Harbin is the capital and largest city of Heilongjiang province known to endure the most bitterly cold winters of all China’s major cities. Every year it plays host to the largest snow festival in the world! The beautiful Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival is spread over two areas on either side of the Songhua River; from which the giant blocks of ice are cut to be used as sculptures. Thousands of visitors flock from home and abroad to what has now become known as the Ice City to witness incredible sculptures created from snow and ice, ice lanterns and exciting sporting events. Besides the unique ice and snow culture of the city, it’s also favoured for its beautiful natural scenery based on the meandering Songhua River.
The world is full of wonder-worthy places. Here are some must-see winter wonderlands to consider saving up for…
This medieval town is famous for the skiing quality of its surrounding slopes. Snowy plains stretch out as far as the eye can see and boast about 170 kilometres of perfectly groomed slopes. The region is perfect for cross-country skiing during winter months. Boasting 53 cable cars and ultra-modern ski lifts, Kitzbühel takes everyone to the slopes - from beginners to professionals. The crowds gather annually to enjoy action-packed snowboarding fun parks, professional ski schools and kilometres of cross-country ski and winter hiking trails. Not just an alpine paradise, the city of Kitzbühel also draws visitors for its whitewashed postcard-picture beauty.
Locals call it the sacred sea and at an estimated 20 to 25 million years old, Lake Baikal is one of the world’s oldest, deepest and most magnificent freshwater lakes. In winter, the geographical feature transforms into a 2 000-kilometre crystal ice rink. Featured as a highlight of Eastern Siberia, local tour operators lead brave adventurers equipped for a Siberian deep freeze (air temperatures can plunge to minus 40°C) in jeep, dog sled, and snowmobiling tours across the glassy surface. There is also ice diving, rafting (in sections that don’t freeze), skating and fishing. Interestingly, about two-thirds of the estimated 1 500 animal species living in and around Lake Baikal aren’t found anywhere else on Earth! Travellers can also enjoy gob-smacking vistas across the water of soaring mountain ranges, powder-white surfaces and frozen steel-hard ice roads. Whether you skirt its southern tip by train, cycle or dog sled over it, or just admire it from 2 000 kilometres of shoreline, most agree that Siberia doesn’t get better than this!
The Northern Rocky Mountain wolves are indigenous to Yellowstone and watchful winter visitors will be rewarded with multiple sightings of these beautiful wild creatures when snow blankets the remote territory of Lamar Valley. Packs existed here when the park was established in 1872, but by the 1940s wolf packs were a rarity due to a government-subsidized wolf eradication programme launched in 1915[Ma2] . Yellowstone successfully reintroduced wolves in 1995. Today, winter wolf viewing is incredible, although for an in depth experience it is recommended to hire a guide. Wildlife watching programmes feature multiple days of extensive viewing and is the best way to observe and learn about the wolves and their bison and elk prey, as well as other wildlife. Definitely, something you don’t do every day!
In the village of Jukkasjärvi in Sweden, you will find the world’s first (and largest) hotel made of natural snow and ice! The original idea behind the hotel was to introduce and explore ice as a channel for art. A group of internationally recognized artists rebuild and carve it each year for its winter reincarnation. Everything in the building is made out of ice - there are around 65 rooms, a hall with columns, beds, furniture, bar chairs, tables and even glasses! Temperatures in the luxury Ice Hotel do not exceed -5°C, but it’s not important in the face of an exclusive experience in this natural art exhibition. When checking out, guests are given a diploma stating the date and temperature inside and outside the hotel during their stay. Naturally, the hotel melts and returns to Mother Nature in the spring.