This Unusual, Beautiful Ice Paradise Is China's Top Winter Tourist Destination

If your travel plans have you visiting China this winter, consider immersing yourself in a winter wonderland of colorful fun at the International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in Harbin. This capital of the Heilongjiang province in the northeast corner of the country is often referred to as China's "Ice City," with good reason. Each year, starting on January 5, visitors flock to Harbin to enjoy an impressive display of ice sculptures across the city that's kept in place for around two months.

The International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in Harbin is a top winter tourist destination that requires visitors to brave the cold and snow. According to Climates to Travel, the average daily temperature in Harbin in January is only around 1 degree Fahrenheit. While the area doesn't get an excessive amount of annual snowfall, what does fall stays frozen in place due to the area's consistently frigid winter temperatures. This sets a chilly scene for the festival that has become a well-understood part of the attraction. 

The drastic cold makes the International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival one of the longest-lasting events of its kind on the planet. Everything needed to pull the fascinating scenery together is easily accessible because ice for the sculptures can be sourced right from the local Songhua River. Yes, you'll have to bundle up to enjoy the event, but you can also count on those towering ice and snow sculptures to remain impeccable throughout the entire festival.

A one-of-a-kind ice festival experience

Half the fun of visiting this winter tourist destination during your trip to China is the opportunity to see new sculptures each year. While you're likely to come across ice dragons, igloos, Buddha, and snow fairies, sculptors also get to work crafting stunning renditions of iconic global structures. In years past, there's been an ice Kremlin, full-sized Japanese temples, and a Flamenco Ice Tower that stretched over 100 feet into the air.

If you're not sure where to begin, the area known as the Harbin Ice and Snow World is always a good choice. Spanning over 8 million square feet of space, this area gives off fairytale winter vibes. It includes some of the largest festival sculptures including ice castles, walkable bridges, and ice slides to enjoy. The scenery is also illuminated at night, turning it all into a captivating kaleidoscope of color. 

If you're looking to admire snow sculptures, the bulk is built into the frigid terrain in another area known as Sun Island. At Wanda Ice Lantern World, you can pair ice sculptures with cuisine from around the globe. There are also options to enjoy ice bowling as well as ice tug-of-war and snow football when you visit Wanda Ice Lantern World.

Make the most of your frigid fun

If you want to expand your festival fun, be sure to check out the two remaining areas of the event: the Zhaolina Park Ice Lantern Art Festival and the Songhua River Ice and Snow Carnival. Each comes with its own beautiful displays to check out and unique activities to try. When you need to take a break and thaw out, the festival grounds are typically dotted with inviting coffee huts where you can warm up and fuel up at the same time.

Beyond admiring the incredible snow and ice sculptures, the festival integrates a variety of other fun activities to try. Throughout the festival, there is ice fishing to attempt and dance performances to watch, as well as ice football games and open skating on the Songhua River. You might also be lucky enough to see a wintery wedding ceremony or two happening at the ice festival. It's become a popular place for couples to say "I do."

When you're planning your visit to the International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in Harbin, keep in mind that you'll need to purchase a separate ticket for each festival area. If you want to avoid the crowds, consider planning to visit outside of the Chinese New Year, which runs from February 10 to 16 in 2024. Finally, don't forget your camera because this colorful and icy experience is well worth capturing.