The London Ice Sculpting Festival

Whenever visitors from abroad come to see us in London, Dad and I become embroiled in discussions about one particular place – Canary Wharf. Dad wholeheartedly believes it is worthy of sightseeing status and insists that the skyscrapers and new builds that line the banks of the Thames here make it “just like the Manhattan skyline”. Errrrrr. No.

Canary Wharf skylineAnyone who reads the blog regularly will know by now that I am fiercely passionate about London. Criticism about the city I’m in love with wounds me in that visceral way that I would feel if anyone tried to carve my Pumpkin. And yet even I will say this. Canary Wharf may be many things. But it is not the Manhattan skyline.

A brief explanation to those of you unfamiliar with London – Canary Wharf is a key financial hub in London. On a typical weekday, you will see swarms of suits, crisp collars, creaseless white shirts and Blackberries. There will also be a fair proportion of stressed people hiding underneath the suits and I will meet them later at the GP surgery.

Canary Wharf stationice sculpture

Sure, there are a few waterside restaurants and the surrounding area of Docklands has boomed in residential properties in the last decade but all in all, it’s not a part of London I’ve ever felt compelled to return to.

Until this January.

ice sculpture high heel shoe stilettoThe London Ice Sculpting Festival gave me the impetus I needed to give the wharf another chance.  Sister and I got the gloves out and followed the crowds to see what this was about. This was a free, outdoor ice art gallery with food markets, live sculpting demonstrations, competitions, performance and culture. It was the kind of art I could get used to liking and we marvelled at the way these weighty, oblong blocks of cold came to life, giving birth to people, expressions and characters.

ice sculpture idea London festivalice sculpture sketch

The press gave it their best, as did the collection of SLRs, milling around each statue, one elbow asserting itself over another, whilst trying to assure the optimal angles; but the artists kept a firm focus on their masterpieces. Some of these were abstract art. When it comes to interpretation of art, I have about as much intelligence as a toad so the helpful pictures displayed at the foot of each statue helped me understand just what I was looking at. It was crowded, I can’t deny that but the statues are huge so no matter how little or large you are (I’m quite little), height is no deterrent to you enjoying these views.

international ice sculpture festivalsLondon Ice Sculpture Festival

Entrants for this festival were from all over the world, here to impress the judges and seemingly also the public, who were allowed to cast their votes for their preferred sculpture. Choosing one was a challenge but conceptually, this one was my favourite – I like the fairytale factor it has…a little girl trying to catch a bubble. I wonder if she is dreaming, making a wish. I wonder if she is besotted, inspired, philosophical or simply content. I feel twinges of familiarity looking at her.

London Ice Sculpture Competition FestivalWe were here for the ice today and only the ice. The weather was a murky, grey with a bitter wind chill and we weren’t able to enjoy the winter food market, as we had eaten prior to arriving. But like opium to a drug den, my feet dragged me towards the cakes as if detached from my body. I bought one for later, a pistachio financier from Comptoir Gourmand, so moist and buttery that I had no regrets about leaving behind the beautifully bouncy lamington. I could have had both but at least once a year, I ought to exert some self control. If you decide to attend this next year, come on an empty stomach to sample everything from crepes and empanadas to dumplings and burgers.Comptoir Gourmand cakesNew York City, Jerusalem and Bruges are just a few other world cities, which have joined London in hosting similar festivals. Have you ever been to an ice festival or know of any others around the world? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Icebox van

26 thoughts on “The London Ice Sculpting Festival

  1. Canary Wharf has Waitrose – my middle-class aspirations know of nothing better 🙂

    1. Haha 🙂 Yes that would normally be a selling point but on this day, it was outshone by the cakes above!

  2. p.s. My best friend back in NZ would agree with your Dad on the Manhattan comparison 🙂

    1. haha, I’ve been getting a few comments this evening about people agreeing with my Dad on this! I think he’ll be delighted to hear this!

  3. thetradingtraveler February 25, 2014 — 12:48 am

    I think I would have to visit, if not for the ice sculptures, then for those desserts!! They look amaaaaaazing.

