Welcome to Harbin, China!
It doesn’t take one of us to tell you that China is absolutely massive. All you have to do is look at a map and you’ll notice that the country is so big that it encompasses all different types of biomes from hot tropical climates to cold metropolises. Harbin is China’s northernmost major city and for a city that was only founded in 1897, as a camp for Russian contractors building the trans-Siberian railroad, the city grew exponentially and now is home to 10 million people.
Harbin, as a result of its history and position on the northern edge of China, has a pretty distinct culture. Oftentimes, it seems that the city leans more towards Russia than China, in terms of culture, and indeed the two countries both have had a lasting impact on Harbin. These factors make a city interesting to a worldwide local, and while Harbin might not be tropical or as popular as Beijing, there are lots to discover. Enjoy this insider’s guide to some of the hidden gems Harbin has to offer.
Worldwide Local Tip: The Harbin weather can get very cold, especially during the winter months. Temperatures can go as low as -36F in January, so if you’re around during the fall and winter months, pack appropriate winter clothes. That being said, summer temperatures can reach the high 60’s (F) and much of the city comes alive with people being outdoors. Late spring is the optimal time to visit.
Make Your Way to the City Center
A worldwide local knows in order to become acquainted with a new city you need to find the central area where the locals go. In Harbin, that area is the very aptly named “Central Pedestrian Street.” The area was built in 1900 and is essentially the biggest business area in the city. The central Xinyang Square is found here, where you’ll come across many locals going about their day and meeting up with friends. The street itself is absolutely massive, and is, in fact, the largest pedestrian street in Asia. What makes this street particularly interesting, however, is the style of architecture of the buildings. The buildings here are built in European Baroque styles and renaissance architecture motifs, giving it a more western European feel than the Chinese feel. Walk a bit further down to visit the famous Harbin Opera House and take in some high culture.
Worldwide Local Tip: If you’re looking to do a little shopping, this area is the one to do it. Everything from high-end department stores to boutique shops and lower-end markets can be found around here. Central Pedestrian Street is flanked by plenty of restaurants and stores to keep your wallet empty for a while.
Get Blown Away by the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival
As previously mentioned, Harbin can get pretty cold during the winter. But just because the mercury dips, it doesn’t mean you need to hide indoors. One of the most popular activities and attractions during winter is the stunningly gorgeous Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. It’s a beautiful mixture of art and culture and some of the most intricate ice sculptures you’ll ever see. The best time to visit is at night when everything is lit-up and the lights shine on the sculptures.
Worldwide Local Tip: There are a lot of activities to do while you’re visiting the ice sculptures. It’s a great place where locals and visitors come to enjoy the art. There’s an ice bar, ice hotel, ice rock climbing, soccer on ice and much more. Make sure to keep your ticket handy, if you want to partake in the activities, as proof of payment. Also, be sure to wear warm clothes!
Harbin Restaurants and Cuisine
If you want to travel like a worldwide local you’ll have to go eat where the locals do. Ask around and many people might point you to Central Pedestrian Street. While there, explore some good spots and the people in the know will tell you to head to Daowai Sandao Street. The street itself enjoys over 100 years of history, with many renowned and vintage restaurants dotting the street. The restaurants here are local favorites where you can indulge in some delicacies, such as braised pig and Harbin-style dumplings.
Worldwide Local Tip: If you’re looking for a dining experience a little more interesting check out Shangri-La Ice Palace. Tables are located in ice igloos and the steam from your hot-pot turns into snowflakes that will fall gently into your lap. Afterwards, head to the ice bar and sit on furniture made of ice.
Enjoy Your Stay!
Harbin might get a little frosty during the winter months, but as a worldwide local that shouldn’t deter you from heading to Harbin and checking out the beautiful art, history, and of course food, that this northern Chinese city has to offer.