The main reason for travel to icy cold Harbin winter is to see the International Ice and Snow Festival held sometime late January till February. It is a magical place. A myriad of structures made from carved ice blocks (possibly sourced from the nearby frozen Songhua River) – from pagodas to castles and anything imaginable. For added attraction, a multitude of colored lights are fitted within the ice block to give the sculptures and structures life. These ice architecture are not only for viewing but also to be walked and sometimes slide upon. The details on some of these are truly works of art. It must be difficult to get the lights working in these freezing temperatures. There were even reindeer rides!
It is easy to get here by local bus and return afterwards. Just be aware that there are several sites offering some sort of ice show (not the international ice festival). Perhaps get the locals to help you, particularly your accommodation staff. Fortunately for us, the bus route is just off my hostel. Taxi drivers may offer to take you there but you may end up at another park and higher cost.
From dusk onward, when the lights come on, this site becomes a wonderland of fairy tales. However, the cold is very real, minus 25 and dropping! Dress appropriately, in layers. Fortunately, eateries provide much needed energy and warmth as we plodded from one sculptor to another.
Indoor entertainment – beauty contest, singing and dancing – also make this festival atmospheric. Long queues, in the cold, for the 100m ice slide diverted me to try ice cycling. It is uniquely Chinese and a lot of fun. It is indeed a unique experience, only made in Harbin , China.