Ice sculptures have a rich history, and evidence suggests people may have been carving ice as early as 600 B.C. However, as tools and technology advanced, ice sculptures did as well. In the 1600s, fishermen in the China province of Heilongjiang would freeze water inside buckets, and then remove the buckets and put a candle inside to create ice lanterns—a tradition still celebrated today at the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival.
Later, in 1739, Russian empress Anna Ivanovna had an “ice palace” built out of ice from the Neva River to host special events. Artist Valery Ivanovich Jacobi memorialized this ice palace in an oil painting in 1878.
Today, artists around the world have created memorable sculptures out of ice and snow, but even still, there isn’t one clear, prescriptive way to set about sculpting the frozen elements. However, snow is often compressed and packed down, and then ice sculptors use tools like ice chippers, chisels, and sheetrock saws to cut through large swaths of snow, and machetes for finer details. Some artists even use sandpaper.
Ice and snow sculptures don’t last forever, of course. The time you can expect an ice or snow sculpture to stay standing depends on the size, temperature, sunlight, and air circulation. It’s estimated that a single-block ice sculpture will last about 12 hours at a temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Arguably the best way to experience what artists can do with a block of snow or ice is to attend an ice or snow festival that features sculptures from different creators. These festivals are often held in locations with cold climates, such as Sweden, Canada, or Mongolia.
But if you can’t make it to a festival this winter, Stacker has compiled a collection of 50 amazing snow and ice sculptures from different ice and snow festivals around the world. Read on to see the imaginative creations that are here to stay—at least in picture form.
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The Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival in northeast China is the world’s biggest winter festival, attracting 10 million to 15 million visitors every year. The festival has three venues: the Sun Island Scenic Area, the Ice and Snow World—where the ice maze is located—and Zhaolin Park, where there are over 1,000 ice sculptures on display.
The lion snow sculpture “Powerful” by artists Peter Hermann and Grant Rundbladet was part of the 2018 Black Forest Snow Sculpture Festival in Bernau, Germany. During the 2019 event, eight artist teams worked to transform snow cubes measuring 72 cubic meters using saws, shovels, and scrapers. The festival was open for four days in February and included a ski show and fireworks.
The World Snow Festival in Grindelwald, Switzerland, has taken place every January since 1983 and invites artists from around the world to sculpt icy artwork from blocks of snow that measure a meter high. This year’s festival theme is “Hospitality,” and expert judges will be on site to evaluate the ice sculptures on topicality, originality, and skill.
Darren Jackson’s unicorn ice sculpture was a part of a 2017 exhibition in Edinburgh, “The Ice Adventure: A Journey Through Frozen Scotland.” Jackson was one of five ice artists that carved ice sculptures depicting Scottish history and culture using chainsaws, chisels, and hammers. Inside the exhibition hall, the temperature was -10 degrees Celsius or 14 degrees Fahrenheit so the ice sculptures could maintain their solid forms.
Mark Hackney’s ice steam train sculpture was part of 2018’s “Ice Village” in Manchester, England. When the attraction opened last year in Cathedral Gardens, it was the first of its kind in Britain, where 250 tons of ice were used to create a winter wonderland that also was inspired by Manchester’s industrial heritage. In addition to the intricate ice sculptures, “Ice Village” also featured an ice bar and ice rink, and Santa’s grotto.
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In 2015, Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland in London featured a magical ice kingdom, complete with 300 pieces of ice art from thrones to frozen animals, all of which were created with tools that included power drills and steel samurai swords. A total of 30 ice sculptors worked to create the project, two of whom worked on a giant snow ogre that ended up weighing double the amount of the average elephant.
The Machines de l'Ile in Nantes, France, is a giant art project that embraces the industrial history of Nantes in western France with mechanics and creativity. The theme park’s main attraction is the Great Elephant, a mechanical elephant that can carry 49 passengers who can see up close and personal how the gears in the giant sculpture work to propel it forward. In 2012, sculptors carved a block of ice into a cricket in front of spectators in the park.
Russian sculptor Andrey Molokov’s “Flying in a Dream” ice sculpture was one of the frozen works of art on display at the 28th International Valloire-Galibier Ice Sculpture Contest in Valloire, France, in January 2019. Next year’s festival will take place in January for four days and will feature 20 artists. On the last day of the festival, visitors can experience a light show and watch a musical while the final prizes are awarded.
