Harbin Travel Guide: Itinerary, Attractions, Travel Time, Hotels, Food, etc.
Planning your first visit to Harbin and feeling overwhelmed? We have you covered! Here’s the essential guide for visiting Harbin and how you can make the most of your visit.
Harbin at a glance
Harbin is the capital city of Heilongjiang, a province tucked in the northernmost corner of China. This once small fishing village on the banks of Songhua River is now China’s top winter destination. Though most famous for its winter fiesta, the Ice and Snow Festival, you should certainly venture further and discover much more on what Harbin has to offer.
- 1. World's largest Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival
- 2. Harbin's Russian and Jewish heritage and breath-taking architectures
- 3. Wild big cats at Siberian Tiger Park
- 4. Easy to travel to Yabuli Ski Resort and China Snow Town
Best time to visit Harbin
Climate: The climate is generally mild in summer and autumn with temperatures rarely hit uncomfortably high or low. While temperatures start to dip during mid-October and only rise above zero after late March. It is worth carrying an umbrella or raincoat during the rainy season from June to September.
Warm season (average temperature of 22℃): Between April and September, temperature are comfortable with highs rarely going above 30℃. July is the hottest month.
Cold season (average temperature of -15℃): Temperatures in the city area usually stay below -10℃ and frequently drop as low as -35℃. Freezing temperature accompany by unpleasantly cold wind. January is the coldest month.
Best time to visit: There's no better time to visit Harbin than in winter (mid-October to late march) for plenty of winter sports and the famous Ice and Snow Festival. A time best show-off the charm of Harbin.
Helpful information (festivals in Harbin):
Harbin Ice and Snow Festival
- Time: soft opening in December, officially begin in January and lasts till February and March when the sculptures melt
- Venue: mainly at Ice and Snow World, Sun Island Scenic Area, and Zhaolin Park
- What to expect: Ice and snow Disneyland filled with light-illuminated ice sculptures and castles at Ice and Snow World, ice lanterns display at Zhaolin Park and snow figures in Sun Island Scenic Area.
Harbin International Beer Festival
- Time: start of every July and lasts for ten days
- Venue: Ice and Snow World on Sun Island
- What to expect: Throughout the festival, there will be activities such as singing, dancing, beer tasting, trade fairs and exhibitions
Harbin Summer Music Concert
- Time: starts on August 6th and lasts for ten days (held every two years)
- Venue: across Harbin
- What to expect: Exciting dance, opera, acrobatic, musical concerts and performances.
Places to visit and things to do
Short on time? Here are a number of attractions you shouldn't miss in Harbin:
Attractions in the city area
This is the most prosperous street in Harbin with a strong exotic atmosphere—you may end up forgetting that you are actually in China. Down the timeworn cobbles walkway, you’ll find endless stream of Neo-Classic, Baroque, Byzantine, Renaissance architectures. Beautiful storefronts, upscale eateries and trendy fashion shops are along the way. This area is absolutely worth a visit after sunset.
When you walk to the end of Central Street, you’ll eventually reach Stalin Park which spreads along the bank of Songhua River. It’s worth a leisure stroll. You can participate in some of the winter sports on frozen Songhua River in winter.
A typical scenic park that will turn into ice wonderland every winter during Ice Lantern Festival. Zhaolin Park displays thousands of ice lanterns lit by colourful LED lights that’s no doubt best seen at night.
Often confused with Sun Island Scenic Area on the island, Sun Island consists of Ice and Snow World, Sun Island Scenic Area, Harbin Polar Land and other small gardens and parks. A cable car or ferry ride across Songhua River from Central Street will take you to Sun Island. It is Harbin's entertainment hub, offering plenty things to do especially in winter. Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival are held in Ice and Snow World and Sun Island Scenic Area.
- It's recommended to spend the day in the Sun Island Scenic Area for snow sculptures that will be closed after dark. And admire the fabulous night display of colossal ice structures lit with sparkling lights in Ice and Snow World.
Saint Sophia Cathedral
Saint Sophia Cathedral, a former Russian Orthodox church with a Neo-Byzantine green dome built in 1907, is Harbin's most beautiful construction and the city's landmark. It's the largest Orthodox architecture in the Far East. Now it has turned into a museum documenting Harbin's multicultural heritage.
Good to know: There's music fountain show from 19:00 to 19:30 on the square of Saint Sophia Cathedral every day (though available in the day too, it's more beautiful at night).
