See Disney’s Frozen in Real Life at the Harbin Ice Festival

When I first saw the BBC excellent Wild China documentary, I knew I had to go to see the Harbin Ice Festival for myself. The world’s largest ice festival is known throughout China and brings in enormous crowds to see its bright lights and towering ice palaces that look like something out of Frozen. How could anyone resist? Not even the extreme cold and the remote location between Russia and North Korea can keep people away.

During the month-long festival, which runs from early January to late February, the city of Harbin is overrun with tourists. The main walking street is packed to capacity, as shoppers buy up snacks and gawk at the Russian architecture. The frozen Songua River becomes a festival area, with carnival rides, sled dog rides and ice skating. These distractions are amusing enough, but it’s the Harbin Ice Festival that’s pulling in all these visitors (the overnight train from Beijing was packed to capacity)

Changing lights at the Harbin Ice Festival

The Harbin Ice Festival is actually split into two parts on nearby Sun Island, each with separate admission fees of nearly $40 each. During the day, the snow sculpture is the main attraction, with dozens of local artists crafting sculptures of all different shapes and sizes.

It’s the ice sculptures on the other side of the island (a shuttle bus and taxis connect the two) that bring in all the crowds. The sculptures change every year and the whole place is unreal. The changing lights highlight just how impressive these sculptures are, which include massive slides, climbable castles, and the occasional corporate branding. Walking around is delightful despite the cold. Some people opt for a ride on a horse-drawn carriage but be expected to pay a pretty price for anything within the Harbin Ice Festival.

Below are a handful of the photos I took from both parts of the festival. Considering the extreme cold, I didn’t stay in one place too long while taking these photos.

Snow sculptures at Harbin Ice Festival
The snow portion of the Harbin Ice Festival
Frozen palace at Harbin Ice Festival
Harbin Ice Festival stairs
Harbin Ice Festival
Stage at the Harbin Ice Festival
Horse ride at the Harbin Ice Festival





I'm an American freelance writer who spent a couple years living in Cambodia. Now I'm on the move again and traveling all over the place. I'm willing to try any bizarre liquor that's presented to me. Any recommendations?