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How to Plan a Trip to Harbin: Ice Festival and Itinerary Ideas

Written by Ruby ZhaoUpdated Mar. 28, 2024

World-renowned for its Ice and Snow Festival, Harbin is a charming city in the northeast of China that has become very popular in winter. People rush to the 'Ice City' of China to experience the best of "ice and snow culture".

In addition, the exotic Russian-style architecture and culture may add further color to your trip — it may seem like you are visiting two different countries in one trip.

Follow our instructions to work out the best Harbin tour for you.

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1. Harbin Ice and Snow Festival

Elsa's Ice Palace in Real Life at the Ice Festival ChinaElsa's Ice Palace in Real Life at the Ice Festival China

Enjoying the 'ice wonderland' is one of the essential things to do while traveling in Harbin, especially when traveling with children. The opening ceremony of the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival is on January 5 and the festival lasts till late February. Exhibits open from December 18th, 2023.

The Sun Island and the Ice and Snow World are must-go places to enjoy the International Ice and Snow Festival. For children, a series of cartoon characters brighten up the International Ice and Snow Festival still further, making it like a Disneyworld on ice.

Take our One-Day Ice and Snow Fairyland Tour to smoothly explore the main sites of the Ice and Snow Festival and see the best of Harbin in one day!

  • Visit the huge snow sculptures at Sun Island in the short daytime.
  • Have a mouthwatering foodie tour of traditional Harbin dishes and snacks at noon time.
  • Enjoy colorful lighted ice castles at Harbin Ice and Snow World in the evening.

Tips for Getting Around during the Ice Festival

It is not recommended to wait around outdoors for public buses in the frozen weather. Also, it is not easy to find an empty taxi during this period. If you are lucky to find one, the driver may want to charge his/her own price, and not use the meter.

We recommend booking a private vehicle and a personal English-speaking tour guide. You will be picked up from your hotel and driven to the attractions and back directly to save your time and avoid unnecessary trouble. All you need to do is relax and enjoy the experience!

2. How Many Days to Spend in Harbin? (Itinerary Ideas)

Experience a Wild Safari at Siberian Tiger Park

1) 3-4 Days for a Classic Harbin Tour (Enjoy the Best of Harbin)

As one of the most sought-after winter vacation destinations in China, a 3–4-day tour of Harbin is quite typical.

  • Day 1: Harbin arrival. In the evening, wander around Central Street and visit Laodaowai for Baroque architecture. Local souvenirs and Russian products can be found at certain shopping streets and large malls in Harbin.
  • Day 2: Spend a day and evening attending the ice and snow activities and safariing at the Siberian Tiger Park.
  • Day 3: Take another day to tour the city center for historical architecture, shopping, and food hunting. Also enjoy watching winter swimming and taking a walk on the frozen Songhua River.
  • Day 4: Finish with a full day of skiing, or a full day visit to Volga Manor if you are interested in Russian culture.
4-Day Harbin Ice Wonderland and Short Ski Tour
See the marvelous ice and snow sculptures and enjoy a short ski tour view more

2) 6-7 Days for Harbin and Yabuli Club Med (For Skiing Lovers and Families)

If you are a fan of skiing, do not miss China's biggest and best resort — Yabuli Ski Resort. Extend your trip by 2–3 days and fully relax in the resort. Yabuli is suitable for all, particularly experienced skiers and family groups.

  • Day 1: Harbin arrival. Enjoy a mouthwatering foodie tour in the evening or have a refreshing stroll around the frozen Songhua River.
  • Day 2: Our full-day Harbin Ice and Snow Festival tour comes with a visit to the Siberian Tiger Park to experience Siberian tigers up close.
  • Day 3: Harbin to Yabuli by high-speed train with private transfers to and from train stations
  • Day 4-5: Yabuli Club Med Skiing Vacation
  • Day 6: Transfer to Harbin Taiping International Airport for your flight back home.

