Just one year ago, I visited the Harbin Ice Festival – the most famous attraction in Harbin. Held every winter at three parks across the city, this really is a must-see for anyone visiting Northern China in winter. I thought I’d share with you my top tips for making the most of your trip…
- Dress up warm
Kind of goes without saying really, but it’s minus 30 degrees outside so you’re going to need some layers! Thick down jackets can be purchased all over Harbin (or come prepared by picking one up in Beijing en route) and don’t forget a warm scarf, hat, ski gloves, thermal underwear and all the jumpers you own.
- Buy hand warmers
If you wander around Harbin you’ll see countless street stalls selling small hand warmers. Not only are these great for warming your hands/ body up when it gets a bit chilly, but also keep some spare to stick to your camera and phone – the batteries in them will die almost instantly upon taking them out in the cold
- Wear good boots
The ice festival is made of ice (surprise, surprise…) which is not particularly grippy – to avoid slipping onto your butt every step make sure to wear solid boots with a thick tread – hiking boots are ideal. Pumps, trainers and dolly shoes however have very shallow tread which quickly fills up with slippery ice – not to mention that they are generally less well insulating.
- Walk across the river
There’s an awesome walk you can do starting from the end of Central Street and all the way across to Sun Island across the Songhua River. Not only is it a surreal experience to be walking on (thankfully meters thick) ice, but this will also save you on the extortionate taxi prices and queues ferrying tourists across the bridge to the main Ice Festival sites.
- Get your student discount
If you’re currently studying at a Chinese university, make sure to being along your student passbook – it will get you half price entry to the main attractions (a whopping 375 RMB saving!). Unfortunately, students at foreign universities (and depending who you speak to, sometimes students only studying short-term courses at Chinese universities) do not qualify for the discount, but if you have a student ID card you could give it a try anyway!
- Avoid the ticket queues
Particularly on opening night, the queue to buy tickets is simply ridiculous – however you can skip it by repurchasing tickets at a tourist office in town (who usually also throw in a free minibus ride, and have been known to accidentally accept foreign student ID cards 😉 ) or by waiting a few days for the initial excitement to calm down.
- Plan your timings well
The “ice” park of the ice festival (the most famous) is most stunning in the evenings, when the lights are more effective (see photo). However, if you are strapped for cash they usually offer half price tickets to morning visitors – although you’re unlikely to be able to stand the cold long enough to make it until the most spectacular time. If you want to save money on transport costs, visit the “snow” park during the day then the “ice” park at night, since they are very close to each other on Sun Island. The “ice lantern” park (near Central Street) could be visited any time, but bear in mind that the freezing cold means you’re unlikely to want to visit all three sights in the same day!