Longqing Gorge (Longqingxia) is a long ravine passed by the Gucheng River, located 80km northwest of Beijing. Sometimes referred to as the "Little Three Gorges," it was named after Emperor Longqing of the Ming Dynasty. The Longqing Gorge ice and snow festival starts from mid-January and runs until mid-February, but with annual temperatures rising, the festival's window is getting smaller. Over 400 ice sculptures, carved by both Chinese and foreign artists, are exhibited here. Each year has a different theme, and this year the theme very much reflected Beijing’s bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics. When illuminated at night, these brilliant sculptures create a fantastic visual experience. The mountains around the gorge are also illuminated, a beautiful background for the winter wonderland in the middle basin. So if you’re not quite ready for bitingly cold Harbin, then Longqing Gorge is a closer, cheaper, and more comfortable alternative.

The Longqing festival is of course a much smaller affair than Harbin’s, but it still has enough to do and see for a day trip. Besides the ice sculptures, there are fireworks ceremonies, folk dancing, and minority ethnic songs, all presented on the central stage. You can enjoy ice skating, and sliding down icy slopes in a rubber ring. We visited the first weekend of its opening, and it was surprisingly quiet. The majority of the sculptures are under-cover, so even if you do not visit when it’s dark outside, you still get the impact of the illuminations. There are sculptures of giant snowflakes, Buddhas, and bottles of baijiu. The most impressive sculptures were those of temples, pavilions, and hutong buildings. With intricately carved roof tiles, and all of the traditional features. For the kids, the ice castle was their favorite. A near replica of Elsa’s castle from Disney’s Frozen, it even had Olaf the snowman out front.

We took a packed lunch, as there are very limited food options available. We sat on an icy bench, by the frozen lake, and enjoyed hot soup and rolls, while taking in the amazing views of the gorge. The kids started to feel a bit cold, so we headed into a rather sparse café. The only hot drink available was coffee sachets, pre-mixed with milk powder and sugar. What they lacked in caffeine options, they sure made up for in blow heaters. You can buy juice and snacks, as they cater for tourists staying at the nearby hotels. Warmed up and ready to go again, we headed back out into the early evening light, for one last look at the sculptures.

During the winter season, the rest of the Longqing Gorge area is closed to tourists. It opens again in early April, through to November. The 258-meter-long elevator, that takes you up the dam, is hidden inside the body of a dragon which will delight kids. Once you’re up, you can enjoy a boat cruise with breathtaking views. There are hills, and caves to be explored, and if you’re brave enough you can do a bungee jump. Coming back down is as much fun, as you can choose the cable car or toboggan.

Longqing Gorge Ice and Snow Festival
Daily 9am-9pm
Admission fee RMB 100 (free for children under 1.2 meters)
All cars and buses have to stop at the parking area, and transfer via their golf cars (RMB 10 return trip) or walk the 20 minutes to the park

This article first appeared on beijingkids.

Photos: Sally Wilson

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