Harbin, a city in northeastern China, is defying its industrial image to become a winter tourism hotspot, attracting a record-breaking 3 million visitors over the three-day New Year weekend. These tourists spent a staggering 5.9 billion yuan (US$840 million) to experience the magic of the world’s largest ice festival.
Despite the bitter cold, deep snow, and icy pavements, social media hype has drawn tourists to marvel at the stunning frozen sculptures at the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival. This winter wonderland, located on the border with Siberia, contrasts sharply with the city’s typical image as part of China’s “rust belt.”
Originating from a traditional ice lantern show in 1963, the festival has grown into a massive annual event since 1985. Artists from around the globe carve over 250,000 cubic meters of ice into nearly 1,000 sculptures, illuminated at night with multicolored lights, creating an enchanting atmosphere.
Beyond sculptures, the festival offers a snowflake Ferris wheel, icy super slides, skating, snowmobiling, winter swimming, fireworks, folk performances, and a glimpse of Harbin’s Russian heritage buildings. Social media has played a significant role in boosting the festival’s popularity in recent years.
Trip.com reported a 158 percent increase in tour orders to Harbin this season, with most tourists coming from Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Beijing. The festival, lasting about two months into late February, has no fixed closing date, depending on weather conditions.
While locals extend hospitality with free taxi rides and hot tea, the government urges businesses to maintain reasonable prices. Harbin aspires to expand tourism beyond winter, emphasizing its rich history, cuisine, customs, and artistic performances. For those brave enough to face the cold, Harbin’s winter wonderland promises a unique and enchanting experience.