China 09.12.2014 Transindus
The beginning of 2015 is nearly upon us, and for the city of Harbin, China, that means the start of the fantastic Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. Our guide will tell you all you need to know about this culturally rich, artistic event.
What's it all about?
An annual event, the Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival - often referred to just as the Harbin Ice Festival - is a celebration of ice artworks. Exhibitions take place across the city, with collections usually on display in Zhaolin Park, Sun Island Scenic Area and Ice and Snow World.
The festival in its current form dates back to 1985, and it's been held annually since then. Typically, the festivities kick off close to the beginning of January and last for around a month, but often events will actually start in late December, ahead of the official opening. That's the case this year, too, with the festival beginning in earnest on January 5th - but some of the events set to start in the final days of December.
The festival provides a platform for new ice artworks, but its roots hark back to the practice of making Harbin Ice Lanterns.
The Harbin Ice Lantern - now and then
Located in north-east China, Harbin has a lot of snow and ice in the winter months. Centuries ago, people began putting the chilly climate to practical use with the invention of Harbin Ice Lanterns.
These draft-proof lanterns were made by scooping snow and ice into a bucket, and letting the outside freeze. Before it froze all the way through, though, the middle was scooped out to create a hollow interior suitable to hold a candle. They quickly became popular and were placed outside houses, before becoming a traditional feature in local festivals.
Over the years, the Harbin Ice Lantern has evolved. Now, the term is often used to describe lots of different ice-based artworks - usually ones that incorporate lights in some way.
What to see and do
There is a host of great events to choose from throughout the month of the festival, with one of the best being the display in Zhaolin Park. Throughout the year, this park is a lovely place for a quiet walk, but during the festival it really comes to life.
It's here that you can see some of the city's wonderful ice lanterns. As well as taking a look at the classic style, you will have the opportunity to see all kinds of other works, including buildings, animals and mythical creatures, such as churches, lions and dragons.
These creations are remarkable for their intricacy, which you'll be able to appreciate most during the day. However, it's well worth visiting here in the evening too, when the lights make these fantastic sculptures even more beautiful than ever.
The festival launch, meanwhile, at the Harbin International Conference Exhibition and Sports Centre, will feature everything from live theatrical performances to fireworks displays.
It's also worth bearing in mind that, while first and foremost a celebration of ice artwork, the festival embraces activities like acrobatic skating, snowmobiling and more. So, expect a really wide variety of things to do and see.
Other things to see in Harbin
Of course, the ice festival is by no means the only thing to see here, so if you'll be visiting Harbin during the festival make sure you leave a little time in your schedule to see the main sights. Conveniently, some of these double up as venues for the festival - such as the aforementioned Zhaolin Park - making it easier to tick lots of things off your list.
Long Ta Tower, often referred to as the Dragon TV Tower, is one sight you should certainly make time to see. That said, as it stands at 336 m tall, it is quite hard to miss! It's the seventh highest tower in Asia and is a multifunctional broadcast tower, as well as a top tourist attraction.
If you're happy to venture outside the city, meanwhile, take a trip to the nearby Siberian Tiger Preserve. Here, you can take guided tours of vast open-air pens, each of which is home to several of these prowling cats.