How to Spend 3 Days in Harbin
With three days in Harbin, you can do more than just experience the annual Ice and Snow Festival and the city’s Russian heritage. Enjoy a winter adventure to out-of-town attractions such as China Snow Town, Volga Manor, or the Yabuli ski resort, or, in summer, delve deeper into historic Harbin. Here’s how.
Day 1: Winter Wonderland
Winter or summer, start the day by discovering downtown Harbin. Ride the cableway over the Songhua River, which turns into a frozen playground come winter, complete with ice slides, ice rinks, ice bikes, and more. Soak up historic Russian architecture on Zhongyang Street and at the Russian Orthodox St. Sophia Cathedral. In winter, turn your focus to the Ice and Snow Festival. Start with the snow sculptures on Sun Island, then head to the enormous Ice and Snow World park to capture vast illuminated carvings as twilight falls; enjoy ice bikes, ice bars, and ice slides along the way. Summer visitors can join the fun at the indoor ice-sculpture gallery on Sun Island. Wrap up your first day in Harbin with a taste of Russia at one of the city’s Russian restaurants and, in winter, a stroll among the ice lanterns in Zhaolin Park.
Day 2: Off-Path Adventure
Winter is the time to discover the dramatically desolate landscapes of China’s far northeast on an overnight adventure from Harbin. Enjoy skiing at the Yabuli ski resort, along with inner tube rides, tobogganing, ice bikes, and snowmobile adventures; soak up the rural charms of the alpine village known as China Snow Town, which offers dogsledding, horse-drawn carriage rides, and fireworks; or head out to Volga Manor, a re-creation of a 19th-century Russian estate, complete with church, salon, and landscaped grounds. Look out for tours that combine two of these options into a single overnight adventure. If you’re visiting in summer, spend the day discovering the city’s two signature wildlife attractions: the Siberia Tiger Park, where big cats roam, and Harbin Polarland, with cold-climate animals such as Arctic foxes, penguins, polar bears, and beluga whales. Back in Harbin, dine on a dumpling feast at a restaurant such as Orient King of Dumplings.
Day 3: Historic Heritage
In winter, continue your snowy adventure to Yabuli, China Snow Town, or Volga Manor. In summer, delve more deeply into Harbin’s rich heritage. Discover the story of the Jewish community, which arrived from Russia in waves, fleeing anti-Semitic violence, war, revolution, and dictatorship, and once numbered over 20,000. Tours cover synagogues, cemeteries, and more. Then experience a sobering encounter with one of World War II’s lesser-known atrocities, the “medical experiments” that killed thousands of men, women, and children by germ warfare, freezing, vivisection, and more on a visit to the Unit 731 Museum. Lift your mood with a stroll through the Harbin Botanical Gardens, before you wrap up your visit with your choice of northeastern Chinese signature meals: hot pot or barbecue. Be sure to wash them down with the city’s namesake light Harbin Beer.