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There are many fantastic things to do in Harbin, a city in northern China known for its famous Ice and Snow festival. In this article I will outline the main things to do in Harbin, but for a more comprehensive article about what to pack, the best time of year to travel, where to stay and a suggested itinerary be sure to check out my Harbin itinerary post.
The best things to do in Harbin
There are many things to do in Harbin. Best visited during winter, this place is almost magical! Here are some of the best things to do in Harbin during your winter wonderland trip!
Ice and Snow World
Harbin Ice and Snow World is one of the best things to do in the city; also known as Bingxue Large World, it is one of the most unique tourist activities in the world! It is an annual exhibit which takes place from mid-December to late-February, open from 9.30 am until 9.00 pm each day. The festival has grown year on year since its inception in 1999; it now covers more than 750,000 square metres and is one of the most important parts of the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, which you can read more about below.
The Ice and Snow World is a dreamy experience – it is no wonder that this is one of the world’s most popular winter attractions! It is a ‘city’ of large (full-scale!) buildings made from bricks cuts from the river ice. These bricks have lights embedded between the bricks which illuminate the buildings and make it all seem so incredible magical. There are also various ice sculptures to see, and the whole place makes for some incredible photographs. The most exciting for many, though, is that a lot of the buildings have slides incorporated into them on the outside. These are suitable for adults and children alike. As well as these slides, there are ice bikes, a larger stand-alone ice slide, a cinema and small outdoor shows. Fast food restaurants are located within the park, too, and it is a must in terms of the things to do in Harbin!
International Snow Sculpture Expo
To see the biggest snow sculptures in the world, look no further! These incredible sculptures will take your breath away – and you can visit them across a 60-70 day period as part of the Harbin Snow and Ice Festival. The sculptures change each year, and are always amazing quality as well as being absolutely huge. From mythical creatures to famous monuments, the sculptures will be some of the coolest (no pun intended…) things you’ve ever seen. Don’t forget your camera!
Harbin Ice and Snow Festival
The Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival is the culmination of the two above attractions – it is an annual festival which incorporates the sculpture expo and the Ice and Snow World. The festival touches every area of the city, with ice lantern activities in parks across Harbin and sports such as Yabuli alpine skiing and winter swimming as part of the celebrations. The festival has become an international sensation, and generates 28.7 billion yuan in revenue for the city. It is where you’ll see the world’s biggest ice sculptures, and if you are visiting during the winter months it gets the top spot in terms of things to do in Harbin.
Harbin Siberian Tiger Park
This safari style zoological park is home to some gorgeous Siberian tigers. They are some of the most majestic animals in the world! The park covers almost 1.5 million square metres, making it the largest natural park for Siberian tigers in the world. They are an endangered species, and this park (established in 1996) keeps them safe in an effort to preserve the species as a whole. You can also see Bengali tigers here as well as lions, lynx, black pumas, leopards and white tigers. Children under 1.2 metres get in free, with children between 1.2 and 1.4 metres paying 65 yuan. The adult entrance fee is 110 yuan. This includes the bus tour, and you are able to buy (live) poultry to feed the tigers with during your trip.
This war museum is a must-visit for those interested in history. It is one of the top things to do in Harbin (according to TripAdvisor) and comes highly recommended by all. Unit 731 was a prison during World War II – now a museum, it pays homage to the atrocities that happened in China during this time. It contains a vast amount of information about the horrors inflicted upon the Chinese by the Japanese during this time. A visit here is not for the faint hearted, but it is something that will have an impact on you during your time here.
This small village is such a fun experience. It is said to be the no.1 snow town in China, and it really is like a winter wonderland. Surrounded by trees and mountains, the scenery is breathtaking and you can easily spend 1-2 days here without ever getting bored. It is technically a 17,916-hectares forest farm, called Shuangfeng, located at an elevation of around 1,100 km. So what is there to do here? You can hike to see the sunrise light up the snowy scene, jump on a snowmobile, go horse or dog-sledding, or go full ‘Ana and Elsa’ and build a snowman! The fun is endless here, just be sure to wrap up warm…
Yabuli Ski Resort
Yabuli is the largest ski resort in China, and home to the largest ski jumping facilities in China too. It is actually around 2.5 hours away from Harbin, but still a manageable trip if you’re hoping to fit some skiing in. There are 35 km of slopes available for skiing and snowboarding, with 11 lifts. Most slopes are suitable for intermediate level skiing, with plenty of difficult slopes too as well as a few easy-level slopes. Yabuli is open from mid-November to early April. The resort is also home to a huge panda house, which currently contains one panda as well as some other adorable animals!
The Cathedral of the Holy Wisdom of God, also known as the Saint Sophia Cathedral, is a former Russian Orthodox church. It is located in the central district of Daoli. With clear Russian-style architecture, the church is beautiful and makes for a fantastic photo opportunity in Harbin. It looks particularly stunning when lit up of an evening! The grandeur and beauty of this cathedral cannot be overstated: it actually got its name because Sophia is the feminine personification of divine wisdom – God’s wisdom. The church has recently been closed for renovations, but information suggests that it is now open to the public once more with an entrance fee of 15 yuan.
Harbin Polarland is a one-of-a-kind experience and one of the most unique things to do in Harbin. It is the first polar amusement park in the world, and forms part of the Harbin International Ice and Festival. There are themed performances by beluga whales and their trainers, and plenty of different species to discover. From Mumble the Antarctic penguin to polar bear brothers Tangji and Hede, you’ll find plenty of cuties here. In terms of visiting aquatic animals parks, this is something which raises ethical questions for many. Always do your own research and make your own decisions as to whether this is something you want to partake in – the reviews for Harbin Polarland are quite mixed.
Eat at an ice restaurant
Have you ever eaten at an ice restaurant? You can during a winter trip to Harbin – from the end of December, a restaurant made entirely from ice and decorated with regional folklore style decor. It is located outside of the Shangri-la Hotel. The restaurant has an inside temperature of -18℃, with four private rooms seating 90 people. The lit-up ice is incredibly atmospheric, and you can choose to come here for lunch (11.30-2.00) or dinner (5.00-9.30), or enjoy the ambience of the ice bar from 10 am until 10 pm. This is a fantastic unforgettable experience, and something that really does feel like a must-do when visiting Harbin. Try out a hotpot or a very warming curry!
As mentioned, there is a Shangri-la Hotel in Harbin. Alongside the seasonal ice bar/restaurant, the hotel is home to two restaurants and a lounge bar. Coffee Garden provides a buffet with a delicious blend of Eastern and Western cuisines across an exciting menu that changes regularly, while Shang Palace showcases some of the very best of Chinese fine dining. Lobby Lounge offers cocktails and other alcoholic drinks alongside tea, coffee and light snacks. It’s the perfect place to meet up with friends for a drink after all your sightseeing in Harbin! The hotel has plenty of rooms as well as amazing themed family suites, a health club, a spa and more.
Another of the top-rated things to do in Harbin, Volga Manor is a beautiful recreation of a Russian village that looks incredible in the snow. You’ll feel as though you’ve popped over to Russia for a day trip, without having to leave the Harbin area! With houses you can visit and restaurants located within the park, it is a great day out. Wrap up warm though as it covers a huge area, so there’s a lot of walking to be done. From vodka tasting to animal petting to breathtaking photo opportunities, there is a lot to see and do here. Ski lessons, tubing, bread making… the list goes on! Spend a whole day here or even stay over at the on-site hotel. Whatever you do, don’t miss out on visiting Volga Manor!
Things to do in Harbin- further reading
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