I’ve always had a difficult time with winter, or at least the idea of it. This technically started in 1987, when I was uprooted from my balmy birthplace of Houston, TX to chilly St. Louis, MO, although I was so young at the time I don’t think I realized it consciously.
That wouldn’t happen until five years later, when my family moved again, this time even further north to suburban Toledo, OH. Ohio was not only substantially colder than Missouri—I remember crying one May because my mother’s crocuses, which had finally emerged from beneath the frozen ground, died due to a late snowstorm—but saw me as the proverbial “new kid” for the first time.
Ever since then, I’ve associated winter with trauma and misery, irrespective of how I physically react to the cold, and have gone to great lengths to deny its very existence. I’ve chosen to live in southern cities—Tampa, FL for college and Austin, TX ever since then—for my entire adult life, and have also given almost exclusive preference to warmer travel destinations, which is to say I’ve chosen to miss out on a huge percentage of the most amazing places on Earth.
Sometimes I’ve had no choice but to face winter, such as during trips to St. Louis for the holidays or when polar vortices reached as far south as Texas. In these instances I would purposely avoid buying coats, hats, gloves and other winter paraphernalia in hopes I could somehow avoid dealing with winter if I…well, avoided dealing with it. Instead, I felt even more uncomfortable than I otherwise would’ve, which exacerbated my fear and hatred.
At age 30, I traveled to one of the coldest places on the planet, completely on my own free will. It was a surreal, magical experience—and not just because it broke one of my life’s most debilitating existential barriers.
Exploring China’s Harbin Ice and Snow Festival brought me indescribable joy—three days here made up for all the “winter wonderland” magic I’ve missed most of the rest of my life and, believe it or not, it’s even made me eager to explore more wintry destinations. After you’ve finished enjoying my photos, continue reading to get the 411 on how you can visit the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival, including an answer to the question of whether you need Harbin Ice Festival tours in order to do so.
Pictures from Harbin Ice Festival
How to Visit the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival
When Does the Harbin Ice Festival Take Place?
The Harbin Ice and Snow Festival takes place every year, starting in early January and lasting until sometime in February. This is undoubtedly the best time to visit Harbin, which I’m sad to say is otherwise a somewhat bleak city, in my opinion. I’ll post the specific dates of the 2024 Harbin Ice Festival when they’re released later in 2023.
How is the Harbin Ice Festival Organized?
The Harbin Ice and Snow Festival consists of two main exhibitions: Harbin Ice and Snow World, which takes place in a park of the same name on the north bank of the Songhua River (and carved from ice blocks hauled out from it!) and the Harbin International Snow Sculpture Competition, which takes place on nearby Sun Island.
Many snow and ice sculptures can also be found within Harbin itself, particularly along the city’s central Zhaoyang Road and in Zhaolin Park, which is the site of the smaller Harbin Ice Lantern Fair.
Harbin Ice Festival Tours
Most of the online resources devoted to the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival will try to sell you tours, but don’t waste your time or money: It is completely possible to visit the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival on your own. After flying from to Harbin from Beijing, Shanghai or any of several other Chinese cities, navigating the festival is a matter of hailing a few taxi cabs and paying entry fees, which range from 150 yuan to enter Zhaolin Park to 300 yuan at Harbin Ice and Snow World.
(Hint: If you don’t speak Chinese, print out the paragraph below and show it to your taxi driver to reach your intended destination.)
Harbin Ice and Snow World – 哈尔滨冰雪大世界 (Ha’er bin bing xue da shi jie)
Zhaolin Park – 兆麟公园 (Zhao lin gong yuan)
Harbin Ice Festival tours are available, but trust me: Visiting independently is easy (and fun!). Do make sure to download an updated “Chinese” patch to your Google Translate app (and a VPN to make sure you can use it while in China!)
How Cold Does It Get in Harbin?
My existential fear of the cold notwithstanding, I really psyched myself out before arriving in Harbin. It was very cold, of course, but it was surprisingly easy to deal with. Depending on the day, you can expect temperatures in Harbin to range from 0º to -20ºF (-15º to -30ºC), even though the general aesthetic of these Harbin travel blog pictures might seem much colder.
Most of the reason I was fine during my Harbin travel was because I packed well. In addition to a warm coat, I recommend getting yourself some high quality long underwear (Smartwool is great!), as well as at least two pairs of gloves (I ended up having to use three!), a warm hat and scarf and some fleece-lined snow boots.
If you don’t have any of these items, of still find yourself feeling cold when you arrive in Harbin, you can of course buy additional cold weather gear at the festival itself, likely for much cheaper than in your home country.
Another reason not to worry about the cold weather at Harbin Ice and Snow Festival is that a heated, indoor place is never far off. All of the festival venues boast dozens of food and drink stalls, which allow you to escape the cold as frequently and for as long as you like. The merchants realize how desperate you’ll be, and prices are higher than you might pay in the city, but trust me, it’s worth every penny.
The Bottom Line
The good news? Although Harbin is cold, it’s not unbearable—and that’s coming for someone who’s spent most of his life hating winter! The better news? You don’t need to shop for Harbin Ice Festival tours to enjoy the world’s wintriest wonderland, even if your Chinese skills are bu hao. With this being said, traveling China as a whole can be frustrating (to say the least), so I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted tohire me as your Travel Coach and let me sweat the details.