The pinnacle of winter tourism is the Harbin Ice and Snow World! It’s the headline of the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival, and one of the coolest places I’ve ever been. (Yes, that’s a pun! Ha!) If you’re willing and able to brave the cold, this is a talk-about-forever kind of place! You won’t forget it easily.
What is the Harbin Ice and Snow World?
Harbin, as the capital of Heilongjiang, the northernmost province in China, is freezing in the winter. That’s putting it lightly. Temperatures start to be below freezing as early as October and as late as April. During the heart of winter, you’ll be lucky to have temperatures higher than -20°C, or -4°F. The nice thing about that, though, is the ambient temperature is cold enough to sustain ice sculptures! And the ones in Harbin are some of the best you’ll ever see.
The Harbin Ice and Snow World is one of three exhibitions in Harbin that make up the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival. It’s the largest and most well-known exhibition, in part because of its scale. Each exhibition has a different “focus”, and Ice and Snow World has large structures mostly made of ice, but also some of snow. You can go in and up some of these, slide down large ice and snow slopes, watch performances, and generally marvel at the magnificence of a bunch of ice blocks stacked on top of each other.
This was the first exhibition that I attended, and I was absolutely blown away. I was unsure what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t what I saw! I got through the whole place in about 5 hours, but I only saw one show and went down one of the slopes in a tube. Had I known about other slopes and shows, I could have hit those first rather than spending a significant amount of time waiting for the ones I did see!
[Recommended Read: Itinerary: Hits and Misses of 2 Winter Days in Harbin, China]
Getting to and from the Harbin Ice and Snow World
Since the Harbin Ice and Snow World is the biggest attraction in town, public transport is plentiful. You could drive your own car or take a taxi, but several buses connect it with other places in Harbin, including Center Street, the Siberian Tiger Park, and the Sun Island Expo.
The bus stop is on Sun Island and called Ice and Snow World, or 冰雪大世界 (Bīngxuě dà shìjiè). The World itself is on the west. If you arrive from the north (from the Siberian Tiger Park), the bus will stop on the right side of the road. If you come from the south (from Center Street), you should cross the street. The best buses to take are 29, 47, and 126 since they go through Center Street as well. Other buses that stop there are: 80, 119, 125, 211, 213, 551, and 552. They have direct stops and cost just ¥1 for each ride.
Once you get off the bus, just walk where everyone else is headed. There will be a little tunnel that will take you straight to the ticket offices of the Ice and Snow World.
When it’s time to leave, you will come out the same place that you went in. If you want to take a taxi, the stand is right outside. The other option is a bus that only has one stop: Center Street. You’ll see long lines of people waiting, and the buses are marked #47. They will take you to the bus stop at Youyi Street and Center Street for ¥2. The ride isn’t long but if you are there at a busy time, the organizers will literally try to squeeze every last person they can onto the buses. Be prepared to hold your bags close and be pressed up against strangers.
[Recommended Read: Harbin Ice and Snow Festival: A Complete Guide]
Tips for the Harbin Ice and Snow World
Before the Entrance
- If you need something, you can buy supplies from the street vendors outside the entrance! If you don’t already have some, shoe spikes and a small sled to go down the little hills and ice slopes are worth it. They are ¥10 each. If you need gloves, hats, heat packs, etc. buy them from the vendors rather than paying marked up prices for them inside.
- Entrance tickets are ¥330 per person. There are discounts for students and free tickets for people over 70 and children, You can pay cash or with your phone; just make sure you have enough money available!
Planning Your Route
- If you want to go down slides or see the shows, go to those places first. They are likely to get very crowded as the night goes on. The best thing to do is arrive closer to 2pm if you really want to experience everything. Not all shows will have performances at that time, but you will find no or minimal line for the things that are available. The park opens at 11am and closes at 9:30pm. The lights come on around 4pm (just before sunset).
