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Harbin (Ice City in China): Ice Festival, Attractions, History, Weather

Harbin (Ice City in China): Ice Festival, Attractions, History, Weather

Written by Chris QuanUpdated Nov. 2, 2022

Harbin is the capital of Heilongjiang province. Rising to prominence as a base in the Russian-Japanese War (1904–5), Harbin quickly became central to Northeast China's (Manchuria's) regional and international transport.

Harbin is now a large, open city, influenced deeply by Russia, Europe, and Japan in its culture, architecture, and lifestyle. Also called "the Ice City", Harbin is one of the most popular destinations for winter tours, hosting the world's biggest ice and snow festival.

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1. Harbin Ice and Snow Festival

Featuring long frozen winters, Harbin is an unmissable winter holiday destination. 

Harbin has become world-famous for having the largest ice and snow festival. The opening ceremony is held on January 5 every year. Lasting for more than two months, Harbin Ice and Snow international festival is also the longest snow festival in the world. Nearly all the ice for the festival is cut from the Songhua River in Harbin.

The most popular place is the Harbin Ice and Snow World, which is like a frozen Disneyland, and you can see the big ice and snow castles, cartoon sculptures, and enjoy the biggest variety of snow sports and activities in the world.

There are also ice and snow sculptures exhibitions on Sun Island and an ice lantern show in Zhaolin Park.

2. Harbin Tourism: The Main Attractions of Harbin

Harbin has long been a popular winter destination for snow tourism and skiing experiences. Besides enjoying the Ice and Snow Festival, if you are skiing lovers Yabuli Ski Resort and Jihua Ski Resort are recommended, but there's also much more:

  • Architecture and sightseeing: Old Quarter, St. Sophia Cathedral, Central Avenue (pedestrian street), Stalin Park
  • Most popular souvenirs and local products: ginseng, Chinese herbs, Russian products such as furs and Russian dolls
  • Most popular local food: Russian-style heavy bread, European-style pastries, chicken stewed with mushrooms (and other stews). 
Recommended ways to see Harbin Ice Festival and enjoy Northeast China:

3. The History of Harbin

The city started as a Russian-built settlement to support a railway (built 1896–1904) between Vladivostok and the Russian Port Arthur (now Dalian). Tens of thousands of Jews settled there, and the city was known as cosmopolitan and comparatively wealthy.

Once a simple, but well-located fishing village on the Songhua River, now it is the largest city in the province, and it still has substantial Russian influence.

For historical reasons, Harbin is also known as:

1) "Oriental Moscow" — A City with Great Russian and European Influence

Central Street

From a small fishing village to an international metropolis, Harbin remains "a city without walls".

In 1896, Russia obtained the right to build the Chinese Eastern Railway and decided to take Harbin as its hub and construction center. A large number of Russian and European expatriates poured into Harbin, which brought the city a foreign flavor. They brought not only European culture but also their beliefs. Therefore, there are various types of architecture with different national styles and characteristics.

The combination of these exotic cultural symbols and traditional Chinese cultural elements is reflected in the buildings, which form the unique urban architectural art style of Harbin.

Old Quarter, St. Sophia Cathedral, Central Avenue (pedestrian street), Stalin Park — all their buildings make you feel like you're in Europe. Contact us for an Oriental Moscow trip.

2) "Noah's Ark in the Far East" — Haven of Jews

Like Shanghai, Harbin was also an important sanctuary for Jews. In 1920, more than 20,000 Jews, mainly from Russia, settled in Harbin to escape persecution and discrimination.

Harbin was once the largest Jewish center in East Asia, and they built kindergartens, schools, libraries, cinemas, etc. in Harbin, playing an important part of Harbin's society.

Now, you can still find Jewish synagogues, the sites of Jewish banks, Jewish high schools, Jewish hospitals, and the still-in-use Modern Hotel in Harbin.

In addition, there is a Jewish cemetery in Harbin, consisting of 605 graves. These tombstones have their own characteristics, which reflect the profound culture of the Jewish nation. There are buried relatives of Rabin, the former Prime Minister of Israel, the spiritual leader of the Jews in Harbin, and the relatives of Ya Kaufman, the president of the Jewish religious association in Harbin.

