Harbin Ice & Snow Festival, China
The people of Harbin in Heilongjiang province, northeast China, know how to make a virtue of sub zero temperatures and icy winds blowing in from Siberia: they celebrate with a huge ice and snow festival, carving dramatic, life sized ice buildings, huge snow sculptures and beautiful ice lanterns from chunks of the frozen Songhua River.
The Harbin Ice and Snow Festival is the largest of its kind in the world, held since 1963 and, unlike most festivals which last just a handful of days, it kicks off on 5th January and lasts until the end of February. In fact, exhibits often open earlier and are left in place longer, weather permitting.
Sun Island on the opposite side of the Songhua River from the city is the main expo site, where enormous – and we mean enormous – snow and ice sculptures are created. Life sized buildings, bridges and even ice Ferris wheels have all been carved in the past. You can walk on ice steps into ice churches and slide down ice slides, and you can explore day and night, too. In fact, the festival is at its most spectacular after dark, when thousands of lights illuminate the sculptures, many of which are made with deionised water, producing ice blocks as transparent as glass. The ice lantern exhibition in Zhaolin Garden is a definite after dark must see.
Beyond exploring the sculptures, there are lots of other winter activities to enjoy. There’s skiing, winter swimming and fishing in the Songhua River, an opening ceremony with fireworks, snow sculpture competitions, fashion shows, ice sport games and concerts, plus lots of birthday parties and weddings being celebrated around the site.
Take some time to explore Harbin itself, too. It’s one of China’s most attractive cities, with clear Russian and European influences in its architecture. Russian bakeries are dotted throughout the city and the food is surprisingly familiar. Compared to the street food in other provinces, Harbin’s would suit most barbecue loving Europeans, with savoury grilled meats, griddled squid, fried potatoes and ice cream, plus lots of bread. Much of it is a legacy of the time when Harbin was the largest Russian settlement outside of the old empire.
Our top Festivals Holiday
Cultural celebrations and festivals in Kham and Amdo 2021.
From US $1653 15 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2022: 29 Jul
2022: 29 Jul
If you'd like to chat about Festivals or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.
China isn’t an easy country to travel around independently, so joining a small group or tailor made tour that takes in the festival is the best idea. As it begins in early January, some tours will also include the chance to join in with the biggest event on the Chinese calendar, New Year, in February. It goes without saying that if you’re visiting Harbin Ice and Snow Festival, you need to wrap up. Temperatures are routinely -16 °C in winter, and annual lows of -35 °C are not uncommon.
More about Festivals
The best time to go to a festival is, basically, when it’s on! Happily, throughout the year, you can find some part of the world rocking to a festival beat or rolling out a ritual.
Attending a local festival in a far flung country provides a fascinating insight into a culture – as well as being fantastic fun.
From Chad to China, Benin to Bhutan, find out where the most exciting events and celebrations take place around the world, with our festivals map and highlights page.
Bhutan festivals are colourful, sociable, spiritual events and, happily, there’s one happening somewhere in the country throughout the year.
From an indigenous Mexican commemoration, to a UNESCO-acclaimed cultural highlight celebrated around the globe, Mexico’s Day of the Dead festival has come a long way in its 3,000-year history.
A huge and relatively new event, the World Nomad Games is the Olympics of the nomadic world, featuring traditional sports from Central Asia and beyond.
An ancient courtship ritual in which tribesmen dress up and wear makeup to attract a wife or a lover, Chad's Gerewol festival is an extraordinary spectacle...
The Nadaam and Eagle festivals in Mongolia are wonderful sporting and social events, offering the chance to delve a little deeper into Mongol culture...
Drawing in musicians from all over the world, the Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak is a fun, friendly celebration that features big stage performances and small afternoon workshops.
Rhythmic drumming, extraordinary costumes and performers channeling spirits – the Voodoo festival, Benin, is an otherworldly cultural treat.
Ethiopia’s Orthodox Christian celebration, Timkat, takes place 19 and 20 January every year and, although it does attract tourist spectators, it is an authentic religious festival, with a lot of colour, singing, drumming and splashing.
The Rio Carnival, held every year in the week before Lent, is the world’s biggest party, with millions of revellers taking to the streets to watch as flamboyant dancers parade alongside floats and bands.
Experiencing an internationally celebrated event in its country of origin is one of those travelling adventures to tell the grandkids about.
If you’re wondering what to pack, where you’ll stay and what to expect, our specialist holiday providers have lots of advice, to put you in the picture.
Attending a festival isn’t without its responsible tourism concerns, so we take a look at how to travel responsibly.