Photos: Harbin Ice and Snow festival

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  1. Fireworks light up the sky behind an ice sculpture during the 26th Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival at a park in Harbin, Heilongjiang province, China. (Aly Song / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A woman slides down an ice slide at the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival. The festival has been held every year since 1985. (Ng Han Guan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Fairy tale palaces, towering pagodas, and even an Egyptian Sphynx, all carved from ice, are among the sights at this year's Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Visitors look at an ice sculpture, as fireworks are lit in the background, during the 26th Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival. (Aly Song / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. The Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival is a month-long celebration, and begins in December or January. In this photo, visitors walk by a few of the thousands of sculptures. (Aly Song / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Travelers who want to see the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival in person should take precautions. Temperatures in February drop as low as -30 degrees (Celcius). (Aly Song / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Visitors to Harbin's popular ice and snow festival should should dress in layers -- and don't be surprised if you're digital camera acts up because of the cold weather. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. The buildings seen at Harbin's annual snow festival celebrating snow and ice are made from blocks of ice. (Ng Han Guan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Each year, artists, ice sculpture experts and fans in general, hailing from America, Canada, Japan, Russia and beyond, make their way to see the Harbin International Ice and Snow festival. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The annual festival goes beyond just beautiful ice sculptures. Sporting events, such as ice skating and sledding, have grown in popularity during the month-long celebration. (Aly Song / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Harbin's well-known festival celebrating snow and ice attracts hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world. Harbin is the capital city of China's Hellongiang Province. (Aly Song / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. The Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival covers about 600,000 square meters and is broken into two major areas -- a southern region for sightseeing, and a northern region that offers skiing and a large entertainment area. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. The Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival, hosted for the 26th consecutive year, is one of the most popular local celebrations in China and one of the world's largest ice and snow spectacles. (Sheng Li / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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updated 1/8/2010 2:55:56 PM ET 2010-01-08T19:55:56

A cold snap in northern China has thrown daily life into confusion, but is ideal for fairy tale palaces, towering pagodas, and even a sphinx — all carved from ice — that make up the sights at this year's Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival.

The annual event in northern China, now in its 26th year, pulls crowds from across China and even a few visitors from overseas, drawn to the unique visions of an international roster of sculptors who illuminate their creations with multicolored electric lights encased in the translucent ice.

Tuesday night's opening ceremony featured a fireworks display, lighting up the sky above the festival's main site on Sun Island alongside the frozen Songhua River running to the north of Harbin, a metropolis as far north as Toronto that styles itself China's "ice city."

Past festival themes have included the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, while perennial motifs include famous Chinese tourist sites such as Beijing's Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China. Tired of looking at the sculptures? Take a ride on the ice slide, but be sure to get out of the way quick as other thrill seekers zip down on you from behind.

China Harbin Ice Snow Festival
Ng Han Guan  /  AP
Visitors pose near giant sculptures made from ice and snow before the opening ceremony of the Harbin International Ice and Snow festival in Harbin in northeastern's China Heilongjiang province, Jan. 5.
Other hazards include elbow-to-elbow crowds at popular times of the night and intense cold temperatures that dipped to 3 degrees Fahrenheit (-16 Celsius) on Tuesday amid light snow.

A recent cold spell has benefited the festival, but has caused havoc in other parts of northern China. Heavy snowstorms caused the cancellation of 756 flights at Beijing's Capital International Airport and closed highways and rail lines.

Millions of commuters also struggled to get to work for several days, although most transportation lines were back to normal in major cities on Wednesday. Primary and middle schools were also reopened in Beijing and the nearby port of Tianjin.

Away from the festival, Harbin also features varied architecture pointing to its close Russian historical links, dumplings and other tasty northern Chinese eats, and the prospect of skiing at Yuquan, about 65 kilometers from the city, and China's premier Yabuli resort, 200 kilometers (120 miles) to the east.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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