- Pick up a navigational map at the ticket office. When I went, the only place they were available was inside the ticket booths, and I just reached in and grabbed one. There is almost no English on it, so you’re out of luck there. But, you will be able to see the general layout of the park, and where museums, restrooms, hot drinks, and restaurants are.
- The map is also labeled with shows and what times they are. If you want to see something specific, try to get there at least 30 minutes before to get a seat. Some shows are WEIRD. But, it does give you a taste of what the typical Chinese person might find entertaining.
- If you need a place to rest and warm up, just go into one of the restaurants. They will be very warm and have nice places to sit. They also are not overly expensive, seeing as the average worker needs to work 1-3 work days to earn enough to pay for entrance tickets alone. Surprisingly (or not), the restrooms are heated and have hot water as well! If you need to heat your hands, those are convenient.
- If you go down any larger slopes, especially if you use one of the tubes that the park provides, make sure you’re prepared. The cold weather is manageable when there’s no wind and you’re moving around, but if you are sliding at high-ish speeds it’s going to be colder than you expect! You could end up with numb hands, cheeks, and feet, so be aware.
[Recommended Read: Harbin Sun Island Snow Sculpture Art Expo: A Guide]
What to See at the Harbin Ice and Snow World
My advice? See EVERYTHING. Seeing the map and walking in might be overwhelming, but it is possible to fit almost everything into your schedule. The exact lineup and exhibitions are different every year, but it’s better to make a plan!
If you have a map, you should look for any specific structures that interest you. You will be able to see general shapes of the ice and snow sculptures in the park, as well as a suggested route for visiting. If you arrive early, try to go to the places most interesting to you first, or head directly to the shows.
[Recommended Read: Street Food Guide: Harbin, China]
Shows at the Harbin Ice and Snow World
I didn’t think to prioritize shows, so was only able to see one. It was the 哈冰秀 (Hā bīng xiù), or the Harbin Ice Show. I had no idea what to expect. The staff had blocked out the center and front of the audience seats reserved for “VIPs” only; turns out VIPs are people who spend ¥50+ on snacks! I paid it because I was eying the popcorn anyway. I sort of regretted it, because the show turned out to be a medley of what Chinese people typically imagine of white people.
It was several disjointed segments of people performing, and they even had supermodels on the stage in Victoria’s Secret-style clothing (aka bikinis and large wings) with nothing else! They must have been freezing, but also, what?? I did not pay money to watch half-naked ladies walking around on stage, ladies lifting their skirts to show their behinds to the audience, or poorly choreographed and synchronized dancing. There were parts that were fairly entertaining, such as the Harlem Globetrotter-style tricks and bits of ice skating, but it was honestly disappointing overall. Even though I had a bad experience, I would still recommend attending a show because the others are much different and they’re free anyways.
Penguins and Other Animals at the Harbin Ice and Snow World
In addition to all the ice and snow sculptures and structures that you can explore, there are some animals! I visited the penguin “island” (just a building). They had snow foxes on display, and you could actually get very close to the penguins! The only catch was that you had to buy something from the souvenir store – or stand back and look at other people interacting with the penguins. This part was truly disappointing, as having to shell out more money just felt like an endless pyramid scheme.
Sleds, Slides, Tubes, and Other Ice Activities
As with other places around Harbin, you’ll be able to participate in a variety of extra activities. Several of the ice structures will have slides specifically designed for you to take your plastic sled down them! There’s an area of snow slopes towards the back for this purpose as well.
In the back of the park is also where the large slides are. These are the ones that will actually give you numb fingers and cheeks. You have to stand in line for a good while (I waited for probably over 30 minutes for one ride) both for safety and number of large tubes or sleds available. Try one if you’d like, but you could also wait until you get to the Sun Island Snow Sculpture Expo to ride that one! Assuming they have that every year, you would be able to ride that 20 times before you could ride the Harbin Ice and Snow World one even once.
[Recommended Read: Harbin’s Zhaolin Park Ice Lantern Fair: A Guide]
[Recommended Read: Baixiang Holiday Hotel, Harbin, China: A Review]
Want to Pin this post for later?