As some of you long term readers may know, we live in China and I always get excited when I can share my insight and experience of living and travel around China. So, without delay, let’s talk about the best things to do in Harbin.
Best things to do in Harbin
1. Harbin Ice Festival
I appreciate that this is a bit of a cop-out considering you can only visit the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival between the months of January and February (officially – but you can see it being built from November onwards).
But this Ice Festival is amazing and is truly one of my highlights of travel in China. This world-famous event is known for its huge and beautiful illuminated sculptures. The festival is held annually here in Harbin, in northeast China and officially begins on the first weekend of January until the end of February but sometimes longer depending on the local temperature.
Our visit was during the 35th Harbin International Ice and Snow festival and although it felt like it was -25 degrees celsius, it was well worth the visit.
Each year, thousands of workers brave the cold over several weeks to transform ice blocks taken from the city’s Songhua river into incredible castles, monuments, landmark lookalikes and detailed sculptures. Spreading across 600,00 square meters and attracting over 18 million visitors, the Harbin Ice and Snow World is now the largest ice and snow festival in the world.
The detail and size of these ice masterpieces are breathtaking and we would highly recommend a visit to the International Harbin Ice and Snow Festival – just remember to wear thick layers; average temperatures in Harbin during the winter sit around -16 degrees Celsius or 1 to 2 degrees Fahrenheit. Lows of -35 degrees Celsius are not uncommon.
2. Saint Sofia Cathedral
Among the shopping malls and food courts in the city centre, lies the Saint Sophia Cathedral. Built in 1907 whilst the Russian army were settling in Harbin after the Trans-Siberian railway was completed, Saint Sophia is a Russian influenced Orthodox Church and is unlike any other church I have seen in China.
It is now referred to as a monumental work of art and one of the most popular things to do in Harbin. Not far from the Church is a small duck restaurant that offers duck to-go but also has a tiny little seating area above the kitchen which gives you awesome views of the church – see the video below for the location!
3. Unit 731 Harbin Memorial and Museum
This is a heartwrenching memorial that really opened my eyes up to the horror of what the Chinese people suffered with during the Second World War.
I would highly recommend you find the time to visit this memorial whilst you are in Harbin – it is informative, there are English translations and walking next to the remains of buildings that had previously burnt victims was harrowing.
4. Harbin Grand Theatre Opera House
The Harbin Grand Theatre Opera House is slightly further out of the city centre but the architecture is a masterpiece. Plus, because it is so far from the city centre, the area is always quiet!
5. Zhongyang Dajie / Central Street
In the centre of the city, this pedestrian shopping street is a popular place to visit at any time of the year. Check out the restaurants, browse the stores and try some of Harbin’s popular food stall snacks.
6. Snow Town
If you have the time, head to Snow Town; a perfect picturesque town that really is like stepping onto a movie set. The village is actually called Shuangfeng Forest Farm and it is buried in the mountains, around six hours away from Harbin. Plan a stay at one of the lodges in the village and enjoy the snowy lifestyle.
A particularly beautiful area is Dream Garden, which lights up in the evening and is a very romantic thing to do in Harbin.
7. Yabuli Ski Resort
No matter what time of the year, you can head to the Yabuli Ski Resort all year round and enjoy the slopes. And that isn’t just any slopes but the largest slopes in China. This resort is 3 hours outside of Harbin but a closer option is Erlongshan Ski Resort.
8. Jile Temple
One of the famous temples in the Northern provinces, Jile temple is a must-visit during your Harbin trip. Built in 1923, the temple spans 5.7 hectares and even includes a seven-story pagoda.
9. Volga Manor
If Saint Sophia wasn’t enough Russian architecture to see on your visit, why not head to Volga Manor. In the countryside on the outskirts of Russia, this Russian-styled forest estate is often overlooked but is worth a visit if you love Russian architecture!
- We LOVE this camera for our travel photography.
- For a cheap, easy and compact camera, we use this to vlog and take photographs.
- We use this travel drone (but make sure to check drone laws in your chosen destination first).
- This is our favourite travel insurance because it covers so many activities and travel situations that could arise on longer trips but also offer year coverage.
What to pack
- No matter where we travel to, I always take these trusty hand sanitizers and a mini first aid kit.
- We love these toiletry bags (especially great for smaller bathrooms) and choose a laptop bag like this as our hand luggage.
- We keep our devices charged on long travel days with these lightweight battery packs and bring these worldwide travel adaptors on all our trips.
- I still struggle not to overpack so stick to using an expandable suitcase like these and always take my trusty luggage scales to avoid being charged at the airport.