BIG TIP: Use TravelZen or CTrip or eLong to book flights to Harbin, I did and the price was half of other advertised flights!
I just returned from the 2014 Snow and Ice Festival in Harbin. This is really a must-do once-in-a-lifetime experience!! When planning the trip the many venues for the festival became very confusing. The reason being that they have several names, so I want to explain about the venues here. Apart from that you really have no need to over-plan or worry as once you get there it is all very simple and the hotels know exactly where to point you in the right direction. You can see a 2 day Harbin itinerary for seeing the major sites here: Harbin 2 day Itinerary.
A few tips:
- There is no convenient hotel which is close to the sites and in a preferable location. Whichever hotel you stay in you will need to take taxis or public transport to get to the festival sites. So choose a Harbin hotel which is close to the pedestrian street – Central Street (Zhongyang Street).
- Taxis are the quickest and most convenient way to get around if you are short on time. Settle the price before you start the ride, get the hotel to help and consider getting the taxi to wait for you at the sites so he can whip you from site to site.
- When trying to book a taxi from the airport online I found prices like 500CNY, 300CNY, in the end I arranged a taxi through the hotel (Hotel Ibis) for 150CNY. This included the price of the toll (about 30CNY).
- Hotel suggestion. If you are on a budget then the Ibis Hotel is a good idea. Cheap, convenient location (also walking distance from one of the festival venues), help at front desk with tours etc however terrible breakfast and horrible smell of cigarettes in the public areas. Rooms are good standard but the rest is like a glorified hostel. Still for the price it is unbeatable.
- You can’t buy tickets in advance or any one ticket for all venues together. However try to get your tickets from your hotel, tour guide or taxi driver (like I did) as this saves waiting in the lines.
- I don’t know if you can do this at any hotel but at the Ibis there was a service/tour where you would be taken from the hotel at 4pm by minibus to the largest and best Ice and Snow Festival venue and brought back a few hours later. I didn’t do this but heard from people that it was good. It is definately good value as they charge only 30CNY each way for the transport (taxi costs about 100-200CNY) and you get your festival entrance ticket at the hotel when you pay for the bus so you don’t have to wait in line to buy tickets once you reach the site.
OK the Snow and Ice Festival venues…. follow the link for the full breakdown of the venues.
Going to Beijing? Well to see a little more than the average tourist, take an overnight train – save on a night’s hotel accommodation – and go visit the city of Harbin. The most Northerly major city in China, just beneath Siberia, once home to the Russian Middle East Railway and 160,000 foreigners. The city assimilated a lot of European, Jewish and Russian culture. The buildings include Russian, European, Baroque and Byzantine structures. There are also a variety of markets where you could pick up some Russian antiques. Another attraction is the nearby Siberian Tiger Reserve where you can hand feed the tigers pieces of meat.
But the reason I am writing about Harbin is the International Snow and Ice Festival. It is one of four of the biggest in the world. Although you will see snow and ice sculptures all over the city, the festival has two main parts. The Snow Sculpture Expo, located on the Sun Island across the frozen Songhua Jiang River, consists of beautifully carved enormous sculptures of snow. Teams come from around the world to compete in the ice sculpture competition. Then there is The Ice and Snow World, where life-size buildings – traditional Chinese architecture and famous world landmarks – are reproduced using large blocks of ice that have been cut from the frozen river. The Ice and Snow World is lite up at night using both laser, neon and conventional spot lighting, creating a neon kaleidoscope of color, while music blares out of speakers, enhancing the atmosphere, and it is simply breath-taking. You can walk in and among the buildings, in Zhaolin Park (pronounced “jow lihn”), the 3rd main venue.
There are also other winter activities available, like skiing, winter swimming, ice hockey and a Great Wall of China giant ice slide! There is also a firework displays above the city of ice on opening night.
The city is worth the trouble getting there even if there was no festival, so if you get as far as Beijing, don’t stop, keep going until Harbin, you won’t be sorry!
If there during the festival you can’t miss it, it is all around you but mainly Zhaolin Park and Sun Island.
Connected by air(reach city by 45 minute taxi ride) and train from Beijing(10 hours), and many other capitals. There is also a bus from Beijing(13 hours). I recommend the overnight train from Beijing, leave at 23:00 arrive 14:49 following day, in a “soft sleeper”cabin, cost approximately$60 one way or fly if you can afford it.
Once there electric bus routes 101, 103 and 114 get you to all the festival sites.
Officially from January – for a month but you can go earlier and still see it as they build, or later as it stays until it melts. I was there in mid-February and it was still good as new.
See the below comment added by a helpful person with all the dates, times and events – thanks Anne!