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Harbin Travel Tips — 7 Things to Know Before You Go

Harbin has been given many accolades: "Ice City", "Pearl under the Neck of a Swan", "Oriental Moscow", etc. In addition to the ice festival, Harbin also has a charming Russian-style appearance. More and more people are traveling to Harbin in winter to experience the charm of this "ice city".

Being curious about but unfamiliar with Harbin, many people may have a bunch of questions when planning a Harbin trip. Read our seven travel tips before you go to experience a more delightful and smooth Harbin tour.

1. Harbin Weather — Best Time to Visit

The best time to enjoy ice, snow, and the festive activities are from December to February, when the weather is continuously freezing cold, with an average high temperature of -13°C (8°F) and an average low of -25°C (-13°F).

The world event, Harbin Ice and Snow Festival opens from December 17th, 2023. Go to Harbin around Christmas Day or January 5th to enjoy the greatest festive atmosphere in Harbin.

We have prepared some awesome tours, combining nearby destinations like the snow town and Changbai Mountain to offer you the most sought-after experiences of ice and snow:

2. What to Wear, Buying Winter Clothes in Harbin

In winter, the weather in Harbin is extremely cold and dry. It is necessary to wear down jackets, woolen pants, snow boots, hats, scarves, gloves, and maybe even a mask to protect your nose.

Wearing glasses is not convenient in winter in Harbin as they fog up when wearing a mask or entering warmer places. It's better to use contact lenses (maybe wear skiing goggles or carry a pre-warmed pair of glasses in your coat).

You can buy all the winter clothes you need in stores and supermarkets in Harbin at reasonable prices (from around 1,000 CNY for a full outfit). 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.

Body warming packs have been getting quite popular in recent years. They keep specific parts of the body, such as knees, midriff, or feet warm, and the heat lasts about 10–12 hours. Do not stick them on your skin directly as they can cause burns.

  • Tips for Packing: When using electronic products outdoors, such as cameras and mobile phones, please try to keep them 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. Taking one or two extra batteries is advisable.

3. Harbin Ice Festival

Though Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival started about 10 years ago, it is already one of the world's four biggest ice and snow festivals, along with the famous ones in Sapporo, Norway, and Quebec. Officially, the opening ceremony of the festival is on January 5 and the festival lasts till late February. However, exhibits opens from December 17th, 2023.

The highlights of the festival include:

You can enjoy the beautiful snow scenery and sculptures and participate in all sorts of ice activities.

Winter swimming in the Songhua River draws much attention.

Getting to the Festival Venues

Public transportation doesn't go to some attractions and it is not recommended to wait around outdoors in the frozen weather. Also, it is not easy to find an empty taxi in Harbin, especially in wintertime. Taxies don't go by the meter, and drivers charge directly. Most taxies will pick up other people on the way (carpooling), and it's difficult to find a taxi at a remote attraction back to the downtown area.

We recommend our One-Day Ice and Snow Fairyland Tour with a private vehicle, and a 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!

4. Top Things to Do in Harbin

Being the Ice City of China and a popular winter destination, there's plenty to do. The following top 9 things to do cannot be missed when traveling to Harbin.

  • Skiing Fun Opportunities
  • Enjoy the Wonderland of Ice and Snow
  • Watch Winter Swimming
  • Walk Over the Frozen Songhua River
  • Exotic Architecture and Shopping
  • Relish Fantastic Harbin Food
  • Enjoy Harbin Hot Springs in the Ice and Snow
  • Visit China Snow Town for a Snow Paradise
  • See Siberian Tigers Up Close at Siberian Tiger Park

Daytime in Harbin in winter is normally from 07:30 to 16:30. Shopping malls will usually be closed at 20:30 and many buses will stop for the day around 19:00 in the evening. Choose a suitable start time each day to do as much as possible.

We can help you get exactly what you want by tailor-making a trip according to your individual requirements.

5. Skiing near Harbin

Going to the Ice City without skiing is like going to Beijing without visiting the Great Wall. As a potential candidate for the Winter Olympics, Harbin has a long snow season and boasts one of the best and largest ski resorts in China — Yabuli Ski Resort. It takes about 1½ hours by bullet train from Harbin to Yabuli.

There are also popular ski resorts for you to enjoy closer to Harbin:

Jihua Ski Resort: closest to Harbin (about 40 kilometers, a travel time of 30 to 40 minutes). It is a great choice for those who want to experience skiing but still stay overnight in Harbin.

Erlongshan Ski Resort: 65 km or an hour's drive east of Harbin, Erlongshan is suitable for beginner, intermediate, and advanced-level skiers, and is decidedly family-friendly.

Recommended tours to fulfill your skiing dreams:

6. Harbin Food and Where to Eat

Harbin food can be broadly classified into three types: typical Northeastern Chinese cuisine, Russian cuisine, and local street food.

The following dishes are very common and popular in Harbin: "the Eight Stew Dishes" (including their famous stewed chicken with mushroom), pork bones seasoned with soy sauce, rural-flavor dishes like disanxian and pig's feet, tossed dishes (similar to salads), and of course the Russian cuisine and snacks, like dalieba (or khleb, a kind of Russian bread) and hongchang (Harbin smoked red sausages), due to the city's history with Russian immigrants.

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

7. How to Get to Harbin

Being a central location in Northeast China, Harbin has been a transportation hub throughout its history.  

Harbin Taipin International Airport is about 45 minutes' drive from the city center and Harbin is easily accessible, connected by flights to most major cities in China, like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, etc.

Harbin now has no direct flights to cities abroad such as Seoul, Osaka, Vladivostok, and Los Angeles, which have been suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic (Nov. 2020).

There is also a bullet train system operating between Harbin and Beijing. Bullet trains leave Beijing for Harbin each day, and the 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.

Visiting Harbin with China Highlights

Harbin is China's most popular winter destination primarily for its skiing activities and the ice festival. See our most popular tours as inspiration or a well-designed starting point if you are planning a trip.

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