Discover Harbin’s popular attractions, food hunts, and things to do. Here’s everything you need to know about Winter Wonderland!
Located in the northern part of China, Harbin is a winter wonderland filled with snow and ice. Due to Harbin’s proximity to Russia, you can also see prominent Russian influence in its architectures.
When to go Harbin: Best Season
It’s recommended to visit Harbin from end of December to early March, as Harbin comes to life during winter and boasts an array of winter activities, such as skiing, sledding, and skating!
What to Bring: Harbin Packing List
Harbin temperatures can drop to as low as -38°C during winter, so you have to be well prepared to stay warm. Winter clothing can be quite expensive in local retail, so I suggest getting these 10 Cheap Winter Essentials from Taobao that’s value for money. Layer yourself in this order:
- Top: long johns, long sleeved turtleneck, fleece pullover
- Bottom: long johns, winter jeans
- Heat pads: in boots, in coat pockets
How to Get There: Flights to Harbin
The most convenient way to fly to Harbin is via Scoot’s direct flights – 6 hours 30 mins. A taxi ride to the city center takes around 30 to 40 minutes, and just under RMB¥150 (SGD $30). Also, ask the driver if he’s willing to drive you out to various attractions daily. If he does, negotiate for his daily rates.
Where to Stay: Hotels in Harbin
I stayed at Hotel Ibis Harbin Sofia Church (Ibis Harbin Shangzhi) and I enjoyed the clean, comfortable rooms, not to mention its prime central location that’s surrounded by many malls and restaurants. At an affordable rate of SGD $59 per night, Hotel Ibis Harbin Sofia Church is also within walking distance to two major attractions – Saint Sofia Church and Central Street.
Things to Do & Attractions in Harbin
1. Happy Snow and Ice World Hu Lan River
Happy Snow and Ice World Hu Lan River (欢乐冰雪世界呼兰河口) is a smaller version of the famous Harbin Snow and Ice festival, but it’s equally breathtaking with huge displays of colourful sculptures made from ice and snow.
There’s an icy slide that didn’t look too intimidating, but I was fooled. The ice was extremely slippery and I zoomed down at exceeding speeds on a rubber tire! Other fun activities include go-karting on ice, bumper cars on ice, and even cycling on ice. I definitely recommend you to visit the icy world as an alternative to the crowded Snow and Ice Festival.
Protip: Check with your hotel front desk for the exact address and ask them to help you write it down to show your taxi driver.
2. Central Street
The beautiful Central Street (中央大街) is paved by cobblestone paths and lined with Russian influenced buildings. The street is blocked off from cars, so you can enjoy slow strolls along it.
During the day, it looks like a quaint Russian street. By night, fairy lights are lit up and the streets turn into the most magical street I’ve set foot on. As snow falls lightly on your shoulders, snuggle up to your loved one and enjoy the view from the benches along the street.
Apart from how insta-worthy this street is, it’s also lined with apparel shops like Yishion and Anta, as well as a couple of shopping malls. Restaurants are also aplenty, perfect for refuelling your pitless stomach during winter!
Protip: While admiring the architecture during the day, shop and eat till evening to experience the night view too.
3. Songhua River
Songhua River (松花江) is completely frozen solid during winter, which makes it a perfect place for children to play.
It felt strange walking down the steps towards the river banks and seeing thick ice instead of water – it was my first time walking on a frozen lake! Children were playing with fire crackers and sliding around in sleds. Surrounded by fun and laughter, I fell in love with the joyful atmosphere on the lake.
Protip: Buy a firecracker from the many sellers to join in the fun, it only costs RMB ¥2 (SGD $0.40)!
4. Dragon Tower
Dragon Tower (龙塔) stands at a colossal height of 336m – the tallest lattice tower in China and second tallest in Asia. Dragon’s Tower is used for broadcasting, just like the Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai.
