Harbin Ice Festival has drawn millions of visitors from around the world every year as highlights have included ice swimming, sled rides, mass weddings, and towering sculptures of ice and snow.

Ice sculptures illuminated by coloured lights are seen at annual ice festival, in the northern city of Harbin, Heilongjiang province, China, January 4, 2019.
Ice sculptures illuminated by coloured lights are seen at annual ice festival, in the northern city of Harbin, Heilongjiang province, China, January 4, 2019. (Reuters)

The Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, commonly known as Harbin Ice Festival, officially has opened with a fireworks display and a light show.

Swimming enthusiast Yu Hongtao, 50, trained for months in the freezing water of the Songhua river to compete in a winter ice swimming tournament held annually in China's northern city of Harbin, known for its bitterly cold weather.

"You have to start swimming from autumn so that the body can conquer the sudden icy impact on one's cardio-vascular system," said Yu, a Harbin resident. "The feeling of diving into the water is very cool."

Members of Harbin's ice swimmers club, pose for a photo before their daily swim at Songhua River, in the northern city of Harbin, Heilongjiang province, China, January 4, 2019.
Members of Harbin's ice swimmers club, pose for a photo before their daily swim at Songhua River, in the northern city of Harbin, Heilongjiang province, China, January 4, 2019. (Reuters)

More than 300 men and women, wearing just ordinary trunks and swimsuits, on Saturday braved the bitter cold waters in the ice swimming meet, part of Harbin's annual winter festival, among the biggest in the northern hemisphere.

Temperatures can plunge as low as 35 degrees Celsius below zero (minus 31 F) in the city in China's Heilongjiang province.

The festival, which began on Saturday, has drawn millions of visitors from around the world every year since its inception in the early 1980s.

A couple walk between snowmen on Songhua River that displays 2019 snowmen as a part of annual ice festival, in the northern city of Harbin, Heilongjiang province, China, January 4, 2019.
A couple walk between snowmen on Songhua River that displays 2019 snowmen as a part of annual ice festival, in the northern city of Harbin, Heilongjiang province, China, January 4, 2019. (Reuters)

Highlights include sled rides on the Songhua river, mass weddings, and towering sculptures of ice and snow carved by thousands of artists and workers.

Visitors marvel at the mini ice replicas of the Colosseum and of the Milan Cathedral, particularly in the long evenings when soft, coloured lights illuminate the sculptures.

Visitors stand in front of ice sculptures illuminated by coloured lights at annual ice festival, in the northern city of Harbin, Heilongjiang province, China, January 4, 2019.
Visitors stand in front of ice sculptures illuminated by coloured lights at annual ice festival, in the northern city of Harbin, Heilongjiang province, China, January 4, 2019. (Reuters)

The festival also attracts hordes of domestic tourists.

"The ice castles and sculptures made by workers are very impressive," said Lin Renlong, who was visiting with his girlfriend.

"It's like Disneyland, Disneyland in winter," said the 22-year-old from the northern province of Hebei.

Ice sculptures illuminated by coloured lights are seen at annual ice festival, in the northern city of Harbin, Heilongjiang province, China, January 4, 2019.
Ice sculptures illuminated by coloured lights are seen at annual ice festival, in the northern city of Harbin, Heilongjiang province, China, January 4, 2019. (Reuters)
Source: Reuters