When winter arrives in Europe, many of its cities become fairy-tale like with vibrant holiday markets, shiny decorations and even ice sculpture festivals. Ice carving traditions date back to the beginning of the 20th century and ice sculpting has become a widely-recognized contribution to the local art scene in many of Europe’s coldest countries.
Thanks to their short natural lifespan, beautiful works of art carved from blocks of ice are as temporary as the winter in many of the countries where ice sculpture festivals are held. So when the festival dates are announced, it’s a good idea not to delay the trip. For your next winter getaway, here are 8 ice sculpture festivals in Europe to visit.
Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival (Bruges, Belgium)
The Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival in the medieval Belgian town of Bruges is one of the oldest and most famous ice sculpture festivals in the world. It usually runs from the last weekend in November until the beginning of the second week of January.
During the festival, the area of Bruges’ central train station square becomes a setting for the spectacular and breathtaking display of ice art works. The most recent festival held this past January featured “The World’s First Digital Ice Art Museum.”
Ice Sculpture Festival (Druskininkai, Lithuania)
Hidden in the pine forests of southern Lithuania, the small resort town of Druskininkai has been known by health-seekers from all around Europe for centuries. Famous for its mineral springs, numerous SPAs and enchanting nature, now it’s also turning into a winter wonderland.
In addition to numerous winter events such as the biggest Olympic Winter Sport festival in the region, Druskininkai has now started hosting the annual Druskininkai Ice Sculpture Festival, which also has aims to become the biggest event of its kind in the Baltic States.
During the most recent festival, a dozen sculptors from Lithuania, Germany and Indonesia gathered in Druskininkai to create magnificent ice masterpieces inspired by the paintings of the famous Lithuanian artist Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, who grew up in Druskininkai.
The Dutch Ice Sculpture Festival (Zwolle, the Netherlands)
The Dutch Ice Sculpture Festival is held the city of Zwolle and runs until March 3 this year. Ice sculptors from around the world were invited to work with 275,000 kilos of ice and 275,000 kilos of snow to create a breathtaking world based on “world famous stories” such as Animal Farm, the Three Musketeers, Alice in Wonderland, and many others.
In addition to being a ‘must visit’ for lovers of literature and ice art, there is also a Winter Wonderland KidsPlaza with games, fairground attractions, and bouncy castles to keep the little ones happy.
The Poznań International Ice Sculpture Festival (Poznań, Poland)
The Polish city of Poznań plays host to an annual ice sculpture festival, which takes place on the Market Square of the Old Town. In 2018, over 10 tonnes of ice were used to create the sculptures which were on show to thousands of guests, and a judging panel made up of international experts.
There is also a speed carving competition where each contestant is given an identical block of ice to create a sculpture.
The International Ice Sculpture Festival (Jelgava, Latvia)
Located around one hour away from the Latvian capital of Riga, the town of Jelgava holds the largest ice sculpture festival in the Baltic States each year.
In addition to being a celebration of art and ice, the Jelgava Ice Sculpture festival is also an event which is enjoyed by music lovers thanks to its numerous live music performances and light shows.
The London Ice Sculpting Festival (London, UK)
Described by Time Out as a “must visit” event, the London Ice Sculpting Festival has been on the British capital’s winter calendar for the last 10 years. Located at Canary Wharf, the London Ice Sculpting Festival offers visitors the chance to see live ice carving displays, check out graffiti on ice walls, pit their wits against and opponent over a game of ice chess, as well as plenty of other creative elements.
In 2018, the event brought in over 50,000 attendees from across the world, and the entertainment is extended to laser shows and DJs to make the event that bit more memorable.
The Ice Music Festival (Geilo, Norway)
The Ice Music Festival in Norway s a truly unique experience for all music and sculpture lovers. Participants in the world’s only ice music festival are required to make their instruments from the surrounding ice, and performances are held in an igloo. What’s more, the sounds are defined by the quality of the ice, meaning that no two ice music festivals are the same.
Kiruna Snow Festival (Kiruna, Sweden)
Since 1986, local Sami traditions meet contemporary ice sculpting techniques deep in the heart of Swedish Lapland. In addition to the display of Sami-themed ice sculptures, everything is made of ice including the children’s playground. Find out more about the Kiruna Snow Festival here.