In 2015, the town of Liège in Belgium held a Star Wars-themed ice sculpture festival that displayed 61 ice sculptures created by 30 different artists from around the globe. The sculptors used 500 tons of ice to create the works of art, which varied from two meters to six meters high. In addition to the frozen stormtrooper, visitors also could see icy tributes to Darth Vader, Yoda, and Princess Leia.
The annual Dutch Ice Sculpture Festival attracts artists from around the world who are tasked with shaping over 600,000 pounds of ice and snow into frozen sculptures up to six meters tall that reflect the year’s theme. This year’s Dutch Ice Sculpture Festival takes place from December to March and its theme is “Journey Through Time.”
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Each year, the town of Pustevny in the Beskydy Mountains in Czechia hosts a world-renowned ice sculpting festival that attracts thousands of visitors. At this year’s festival, six artists carved sculptures from 40 tons of ice for about a week using chainsaws, grinders, and other power tools. The giant blocks of ice originate from a food warehouse in Opava and then are shipped to Pustevny and housed in tents to prevent melting.
The Udmurt Ice Festival in Izhevsk, Russia, was started by local artists from a group called Creative Dacha and has continued to expand since it was started. In 2018, the festival welcomed 28 ice artists from Russia and Belarus, who all worked for five days on their frozen creations.
Yekaterinburg, Russia, is the host of the International Ice Sculpture Europe-Asia Competition, which in 2015 welcomed 10 international teams to the capital of the Ural region. That year, a local team from Arkhangelsk was awarded the top prize for a sculpture titled “The Joy of Victory,” which depicted the country’s 1945 victory in World War II and the victory of good over evil.
The St. Petersburg, Russia, Ice Fantasy festival is held annually at the Peter and Paul Fortress and features ice sculptors from around the world. In 2019, the theme of the festival was “Around the World,” and depicted global landmarks, including St. Petersburg’s symbol, the Scarlet Sails. That sculpture was the tallest on display at the festival, measuring eight meters tall.
[Pictured: Ice sculpture of a diver at the Ice Fantasy festival in St. Petersburg, Russia in December 2018.]
Visitors to Moscow in winter may enjoy the Ice Moscow Festival in Victory Park and browse icy figures of all shapes and sizes. The ice used in the festival comes straight from Lake Baikal, and colorful lights installed at the base of the sculptures allow spectators to fully appreciate the natural ice’s transparency. The 2016 iteration of the festival included an ice replica of the Kremlin, complete with frozen slides.
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The 2018 Ice Moscow Festival featured frozen replicas of some of the world's most famous world landmarks, from the Trevi Fountain in Rome to the Taj Mahal in India and Russia’s own St. Basil’s Cathedral. One two-section tent at the festival was dedicated to European civilization, including the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Another tent allowed visitors to explore ancient India in ice form, while the third tent with heaters displayed African sculptures created from sand.
In the winter of 2011 and 2012, Ice Town in Perm, Russia, attracted over 1 million visitors. The region of Perm itself is home to the world-famous Kungur Ice Cave, a gypsum cave with ice crystals. Experts consider the Kungur Ice Cave to be the only gypsum cave with vast glaciation—or being covered in ice—in the world.
[Pictured: A theater awaits the crowds in Ice Town in Perm, Russia on Feb. 17, 2012.]
Beginning in 2013, ice sculptors have traveled to Hrebienok in eastern Slovakia every year to build what is called the Tatra ice temple, or a scaled-down version of a world-famous church. In 2019, the temple was a 36-foot-high icy replica of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The sculpture took a team of 16 sculptors a month to build, and they worked 12-hour days to finish the project. The temple was crafted from 1,880 ice blocks weighing 225 tons.
The International Ice Sculpture Festival in Jelgava, Latvia, is the largest winter event in the Baltics and has taken place annually for more than 20 years. In 2017, 32 professional sculptors from eight countries traveled to Latvia and created 45 ice sculptures, as well as an ice bar. Children and adults alike also could learn from the sculptors themselves at an ice workshop.
[Pictured: Detail of an ice sculpture named "Reality" by artist Elena Smirnova and Ivan Smirnov in Jelgava on Feb. 17, 2018.]
The Hotel of Ice in Balea Lake, Romania has been built yearly since 2005 in the Fagaras Mountains and draws about 8,000 guests from far and wide. The hotel is built from snow and ice blocks from the largest glacial lake in the Fagaras Mountains and has a different theme each year. The hotel also has an ice restaurant, where food is served on plates made of—you guessed it—ice.