Harbin's Old and New Synagogues
There are many remnants of Harbin's Jewish history. West of Central Street along Tongjiang Street stands two former synagogues and a Jewish secondary school. The New Synagogue which was built in 1921 has been turned into an engaging museum of Jewish culture and history—worth spending an hour or so. A Jewish secondary school, now private music academy besides the New Synagogue is also worth a peek. While Harbin Old Synagogue (built in 1909) sits on the junction of Tongjiang Street and Jingwei Street is now a private music academy.
Laodaowai is the old quarter of Harbin--an area of Chinese Baroque architecture and a window into the history of this unique Chinese city. Down the streets lined with timeworn buildings, you can somewhat still find traces of their former glory and magnificence. It's highly recommended to tour Laodaowai with a knowledgeable guide, otherwise, these old buildings are just buildings without any stories.
Siberian Tiger Park
Watch a great number of big cats in the wild and you can buy strips of meat to feed them. You'll eventually need around three hours here.
Heilongjiang Provincial Museum
Built in 1906 on the original site of a Russian-style shopping mall. This is a wonderful place to learn about history of Harbin and the region. Highlights of the museum are a few dinosaurs and mammoth fossils, and relics of Tang dynasty.
Temple of Bliss
Temple of Bliss is the largest Buddhist temple complex in the province. There are a number of gigantic statues (Maitreya and Sakyamuni Buddha) and pagodas (including Seven-Tiered Buddhist Pagoda) in the temple. There will be temple fairs in May (Chinese lunar calendar of 8th, 18th, 28th April).
Built in early 1900s, this modern Confucius temple is no difference from the rest in China, yet one of the only few Chinese building complex in Harbin. The site houses a minority culture museum. Worth a stop if you have sufficient time. No entry fee required.
A steel tower at the heart of downtown area--worth a climb for panorama view of surrounding cityscape.
1. Volga Manor
A Russian-style forest garden just an hour outside of the city that's worth spending at least 2-3 hours. You can tour this site via bike or cruise during summer and experience skiing during winter.
2. Snow Town (visit in winter)
Experience China's deepest snow here after seven months of snowfall and a wide range of winter activities such as horse-drawn sleigh rides and snow mazes. This once one-street logging village is a three-hour drive from Yabuli Ski Resort. Take note that the temperature in China Snow Town can fall to 40℃ below freezing.
3. Yabuli Ski Resort (visit in winter)
Yabuli Ski Resort is also a national training ground. This ski resort is suitable for both professionals and amateurs from bunny slope to black run and even alpine skiing. You can up your winter vacation with simply a three-hour drive from Harbin.
Neighbourhoods you shouldn't miss
Daoli District (downtown region)
Find a number of old European buildings in this area including the famous St. Sophia Cathedral. While, Tongjiang Street, skirting the Central Street area was the centre of Jewish life in Harbin during 1920s. Down the street, stands two former synagogues (Harbin New Synagogue: a museum; Old Synagogue: a concert hall), a Jewish secondary school (now a private music academy) and a Turkish mosque-- definitely worth a stop. More historical buildings are found on Central Street. St Alexeevsky Church on Gogol Street, where is another former Russian street with pockets of surviving heritage, is worth a visit too.
Old Quarter (Laodaowai)
This neighbourhood which is noted for its Baroque and Byzantine-style Russian architectures.
Tip: To make your trip in Harbin more meaningful and interesting, it's best to accompany by a knowledgeable private guide who can tell you the history and story behind each district and building, rather than see and go by yourself.
Sun Island area
Recommended to visit during winter, when the island is filled with gigantic snow and ice sculptures and plenty of winter activities. Yet, Sun Island can also be a summer retreat with mild temperatures.
You reach via subway (line 2, including Central Street, Harbin train station, and provincial museum subway stations) and alight at Sun Island Station. Ferry and cable car are also available from Central Street to the island.
You can also visit the Siberian Tiger Park or enjoy a fascinating performance at Harbin Grand Theatre near Sun Island.
1. Harbin Ice and Snow Festival
You can plan your day seeing exquisite snow sculptures at Sun Island Snow Sculpture Art Expo while admire LED-lit ice towers and castles in Zhaolin Park and Ice and Snow World at night. Find some art works showcase in Stalin Park and on Central Street too.
2. Yabuli Ski Resort
A winter vacation is incomplete without spending a day or two experiencing the fast and fiery down local skiing slopes. Suitable for skiers of all abilities. This ski resort is 3 hour drive from city area. December to February is the most ideal time for skiing. (Alternative would be Erlongshan Ski Resort which is 1.5 hour drive from downtown).
3. Snow Town
Snow Town is a one street logging village with wide range of snow activities such as horse drawn sleigh ride and snow maze available. In winter, see the town and landscape dusted with thick layer of snow. It's a three hour drive from Yabuli Ski Resort.
