Known for its breathtaking mountain views, world-class ski resorts and snow festival, Harbin boasts several attractions to enable visitors experience a one of a kind winter holiday. With all the other wonderful seasons to travel to China, why visit in the winter? Surely, Harbin will give you enough reasons to visit. It’s a long way to come for just 3 days, but if that’s all you can spare, then this suggested itinerary will be very useful. There are of course numerous other destinations in this city so you might want to mix and match the suggestions below to create your own itinerary.
Things to know before traveling to Harbin, China:
Language – Standard Chinese and Mandarin Chinese are the official languages of China. Learning the language is not necessary, especially in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, but speaking at least some Chinese phrases or attempting to learn is greatly appreciated by the locals. In Harbin, just like any region/cities in China, have their own dialect and their own accent when speaking Mandarin Chinese.
Currency exchange – Chinese Yuan (also known as Renminbi) is the official currency of China. Exchanging money is easy and follows the same standard to elsewhere in Asia. You can exchange currency at the airport, hotels, malls, local banks, and money changers throughout China. ATMs are plentiful, all accepting international credit cards and debit cards, so it’s easy to withdraw your money in CNY. Credits cards are commonly accepted in most mid-range to high-end restaurants and hotels.
Tourist visa – Visitors who have a layover in some major cities in China are eligible to get a free 72-Hour Transit Visa. Nationalities from Schengen countries (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland), the United States of America, Canada, the United Kingdom, Russia, Ireland, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Brunei, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Australia and New Zealand are qualified to take advantage of 72-Hour Visa Free Transit Policy.
Getting there – Harbin Tai Ping International Airport is located 30 km from the city center of Harbin and is one of the busiest air hubs in China, ranked 21st in the 2016 total passenger traffic. The airport serves flights to and from most major and some smaller cities in China, and some international destinations including Amsterdam, Bangkok, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Kathmandu, London, Paris, Manila, Melbourne, Moscow, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, San Francisco, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei, and Tokyo.
Getting around – Getting around in China is very easy thanks to its comprehensive road system and the subway system. In Harbin, taking the bus is the most convenient and reliable way to get to your destination. Another reliable option is by taxi. There are plenty of taxi companies in the city, which are inexpensive in comparison to other Chinese cities. If you’re traveling on a budget, consider exploring the city on a rental bike. Before your trip, make sure to download a map of Harbin on your smart phone or secure a paper copy and get a business card of your hotel written in both Chinese and English.
Where to stay – There are many types of holiday accommodation in China from luxury hotels to cheaper accommodation like youth hostels and bed and breakfast. In Harbin, hotels/hostels nearby Saint Sofia Cathedral in Daoli District is recommended for travelers to get easy access to tourist attractions and dining options. If you’ve been to Harbin once before, or you prefer to stay outside of the city center, then you may look for accommodation options around the Sun Island Park and Yueliangwan Ski Resort.
Hotels to consider in Harbin:
Holiday Inn City Centre Harbin
Ibis Harbin Sophia Church Hotel
Detailed itinerary: 3-day winter adventure in Harbin, China
There is no better way to get acquainted with the city than visiting the Unit 731 Museum, otherwise known as Harbin Museum, which is one of the most loved museums in China. A tour in this museum will give visitors insights into horrible experiments performed here by the Imperial Japanese Army, specifically those that happened during the World War II. Taking a guided tour is a great way to learn about the tragic history of Harbin. You may also get one of the English audio guides if you would like to explore the place on your own.
After your museum tour, wander around Zhongyang Pedestrian Street, also known as the Central Avenue. Walking along this street will give you a glimpse of Harbin’s history and culture as evident by the city’s best-known landmarks. Founded in the early 20th century, the city was established as an outpost on the Trans-Siberian Railway, the iconic network of railways connecting Russia and the Far East.
After lunch, burn those calories by visiting Saint Sophia Cathedral, one of the most celebrated attractions in the city. This beautiful Russian Orthodox Church built in Byzantine architectural style is a favorite of local and foreign visitors because of its outstanding aesthetic value and its historical significance.
In the afternoon, make your way to Harbin Ice and Snow World, the most famous attraction in Harbin and is the largest ice and snow art exhibition in the world. Harbin Ice and Snow World is not far from Harbin downtown, so it will only take a few minutes to get there by bus or taxi.
Continuing with history theme, learn about the city of Harbin and the Russian Culture at Volga Manor. Since Russia had a strong influence on Harbin’s history, it is not surprising to see a Russian complex with more than 30 Russian style buildings in the suburb of Harbin.
In the afternoon, explore Harbin Forest Botanical Garden. Covering an area of about 136 hectares, the garden is dotted with lakes and ponds, gardens in different styles, forests, among other things. If you intend to do some picnic, make sure to bring your own food as there are not many food choices inside the botanical garden.
After a whole day of adventure, go to a spa-style bathhouse or sauna for a relaxing bath experience. Ask your hotel receptionist on where to find a sauna and make sure to learn about Chinese bathhouse 101 if you are feeling a little unsure about what to do.
Today is your last day in Harbin. Spend the rest of your day checking out some attractions in the Daoli District that you might have missed. Fit in one last amazing breakfast or lunch in. You could even squeeze in some souvenir shopping before you travel to the airport. Head to the airport in time to check in for your international flight home, continue traveling independently, or extend your stay in Harbin.
Have you been to Harbin or anywhere else in China? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? If so, you can leave your comments below.
Featured image: Ice and Snow World, Harbin, China (aphotostory / Shutterstock.com)