The Ultimate Harbin Travel Guide

The capital of Chinas Heilongjiang province, Harbin () was founded in 1898 with the construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway. Since then, the city has evolved from a small rural settlement on the Songhua River to one of the largest cities in Northeast China.

Nicknamed the pearl on the swans neck, due to the shape of Heilongjiang resembling a swan, Harbin is blessed with dry and freezing-cold winters, making it an ideal winter destination. This is largely thanks to the citys annual ice festival; a months-long extravaganza featuring giant lit-up ice sculptures. Now in its 36th edition, the 2020 Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival lasts from December 24, 2019 to February 20, 2020.

One of the four largest ice festivals in the world, Harbins iteration is a must-see for sheer spectacle alone. But theres plenty more to the Ice City than, well, ice. For example, locally brewed Harbin beer and music (the city is home to Chinas oldest symphony), or hearty Dongbei food alongside European cuisine. Indeed, the city encompasses a curious mix of cultures, with Russian and Jewish heritage featuring prominently.

These influences are evident from the streets which wind in typical meandering European fashion to the table, where local Harbin-style smoked savory red sausage is more akin to a mild German style than Chinese.

Aesthetically, the city boasts formidable historic architecture, ranging from temples, churches (including the famous Russian Orthodox Church of St. Sophia) and synagogues. These mark Harbins Daoli district, a popular tourist spot. Meanwhile, those looking for quieter and authentic Chinese culture can visit Old Harbin in Daowai district.

Yet theres something undeniably modern about Harbin. Take a look at the sculptural Harbin Opera House and Grand Theater. Better or at least higher yet, hop on Harbins Ferris wheel for views of the whole city (just remember to bring your coat and an extra pair of gloves).

For more to see, taste and do in the Ice City, check out our guide below...

2020 Harbin Travel Deal

5-Day Skiing and Snow Sculpture Festival in Harbin

Starting from RMB4,699

Image via thMart

Winter is finally here in China. Its time to get out and enjoy the fresh mountain air, recharge your body and invigorate your soul. Spend a beautiful five days with local experts during Harbins skiing season.

Images via thMart


You will meet at the Holiday Inn Express in downtown Harbin on the first day of the trip. For the remaining four days, you will visit the most stylish street in Harbin, connect with nature at the largest ski resort in China, wrap dumplings, learn Chinese calligraphy and meet with local artisans and experts to delve deeper into Harbin than most tourists do. 

Images via thMart

This package also includes accommodation in boutique hotels, meals, tickets for related activities, transportation costs, travel insurance and a bilingual guide. 

This package is available from January 18, 2020 to January 22, 2020.

For more details about the itinerary, scan the QR code below:

Scan the QR code below to see more travel deals:

*Note that this package deal excludes transportation (i.e. flights, trains, long distance bus, etc). Customers must arrange this independently. Bookings are subject to tour availability.

Attractions: Recommendations for the Best Things to See and Do in Harbin

Harbin International Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival ()

Image via Pixabay

The glittering ice-jewel in Harbins metaphorical ice-crown, Harbins annual months-long Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival is not to be missed. Attracting millions of visitors, both local and international, the festival comprises astounding ice sculpture exhibits that are jaw-dropping in both size and artistry. 

Taking place across multiple venues, the festival has a different theme every year and is the largest of its kind globally, boasting the worlds biggest ice sculptures. Marvel at life-sized buildings and dreamy castles and enjoy the snow-sports on offer, like sledding and ice-skating. Be sure to visit at night when you can view the structures lit up in multi-color by thousands of colorful LED lights fitted inside each sculpture. 

Established in 1985, the festivals exhibits are crafted by ice sculpture experts from all around the world. As such, the festival is not only an attractive wonderment but also an opportunity for cultural exchange.

The three major venues are Sun Island, Ice and Snow World and Zhaolin Park.

Sun Island houses the Snow Sculpture Exposition and the worlds largest indoor ice and snow art museum.

Ice and Snow World was built in 1999 and is a massive ice architecture park. Its design was inspired by world-famous architecture, such as the pyramids of Egypt, as well as traditional Chinese tales.

Last but not least, Zhaolin Park is a must-visit for its beautiful ice lanterns, which are made by carving and decorating piled-up snow. A multitude of objects are carved from the ice, like European-style churches, gardens, fantastical creatures and waterfalls.