You can also watch winter swimming and participate in other activities such as ice bowling, ice skating, and ice cycling on Songhua River in Harbin. Also, check out the best things to see and do in winter in China to make your winter trip in China to the fullest.
Harbin is a unique city that's peppered with Russian and European influence. Discover Harbin's Jewish and Russian heritage as you wonder the city packed with exquisite European style buildings and sample its unique cuisine. Best be accompanied by a professional guide who will take you under the skin of this city rather than a simple shot-and-go trip. You can also join ice fishing with local fishermen at Changling Lake (48 min from down area) which can be once-in-a-lifetime experience. Other hands-on activities such as paper cutting and dumpling making can be other great options. Simply leave us a message via email for any questions or drop us an enquiry form to customise most unique China tour for you.
Harbin food guide
Part of experiencing the culture is sampling local food. Harbin's gastronomy is heavily influenced by Russian and North Chinese cuisine. Dishes are often meat-based and served large and salty, but definitely worth giving a try.
Some local specialties include pan-fried dumplings, Guobaorou (Sweet Sour Fried Pork Chops), Disanxian or ‘three treasures' (fried potato, peppers and aubergine in garlicky sauce), Eastern European-style smoked garlic sausage, Russian bread and Madieer ice cream.
Where to eat in Harbin
Harbin Normal University night market: Located on Wenxing Street, with more than 500 food stores and booths—truly a food paradise.
1. Take care of your belongings and valuables while enjoying the snacks at Harbin Normal University night market.
2. Advice to pay via Wechat or Alipay for your convenience amidst large crowds.
Central Street: There are a number of Russian restaurants down Central Street. Among all, you shouldn't miss the most famous Huamei Western Restaurant and Luxiya Russia Coffee & Food for their unique Russian food blend with an Eastern twist.
Madieer dessert house: Get the time-honoured brand Modern 1906's milk ice cream on Central Street near Modern Hotel. It is popular even in the cold winter.
Orient King of Eastern Dumplings: Harbin's most famous dumpling restaurant with more than 20 chain stores in downtown. Mouth-watering handmade dumplings are served hot.
You can also try Zhang's steam bun on Nanerdao Street while strolling Laodawai and DIY your spring roll at Old Chang's Spring Roll on Central Street.
How to get to Harbin
Harbin is easily accessible from almost anywhere in China, a number of Asian and Western countries.
Fly from some major Chinese cities to Harbin Taiping International Airport (HRB): Beijing (2 hours), Shanghai (3 hours), Hangzhou (3 hours), Chengdu (3.5 hours), Shenzhen (4 hours), Guangzhou (4 hours), and Lhasa (7 hours 40 minutes). Direct international flights are available from countries like Russia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, and the US. Though it's advice to make your connecting flight in Beijing for some discount occasionally.
The airport is 38km from the city center (1 hour drive). Airport shuttle bus (dispatch every 30mins) cost about 20 RMB, while taxi ride cost around 200 RMB.
Foreign visitors from 53 qualified countries arriving at Taiping International Airport can enjoy 72 hours visa-free transit and tour within city area without the need of Chinese visa.
There are regular bullet trains from many Chinese cities. It will take you six hours from Beijing and one hour from Changchun. Take a taxi from outside Harbin Train Station to your destination in town or metro line 2 to downtown area.
Harbin bus station is opposite of train station. Reach Harbin by bus from Jilin (4.5 hours) or Beijing (12 hours), or take the daily service from Vladivostok in Russia (8 hours).
Getting around in Harbin
There are many forms of transportation allowing you to travel within the city area at ease.
Rent a car with Chinese driver from 600 RMB--1,000 RMB per day and tour Harbin at your leisure. Some rental agencies include Ctrip, Eddy by Europcar, Europcar, and Hertz. It is highly recommended to hire a private vehicle with guide for a better experience. Just make a phone call for any further information and assistance.
Taxis are all over and run off a meter, but tend to be the most expensive form of transportation. Taxi flag-fall is 9 RMB. You can pay via Wechat, Alipay or cash.
Bus is a great way to see the sights in the city while going from one place to another. There are hundreds of bus routes in Harbin, operating from 6:00 to 20:00. Ticket prices are between 1-2RMB.
Bus 47 make it convenient to travel between places like Heilongjiang Provincial Museum, Harbin Train Station, Saint Sophia Cathedral, Central Street, Stalin Park, and Sun Island.
As in 2021, there are total of 3 metro lines in Harbin, with Metro line 2 more useful to tourists. Line 2 connect Harbin train station with Central Street, Zhaolin Park, Sun Island and Harbin North Station. Ticket price range from 2 RMB to 4 RMB.
Metro line 9 that reach Harbin Taiping International Airport is planned to operate in 2023.