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The Ice Magic Festival has been a staple in Lake Louise in the Canadian province of Alberta for 25 years and attracts more than 30,000 visitors every year. The festival takes place every January for 12 days and draws international artists who come to compete in some of the festival’s events, including speed-carving contests.
Four snow artists sculpted their depiction of two moose interlocking antlers at the 2019 Banff International Snow Sculpting Competition, earning the Filipino-Canadian team both the judge’s pick award as well as the people’s choice award. The group called the piece “Tangle,” and it was displayed on Bear Street in the resort town of Banff.
The Mosaivernales Winter Festival in the Canadian province of Quebec takes place in Jacques-Cartier Park yearly and showcases some of the best snow and ice art in the world. In 2018, the festival featured 25 illuminated snow frescoes along a kilometer-long trail. The 2018 event was the festival’s 40th anniversary.
[Pictured: Mother Earth is one of 24 illuminated snow sculptures at the Mosaivernales Winter Festival in February 2018.]
The Bloor-Yorkville Icefest in Toronto, Canada returned to the Village of Yorkville in 2019, displaying 70,000 pounds of ice carved into sculptures that reflected the “Hollywood North” theme of the festival which paid tribute to the film industry in the region. The event also featured an ice-carving demonstration and an ice-carving competition.
[Pictured: King Tut ice sculpture and burial mask with purple lights at Bloor-Yorkville Icefest in February 2015.]
The Hôtel de Glace in Saint-Gabriel-de-Valcartier in the Canadian province of Quebec is the only one of its kind in North America and changes its theme each winter. The hotel has 42 rooms and suites, where guests can stay warm in arctic sleeping bags and enjoy the hotel’s outdoor sauna and spas. But be sure to bring warm clothes—the internal temperature of the rooms ranges from 23 degrees Fahrenheit to 27 degrees.
[Pictured: The 2018 Hôtel de Glace in Saint Gabriel de Valcartier Quebec.]
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The World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks, Alaska, was founded in 1990 and annually hosts over 100 ice artists from around the globe. The event is run by more than 300 volunteers on 90 committees, and some volunteers travel from as far away as Australia to help coordinate the event. In total, the World Ice Art Championships attract about 45,000 people each year.
[Pictured: "Attacking Claws" Ice Sculpture, 2010 World Ice Art Championships March 9, 2010 in Fairbanks, Alaska.]
Gaylord National’s ICE! Exhibit at the National Harbor in Maryland showcases a different themed winter wonderland every year that features 2 million pounds of ice sculptures. The sculptures are created by 40 ice artists from Harbin, China, and are kept in chilly 9-degree Fahrenheit temperatures. The attraction also has four two-story-tall ice slides and a nativity scene carved out of clear ice.
[Pictured: A 15,000-square foot winter wonderland created from 2 million pounds of ice, at National Harbor in Fort Washington, Md., Dec. 18, 2009.]
This dragon ice sculpture was an attraction at the 2019 Medina Ice Festival, which was the 25th anniversary of the event. The festival took place over President’s Day Weekend and featured a speed carving competition, a fire and ice tower, and individual and team competitions. With Medina being just 30 miles from Cleveland, the festival remains a fun day trip for urban families and a local celebration for people who live in town.
[Pictured: Dragon ice sculpture at the 25th Annual Medina Ice Carving Festival at Brite Winter Festival on the Flats, Cleveland, Ohio in February 2019.]
The International Snow Sculpture Championships in Breckenridge, Colo., are made even more impressive with the rules imposed on competitors: no power tools are allowed. Instead, 16 teams are tasked with hand-carving 20-ton blocks of snow over just five days. A depiction of frogs on a clock was among the 2018 sculptures. Those who visit the festival can also vote for their favorite sculpture team to win the People’s Choice Award.
[Pictured: Time Snow Sculpture Competition by Team Mongolia at the International Snow Sculpting Championships in Breckenridge, Colo., Jan. 28, 2018.]
At the three-day Minnesota State Snow Sculpting Competition, teams made up of three members each are provided with eight-foot blocks of snow and instructed to carve away, so long as they only use hand tools. The winning team is awarded $1,000 and advances to represent Minnesota at the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Competition in Wisconsin. Those planning to visit the festival should be sure to attend early on—organizers knock down sculptures if they become unstable. A sculpture titled “Ascension” by Dusty Thune won the competition in 2018.