The festival typically takes place from the end of December to the end of February. Accordingly, the weather is cold scratch that, freezing at temperatures ranging between -25 and -10 degrees Celsius so it pays to bundle up. Thermals, a warm coat and wind jacket, thick boots, gloves, scarves, earflaps and a wooly hat are all par for the course.

Altogether, the ice festival ensures that Harbin is enveloped in a magical cloak of joy during the coldest months of the year. Its a spectacle that must be seen up close to fully appreciate its magnificence.


If the festival falls within the Chinese New Year period, its likely the parks will be extremely crowded and accomodation hard to come by and expensive. Tickets must be purchased for each venue of the festival, with different prices for different tickets (free up to RMB-290). Tickets for all three can either be purchased directly at the attraction or online; discounts and group packages are also available. Zhaolin Park has waived the ticket fee for 2020.

How to Get There

The festival is spread across different venues, with each easily accessible via bus or taxi. During the festival, special buses run across the city, shepherding tourists to each venue. To save time getting around and for more privacy, try hiring a private driver.

* Ticket prices listed below for the Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival are as of January 2020.

Sun Island International Snow Sculpture Art Fair ()

Image via @tsarenko5477/Instagram

Available for viewing during the day, the Snow Sculpture Art Fair allows you to see massive, larger-than-life sculptures carved out of snow.

Hours: Daily during the festival, 8am-5pm
Admission: RMB250 (adults), RMB130 (seniors, children and students).* Purchase on (in Chinese only) to book ahead of time.

3 Jingbei Lu, within the Sun Island Scenic Area, Songbei district 3. (451) 8819 2966

Ice and Snow World ()

Image via @tsarenko5477/Instagram

Visit Ice and Snow World at night to view the structures lit up in multicolor by thousands of colorful LED lights fitted inside each sculpture. This well-visited part of the festival also typically features slides made of ice. Cafes are spotted around the grounds in case you need a break to heat up when it gets too chilly outside.

Hours: Daily during the festival, 11am-10pm, lights turned on after 4.30pm
Admission: RMB290; RMB280 pre-sale online* (must be purchased at least three hours in advance; ID required upon purchase; limited to three tickets per ID card); RMB200 for students, seniors and children (ticket sales end at 9.30pm). Visit the official Ice & Snow World website at (in Chinese only) for more details. 

West Section of the Sun Island Scenic Area, Songbei district . (451) 130 9188 8520

Ice Festival, Zhaolin Park (, )

Image via Dianping

In the city center, theres also a lower key festival at Zhaolin Park, featuring smaller sculptures and ice lanterns. Also best viewed at night.

Hours: Daily during the festival, 9am-9pm
Admission: Free

74 Youyi Lu, Daoli district 74. (451) 8469 2804

Saint Sophia Cathedral ()

Image via Joann Pittman/Flickr

Located in central Harbin, Saint Sophia Cathedral is a former Russian Orthodox Church and prime example of Neo-Byzantine architecture in China. Founded in 1907, the cross-shaped cathedral stands at 53.3 meters tall and over 721 square meters in area. A striking green dome tops the main center hall, while four different tent roofs surround the center dome. 

After periods of expansion, closure and restoration, the church now serves as an art gallery, showcasing the citys architectural developments. A large musical fountain sits in front of the church, providing a pretty scene for photo opportunities. The church hailed the largest Orthodox Church in the Far East looks especially majestic at night under bright lights and a dark sky.

Hours: Daily, 8.30am-5pm

Admission: RMB20 (ticket sales end at 4.30pm)

88 Toulong Jie, Daoli district 88.

Unit 731 Museum (731)

Image via 731 Museum

Unit 731 was built in the 1930s as a biological warfare research center of the Imperial Japanese Army. It was the site of horrific war crimes, including lethal human experimentation, carried out by Japan during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Originally part of a 150-building complex covering 6 square kilometers, the building today serves as a museum with photographs and relics from the period donated by locals as a reminder of the atrocities committed in China during the war. Although a sobering site, the museum is informative and detailed a must-visit for war or history buffs (though not recommended for children). Guided tours are available, including an audio guide in English.

