We went to the freezing cold winterwonderland Harbin February 2017 with three other expat families and had an unforgettable weekend there.
Harbin Snow and Ice festival takes place every year from end of December to end of February.
We decided to go there the weekend before they closed down knowing that the sculptures might not look as good as they did by the opening.
We were right about that but in my opinion it didn’t mean a lot. The sculptures were still amazing and during daytime we had the exhibition park almost to ourselves.
At night you go to another location on the river to see the ice city with all its lights on. That place was a bit more crammed but I am pretty sure it was nothing compared to January where Chinese New Year was also celebrated. We could see from the way things was set up that this place usually attracts huge numbers of visitors so we felt privileged. A glance at my pictures and you will see that we didn’t have problems with people getting in the way of our cameras 😉
Another great thing about going in February is that it was already beginning to warm up so we managed to walk around the snow and ice sculpture park for almost 4 hours before we headed back to the hotel to warm up, have a swim in the pool, a massage in the spa and a snack before we headed og to the ice city just before dawn.
We stayed at Kempinsky Hotel by the river and loved it. Huge breakfast buffet, many western food choices ( for the kids), a cosy German Bierstube and a nice spa with great offers when we were there.
The hotel arranged a bus for our group to the sculpture park after breakfast and the ice city at night at no extra cost.
We took taxis back to the hotel. Beware that no one speaks English so show them your hotel card or better take a photo of the hotel before you leave so you can show it to the driver.
Taxi drivers in China are not allowed to refuse to go by the meter but in a touristy place like Harbin where you are freezing your butt off and eager to go back to the hotel…they see a great business opportunity.
You will probably need to bargain.
We paid around 40-50 rmb to go back to Kempinski from the sculpture park and the same to go from Ice City to Shangrilas Ice Bar where we went for a short stop and a vodka. The Ice Bar at Shangrila is nothing fancy but it was great fun. They had private rooms where you could have hot pot. That looked pretty cool but we decided to go back to the hotel for dinner in a nice warm Bierstube.
The main attraction in Harbin during wintertime is definitely the two parks so a weekend there is fine. We arrived friday Night and went back ( in a snowstorm) Sunday Night. Saturday was spent in the parks and Sunday the kids wanted to go playing in the snow. We went to a place by the river that was very expensive and not at all worth the money. We got more value for money just across the street from the hotel where we rented small snowscooters for the kids.
Two other families went to see the Siberian Tiger park a trip they enjoyed so I guess we should have gone for the Tigers too.
Last tips before you go:
Harbin is so cold! so remember skiing underwear, warm clothes, hats and scarfs. We brought a whole bag of warmer pads to but on our bags, stomachs, hands and feet. Remember to put them on 30 minutes before you need them to work. The pads can be bought in big supermarkets (in northern China at least). We bought ours in Decathlon.
When you go to the Exhibition park at daytime the driver will probably let you off at a parking lot with no other explanation. You will be looking for the ticket office and will probably see the ticket booth for Polar World …an aquarium. Don’t buy tickets there. They are only for the aquarium. You have to follow a path that will turn left before you can see the ticketing area.