Visiting Harbin in winter

Harbin is a lovely city in the far north east of China, very near the border with Russia. You can feel that the people living there are not like other Chinese living in other parts of this vast country. But still, there is always a framed photograph of Mao Zedong looking at you from the wall.

Harbin Mao
Mao is looking at you

Get in

We flew from Shanghai to Harbin for around 140USD. From the airport to the city we took a taxi – although we read a lot of bad reviews about taxi drivers in Harbin and especially to and from the airport, we had a very good experience. Just a tip – have all your addresses written down in Chinese as almost no one speaks English.

Get around

We used buses, which are really cheap. On Sun island, where the Snow and Ice festival is held, minibuses were operating from the main road to the entrance. And in the bitter cold evening we used taxis. It was quite a challenge to use public transport because of the language barrier, but with the places you want to go written in Chinese it is a lot easier.

What to see

Snow and Ice festival

Probably the most famous reason why people flock here in winter are the Snow and Ice festivals. They are really breathtaking and soooo worth visiting – especially the ice festival after dark is mesmerizing!

In the city centre:

St. Sophia Orthodox church

No, you’re not in Russia, but looking at this church someone might think so.

Harbin city centre St. Sophia church
St. Sophia church Harbin

Central street (Zhongyang Dajie)

Just follow the street and hop now and then to a shop to warm up. On the street you can admire the first ice sculptures, buy yourself a warm beverage or ice cream – yes this is a thing here!

The frozen river

I never seen a frozen river with so much action – horse sledges, people ice skating, riding funny looking “sledge-like-chairs”, ice bicycles, skating, tire sliding, rock-climbing, ice karting, dog-sledging, curling, ice bumper cars.

Harbin frozen river

Harbin frozen river


For me it was a unique experience visiting a place so cold, but I have to admit I really liked it. My biggest respect goes to the street sellers here, which spend every day in this bone chilling cold.

Harbin street seller


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