Snow Place Like Harbin: Ice and Snow Festival, Harbin, China

Visiting Harbin for the Snow and Ice Festival has been on my bucket list since I read about it a couple years ago over at The Rachael Way. Two years later and I’ve finally made it! I was worried that I had built this up so much that I’d be disappointed, but let me tell you, Harbin definitely lived up to my expectations. If you’re looking for a real life winter wonderland experience, Harbin is your place.
Ice Sculptures @ Zhaolin Park
This is a much smaller scale ice festival, but it’s only 50 RMB compared to the other, more expensive festivals and is easily accessible in the city center. There are plenty of sculptures around the park, as well as a cute train and some slides. 
Snow Sculptures @ Sun Island Park
This is where things get a little more expensive and a lot more intense. I recommend doing this during the day. You can easily spend a few hours walking around the park. The park closes at 5 pm, so I recommend going directly after lunch before it gets too cold. They turn the lights on around 4 pm, and the already mesmerizing sculptures become even more gorgeous. We paid 240RMB/ticket and an additional 20 for access to the cars three times (which we only used once as we were leaving).
Ice and Snow World
The biggest ice festival in the world is here, with companies like Ford, the NBA, Pizza Hut, and more all with their own designated ice castle ads. The Ford castle actually had a car parked on it. Uh, what. Everything is breathtaking, and there are loads of things to do. They have reindeer (pulling sleds-sad face), slides, an art expo, a lantern show, and a concert.  This festival costs about 330 RMB and closes at 10 pm. It’s not far from Sun Island Park; however, if you aren’t careful, you may end up spending an outrageous 50 RMB on a taxi from one place to the next.The Church of St. Sophia
There’s a bit of recent history in Harbin, which you might be able to guess when you arrive and notice how vastly different it looks from the rest of China. You can immediately see the Russian influence in the architecture, and it’s absolutely beautiful. Many Byzantine orthodox churches had been built in Harbin, but many had been torn down. The church of St. Sophia is the only one left standing today. It’s free to have a look from the outside, but if you want to go inside, it costs 15 RMB. It’s really inexpensive and worth it to walk around. There are pictures and models on the inside to help you understand the history behind it all. I definitely recommend it!
Several things to note:
//The people were super friendly and helpful, but don’t speak any English. It was a great opportunity to practice my Chinese skills.
//Cabs are super cheap, but they may try and rip you off. If you have Uber and know a small bit of Chinese, I would advise using the app. It was extremely helpful for us.
//Try to enjoy some Russian food. We had a place in mind that ended up being closed, so we missed our chance.
//Pack hand warmers (and maybe feet and body warmers as well).
//Layer up. It gets pretty cold! We were there before a cold front, and it was already -17°C or 2°F.
//It can be pretty polluted, so bring a mask! When I went, it was the worst pollution I’d ever experienced. I’m talking AQI of 463.
//Bring water or snacks to the ice and snow festivals. Concessions are over-priced, as expected, so pack your own. If you’re bringing water, put it in a thermos to keep it from freezing.
//Don’t be alarmed that a lot of the snacks they sell are frozen, like these candied fruit for example!
//As always, toilet paper and soap are in short supply or non-existent, so make sure you bring some tissues and hand sanitizer with you.
//Beware that your battery may die quickly being out in the cold. Find ways to protect your electronics from the brutal winter air.
//Zhongyangdajie is the pedestrian street that you may find yourself on if you’re looking for food. It has everything and no cars!
This place is truly wonderful to see if you get the chance. Just make sure that you come prepared, especially if you aren’t used to freezing cold weather!

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