3) 7–8 Days for Harbin, China Snow Town, and Changbai Mountain (For Those Who Love Natural Wonders and China's Traditional Northeast Folklore)

  • Day 1: Harbin arrival
  • Day 2: Harbin Ice and Snow Festival tour and a visit to the Siberian Tiger Park to experience Siberian tigers up close
  • Day 3: Harbin to China Snow Town (290 km, 5 hours) with an easy hike on snowy trails
  • Day 4: China Snow Town to Dunhua (234 km, 3½ hours) with winter fun in the snow fairyland (snowmobile riding and watch local-style winter fishing)
  • Day 5: Dunhua to Erdaobaihe Town (170 km, 3½ hours) and enjoy free time to soak in a hot spring or ski
  • Day 6: A Memorable Changbai Mountain Day Tour (enjoy the gorgeous landscape of Heavenly Lake, Changbai Waterfall, Green Deep Pool, and Underground Forest)
  • Day 7: Take a morning raft ride on a hot spring river with gorgeous rime on both sides, and then transfer to Changbaishan Airport for your flight back home.

Difficult to make a decision? Send us an inquiry and tailor-make an individually-designed and affordable Harbin trip with your 1:1 travel advisor.

3. Skiing Resorts near Harbin

Skiing is a highly-recommended activity while traveling in Harbin. The ski resorts around Harbin provide professional instruction and equipment for both novices and experienced skiers.

To ski for half a day or a full day, Jihua Ski Resort is a wise option. Within about 1½ hours' driving, it is the best ski resort near the Harbin city area that is suitable for beginner and medium-level skiers. Check out our 4-Day Harbin Ice Wonderland and Short Skiing Tour.

For a longer skiing experience of 2 days or more, you're recommended to go to Yabuli Ski Resort. Yabuli is suitable for all, particularly experienced skiers and family groups. Check out our 6-Day Harbin Ice Festival and Yabuli Club Med Tour.

For more skiing options see China's Top Ski Resorts with tips for choosing a suitable ski resorts.

4. When is the Best Time to Visit Harbin?

Immerse Yourself in the Awesome Harbin Ice and Snow Festival!

Its northern continental climate gives Harbin long freezing winters and warm but short summers. Springs and autumns, the transitional seasons, last for a very short time with rapid changes of temperature.

The best time for travel to enjoy ice, snow, and their related activities is definitely from December to February.

  • The best time to see how the sculptures are being carved and made: Early Christmas. The sculptures are not yet fully completed, but it's a great time to see artists at work.
  • The best time to join in the grand celebrations of the Ice Festival: January 5th for the Opening Ceremony and December 31st for fireworks.
  • The best time to avoid large crowds: From January 6th to 20th and in February, when the sculptures and facilities are well established, but visitors are fewer. You will encounter large crowds if traveling during the China's public holiday periods (December 31st to January 2nd for New Year's Day and January 21st to 27th for Chinese Spring Festival 2024).
5-Day Harbin and China Snow Town Tour
Discover a Dreamlike Snow Paradise view more

5. How to Get to and Get Around Harbin

Getting to Harbin:

Harbin is easily accessible, connected by flights to most major cities in China: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, etc.

A bullet train system is operating between Harbin and Beijing and the train trip takes about 6½–8 hours.

Getting around Harbin:

Public transportation, including subways and two special tourist bus routes running between tourist attractions, is well developed in Harbin, making it easy for you to travel around the city.

Tips: you might encounter large crowds and long queues if traveling during China's public holidays: December 31st to January 2nd for New Year's Day and February 10th to 17th in 2024 for China's Spring Festival. A private tour or a small group tour are even-more-recommended during these periods.

In addition, you can take a taxi, but make sure that the driver turns the meter on or that you negotiate the price beforehand, or else drivers might charge you their own prices when you arrive!

6. Where to Stay in Harbin

Harbin offers plenty of choices of hotel. Choosing where to stay depends on your preferences and night activities.

For your information, 80% of people choose to stay centrally, close to Central Avenue, within convenient reach of night attractions and shopping malls. St. Sofia Orthodox Church, Zhaolin Park, and Stalin Park are within walking distance.