3) Japanese Auschwitz — the Site of Unit 731

Unit 731 was the largest bacteriological warfare facility in the history of the World Wars through the 1930s and 40s. Auschwitz of the German Nazis and Japan's Unit 731 were known as the world's two most evil killing dens. The victims included Chinese, Soviets, Mongolians, and Koreans.

You can know more by visiting the Exhibition Hall of Evidence of Crimes Committed by Unit 731 of the Japanese Imperial Army.

4-Day Harbin Ice Wonderland and Short Ski Tour
See the marvelous ice and snow sculptures and enjoy a short ski tour view more

4. Harbin Weather — Is Harbin Always Cold?

You may wonder why Harbin is so cold? In winter, cold air from Siberia and the Mongolian Plateau moves eastward and southward, and flowing straight over Harbin, making Harbin an "Icy Kingdom".

Moreover, Harbin is not a coastal city (over 500 km from the Sea of Japan) and so is less affected by the Pacific Ocean's warm currents. Therefore, Harbin in winter is colder than cities in Western Europe and Japan at the same latitude. The coldest month in Harbin is January and the temperature averages -18°C (0°F)!

Is Harbin always cold? Of course, no. Do not let the ice and snow confuse you. July is the hottest month of the year, with an average high temperature of 28°C (83°F) and an average low of 18°C (65°F).

In addition to being a winter trip paradise, Harbin is also a good place to escape the heat of summer. As the only "City of Music" in Asia awarded by the United Nations, Harbin's summer music festival is always held during summertime. Let us create a Harbin trip for you.

  • Daily average high temperature in July: 28°C (82°F)
  • Daily average low temperature in January: -24°C (-11°F)
  • Monsoon-influenced, but low-rainfall continental climate; annual precipitation: 520 mm (21 in)

The city experiences very cold, dry winters and warm summers with moderate rainfall.

Read more about Harbin Weather - Best Time to Visit

6-Day Harbin, Yabuli and China Snow Town Tour
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5. Harbin Transportation — ‘City Transported by Trains'

Harbin is the major northern railway hub of Northeast China, and an important railway hub connecting China and Northeast Asia. The construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway made Harbin, so Chinese say Harbin is the ‘city transported by trains'.

  • You can take trains from Harbin to Beijing, Xi'an, Shanghai, Chongqing, Guangzhou… most of the big cities in China.
  • Bullet trains now also speed from Harbin to Beijing.
  • You can take the international train K7023/7024, from Harbin to Vladivostok, Russia.

In addition, you can take a flight to Harbin. Harbin Taiping International Airport is 35 kilometers from the city center.

6. Geography of Harbin

  • Significance of the city: a large industrial city with substantial commercial ties to South Korea, Japan, and Russia.
  • Nearest major cityChangchun, Jilin provincial capital (240 km / 150 mi south)
  • Terrain: The large municipality is situated on an inland plain crisscrossed by rivers and canals.
  • Elevation: 150 m (490 ft)
  • Main rivers: Songhua River

7. Location of Harbin

Harbin Map
  • Municipality location: 44°04′–46°40′ N, 125°42′–130°10' E; Northeast China near the Russian border.
  • Municipal population: 10,636,000 (2010)
  • Municipal area: 53,068 sq km (20,489 sq mi)
  • Municipal population density: 200/sq km (519/sq mi)
  • Urban area: 2,089 sq km (806 sq mi)
  • Urban population: 4,517,000 (2010)
  • Urban population density: 2,162/sq km (5,601/sq mi)
  • North to south urban span: 25 km (15 mi)
  • East to west urban span: 20 km (12 mi)
  • City Center: Central Avenue

8. Harbin Education

Education and technology is the inner power of Harbin's development. Harbin is one of the Chinese cities where universities and scientific research institutes are concentrated. In 2019, there were more than 50 universities in Harbin and the most well-known one is the Harbin Institute of Technology.

Harbin Institute of Technology is one of the key universities in China, and it is the first university in China to found an Aerospace College on the campus. Harbin Institute of Technology celebrated "100 years of excellence" on June 7, 2020.

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