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 How to Plan a Trip to Harbin

How to Plan a Trip to Harbin

Written by Candice SongUpdated Dec. 1, 2021

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 Harbin to experience the best of “snow culture”.  

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.

Going skiing is highly recommended and most ski resorts cater for children and have professional assistance.

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 step-by-step instructions to work out the best Harbin tour for you.

Things to Do in Harbin
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1. Check the Best Time to Visit Harbin

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. See more detail on Harbin Weather.

Best Time to Visit Harbin
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2. Check Harbin Attractions and Top Things to Do

The main attractions in Harbin city can be essentially toured in 3 days, but skiing and China Snow Town require extension tours. The most popular things to do are:

  • 1. Enjoy the wonderland of Ice and Snow.
    - See the Ice Lantern Festival in Zhaolin Park, snow sculptures in Sun Island Scenic Area, and ice sculptures at the Grand World of Ice and Snow.
  • 2. See Siberian tigers up close at Siberian Tiger Park.
    See over 100 purebred Siberian tigers roaming freely by taking a bus safari.
  • 3. Watch winter swimming and walk over the frozen Songhua River.
    - No special equipment is needed for the adventurous walking and spectating.
  • 4. Enjoy exotic architecture and shopping.
    - Shop at Central Street. Visit St. Sophia Orthodox Church and Laodaowai for Baroque architecture.
  • 5. Visit China Snow Town for a snow paradise.
    - Thoroughly enjoy the best of snow scenery, activities, and entertainments.
  • 6. Take advantage of skiing fun opportunities.
    We recommend a day trip to Erlongshan Ski Resort or 2–3 days at Yabuli Ski Resort.

Recommended tours to cover these popular activities:

Harbin Attractions Summary Table

Take a look at the list of attractions in Harbin and its surroundings, choose what attracts you most, and contact us for suggestions and a quotation for free.

Tip: Before making a trip, check the times and locations of the festivals and attractions. 

Attraction Highlights Notes
Central Street A prosperous street with a strong exotic atmosphere A full day in the city center
St. Sofia Orthodox Church The largest Orthodox Church building in the Far East
Zhaolin Park Ice lantern displays in winter
A scenic park in other seasons
Stalin Park A historical site of friendship between two communist countries: Russia and China
Laodaowai An area of Baroque architecture
Sun Island (Taiyang Dao) Giant snow sculptures in winter
A beautiful park in other seasons
A full day of ice festival and animal sights
Driving from the city: 8–14 km / 20–25 mins
The Ice and Snow World Amusement park with ice sculptures in winter
Beer Festival in summer
Harbin Polar Land A polar-land-themed park combining animal shows and polar land sights
Siberian Tiger Park The world’s No. 1 place for breeding and viewing Siberian tigers
Temple of Bliss (Jile Si) The largest Buddhist Temple in Heilongjiang Province Optional day in the city if you have more time in Harbin
Driving from the city: 4–8 km / 15–20 mins
Heilongjiang Provincial Museum Historical and cultural relics, animal specimens, dinosaur fossils
Longta Tower Take panoramic view of Harbin City
Confucian Temple A well-preserved Confucian temple
Volga Manor Russian culture and architecture Extension tours: 1 day or more
Driving from Harbin city: 28–275 km / 1–5½ hours
Erlongshan Ski Resort A family-friendly ski resort for beginner, intermediate, and advanced-level skiers
Yabuli Ski Resort China's best ski resort
Snow Town A magical snow fairyland

Harbin Ice Festival

Ice sculptures in Harbin Ice sculptures in Harbin

Enjoying the “ice wonderland” is one of the essential things to do while traveling in Harbin. The opening ceremony of the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival is on January 5 and the festival lasts till late February. Exhibits often open earlier, usually from December 25.

Take our One-Day Ice and Snow Fairyland Tour to smoothly explore the main sites of the Ice and Snow Festival. Visit the huge snow sculptures at Sun Island in the short daytime and colorful lighted ice castles at Harbin Ice and Snow World in the evening — get the best of Harbin in one day!

Skiing near Harbin

Skiing is a highly-recommended activity while traveling in Harbin, as the ski resorts nearby are excellent not only for scenery, but also for exercise and fun.

Spending half a day, a day, or even more has consistently been found very enjoyable. The ski resorts around Harbin provide professional instruction and equipment for both novices and experienced skiers.

Recommended tours featuring Harbin to fulfil your skiing dreams:

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

3. Consider Harbin Tour Length and Extension Tours

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

  • Day 1: Spend a day and evening attending the ice and snow activities and safariing at the Siberian Tiger Park.
  • Day 2: 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 3: Finish with a full day of skiing, or a full day visit to Volga Manor if you are interested in Russian culture.

Extending a Harbin Tour

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.

The fairytale world of China Snow Town is only about 2 hours’ drive from Yabuli or 5½ hours’ drive from Harbin. Extend touring by 2 days to experience the heaviest, quaintest snow and most (non-sport) snow activities in China.

China Snow Town might not be an ideal place to end your tour due to the limited transportation. Instead of returning to Harbin, what about extending by another 1–2 days to tour Jilin with a 6-hour drive? Jilin is well-known for its stunning rime.

Tip: Arranging transport in advance can save you time and money. Transport is convenient in Harbin, but transport to the ski resorts etc. will probably require prior consideration.

Difficult to make a decision? Check out our extended Harbin tours and decide which extensions are best for you:

4. Ways to Getting to Harbin

Harbin has long been a transportation hub due to its central location in Northeast China and 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.

Overall, you'll find that Harbin's air travel, rail, and highway systems allow for fairly inexpensive, modern, and rapid transportation.

5. Traveling 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.

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!
More on Harbin transportation.

Tips for Getting Around during the Ice Festival

It is not recommended to wait around outdoors for public buses the 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 our One-Day Ice and Snow Fairyland Tour with a private vehicle and personal English-speaking tour guide. We will pick you up from your hotel and drive you to the attractions and back directly, saving your time and avoiding unnecessary trouble. All you need to do is sit back and enjoy the trip!

6. Check Harbin Hotels and Where to Stay

Harbin offers plenty choices of hotels. 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 Wear/Bring

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. See more on Harbin Travel Tips.

Tips for Packing in Winter

  • 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 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.
  • 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 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)
Harbin Candied Haws


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.

See our Harbin Restaurants page for introductions to more recommended restaurants to eat at in Harbin.

9. Shopping in Harbin

Central AvenueCentral Avenue

Local souvenirs and some Russian products can be found on some shopping streets and in some large malls in Harbin.

Nighttime shopping recommended: The buildings on the shopping streets, such as Central Avenue and Guogeli Street, are exotic and charming, especially at night. Shopping and enjoying the night scenery can be very relaxing and interesting.

Check out more about shopping in Harbin.

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.

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