Hours: Tues-Sun 9am-4.30pm (last entry at 4pm)
Admission: Free

47 Xinjiang Dajie, Pingfang district 731, 47. (451) 8710 8731

Zhongyang Dajie Pedestrian Street ()

Image via @wang.dongxin/Instagram

A picturesque avenue located in the old central district of Harbin, Zhongyang Pedestrian Street was built in 1898 and measures 1.4 kilometers long. Surrounded by Baroque and Russian architecture, the pedestrian-only area has a distinct European feel. The store-lined cobblestone streets are a shoppers dream with stores including both international and local brands. Most businesses close by 10pm. Make sure to stop by the Madieer Ice Cream Shop ( Ma Die Er Bing Bang), which is a hit among visitors even in the frigid winter months!

Zhongyang Dajie (between Jingwei Jie and Stalin Park at the Songhua River), Daoli district . 

Songhua River ()

Image via Flickr

If youre visiting Harbin for the Ice Festival, plenty of daytime activities such as ice skating will be taking place on the Songhua River, which completely freezes over during the winter (November-April). You can get to the riverside by walking from Central Street. There is also a cableway crossing the river that connects Tongjiang Square in Daoli district with Sun Island Park.

Cableway Hours: 8.30am-6pm, ticket sales end at 5.30pm
Admission: RMB50 one-way, RMB80 roundtrip

Songhua River Cableway (), 218 Tongjiang Jie, Daoli district 218. (0451) 8468 8841

Jile Temple ()

Image via Jile Temple

Heilongjiangs biggest Buddhist building complex literally means The Temple of Bliss. Built between 1921 and 1924, the temple covers 27,570 square meters, with plenty of space to wander around. Sites include large statues, such as Shakyamuni Buddha, and the Seven-Tiered Buddhist Pagoda, dating from 1924. Jiles status as an active temple lends the space an authentic charm, while the overall peacefull atmosphere feels worlds away from Harbins urban center.

Hours: Daily, 8am-3pm
Admission: RMB10

9 Dongdazhijie, Nangang district 9. (0451) 8253 4762

Restaurants and Things to Eat in Harbin

Things to Eat

Da Lie Ba ()

Image via @winter_er/Instagram

Also known as the big bread, da lie ba is a round sourdough loaf weighing 2.5 kilograms. The breads origins can be traced back to Harbins historical ties with Russia, when it was a stop on the trans-Siberian railway and a former Russian trading post, as well as haven for Russian immigrants during the Russian revolution. Da lie ba is savory in flavor, rather than sweet like most Chinese breads, with a crispy outer crust and soft inside.

Di San Xian ()

Image via @masterkey1ban/Instagram

A mix of potatoes, peppers and eggplant, di san xian is one of Harbins most famous dishes. And with good reason: The combination of three common vegetables fried in oil and flavored with soy sauce and salt is simply irresistible (di san xian translates to Three delicacies on earth). Plus, the dish is vegetarian-friendly.

Smoked Red Sausage ()

Image via @ty_gee/Instagram

Harbins smoked and savory red sausage has a milder and more Eastern European flavor than its Chinese counterparts. The sausage was first made in 1909 by Lithuanian staff in a Russian-capitalized factory named Churin Sausage Factory, in Harbins Daoli district. Usually made from ground meat with salt and spices, the fragrant sausage can be eaten directly without cooking on its own or with bread and vegetables.

Harbin Restaurants

Laochujia ()

Image via Dianping

This third-generation-owned restaurant is a favorite of Harbin locals and visitors alike. Its specialty dish, guobaorou (, deep fried pork cullet with sweet and sour sauce), is a popular Dongbei meal that was invented by an ancestor of the restaurant. The family recipe is still used in the creation of this iconic dish at the restaurant. The menu features pictures alongside each meal and visitors can order from a tablet a great hack for non-Chinese readers and speakers. Another authentic Dongbei cuisine offering includes lapi (, green beans or potato noodles mixed with savory dressing).

Multiple locations

Portman Western Style Restaurant ()

Image via Dianping

Russian influences permeate Harbin culture and nowhere is this more obvious than in the citys food. Enter Portman. One of the oldest and most loved Russian restaurants in Harbin, Portmans offerings have expanded to include fusion dishes. However, the guanniu/guanxia/guanyang (//, beef/shrimp/lamb) and borscht ( in Chinese) are both outstanding choices for a taste of Russia.