[Pictured: "Ascension" by House of Thune, Minnesota State Snow Sculpting Competition on Jan. 29, 2019.]
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The big draw at Saranac Lake Winter Carnival in New York is the Ice Palace, which has been built almost every year at the festival since 1898. Early on, ice harvesters were contracted out to build the Ice Palace, but volunteers have been responsible for its construction since the 1960s. The Ice Palace remains open to the public for as long as it is safe, but volunteers monitor the weather, which often forces it to close early.
[Pictured: Ice Castle at the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival, N.Y.]
The Wildlife Conservation Society hosts the Salute to Wildlife Ice Carving Week every year at the Bronx Zoo to pay tribute to animals living in the Arctic Beringia—an area that covers Russia, Alaska, and northwest Canada. The ice carvings raise awareness about conservation efforts the Wildlife Conservation Society conducts in the region and are judged by popular vote in a variety of different categories. This ice carving of a reindeer was on display during the conservation society’s event in 2013.
Mongolian artist Bazarsad Bayarsaikhan was awarded second place at the 2014 Art Meets Ice ice sculpting festival at the Korkeasaari Zoo in Helsinki, Finland, for his sculpture of wild foals playing. The theme of the Art Meets Ice festival that year was the celebration of animals to commemorate the zoo’s 125th anniversary.
Rovaniemi, Finland, is home to Snowman World, which embraces its location in the Arctic Circle and even features an ice bar and ice restaurant. Ice and snow sculptures dot both venues, and guests at the ice bar can sip on cocktails from ice glasses or browse the ice art gallery. Lunch at the ice restaurant includes “winter zone” activities, like ice skating and snow tubing.
[Pictured: A girl walks among ice sculptures in Rovaniemi on Dec. 16, 2008.]
The Icehotel is an art project/hotel that has been ongoing since 1989 and is created anew each winter with ice from the Torne River. Icehotel claims to be the world’s first of its kind, as well as the largest. The hotel is open from December to April and offers 15 suites with hand-carved sculptures created by artists from around the world.
[Pictured: A bride and her mother enter the chapel of the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjaervi on Jan. 9, 2009.]
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The ice chapel in the Icehotel in Sweden hosts about 150 weddings each year. Each year, artists handpicked by the Icehotel are responsible for creating the chapel which accommodates about 30 to 40 guests. The Icehotel even has an in-house wedding coordinator for those interested in saying “I do” in the frozen chapel.
[Pictured: A Swedish couple pose in the chapel of the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjaervi on Jan. 9, 2009 after getting married.]
Geilo, Norway, is the host of the world’s only IceMusic Festival, where musicians travel from far and wide to play instruments constructed from ice in a hollowed-out ice cave. Most instruments at the festival start out as 600-pound ice blocks cut from a nearby frozen lake, and in 2009 featured a harp. Via chainsaws, the blocks eventually are carved into guitars, horns, and harps. The festival occurs each winter during the first full moon of the year.
[Pictured: Norway's harp player Sidsel Walstad performs with her instrument built of ice on January 10, 2009.]
The Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel in Finnmark, Norway, holds the title of the northernmost ice hotel in the world and has been re-built entirely from snow and ice every year since 1999. Although the igloo hotel started with just six rooms, it now has 26 rooms, four decorated suites, an ice chapel, and an ice bar. The hotel is made of 250 tons of ice and is constructed by local artists and workers who address a different theme each year.
[Pictured: A general view of the Sorrisniva Igloo or Ice Hotel near Alta on March 30, 2017 in Finnmark, Norway.]
The Ice Festival of Mongolia takes place on the frozen Lake Khovsgol, the largest freshwater lake in Mongolia. In the winter, the entire lake freezes up to six feet deep and temperatures drop to -31 degrees Fahrenheit, making the venue the perfect natural place for a celebration of snow and ice. The two-day event has been held every year since 2002 hosted by the Tsaatan tribe, a group of nomadic reindeer herders.
[Pictured: People slide down a frozen slide on Lake Khovsgol, Hatal, Mongolia on March 4, 2018.]
The Yokote Kamakura Snow Festival in the Akita prefecture of Japan is world famous for its seemingly endless collection of snow domes, or Kamakura, a traditional winter symbol in northern Japan. Yokote City has been celebrating the snow festival for over 450 years, and its festival is the largest one in the country featuring Kamakura. In some larger Kamakura, festival-goers can eat traditional Japanese winter food, like mochi and warm sake inside the huts.
