order to create the winter wonderland that usually opens around December 24th of each year. The larger buildings are created with the same method one might use to build an igloo by laying large ice blocks on top of one another. When it's finished, the result is nothing short of spectacular - a small land full of fairy-tale-like landmarks and buildings, surrounded by an icy wall on the edge of a frozen river. At night, these buildings are lit up by various colors from lights within, creating the illusion that one has really stepped into the perfect winter landscape.