How to Spend 1 Day in Harbin
Known for its annual Ice and Snow Festival, one of the largest in the world, the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin comes alive in January and February each year. The overwhelming majority of international travelers visit for the ice sculptures, but Harbin has more to offer. Here’s how to discover the city’s highlights in just one day.
Morning: City Strolling
Winter or summer, start the day by soaking up the highlights of downtown Harbin. Ride the cableway over the Songhua River; in winter, enjoy delights from ice slides and ice bikes to miniature tanks on its frozen surface, or try your hand at ice swimming. Next, discover Harbin’s Russian heritage as you peruse historic architecture on Zhongyang Street, the city’s longtime thoroughfare. Snack on wintry treats from candied hawthorn to Chinese-style ice cream as you wander. Finally, explore St. Sophia Cathedral, the Russian Orthodox edifice built in 1907, which towers surprisingly over this Chinese city.
Afternoon: Winter Wonderland
Afternoon and early evening are the times to enjoy Harbin’s signature experience, the Ice and Snow Festival. Wrap up warm, as temperatures can drop below -22°F (-30°C). Start with the Snow Sculpture Festival on Sun Island to view a wealth of intricate snow carvings best appreciated in daylight. Continue to the vast Ice and Snow World, and marvel as the brilliantly illuminated ice sculptures come to life when darkness falls. Enjoy drinks at ice bars, snacks from ice concession stands, plus ice slides, ice bikes, and even a ski run. During summer, the indoor ice-sculpture gallery on Sun Island provides a taster.
Night: Russian Flavor
The food scene in Harbin, a cosmopolitan city heavily influenced by both Russia and Korea, is one of China’s more diverse, with sausage and pickle firmly on the menu. Warm up for the evening over vodka at a Russian-themed eatery, such as Russia Coffee and Food, which serves up warming favorites from borscht to dumplings amid photos, portraits, and antiques salvaged from a Russian émigré’s estate. In winter, finish with a bracing stroll along the Songhua River, as the city’s illuminated sculptures come into their own. Don’t miss the opulent ice lantern display at Zhaolin Park.