[Pictured: A visitor takes pictures of the candlelit miniature Kamakura, or snow huts, during the Yokote Kamakura Snow Festival on Feb. 15, 2010 in Yokote, Akita, Japan.]
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The Chitose and Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival is held in the Lake Shikotsu hot springs in Shikotsu-Toya National Park in Japan. The abstract snow sculptures on display at the festival are made by spraying water from the hot springs on the snow and freezing it. Visitors also may enjoy an ice slide and an ice rink at the festival and warm up at the hot springs.
[Pictured: People visit the Chitose-Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival in Chitose, Japan on Jan. 24, 2014.]
The Asahikawa Winter Festival in the City of Asahikawa in Japan boasts some of the world’s largest snow sculptures, including a dragon castle in 2004. Each year at the festival, one giant snow sculpture is created to serve as a stage for performances and has a different theme each year. Often, these sculptures surpass records—a 1994 sculpture of a Korean fortress found itself in the Guinness World Records book.
[Pictured: "Dragon Castle," at the Asahikawa Winter Festival in February 2004.]
The Sapporo Snow Festival in Japan presents 1.5 kilometers of giant snow and ice sculptures in Odori Park. The festival started in 1950 when local high school students created and sculpted six snow statues, attracting about 50,000 visitors. The upcoming festival’s theme is “Enjoy the Ice,” and will feature an area called “Fureai Hiroba” where visitors can touch and interact with the ice sculptures.
[Pictured: Snow sculptures are lit up during the 66th annual Sapporo Snow Festival on Feb. 5, 2015.]
Japanese figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu was immortalized in snow during the 2015 Sapporo Snow Festival. A year prior, Hanyu competed in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and was a breakout star, surpassing every world record in his event. At the 2014 men’s figure skating competition, his routine earned him a score of 101.45, making him the first figure skater in history to exceed 100 points.
[Pictured: Snow sculpture of Japan's figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu during the 66th annual Sapporo Snow Festival on Feb. 5, 2015.]
At the 2014 Sapporo Snow Festival, sculptors recreated the Tomb of Itmad-ud Daula, which was built in the 1620s in the city of Agra, India. In 2014, the festival displayed 198 snow and ice statues and drew about 2 million visitors to Odori Park to view the frozen creations.
[Pictured: An animation is projected onto a large snow sculpture of "Tomb of Itmad-ud-Daula", India, during the 65th annual Sapporo Snow Festival in February 2014.]
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The theme of the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival changes every year, but the 2014 theme was, “Global Ice and Snow Dream, World Cartoon Tour.” As part of the festival, visitors could browse the Sun Island International Snow Sculpture Expo in Sun Island Park, where the sculpture was located. The festival in 2014 began with an ice swimming competition, in which 500 daring swimmers braved the cold and dove headfirst into pools carved into the ice.
[Pictured: Tourists visit a large snow sculpture with the 117-meter-long and 26-meter-high at the Harbin International Snow Sculpture Art Expo on Jan. 6, 2014 in Harbin, China.]
Ice for the intricate frozen sculptures at the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival comes straight from the frozen Songhua River, where workers carve out hundreds of ice blocks for artists to use. In 2018, laborers transported 261,500 cubic yards of ice to the festival site. The ice blocks each weighed up to 1,545 pounds.
[Pictured: A worker walks past a snow sculpture at the annual Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in January 2018.]
The history of the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival dates back to around 1978 when tourists started traveling to Harbin to see the town’s ice lanterns and take part in winter activities, such as skiing and sledding. In 1983, government officials suggested that the town establish a winter festival, and the first official Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival took place in 1985 at Zhaolin Park.
[Pictured: An aerial view shows ice sculptures during the annual Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival in Harbin, January 2019.]
As one of the world’s largest ice and snow festivals, sculptures at the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival often break world records. In 2007, a two-part sculpture of Niagara Falls and the Crossing of the Bering Strait was chosen for the Guinness World Records compilation for the largest snow sculpture at 250 meters long and 8.5 meters high.
[Pictured: A woman looks at ice sculptures while visiting the Zhaolin Park on Jan. 6, 2015.]
To celebrate the new year in 2019 at the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival, 2,019 snowmen of all shapes and sizes were constructed on the frozen river. Entrance to the festival cost $48, but there were many free attractions around Harbin for the duration of the month-long festival, including the 2,019 snowmen.
[Pictured: Visitors look at ice sculptures during the annual Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival in January 2019.]
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