Recommended Central Harbin Hotels:

  • Shangri-La Hotel Harbin (5 star)
  • Holiday Inn City Centre Harbin (4 star)
  • Modern Hotel (4 star)

If your main interest is the ice festival, or you are looking for a more relaxing tour with higher-standard service, choose to stay on the north bank of the Songhua River (the south of Songbei District), where many high-standard luxury hotels are located.

Recommended Songhua North Bank Hotels:

  • Songbei Shangri-La, Harbin (5 star)
  • JW Marriott Hotel Harbin River North (5 star)
  • Wanda Realm Resort Harbin Songbei (5 star)

7. What to Pack for a Harbin Tour

Keep Warm during Harbin Ice FestivalKeep Warm during Harbin Ice Festival

Keeping warm is very important on a winter Harbin tour to prevent frostbite and hypothermia, as the average daily high temperature is -13°C (8°F) and the average low is -25°C (-13°F)!

Pack down jackets, woolen pants, snow boots, and polar-level hats, scarves, and gloves for outdoor activities and maybe body warming packs and to keep specific parts of the body warm.

For your safety, please choose dark or bright clothes. Walking around in white in the white snow-covered city, especially in ski resorts, might cause accidental collisions as it is not easy for others to see you.

Glasses may fog up when wearing a mask or entering warmer places. It's better to use contact lenses (or maybe wear skiing goggles or carry a pre-warmed pair of glasses in your coat).

For electronic products, taking one or two extra batteries is advisable. Try to keep your cameras and mobile phones away from the cold and put them in an inside pocket or pouch inside your coat whenever you finish using them to keep the battery working.

8. Harbin Cuisine and Where to Eat

Harbin Food: Fried Pork in ScoopHarbin Food: Fried Pork in Scoop

Harbin is located in China's northeast near Russia, Korea, and Mongolia, so the food in Harbin is influenced by these countries. Not only is the local food popular, but so are the "foreign" dishes and snacks.

The following top 10 dishes and snacks cannot be missed when you are in Harbin:

  • Harbin dumplings (哈尔滨水饺)
  • Guobaorou — sweet and sour pork (锅包肉)
  • Russian cuisine (俄式西餐)
  • Disanxian — 'earth's three delicacies' (地三鲜)
  • Stew dishes (炖菜)
  • Khleb — 'heavy Russian bread' (大列巴)
  • Smoked red sausage (哈尔滨红肠)
  • "Modern ice lollies" (马迭尔冰棍)
  • Candied haws (冰糖葫芦)
  • Harbin BBQ (哈尔滨烧烤)
Take a Relaxing City Walk to Discover Old Harbin

Also, don't miss trying authentic Harbin cuisine in some notable old Harbin restaurants and trace Harbin's past to over a hundred years ago.

  • Fan Jiyong Dumplings (范记永)
    Founded: 1912
    Must-try: sam sun dumplings
    Average cost: 30 CNY
    Address: 222 Changchun Street, Daowai 道外长春街222号
  • Huamei Western Restaurant (华梅西餐厅)
    Founded: 1925
    Must-tries: pork fillet with milk, chicken stewed in a pot, shrimp, baked mutton, and chicken cooked on an iron plate
    Average cost: 110 CNY
    Address: 112 Central Avenue 中央大街112号
  • Zhangbaopu (张包铺)
    Founded: 1902
    Must-tries: rib buns, fresh shrimp buns, and tofu buns
    Average cost: 50 CNY
    Address: the intersection of Nanxun Street and Erdao Street, Daowai District 道外南勋街与二道街交口

Note: some restaurants may need reservations.

Touring Harbin with China Highlights

We are keen to provide you your dream ice and snow experience. Contact us and we will be with you every step of the way of your Harbin trip, helping you get over any difficulties you encounter and, moreover, eliminating potential problems at the planning stage.

These two most popular winter tours featuring Harbin offer you a comprehensive and truly amazing experience of Northeast China's ice and snow wonders:

All our Harbin tours can be customized. Just tell us your interests and we will tailor-make a Harbin tour for you.

Here are our other popular Harbin tour plans again for your reference:

Don't hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or other requirements.

Start planning your tailor-made tour with 1-1 help from our travel advisors. Create Your Trip

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