Where to stay in Harbin
City area: Jingu Hotel (4*), Mercure Harbin Sophia Church (4*), Shangri-La Hotel Harbin (luxury 5*), Sofitel Wanda Harbin (5*).
Others: Yabuli Med Club Resort (luxury 5*), Yabuli International Convention & Exhibition Center (5*); Club Med Beidahu Resort Jilin (5*), Hampton by Hilton Jilin (4*).
It is best to stay near Central Street in the city's historic quarter. Yet, take note that prices are higher on weekends, public holidays and especially during Ice and Snow Festival.
Shopping and nightlife
The best shopping option no doubt would be at Central Street. Or you can explore Russian night markets and huge departmental stores at Gogol Street. Other alternatives are Dongdazhi Street, Hongbo Century Square, and Toulong Street.
1. Admire colourfully lit ice sculptures at Ice and Snow World and Zhaolin Park from late December to February.
2. Upscale eateries and stores along Central Street are definitely worth a visit especially with extra ambience at night.
3. There are number of bars on Gogol Street such as Barbizon Western Food Bar and David's Camp Music Bar.
4. The old quarter of Harbin, Laodaowai is another great place to make a pit stop for ample of street food stores and authentic eateries. (Be sure to visit the Russky Vodka Ice Bar that pops up each year in winter.)
5. Enjoy your night at Harbin Grand Theatre with fascinating opera, song and dance, orchestra performances.
How long to stay in Harbin
3-4 days would be enough to tour the city area and surrounding attractions. Below are the number of days needed for some major attractions.
City area (highlights):
1 day= Central Street + St. Sofia Orthodox Church+ Zhaolin Park+ Stalin Park+ Laodaowai.
Along Songhua River:
1 day= Sun Island + Ice and Snow World+ Harbin Polar Land+ Siberian Tiger Park.
City area (optional):
1 day= Temple of Bliss + Heilongjiang Provincial Museum+ Longta Tower+ Confucian Temple.
Volga Manor: 1 day
Yabuli Ski Resort: 2-3 days
Erlongshan Ski Resort: 1-2 days (suitable for beginners, 2 hour drive from Harbin)
Snow Town: 2 days
Jilin: 1-2 days
Changbai Shan: 2-3 days (direct flights available from Beijing, Shanghai, Changchun, Shenyang, Dalian, and Harbin)
Combination 1：Harbin-(6 hour drive) - Snow Town-(5 hour drive)-Jilin-(5 hour drive) - Changbai Shan
Combination 2：Harbin- (3 hour drive/1 hour bullet train) -Yabuli Ski Resort - (3.5 hour drive) -Snow Town
Combination 3：Harbin-Yabuli Ski Resort-(4 hour bullet train/ 5.5 hour drive) -Jilin
Weather, the Best Time to Visit Harbin
Harbin experiences a temperate continental climate with bitterly cold winters, characterized by the renowned Ice Festival, and short, warm summers, making it a city of extremes with distinct seasonal variations.
ptimal for witnessing the renowned Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival's breathtaking ice and snow sculptures, the prime time to visit Harbin is in the winter, particularly during January and February. However, those seeking milder temperatures and outdoor pursuits may find late spring (April to May) and early autumn (September to October) more favorable for exploring the city and its environs. The choice of when to visit should align with individual preferences and interests, given that Harbin provides distinctive experiences throughout the year.
The best time to travel to Harbin is from January to February and from June to August.
- January to February: The optimal period for admiring ice sculptures, during which the Ice and Snow World and Snow Sculpture Art Expo are officially open.
- June to August: The weather is cool, ideal for escaping the summer heat. Sun Island offers picturesque views with lush greenery and a blend of Western-style architecture.
Harbin travel tips
Bring spare camera equipment or use gear covers in extreme cold weather. If you're using your phone repeatedly for photo-taking, try to put it somewhere close to your body or stick a heating pack to it. You can also take a freeze proof compact camera along as a backup.
Shorter daylight hours in winter when sun sets at around 16:00 in Harbin. Plan your schedule accordingly.
It's hard to get a taxi during winter months, so you may want to consider private vehicle during your stay here.
ATMs are all over city including 24-hour ones. ATM from Bank of China will cash traveller cheques and a wide range of foreign currencies. It's easy to spot on a side road as you walk up Central Street.
Bring along power bank and multipurpose power adaptor.
It's important to stay hydrate during dry winter. Thermal flask comes in handy.
Find this article useful? Share it on social media with your friends and family! If you need more information about traveling to China this winter, see other posts below:
- Best things to see and do in winter in China
- Best places to visit in China during winter
- China winter travel guide
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