Discover this real-life winter wonderland, complete with an ice castle

People walk around ice and snow sculptures during the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival in the northern city of Harbin, Heilongjiang province, China, January 5, 2016. Source: Reuters/Aly Song

NESTLED in China’s far northeastern reaches, Harbin may not be an obvious destination for many travelers. But as winter descends on China’s northernmost province, this state capital becomes a wonderland of light with the now famous Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival.

What once started out as a local pastime to pass the long winter hours has now evolved into the largest winter festival in the world.

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Ten to 15 million visitors annually brave the frigid climes to take in the magical ice structures of life-size re-creations of famous landmarks around the world. Everything from the Greek Acropolis to Beijing’s Forbidden City is brought to life in ice blocks and packed snow.

The festival is made up of several themed zones. The main attraction is the Harbin Ice and Snow World, which covers more than 750,000sq m and features up to 180,000 cubic meters of ice.

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During the day, the landscape can be dazzling as the winter sun bounces off the sea of white. But as night falls, a rainbow of colors illuminate the sky. Some of the impressive structures reach as high as 46m and include some staggering detail carved into the blocks of ice.

To maintain such impressive sculptures, it will come as no surprise that Harbin is very cold. The chilly climate makes the city the ideal place for such a festival, but make sure you wrap up warm as January daytime temperatures tend to range from minus 13 to minus 24 Celsius.

The city is, after all, pretty close to Siberia, Russia, its neighbor to the north.

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Dates for the festival tend to change each year depending on the weather. This year’s celebrations begin on Dec 21 and run until the end of February 2018.