This past weekend I went with a group on a trip to Harbin in Heilongjiang Province. We walked and gazed in wonder, but luckily (contrary to previous expectations) we did not freeze. Winter is coming to an end and as such Harbin is starting to warm up. So instead of the -30 degrees Celsius that we had expected, the temperature stood at a cool -12 degrees Celsius. That’s still low enough to freeze toes and tears without the proper attire though, so packing more sweaters is still a safe bet, especially if you or your kids are sensitive to the cold. Beijing to Harbin was the perfect weekend trip.
We rolled out at 8:50am on Saturday morning and took various planes and trains the following night to get back to Beijing. That gave us a little less than two days of fun, which was more than enough time to see two of the main attractions on Sun Island: The Ice & Snow World and the Sun Island International Snow Sculpture Art Expo. Ice & Snow World is best visited at night, since the edifices and the entire area are illuminated with a magical fluorescent tint. The snow sculptures are a daytime adventure.
Some of the life-size castles featured at Ice & Snow World.
For those aiming to avoid crowds, these last two weeks of February may be the best time to visit Harbin’s icy wonderland (though the sculptures are starting to melt). When we visited, the crowds at the snow sculptures were sparse. At the Ice & Snow Festival, KFC and Pizza Hut were the most crowded places, but there was little hustle or bustle around the actual ice sculptures themselves.
We stayed a ten-minute walk away from Harbin’s Central Street (中央大街, Zhōngyāngdàjiē), a cobblestone, pedestrian road that lined with shops and restaurants. The area is a fifteen-minute drive away from the snow sculptures on Sun Island and about a thirty-minute drive away from Ice & Snow World.
On the first (and only) night when we made our way to Ice & Snow World, we saw massive ice castles, long ice slides, and people of all ages kicking up snow as they sled throughout the park.
Ice & Snow World with people sledding alongside a walkway of paper and plastic lanterns.
Plastic sleds are a must for Ice & Snow World. If you don’t want to bring your own, it would be smart to purchase them before entering the park as prices inside double from the original RMB 10 to RMB 20 or even RMB 40. That also depends on the type of sled you want to purchase.
It’s best to visit the snow sculptures during the day when they are the most visible.
A snow sculpture on Sun Island of a large snow cube with snowflakes carved out on the sides and a snow statue of a girl in the center.
Heilongjiang Province borders Russia, and as such you can find the influence of Russian culture in the area’s food and architecture. When not visiting ice and snow art, we stopped by St. Sophia Orthodox Church and also made our way down Harbin’s Central Street (中央大街, Zhōngyāngdàjiē).
Harbin’s Central Street during the afternoon.
St. Sophia Orthodox Church was built in the 20th century to accommodate Orthodox Christians who were living around Harbin at that time. The church is now a museum and visitors can enter after purchasing an entrance ticket.
A shot of St. Sophia’s Cathedral from the plaza.
During this time of year in Harbin, smaller ice and snow sculptures are spread all around the city. During our post-dinner stroll down Harbin’s Central Street, we saw small ice slides and unique ice sculptures.
An ice sculpture of the prevalent Nongfu Springs Water brand.
Artists from countries around the area also partner to design and build the snow and ice sculptures. We witnessed a variety of different cultures and artistic styles while walking through and observing the snow sculptures on Sun Island.
Considering the sparse vacation schedule that most adults have in China, a weekend getaway to Harbin or other cities close to China is highly recommended. Sleeper trains make the trips feel very adventurous if that’s your style, while planes make these trips more convenient. With the number of unique and exciting places to see around Beijing, I know more trips like these will be happening in my near future!
Photos: Erwin Li, Amber Li