    1. whywasteannualleave February 25, 2014 — 4:41 pm

      I concur! It was very hard just picking one dessert! For cake lovers like (and you I guess!) the ice sculptures are really just an added bonus 😉

  4. Thanks for sharing, Shikha! Seems like it was a fun event to visit and taste 😉 with plenty photo opportunities.

    1. whywasteannualleave February 25, 2014 — 9:50 pm

      Yes I don’t know what I liked better – the food market or the sculptures themselves! Thanks so much for stopping by 🙂

  5. I haven’t been to an ice festival, but I would like to – it’s amazing what they can sculpt out of a block of ice. I’ve been to a few ice bars which are good fun.

    Your cake pic caught my eye – they looked tasty. My stomach is now rumbling…!

    1. whywasteannualleave February 25, 2014 — 9:57 pm

      Hehe, there’s always something so inviting about cake photos isn’t there?! Thanks for the tip about ice bars – it’s one of those things I’ve never gotten around to trying out yet so I’ll have to go one day – maybe when the weather is a bit warmer outside!

  6. What awesome ice sculptures! We recently visited Magic Ice in St. Thomas to see a collection of ice sculptures and I can’t believe that people are able to make them! I’m in awe! 🙂

    1. St Thomas must have been a wonderful destination to see some ice sculptures! I agree with you completely about how talented the ice sculptors are – I wouldn’t even be able to build something like this out of play dough nevermind an enormous ice block!

  7. I’m afraid I have to agree with you that Canary Wharf does not have a lot going for it (for tourists anyway) and is definitely not comparable to the Manhattan skyline! The ice festival looks pretty spectacular though, and the cakes sound delicious!

    1. Thanks Catherine – I’m glad someone agrees with me!! I had a lot of comments from friends and family telling me they agree with my Dad! But yes, the ice sculptures were incredible and I only wish I’d come a bit hungrier for more cake 🙂

  8. Looks like a tone of fun and interesting things to do when in London. I’ve been there a couple of times but never took part in this festival. Now I regret… 😦

    1. Thanks for the comment Agness – you can be forgiven for missing out on it as it only happens once a year I think but it’s a great experience for a free day out! But there are many others in cities all over the world so I’m sure you’ll catch it one day 🙂

  9. Can’t believe I live in London most of the year and I missed this!

    1. whywasteannualleave March 1, 2014 — 9:02 am

      Always the way isn’t it – I’ve missed out on so many London events for exactly the same reason! It’ll be back next year though I’m sure 🙂

  10. Nice reading, looks like you had lots of fun. Anyways, it’s an awesome idea doing a ice sculpting festival, we had something similar here, in Estonia, but unfortunately I missed that.

    1. whywasteannualleave March 9, 2014 — 2:33 am

      Thanks so much for your comment Kadri – it was a great day out and great to know they do one is Estonia too – hopefully you can go next time 🙂

  11. We’re from Bruges and like you’ve mentioned there’s a ice sculpture festival as well. I haven’t been to the one in London before, but looking at your pictures I think it’s a must go! We’re putting it on our bucket list (any reason to visit London is a good one since it is our most favorite city :)).

    1. whywasteannualleave March 11, 2014 — 7:32 pm

      Thanks so much for stopping by Nina – Bruges is most definitely on my bucket list – I’ve been hearing how beautiful it is from friends who have been and from some blog posts. I hear Christmas time in Bruges is especially beautiful 🙂

  12. Muddy Boots Bakes March 3, 2015 — 7:32 pm

    As a Canary Wharf worker, I do adore the views from my desk up on level 29 and try not to take them for granted, but compared to Manhattan…. I think we have a little way to go! The sculptures do look amazing though!
    L xx

  13. Hi, kate, greetings! I am Siewhua, a Singaporean Chinese. The biggest ice scullpture festival in the world is in Harbin, China. In winter every year, Harbin which borders Russia, hosts an ice & snow festival. Every year, there is a different theme. The snow sculptures on sun island depict Chinese mythology & feature giant sculptures of fairies etc. During the year of my visit, the theme was celebration of Sino Russian friendship. I walked into towering , illuminated ice sculptures of Russian orthodox churches & Chinese temples with pagodas & slided down iceslides. I happened to visit on the 15th day or last day of Chinese new Year then & fireworks exploded in the nightsky above the ice sculptures. The temperature of -20degrees celsius was most memorable!

  14. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) February 11, 2017 — 4:36 pm

    Wow Siewhua, that ice & snow festival in Harbin sounds just spectacular! What an utterly magical if freezing experience it must have been to have seen that! I would love to see it nyself one day but until then, thank you for sharing your experiences ☺

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