12 Xidazhi Jie, Nangang district 12.

Dongfang Dumpling King ()

Image via Dianping

Dumplings are a classic Dongbei food and Dongfang Dumpling King is the most prolific and arguably tastiest dumpling joint in Harbin. Dumplings are made to order, with flavors ranging from classic (sanxian, , pork, sea cucumber and scallop) to the more adventurous (songhua jitui, , chicken leg wrapped in thousand year egg).

Multiple locations

Hotels: Where to Stay in Harbin

JW Marriott Hotel Harbin River North (JW)

Image via JW Marriott Hotel Harbin River North

JW Marriott Hotel Harbin River North lies in front of the famous Harbin Ice & Snow World and is blessed with stunning views of the festivals ice palaces as well as panoramic river views. The hotel is also within close proximity to Harbins best tourist attractions such as Harbin Grand Theatre. Guest rooms are spacious and well designed, offering visitors a very comfortable stay in Chinas northern region. When youre not exploring the city, treat yourself at the full-service spa, or break a sweat at the hotels 24-hour fitness center. The hotel also features over 32,000 square meters of outdoor lawn space, the ideal location for weddings or other outdoor events. Indulge at one of the restaurants, bars, cafes and lounges, which offer authentic European and Chinese cuisine, as well as German beer.

199 Chuangxin Yi Lu, Songbei district 199 (86 451 5877 7777,

Wanda Realm Harbin Hotel ()

Image via Wanda Realm Harbin Hotel

If youre looking for a sumptuous stay in the Ice City, look no further than Wanda Realm Harbin Hotel. Decked out with warm furnishings and glamorous detailing, Wanda offers a delightful Old World charm. Facilities include ski storage, hairdressers, car rental and well-fitted gym and spa facilities. The hotel is located a short 20-minute drive from the city center and only a few minutes by car from Harbin West Railway Station. Wanda Realm is a great-value choice complete with all the trappings.

158 Zhongxing Street, Nangang district 158. (0451 8787 8888,

Shangri-La Hotel, Harbin ()

Image via Shangri-La Hotel, Harbin

Located beside the glistening Songhua River, the Shangri-La Hotel, Harbin is a scenic choice for travelers. The hotels timeless and well-appointed rooms afford both city and river views. Diners can sample tasty fare at two restaurants, with one offering a casual international buffet, and the other refined Cantonese and Heilongjiang cuisine. Situated next to the Shangri-La is Stalin Park. Full of sculptures, flowerbeds and green lawns, the park is a beautiful area to enjoy a leisurely walk or a fast-paced run. Furthermore, the hotel is just a 15-minute drive away from sights like Sun Island and Central Street.

555 Youyi Lu, Daoli district 555. (86 451 8485 8888,

Holiday Inn Harbin City Centre ()

Image via Holiday Inn

A popular choice due to its superior city center location a mere five-minute walk from the famous Saint Sophia Cathedral the Holiday Inn offers reliable and convenient accommodation. The hotel boasts plenty of features to suit the busy traveler or family: Businesspersons are catered to with four meeting rooms and an on-site business center, while food lovers will enjoy the Holiday Inns dining options a French-Asian fusion restaurant and a Cantonese-style restaurant. Rooms include both standard and suite options.

90 Jingwei Jie, Daoli 90. (86 451 8422 6666,

Recommended Harbin Souvenir

Russian Nesting Dolls ()

Image via Pixabay

With Harbins prevalent Russian culture, there are plenty of Russian souvenirs to be found in the citys markets, such as nesting dolls. Featuring vibrant colors an ornate designs, these charming dolls make wonderfull presents for all ages.

Harbin Weather

Harbin winters are the coldest in the country, so bundling up is a must. Temperatures sometimes dip to as as low as 38 degrees Celsius (36 degrees Farenheit), while daytime temperatures average around 12 degrees Celsius (10 degrees Farenheit) between December and February.

Make sure you prepare properly for your trip to Harbin by bringing a windproof coat, waterproof boots, gloves and a hat with earflaps for when you venture outside, as well as wearing multiple layers underneath (long underwear recommended). Dark colors absorb heat to keep you warmer. Lip balm and hand cream are also essential. Heating pads (, baonuan retie, literally thermal heat stickers), warm hats and ice-friendly fur-padded boots can be easily purchased around the city if needed.

Summers are much more pleasant, with temperatures averaging 23 degrees Celsius (73 degrees Farenheit) in July.

