Harbin, especially its Sun Island, is one place where summer and winter look completely different. In summer, you can enjoy a nice getaway from the city. There will be boat rides, picnics, flowers, and scenery. In the winter, however, that is all replaced by the Harbin Sun Island Snow Sculpture Art Expo!
What is the Harbin Sun Island Snow Sculpture Art Expo?
If you’re in Harbin for the winter, the only reason you would be there is to see its famed ice and snow sculptures. These can be found along the street, or specifically as part of the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival! This festival is the largest one worldwide, regardless of how you measure it. The Sun Island Snow Sculpture Art Expo is just one of three exhibitions that make it up.
As the name suggests, the Sun Island Snow Sculpture Art Expo focuses on snow sculptures. Because they are white and opaque, they won’t light up different colors at night. For that reason, it’s the only exhibition that you can visit and fully appreciate during the day! The expo opens at 8:30am and closes at 4:30pm just after the sun usually sets. As you walk in, you’ll see a variety of snow sculptures, including ones that are larger than a building and much, much wider.
The majority of what you’ll see are smaller snow sculptures no taller than a person depicting a variety of things. They come from different contests, and are helpfully labeled in both English and Chinese. Even the descriptions have been translated to English, which is a huge benefit! What you can do is walk through the entirety of the eastern part of Sun Island, the one that houses the expo. You can see over 100 of these snow sculptures, each of which is absolutely unique!
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Getting to and from the Harbin Sun Island Snow Sculpture Art Expo
Located on the eastern side of Sun Island, public transportation is pretty handy. The road to the front entrance is out of the way but you can still take the bus! The stop you should get off at is 太阳岛道口, or Tàiyáng dǎo dàokǒu. If you are coming from the south (downtown) it will just come before the Ice and Snow World stop. Buses 29, 47, and 126 will be your best bet, but 80, 119, and 125 will also stop there.
If you get off and continue forward, slightly off to the right will be the shuttle bus for the art expo. The walk is about 2km, but these buses supposedly leave every 10 minutes and cost just ¥3 each way. In reality, they leave when the bus is relatively full, so if you’re there early you could be better off just walking (follow the signs!).
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Walking across the Songhua River
Especially if you live on or near Center Street, you don’t have to cross the Songhua River by road. You can use the cable car or walk, and arrive directly at Entrance #3 of the Expo! If you walk along Center Street towards the Songhua River, you should see the Flood Control Monument at the end of it. This monument marks the spot where the Songhua River Ice and Snow Happy Valley is – a fair with a variety of ice activities. You can walk directly across the river from here and then head slightly to the left (west) to find the entrance. On a clear day you can see the cable car, and follow it to the entrance.
The Cable Car
If you don’t want to spend time outside, take the cable car! The only unfortunate instance would be on a cloudy or foggy day, since you wouldn’t be able to see anything. If it’s clear, however, you will have a great view! The cable car’ll take you across the entirety of the Songhua River, and during the winter you can see boats frozen on the sides of the river and the buildings that the cable car leaves from and arrives to. They are both shaped like castles, so that could make for fantastic photos. On the Sun Island side of the cable car, you should also be able to see the peaks of the larger sculptures from the Harbin Sun Island Snow Sculpture Art Expo!
This is also the route to see the Russian Town and the brass piano. You can also buy a baked sweet potato or Harbin sausage. Along with vegetation Russian dolls, it’ll give you a better sense of the Russian influence on local culture of Heilongjiang province!
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Travel Tips for the Harbin Sun Island Snow Sculpture Art Expo
There are plenty of ways to ensure a great experience at the Harbin Sun Island Snow Sculpture Art Expo. Because it opens early, you can get there at 8:30 am or just after that. I arrived at around 9 am, and found that there were very few people. Even by the time I left near 11:30 am or so, I didn’t see any crowds. That is probably different if you visit in the afternoon, especially if you plan to go directly to the Harbin Ice and Snow World afterwards. If that’s your plan, just be prepared!
I visited on January 2. While there were several unfinished ice sculptures and exhibits in Ice and Snow World and Zhaolin Park, this expo was pretty much finished. There was a single large sculpture near the entrance that still had workers, but for the most part it was ready early. The official start date of the Ice and Snow Festival is around 1/5 each year, so keep that in mind! Of course, you should also expect more crowds after that.
If you arrive by bus and enter through the main entrance (any entrance really, but since you might be the only one at other entrances you probably won’t find a van full enough for them to drive), they have small vans you can ride! They will take you to the heart of the expo. They’re useful if you are short on time. The heart of the expo displays about 90% of the sculptures from competitions, and where you’ll find the largest ones. However, the road has several large, non-competition snow sculptures that you’ll miss if you do that! The van tickets are included in your ¥330 entrance ticket price. If you have two hours, you will probably end up walking to see these other sculptures anyways!
Managing the Cold and Your Time
More than other expos, on Sun Island you’ll be walking through more snow. Make sure you protect your feet with thicker socks, waterproof shoes, even plastic bags in your shoes! Otherwise, you’re susceptible to the early stages of frostbite.
In the 2018 expo, they had a large snow slide on the east side. When you walk in, it’s the farthest side on the right. If you arrive early, you could be the only one there and slide down the hill in tubes that the staff provide multiple times! I definitely recommend it, since the lines at Ice and Snow World were over 30 minutes, and the hill is the only elevated plane. Not only can you have some fun sliding down, you can get a great view of all the sculptures from up high!
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What to See at the Harbin Sun Island Snow Sculpture Art Expo
As I mentioned above, don’t be afraid to walk around! the Sun Island Expo could seem very small if you only stay in the main area, but going out to the entirety of the expo is important! You’ll see large Santas, pumpkins, Chinese pottery-inspired snow sculptures, and other unique designs. The only trick is that the expo is completely redesigned every year. There aren’t any shows or linchpins at the expo, so what you might see year to year is completely different.
Unlike the Ice and Snow World, I didn’t find any maps I could take around. There was only one by the lake in the middle of the expo, and all the text was in Chinese (yay, so useful – not). You should see some signs in the area, but they are mainly to be used during the summer, since Sun Island is a scenic spot. Definitely follow them to the little lake! That is where the biggest snow sculptures are, as well as a the “5th circle” (五环), which is a large lakefront building that gives you a beautiful view of the happenings across the lake.
In 2018, the slides were at the far east end of the expo. That makes the most sense because there is a natural slope there, and in front of them is a small snow village, with houses (not igloos!) made of snow. Unfortunately you could not enter them, but they were still pretty interesting!
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Photo Gallery of the Harbin Sun Island Snow Sculpture Art Expo
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