More advice for the Harbin Ice Festival

Recently had a reader email about our trip to Harbin last year. I thought I’d share our correspondence in case it may help someone else as well.

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Hi Guys – Question for you….we’re expats here in Nanjing (from Michigan). We’ve been here for about 6 months and follow your blog quite often. We really enjoy it. Thanks for taking the time to keep it updated!

We were wondering if you guys could shed any more light on the Harbin Ice Festival. We know you’ve blogged on the festival. It sounds like a blast. We’re always looking for an adventure and were wondering if you guys had any good thoughts/recommendations for the event. From what we understand the festival goes on from Jan 5 – Feb 5, but that is just from a quick google search. In your mind is there a best time to visit?

We’re thinking about a weekend trip with an extra couple of days off on either side. If you have any insight you can pass along, we’d greatly appreciate it. Hotels, bars, places to not miss, etc…. We have a 1.5 year old son, but we’ll be leaving him at home for this trip!

Again – great blog — we’ll keep coming back to visit. Thanks in advance for any insight you may be able to provide.


Hi! It’s great to hear from you!

We did make a trip to Harbin last winter. Here’s the link to the original Harbin Ice Festival post with photos from our trip. And here’s the information on the hotel where we stayed.

The biggest advice I have for Harbin is rather obvious… take LOTS of clothes! Really. If you aren’t bundled up well enough, you’ll be miserable. It wasn’t too bad for us since Shenyang can get pretty cold too, but you really need to be prepared. I’m sure you know the drill since you are from Michigan, but being from SC I am not used to this frigid weather. I would suggest ski pants and the warmest jacket you can find. I personally had on 4 pair of pants (silk leggings under wool leggings under knit leggings under ski pants) and 4 shirts (I obviously like lots of thin layers vs. fewer thick layers but that’s also an option) in addition to my arctic rated jacket. You’ll want wool mittens, it’s amazing how much warmer those are than gloves with fingers. We were happy to have brought along our “hot hands” and hot water bottles because your hands and feet are what suffer the most.

The tiger park was pretty cool and so was both of the ice and snow parks. They are each in different parts of the city though so you’ll need to hire a driver. We just booked one with the hotel. Make sure you bargain the price though. We ended up with a van and guide. It wasn’t the original plan but it worked out pretty well. Except we had to wait on them and got started late. The snow sculptures are worth seeing during the day, but the ice city is fine to go after dark. In fact, you’ll definitely want to be there after dark. The light shows are awesome.

For our trip we took the train up on Friday afternoon (it’s only 4 hours from here) and came back Sunday evening. It was really plenty of time because as long as you get an early start on Saturday, you can pretty much see everything in that one day. Probably a good idea not to bring your little one… frozen tears are not very fun! I don’t really think there is a “best” time to visit although I would definitely avoid Chinese New Year if possible. Traveling then is a nightmare.

It has been one of our favorite things we’ve done so far. It is absolutely an incredible site and no photo can do justice to just how awesome it is. I think it is definitely a trip you’ll enjoy!

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4 thoughts on “More advice for the Harbin Ice Festival

  1. We went to Harbin last year (2011) on New Years’ day. There is almost no traffic. It’s about 6 hours from Shenyang, by car. It was fun seeing the country and the res stop areas. We went to the Ice park the night we got in and the snow park the next day with hitting the little ice park, near the Russina walking street, that night. The next day we went to see the tigers before heading home.
    This year (2012) we went up the Thursday before New Year’s Eve and traffic was much heavier. We waited at one toll gate for 30 minutes! Again, we did the Ice Festival in the evening we got in and the snow the next morning. Since all of China has had very little snow, the snow part was many a 1/3 of last years, pretty much just the snow sculpting compitition. So, having finished that before 11 we went to the Aquarium and saw the Baluga Whale show. AMAZING! That afternoon we want to see the old Russina Church that’s now a museum for Harbin. It was worth seeing.
    My kids LOVE making the trip so we are going to try to go every year. I need to get all our pictures up and I’ll link you when I do.

    • That does sound a fun thing to do for New Year! I was really thinking that the train tickets and plane tickets for traveling at that time are really difficult to get and expensive. I’ll bet the parks were quite empty though. It’s pretty cool that you were able to drive up. Do you have a driver? Did he not have the time off for New Year?

      That aquarium sounds really neat! Where did you stay? We weren’t that impressed with the Holiday Inn, the rooms were like 90 degrees inside! but it was just across from that Russian walking street and the small sculptures so that was nice.

  2. Went to Ice Festival end of january 2009, i have never been so COLD!
    You are correct, pictures do not capture the amazing work done with the creation of these blocks of ice. We also went to see the Orthodox Church and the frozen river. Lots of shopping on a street close to our hotel, russian shops, can not remember the hotel name but it was very warn in the room, almost too warm.

  3. My boyfriend and I are moving to Harbin in less than two weeks, so it’s nice to have a perspective from someone traveling there from elsewhere in China! We are dreading the cold, since we’re from Oklahoma (it rarely gets below 20 degrees F here), but we bought lots of thermal arctic wear and we’re arriving after the worst weather is over, so hopefully we’ll be all right!

    Love your blog. Thanks for the helpful info you always provide.