Heres an average annual temperature chart for Harbin.

Chart via Wikipedia

How to Travel to Harbin


Image via @suzuyoshi9/Instagram

Located around 45 minutes away from the city center, Harbin Taiping International Airport (HRB, ) has daily domestic flights departing to and arriving from dozens of cities within China. International flights are also available to and from places like Vladivostok, Osaka, Seoul and Los Angeles. There are two terminals.

Most hotels offer valet service to and from the airport, however if you decide to take a cab the fare will cost around RMB100-130. Beware of fake cab scams (more on that below).

There are also several shuttle buses operating between the airport and city center for just RMB20 per ticket. Four different routes taking approximately an hour are available, with buses departing from 6am all the way up until 6pm. Schedules vary. Rides can be purchased from the ticket office at the airport.


Image via @s.h.kwon/Instagram

The city has two main operational train stations: Harbin West Railway Station () and Harbin Railway Station (). Both service high-speed (G) trains and normal (Z,T and K) trains to and from Harbin. 

Harbin West is the terminus of Beijing-Harbin and Harbin-Dalian high-speed railways. Destinations for Harbin West Railway Station on the high-speed train include Shanghai Hongqiao, Beijing, Dalian North, Shenyang, Qingdao North and Tianjin. Normal-speed train destinations are Beijing, Shanghai, Shenyang, Changchun, Tianjin, Qiqihar, Manzhouli and Hailaer.

Harbin Station (otherwise known as City Railway Station) is located in central Harbins Nangang district. Destinations for Harbin Railway Station on the high-speed train include Beijing, Changchun West, Shenyang and Qiqihar. Normal-speed destinations are Beijing, Changchun, Shenyang, Tianjin and Qiqihar.

A third station, Harbin East Railway Station (), is located in located in Daowai district. Otherwise known as San Ke Shu Zhan (Three Trees Station), Harbin East operates normal-speed trains to Chifeng, Dandong, Binjiang, Jiamusi and Heihe.

Long Distance Bus

Image via Baidu Baike

Long-distance shuttle services between Harbin and other cities are available. The main one is Nangang Bus Station ().

Located just across the street from the Harbin Railway Station, Nangang Bus Station (otherwise called , or Changtu Keyun Zhan) sells long distance bus tickets for most cities in Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning provinces (Mudanjiang, Qiqihar, Changchun, Dalian, Shenyang, Wudailanchi and Yanji) as well as Beijing.

Here, you can also purchase international bus tickets to Russia. If youd like to cross the border into Russia, one international coach departs daily at 7am en route to Vladivostok. Head to the Russian travel agency on the second floor to purchase tickets for the 12-hour bus ride, which should cost around RMB500. Bring your passport; other paperwork may also be required.

Local Transportation: Getting Around Harbin


Image via Flickr

For the most part, getting around Harbin by taxi is cheap and convenient, however it can be difficult to hail one during the Ice Festival. Cab drivers have also been known to pick up multiple passengers at once during rush hour.

Look out for black cab scams, and when taking short journeys around the city make sure to tell the driver to turn on the meter (, qng d bio, please turn on the meter) instead of negotiating a price, so as to avoid being ripped off. 

Taxi fares start at RMB9 for the first three kilometers, and from there no more than RMB2 will be added for each extra kilometer.

You can also book a cab or private car in Harbin from the DiDi Chuxing app, which now offers service in English. 

Public Bus

Image via Sohu

Harbins public bus system is pretty extensive, featuring over 100 routes with stops all around the city. Fares typically cost RMB1-2 per ticket.


Image via @harbin_daily/Instagram

Opened in 2013, Harbin Metro currently has two lines (Lines 1 and 3) in service spanning 31.5 kilometers and stopping at 27 stations. Line 1 travels from Harbin East Railway Station to Xinjiang Street, while Line 3 connects Yidaeryuan and Harbin West Railway Station. A third line is currently under construction.

Other Important Harbin Travel Information

Recommended Hospital

The First Hospital of Harbin ()

Medical University Address: 23 Youzheng Jie, Nangang district 23 (0451) 5364 1563

For More China Travel Guides...

Already dreaming about your next vacation? Check out our informative online travel guides or purchase our definitive guide to China, the 2019 Explore China guide book, on thMart for the limited time special offer price of just RMB199. 

 For more China news, click Read more () below.