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Harbin is the capital of Heilongjiang province and is the eighth most populous city in China. Renowned as the “Ice City,” Harbin hosts the famous Ice and Snow Festival, as well as being home to many crafts and traditional Chinese medicines. Its proximity to Russia brings a unique influence to the folk crafts in and around the city.

Tours and activities in Harbin

There are so many things to see and do in Harbin that your best bet might be to book one of the many organized tours available for your convenience. Visitors with limited time to experience the city will be able to get more from their trip when they see the city with a local guide.

Local guides can help you to book your entry to the Ice and Snow Festival as well as advise you on the best venues for food and drink. They’ll also be able to give you valuable historical knowledge about this wonderful city.

Best time to visit

It’s no surprise that a city is known as the “Ice City” has a long, cold winter. Harbin also has a short, cool summer. When you visit depends on what you’re looking for, but it would be a shame to visit Harbin and not see the spectacular Ice and Snow Festival between December and January. Just remember that this attraction is immensely popular and the city becomes bustling at this time of year.

Top Attractions in Harbin

It is a magical city with unlimited attractive places which offers endless fun to all visitors. For a breathtaking journey and classy photographs for your social media accounts, Harbin is the ideal city. 

Ice and Snow World
1. Ice and Snow World
Landmarks and icons

Without any doubt, it is the most famous and magical attraction in Harbin is Ice and Snow World. Set up in 1999 this is the largest ice and snow art exhibition in the world. Full of utterly majestic sculptures carved out of ice. It just has to be seen to be believed.

Each year of the festival has its own theme, and at night, underground lights flood the carvings with a dazzling array of colors. There’s also a lot to do here besides the carvings, including an ice maze, ice bar and, believe it or not, an ice hotel.

Check dates for the year you’re traveling – the festival runs anytime between late December and early January depending on the weather.

Jile Temple
2. Jile Temple
Museums, galleries and exhibitions

If you’re looking to immerse yourself in history, the Jile Temple in Nangang District is a wonderful attraction. One of four Buddhist temples built in north eastern China, the temple is comprised of the Mountain Gate, Heavenly King Hall, Chanting Hall and more.

It also includes a wonderful 7-story pagoda and incredible bronze statues of Amitabha, Medicine Guru Buddha, and others. Temple fairs are held during famous Buddhist festival as the Jile Temple is listed as a cultural heritage site.

Zhaolin Park
3. Zhaolin Park
Nature, parks and outdoors

Zhaolin Park was the first park in Harbin and is worth a visit for its fabulous scenery. Overlooked by the Huaguo and Meigui Mountains, a human-made lake flowed around the park, dotted with bridges.

Whether you’re visiting in Summer or Winter, the park has wonders to behold. In the warm summer months, the flowers bloom, covering the park in color, while in winter the park becomes a white wonderland of ice and snow.

Siberian Tiger Park
4. Siberian Tiger Park
Things to do with kids

Aside from Ice and Snow World, if you’re looking for something interesting to keep the kids occupied, visit the Siberian Tiger Park. The Siberian tiger is an endangered species, with few of these majestic animals surviving.

The park is both a tourist attraction and an important ecological site, home to 100 Siberian tigers, as well as leopards, black pumas, and other wildcats. You can see the cats walking around in the open air and even buy poultry to feed them. There is also a free Popular Science Exhibition Hall that provides information on the tigers and attempts to prevent their extinction.

The TLLI Wholesale Market
5. The TLLI Wholesale Market
Sports and leisure

Harbin has many shopping districts, many of which are home to local crafts. There is also a wealth of Chinese medicine vendors and herbalists, and you can purchase ginseng, hedgehog fungus, and other popular remedies.

The city is close to Russia, so you’ll also find plenty of Russian handicrafts here, including Russian dolls and other souvenirs. The TLLI Wholesale Market is an ideal visit if you want to sample local clothing and other commodities – haggling is recommended!

Renaissance to the Baroque period architecture city
6. Renaissance to the Baroque period architecture city

Aside from Russian handicrafts, that country influences Harbin in other ways, most notably in its architecture. Central Street is home to a number of grand buildings that explain why the city is sometimes referred to as “Eastern Moscow.”

You’ll also find an eclectic mix of European architecture from the Renaissance to the Baroque period. You may have to do a double take at times to remind yourself you’re still in China.

Getting here and getting around

Harbin Taiping International Airport is the second largest airport in northeastern China and handles over six million passengers every year. A plethora of international flights arrive here, and the airport is also a hub for domestic travel to cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Seoul.

Harbin has three railway stations that allow travel across the city, as well as bullet trains to Beijing, Shenyang, and other Chinese cities. Long-distance buses are well-served from the city, and as it is a port, you can also reach other parts of China by boat.

The easiest way to travel across Harbin is by a city bus, with over 100 bus routes available. These are usually self-service, so be sure to have change ready before boarding. There are currently 2 subway lines in operation, with more to follow. Line 3 is a loop line traveling around the city. There is also one trolleybus or tram service.

Taxis in Harbin are cheap and plentiful, making it a great way of getting around if you don’t know the city. Prices start at ¥8 for the first 3km with ¥1.9 for each extra kilometer during the day and ¥2.5 at night. Be aware that it can be very difficult to flag down a taxi during rush hours (7-8.30am and 4-6.30pm)

Eating and drinking

Harbin’s cuisine is unique in China, thanks to its mix of Shandong and Russian influences. Harbin food is prepared with the use of fewer spices as compared to other popular cousins in the country, Harbin dishes tend to be hearty and dense. Local specialties include dumpling – more than 10 types of dumpling can be purchased in the city – and flour-based foods and rice.

To sample the best range of dumplings, you have to visit Dongfang Jiaozi Wang restaurant – there are branches all over the city. Here you can choose from Sanxian, celery pork or fried beef dumplings.

Harbin Wu Ji Lao Hao Jui Lou is your best bet if you’d like to try authentic Dongbei food like pork bone and mashed potato. As you might expect from a city so near to Siberia, casseroles and other hearty dishes abound during winter.

Getting a good night's sleep

One of the absolute best places to stay in Harbin is the Kempinski Hotel Harbin on Chuangxin Road. Luxurious surroundings, air-conditioning, views over the city or the river and a choice of restaurants make this one of the best hotels in the city.

For a mid-range place to stay, try the Xianyaju Hotel Harbin Taiping Airport. Only 12 minutes from Central Street, guests rave about its location, and you’ll get comfort and luxury without paying too much for your stay.

If you need budget accommodation, try the funky Harbin Kazy International Youth Hostel. Well-located near to many attractions, this hostel is bright and vibrant with fantastic wall art and a truly international flavor.