10 Amazing Things to do in Harbin, China in 2023

Harbin in far northwestern China’s Heilongjiang Province is a city famed for its Russian architecture, freezing winters and annual snow and ice festival. In this guide, I’ll detail some of the top things to do in Harbin China.

I lived in Harbin for a year when I first moved to China in 2015 and returned to visit again in 2021 just before I left. So it’s with this insider’s knowledge that I can tell you about the best Harbin attractions and what to do in Harbin.

From Confucian temples to Russian Orthodox churches, parks, ice sculpture festivals and much more, there are so many great things to do Harbin that this interesting Chinese city should not be missed.

Map of the Harbin Tourist Attractions

Best Things to do in Harbin

Below you’ll find the top Harbin tourist attractions from the famous ice sculpture festival to churches, temples parks and museums.

Whether visiting in winter or summer, be sure to marvel at the Russian architecture that makes this city unique, and sample some traditional Russian food from borsht to pelmeni (dumplings) from one of the many restaurants in the city.

1. Visit the Harbin Snow and Ice Festival

Ice Sculpture Park
Harbin Ice Sculpture Park

The world-renowned Ice Sculpture Festival is part of a wider series of events that go on all winter and one of the best things to do in Harbin. The ice festival is the pinnacle, with recreations of famous world landmarks made entirely of ice.

There are lots of fun things to do from ice slides to skating, and 2023 sees the addition of a large Ferris wheel offering stunning views of the sculptures below.

The festival usually opens officially on 5th January each year and lasts until the snow melts in late March. Though it is possible to see some of the attractions from around 25th December. The ticket price is ¥300. Make sure you wrap up warm!

Read: Guide to Harbin Ice and Snow Festival

2. See Saint Sophia Cathedral

Saint Sophia Cathedral Harbin
Saint Sophia Cathedral, Harbin

Probably the most well-known Harbin landmark, Saint Sophia Cathedral is a typical Russian orthodox church complete with golden crosses and onion domes. It has now been turned into a museum displaying photographs of the city’s architecture from past to present.

St Sophia is one of the top Harbin tourist attractions and the best example of the city’s Russian influences and architecture. The entrance fee is ¥20. Closed Mondays.

3. Zhongyang Dajie (Central/Walking Street)

Attractions in Harbin - Central Street
Attractions in Harbin – Central Street

Considered the longest pedestrian street in all of China, this charming cobbled thoroughfare is lined with Russian bakeries, souvenir shops and restaurants. It starts off across from the Holiday Inn on Jingwei Street and finishes up at the Flood Defence Memorial on the Songhua River. Entry: Free

4. Have Fun on the Songhua River

Things to do in Harbin
Things to do in Harbin; Playing on the frozen Songhua River

The River acts as Harbin’s playground in winter as the ice freezes to around one metre in thickness. You can skate, sled, hire a snowmobile and more. In summer you can take a boat trip and even swim (though I wouldn’t recommend it being so close to the busy city). Entry: Free (there is a charge for boats and cable car).

5. Relax on Sun Island

sun Island, Harbin
Beach on Sun Island

Sun Island is where Harbiners go to relax both in summer and winter. In summer it’s a great place for picnics and barbeques. In the colder months, it turns into a winter wonderland with ice sculptures and lots of fun winter activities.

There is a cable car crossing the river to Sun Island that runs year-round. In summer you can also take a boat and in winter you can walk across the frozen river. The island has a large park with a small swimming beach (see above) and a few restaurants.

This is definitely one of the best Harbin tourist attractions no matter the time of year. There is no charge to enter Sun Island, but there is a fee for the boat and cable car of ¥50 one-way or ¥80 return.

6. Walk Along Stalin Park

Stalin Park, Harbin
Stalin Park, Harbin

Stalin Park (Sidalin Park) stretches for almost two kilometres along the southern bank of the Songhua River. The Park was created in 1953 and reflects the friendship between China and the Soviet Union. Taking a walk along the river and through the park is one of the best Harbin things to do if you want a little fresh air.

There is a statue of Stalin (allegedly) but it has been covered up for some years after he fell out of favour for obvious reasons. You’ll also find plenty of other statues of Chinese heros and socialist scenes along the banks of the river.

7. Enjoy the Tranquility at the Confucius Temple

Confucius Temple
Confucius Temple

Unlike the city of Luoyang where I later lived, Harbin was a little thin on the ground for temples. However the city makes up for it with the beautiful Harbin Confucius Temple.

If you are looking for peace and tranquillity among some traditional Chinese architecture, the Confucius Temple is the perfect escape. The largest such temple complex in northeastern China. There is no entry fee making this one of the best free things to do in Harbin.

8. Visit the Unit 731 Museum

Unit 731 Museum
Unit 731 Museum

The Unit 731 Museum details the horrific crimes of Shiro Ishii and his biological weapons unit that was based in Harbin during the Japanese occupation of Manchuria. The museum was closed for renovation when I lived in Harbin but I had the opportinty to visit on my last trip to Harbin.

During the Second World War, the Japanese Imperial Army occupied Manchuria and set up a base in Harbin to create a biological and chemical weapons program. Known as Unit 731, the program was headed by General Shiro Ishii and used the local residents as live test subjects.

The museum is home to a host of grisly displays from dioramas to medical reports, containers used to hold chemical and biological weapons, photographs and film footage from the perpetrators. This is one of the top Harbin places to visit, but not for the faint of heart.