If you have the time, head up to the observation deck and have a meal in their rotating restaurant. There’s also an adjacent park which is perfect for taking pictures of the tower. The park was covered in snow when we visited, so we got a chance to build snowmen, have a snowball fight, and make snow angels! Just like in the movies!
Protip: Buy Dragon Tower tickets online to save money – a tip the locals shared with us.
5. Saint Sofia Cathedral
Sitting majestically in the centre of town, Saint Sofia Cathedral (索菲亚教堂) is the largest Eastern Orthodox church in the Far East. The Russians built and completed the church in 1932 and it’s the perfect spot to snap a photo for the ‘gram.
There’s also a Russian mini mart next to the cathedral for you check out while waiting for nightfall. It’s worth waiting for the view, as you get to capture the beautiful details of the church in daylight and also see it lit under the night sky.
Protip: Visit about 30 mins before sunset, so that you can snap photos of the church in both daylight and night.
6. Qiu Lin Resort
Compared to the famous Yabuli Ski Resort, Qiu Lin Ski Resort (秋林滑雪场) is smaller in scale, hence safer and more enjoyable for beginners. Even my godmother who’s in her fifties enjoyed herself thoroughly!
This quaint ski resort is about 2 to 3 hours from the city centre by car. For advanced skiers who are up for a challenge, Yabuli Ski Resort may be more suitable for you.
Protip: Grab lunch from the restaurant opposite of the ski house. The food is amazing and the owners are really friendly and warm!
What to Eat in Harbin: Delicious Food
I know what you’re thinking. KFC in China?! Yes, really. Not for their chicken, but egg tarts!
They serve buttery, flaky, and fragrant egg tarts that are peak perfection for cold winter. We went to KFC at least three times during our trip just to get their egg tarts. It’s that good!
2. Braised Chicken
Braised Chicken (黄焖鸡) is absolutely soul-warming. We chanced upon a restaurant selling this for just RMB ¥12 (SGD $2.40).
It came with soft, steaming rice and we could add vegetables like potato, coriander, and mushrooms to our pot. It was so delicious that we went back for seconds! This dish can be easily found in Harbin, but the one we loved is located across the street from the back of our hotel along Shangzhi street.
3. Xi Jia De Dumplings
Xi Jia De (喜家德) is a chain restaurant that you’ll see everywhere in Harbin. They serve amazing dumplings and have a wide variety of fillings to choose from.
The dumplings were so juicy that we had them at least once a day. Their braised pork was equally good – the tender meat fell off the bones effortlessly and the sauce packed a flavourful punch.
4. Beef Noodles
We kept walking past Yi Run Beef Noodles (伊润牛拉) restaurant while making our way to Central Street from our hotel.
They served big bowls of mouth-watering noodles for just RMB ¥12 (SGD $2.40). I’m not kidding!
The noodles were soft and chewy, while the rich soup warmed me up. If you cannot find this particular restaurant, there are many restaurants along the small alleys of Central Street that serve up hearty bowls of noodles too.
5. Han Sheng Korean BBQ Buffet (韩盛炭火自助烤肉)
Located on the third floor of No. 48 Central Street, this hidden gem restaurant is an absolute must go. It’s so popular among the locals that we waited 45 minutes before getting our table.
This buffet restaurant had such a wide selection of food that we didn’t get to try everything. The selection of meats include lamb (which was really good!), beef, pork and chicken. They also offered seafood such as fish and shrimp.
Plus, they had a wide variety of drinks and dessert. Their drinks also include… wait for it… FREE FLOW BEER. Yes, you read that correctly. FREE FLOW! All these for the price of just RMB ¥68 (SGD $14). Easily one of the best meals I had in Harbin.
That’s it! Arm yourself with this Harbin guide and enjoy the winter wonderland for your next holiday. Remember to bring your YouTrip card along to enjoy Wholesale Exchange Rates and zero fees too!
Enjoy a worldwide fees-less travel experience!