Every winter from early December to late February (officially the festival opens 5 January), Harbin dons a fur-lined, technicolour dreamcoat of ice, snow and neon and gets down, Narnia style – no matter that it's mind-numbingly cold and the sun vanishes by mid-afternoon.
The festivities are centred around the spectacular Harbin Ice and Snow World, a theme park built of ice 7.5km outside of town, complete with gargantuan recreations of world monuments and hair-raising ice slides, and the remarkable Harbin International Snow Sculpture Art Expo a few kilometres away on Sun Island Scenic Area.
In the centre of town, Zhāolín Park also has its own ice world, albeit on a smaller scale, featuring slides and fairy-tale castles for kids as well as ice lantern displays after dark (Harbin's ice fetish is said to originate from fishermen freezing pails of water to create candle-powered ice lanterns).
Admission prices to the various venues seem to go up every year as the festival commercialises, but public ice sculptures abound throughout the city all winter long, especially along Zhongyang Dajie up to the frozen Sōnghuā River, which also offers ice slides, skating and more. The Shangri-La Hotel opens an ice restaurant each winter, serving scalding hot pot in subzero surroundings, and there are usually figure skating and winter sports events scheduled around town, too.
Hotels and hostels can organise reasonably priced group transport to/from festival locations. Bus 47 goes to the main venue from Tongjiang Jie and the train station. Taxis are expensive and hard to flag down during the festival, but you can also reach the Harbin International Snow Sculpture Art Expo by horse carriage or on foot by crossing the Sōnghuā River.