Address: Xinjiang Street, Pingfang District, Harbin, PRC

Entry: free

Learn more: Guide to the Unit 731 Museum

9. Sample the Nightlife on Bar Street

Things to do in Harbin - Bars
“Underground” on Qiao Nan Jie, Harbin

If you are in Harbin for any length of time during winter, once you have hit all the major sites you will find the only thing left to do is to hit up Harbin’s vibrant bar scene. One of the best places to do this is “Bar Street” (Qiao Nan Jie).

Get off the metro at Hagongda or Xidaqiao and then pop into any of the establishments across from the railway tracks. Most of the bars have some form of entertainment such as pool, beer pong, live music, quiz nights etc to keep the ex-pats from going crazy during the long winter months.

10. Take a Day Trip to Yabuli Ski Resort

Yabuli ski Resort
Yabuli ski Resort

The town of Yabuli is a ski resort 180km east of Harbin and is home to the Chinese winter Olympic team. There are five daily trains and the journey takes around three hours.

There are 17 different slopes ranging from beginner to advanced and plenty of instructors and tour companies offering packages (though not all have English-speaking instructors).

In addition to skiing and snowboarding, there are other activities including hiking, snowmobiling, sledding and more.

Harbin Weather

Harbin is China’s coldest city with winter temperatures dropping to below -30 Celsius. The short Summer lasts from June to August and the city benefits from warm, sunny days with heavy downpours during this time. Spring and Autumn are practically non-existent and last around a week between summer and winter.

Getting to Harbin!

Harbin is easily reachable from Beijing by plane and train! Flight time from Beijing is 2 to 2.5 hours and costs from ¥1,500 ($230). You can book cheap flights through Trip.com.

There are direct fast trains from Beijing to Harbin every day and the journey takes between six and eight hours. See How to Buy Train Tickets in China, or book an e-ticket direct through Trip.com.

There are weekly train services between Harbin and Khabarovsk and Vladivostok in Russia.

Read: How to Buy Train Tickets in China

Getting Around Harbin

Chinese Snacks
Frozen fruit in syrup; a favourite Harbin snack

The area around the Songhua River, Central Street and St Sophia is easily navigated on foot. In winter the streets can be covered in ice and they are not gritted as is common in the west. Go with caution!

There is a metro with one line and expansions in the works. Handy for getting to the station, shopping malls, bar street and the Unit 731 museum.

Taxis are ubiquitous and fares start at ¥8. Harbin’s taxi drivers have something of a reputation for being a little crazy and not paying attention to conditions, traffic or anything else, and I can 100% confirm this as true.

Food & Drink in Harbin – Top Picks

Hamama’s Kofi House (Western)

A nice little cafe in Jiaohua close to HIT. You can eat in and take away a selection of hot and cold drinks, salads, sandwiches and cakes.

Address: Room 104, No 2 Mugong Street, Nangang District, Harbin, China.

Katusha (Russian)

The best and most authentic Russian restaurant in Harbin. Excellent home-cooked classics such as borscht, stroganoff and mimosa. The dining room is an ornate affair and looks like it’s straight out of an 18th-century Russian novel.

Address: Zhongyang Main Street, 261, JinDi Hotel, First Floor, Harbin, China

Russian Bakery
A Russian Bakery on Central Street

Best Bars in Harbin

If you’re looking for somewhere to spend an evening playing pool, beer pong, drinking and/or dancing then head to Harbin’s Bar Street on Qiao Nan Jie. The nearest metros are Hagongda and Xidaqiao (though I used to live a ten-minute walk away).

Ace Bar

A decent large bar with a good selection of beers and cocktails. Thursday is quiz night (which I once hosted) and they have live music some nights. One of my favourite Harbin bars. Ace gets a mixed crowd of locals, Russian students and a few other ex-pats.

The Door

This small but crowded bar is a great hangout for local Chinese and ex-pats. There is live music every night on a small stage and prices are reasonable. The Door has a huge selection of interesting shots and there is hookah too.


The Underground Bar was my favourite place when I lived in Harbin and my home from home. Mainly a Russian crowd with a few other ex-pats and local Chinese. Cheap beers and cocktails, hookah, beer pong. Quiet during the week but gets busy towards the weekends.

Where to Stay in Harbin

On my last trip to Harbin I stayed at the Xiwu Boutique Express Hotel next to Harbin East Railway Station. The room was ¥250 ($40) per night, in a great location next to the subway and the room was large, warm and comfortable. You can book directly through Trip.com.

What is the Best Time to Visit Harbin

I lived in Harbin in all seasons and can say without a doubt that the city really comes alive in winter. From frozen fun on the river to the ice festival and lots of things going on, winter is definitely the best time to see the attractions in Harbin.

From January to March is the best time to catch the winter activities, ice festival, go skating on the river or skiing at Yabuli. That being said, summers are pleasant and there is still plenty to do from enjoying picnics on Sun Island to taking a dip in the river.


Now you know what to do in Harbin and when to go, this city I once called home should be high on your list of places to visit in China. From the world-famous ice festival to Central Street, St Sophia and a plethora of excellent Russian restaurants, there really are a great many things to do in Harbin.

Dunhuang, Gobi Desert, China

About the author:

Steve Rohan is a writer from Essex, England. He has travelled to over 60 countries, lived in China and Hong Kong, and is now living the digital nomad life on the road.

Steve prefers “slow travel” and has covered much of Europe and Asia by train, bus and boat.

Where I am now: Yerevan, Armenia 🇦🇲

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