A city in China hosts an elaborate winter festival with giant ice castles, mass weddings, and a frigid swimming contest - take a look
- Harbin, China hosts an International Ice and Snow Festival each year that draws millions of visitors.
- The festival kicked off its 35th year on January 5.
- The festival's winter attractions include life-size ice sculptures, ice replicas of the Colosseum and Milan Cathedral, and massive snowmen.
- There's also an ice-swimming tournament in which swimmers brave the freezing waters of the Songhua river in sub-zero temperatures.
China's Heilongjiang Province isn't always a big destination for tourists, but when winter rolls around, the region rolls out the red carpet to millions of visitors from across the globe. The city of Harbin hosts one of the world's largest winter celebrations, called the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival, which features painstakingly crafted ice sculptures and gargantuan snow statues.
The festival, which includes four separate theme parks, kicked off its 35th year on January 5 and runs until the end of February. Last year's attracted more than 18 million visitors, according to NBC News.
The festival's colored lights make the ice creations look even more striking, and each year weddings also take place there in abundance.
For those unable to travel to Harbin this winter (presumably that's most of us), take a look at these stunning images from the festival so far.
The 2019 Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival's opening ceremony kicked off with fireworks on January 5.
Lin Renlong, a 22-year-old visiting from Hebei with his girlfriend, told Reuters that it's like “Disneyland in winter.”
Harbin Ice and Snow World — one of the four theme parks — grows larger every year; this year's covers more than 750,000 square meters, according to the festival website.
The event is one of the top ice and snow festivals in the world, along with Japan's Sapporo Snow Festival, Canada's Quebec City Winter Carnival, and Norway's Ski Festival.
The Ice and Snow World includes replicas of famous landmarks like the Colosseum and smaller, but nonetheless impressive, sculptures like this ice-block post office that actually sends letters.
After the sun goes down, the ice sculptures are awash in colored lights.
Some sculptures are affiliated with a brand, like this ice vending machine.
Other sculptures are made by artists as part of ice-carving competitions.
Visitors can also meander through the festival's display of 2,019 snowmen that sit on the frozen Songhua River.
Snow sculptures far bigger than any snowman can be found, too.
Visitors can even ride ice bikes near the snow sculpture exposition in the Harbin Sun Island theme park.
The festival also has a tradition of mass wedding ceremonies.
To help carve the festival's big snow sculptures, workers use cranes.
Other cranes help workers construct tall ice sculptures out of ice blocks.
In the weeks leading up to the festival, workers use a machine to cut usable ice blocks from the frozen river.
The ice blocks are then dragged to the festival site.
Workers use chainsaws to carve the ice into smooth building blocks for sculptures.
One of the festival's major events is a swimming competition. Even though outdoor temperatures can sometimes be -30 degrees Fahrenheit, people dive into the frigid waters of the Songhua River.
Men and women of all ages took the polar bear plunge on January 5.
Withstanding such frigid water takes practice. Swimmer Yu Hongtao told Reuters that he trained for months in advance of the festival's swimming tournament.
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