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Harbin is famous internationally for its winter festival. An avalanche of visitors descends on Harbin 哈尔滨 (Hā'ěrbīn) and brave the cold to see the ice/snow sculptures that are often record-breaking in size.
Extreme weather, unusual history, and the world's biggest winter festival are among the 10 interesting facts to pique your interest in China's ice festival city and prepare you for your trip.
How does one estimate which of the world's many winter festival events are the grandest? By the biggest sculptures (about 50 meters tall), by the number of visitors (10 to 15 million), by the number of ice and snow sculptures created (thousands), by the artistic achievement and the 'wow' factor... for all of these, Harbin's annual International Ice and Snow Festival ranks #1 in the world.
Record breaking ice creations are usually constructed annually. Walking around in the Ice and Snow World among exhibits set up like a small town of 25 blocks, visitors walk among creatively lighted and intricately carved ice buildings that have in recent years reached the 45 to 50 meter tall level.
A 31 meters tall (102 feet) hi-tech ice tower made with sprayed on fiber-reinforced layers of ice was built in Harbin parking lot and officially inaugurated by the Dutch ambassador to China on January 10. The inclusion of wood fibers and cellulose makes the ice about three times stronger than simple frozen water, so its ice wall is only about 25 centimeters wide!
There are actually three different main festival venues for the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival.
It is hard to gauge which town or city is the coldest, but in lists of coldest cities, Harbin often makes it into the top 5 coldest cities in the world.
What distinguishes Harbin from other cities is that 10,000,000 people live there! It is a major metropolis. The Harbin metropolitan region's population is about the same as that of Chicago, USA.
Other cities usually mentioned as among the world's coldest such as Novosibirsk in Russia or Winnipeg in Canada have a population of a million or two million. For comparison, Harbin is significantly colder than Moscow that has an average January low of -9 °C (16 °F) even though they are at about at the same latitude.
Harbin became a Russian town in 1895 to serve the construction of a Russian-financed railway, and during the 1905 war against Japan, it was a Russian military base.
After the 1917 revolution, about 100,000 Russians fled to the city, so in its heyday in the early 1920s, about 120,000 Russians lived there. Thousands of other people of other mainly European nationalities also settled there.
Many old buildings remain in the old city area. The Russians built church and governmental buildings. The St. Sophia church is one of the main architectural highlights.
In the 20th century, one of the biggest Jewish communities in the Far East made Harbin their home there in the 1920s and 1930s. About 20,000 Jewish people, mainly Russian, lived in the city during the community's height. They mainly fled persecution in Russia and went there under a Russian government plan decreed in 1905 to develop the Russian far eastern area. They prospered for a while as merchants and developed industry.
They built two synagogues, and they still stand. Many of elegant old Western-styled buildings that date to the early 1900’s that were built by the Jewish people have been well preserved. Our tour guides can take you to elegant old streets and fine restaurants in the old city area.
The Harbin Siberian Tiger Park is China's second largest Siberian tiger/wild cat safari park. Almost a thousand tigers are housed there.
The park covers about 250 acres in an area just to the north of Sun Island Park where the snow sculptures are displayed during the day. It is across a branch of the Songhua River.
It stays open in the winter during the winter festival, so it's another option for tourists. On Trip Advisor, it ranks 6 in 2018.
Yabuli Ski Resort is another popular place to go while visiting Harbin. It is China's biggest and best ski resort.
Yabuli is about 2 and a half hours away by taxi, but our private drivers can ferry you there conveniently, and bring you back after your visit.
It is essential for safety and comfort to dress very warmly when traveling to Harbin. The latitude of 45° N belies the severity of the climate. Harbin is located where cold Siberian air currents blow through in the winter, so temperatures are down to -30° C (-22° F).
It is imperative to dress for the weather and bring warm clothes with you. Though clothing is relatively inexpensive in China, you might not find the style or size you want quickly.
Bring a coat that is longer than waist length and windproof. Make sure it has a thick hood or bring an additional thick hat that covers your ears and a face mask too. Dress in layers.
It is a good idea to wear dark colors to absorb sunlight for added warmth, protect your eyes and others' eyes from snow blindness, and help people identify you and see your better.
Wear snow boots or warm waterproof shoes that have good traction so you don't slip. Break in your boots or shoes before walking around in the big display fields. Bring thick gloves too.
Temperatures are so unusually cold in Harbin that it can damage electronics especially when the temperatures drop when the sun goes down.
It might just be best to leave expensive equipment at home. Or plan how you'll keep your electronics warm outside.
Whether the hearty borscht or Russian syrniki pastries, you can treat yourself with Russian food in old Russian-era buildings staffed by Russian chefs.
Good Russian food will help to fill you up with the calories you need for your trip.
Journeying from the rest of China into the frigid northwest is still quite slow by train (7 hours from Beijing by the fastest bullet train), so the local airport is the best way to go to Harbin.
To go to the winter festival, you'll need to buy tickets etc. well in advance. Our travel experts can help you with that, along with a tailored selection of hotels, meals, and activities, a knowledgeable guide, and private transport to facilitate a very enjoyable visit.
These could form your customized Harbin tour's starting point:
Or simply contact us for a customized China tour, travel help, visas, and information.