Explore the World’s Coolest Winter Snow and Ice Festivals
By definition all ice festivals are cool; however, the test is whether a festival would be cool if the temperature outside was 60 instead of 20.
Thankfully, these festivals from around the world more than qualify as not only atmospherically cool but aesthetically cool as well. And they’re all excellent winter travel destinations with more than just an ice festival to offer.
Best Winter Destinations with Ice Festivals
Carnaval de Québec
(Quebec City, Canada)
There have been winter fêtes in Quebec since the days of the voyageurs, the lumberjacks, and the Hudson’s Bay Company. This particular winter carnival dates from the 1950s, though it feels timeless, from the activities (snow sculptures, toboggan rides, an ice castle, parades, and balls) to the mascot – a toque-topped snowman named Bonhomme. Many events take place in the shadow of the historic Chateau Frontenac, one of the most spectacular sights in the old city.
Quebec City is one of most delightful winter destinations in North America to begin with; Carnaval just gives you one more reason to visit.
Also read: Top 10 Places to Visit in Canada
St. Paul Winter Carnival
(St. Paul, Minnesota)
Even with a convoluted backstory of gods and Krewes that puts Mardi Gras to shame, the St. Paul Winter Carnival still holds the title of America’s foremost winter carnival.
Promising to have something for everyone, the St. Paul carnival delivers with an ice castle, snow sculptures, a snow maze, a kids’ play area, an ice-fishing tournament, parades, scavenger hunts for carnival medallions, parties, cabarets, and more.
The Twin Cities have a well-earned reputation as places that know what to do with all that snow. The St. Paul Winter Carnival is the most obvious example of that.
Find more winter wonderlands to visit: Travel Guides to the Worlds’ Best Ice Hotels
Harbin Snow and Ice Festival
The Harbin festival claims to be the world’s largest winter celebration – and who can argue? It takes the prizes for longest festival (running from December through February), most visitors (up to 15 million), tallest ice sculptures (more than 140 feet tall), and most theme parks (five to be exact: Sun Island International Snow Sculpture Art Expo, Harbin Ice and Snow World, Harbin Wanda Ice Lantern World, Zhaolin Park Ice Lantern Fair, and Songhua River Ice and Snow Carnival).
It's going to be hard to top that.
As if that wasn’t enough, the Harbin festival overflows with winter activities, including fishing, all types of sports, parties and celebrations, parades, and much, much more.
If you never thought of China as a winter destination, the Harbin Snow and Ice Festival will change your mind for good.
Valloire International Ice & Snow Sculpture Competition
It’s hard to beat a winter carnival in a French ski resort town for joie de vivre, especially when the carnival in question has not one but two international competitions.
Valloire is as dreamy as you’d expect – quaint but bustling, and surrounded by the spectacular French Alps. Add to that an international snow-sculpture contest and an international ice-sculpture contest, and you’ve got something that has me dreaming of snuggling in a ski lodge drinking hot chocolate in front of a vaguely triangular-shaped fireplace.
With fireworks, a torchlight parade, and snow-covered streets lined with brightly-lit sculptures, Valloire is the stuff of winter magic.
Sapporo Snow Festival
A festival that started in 1950 with six snow statues made by local high-school students has blossomed into one of the world’s most breathtaking celebrations of the art that can be wrought from snow and ice.
The festival (virtual in 2022; back in person in 2023 – hopefully) takes place in three locations – Odori Park, Susukino and Tsudome – with hundreds of sculptures, a winter wonderland full of skating rinks and light shows, great food, and activities like snow rafting.
Also read: Travel Tips for Japan
Ice Music Festival
Something you never think about unless you live a good portion of your life surrounded by winter-scapes: Ice has incredible resonance.
The people behind Norway’s Ice Music Festival are well aware of this phenomenon and celebrate it every winter with unique and dynamic combinations of sound, structure, and setting.
The setting is the mountainous regions of Norway’s frigid north. The structures change each year, but this year they are igloos – domed ice and snow-houses that house small audiences and reflect heat and sound inward. And the sounds are “ice music” -- compositions that are inspired by and take advantage of their crystalline surroundings.
Nothing compares to the multi-sensory effects of the Ice Music Festival. And that’s by design.
Seasoned travelers know how to make the most out of winter. If that’s you, or even if you’re dipping your toe into winter travel for the first time, consider insuring your cold-weather excursions with travel insurance from Generali. We have plans to cover everything from road trips to vacation rentals to trips of a lifetime.
Go ahead – get a quote today.