We were lucky enough to get a spot on a group trip to Harbin for a three day weekend. Harbin is just a short flight (<2 hours) up to the north known for its Ice and Snow Festival. The city is close to Russia and has lots of Russian influence in the architecture. It’s also VERY cold there with temperatures reaching -25 degrees Fahrenheit.
I honestly thought we were going to a town not a huge city! I didn’t realize that Harbin was the capital of the province we were visiting. The city is big and bustling and the Annual Harbin Ice Festival is the main source of income. So for 170 days, a lot of tourists from around the world visit to see the huge ice sculptures, snow sculptures, and to participate in all the different winter activities.
On our Way
We had a smooth, short flight up to Harbin. Once we landed, I added on extra layers before heading into the cold! The airport is big and has lockers if you need to change.
Before we made it to our hotel which was about 45 minutes from the airport, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant to have hot pot. This meal wasn’t quite what I thought it was going to be (I was thinking a bowl of water where you cook your own food). This hot pot was more traditional for the Northern climate. There were three big bowls of food to share at our table. In the bowls, there were meats and veggies. Along with the bowls of food, we had rice, noodles, and some other food I can’t name! Since it’s so cold up there, this meal is designed so you sit around the fire that is heating the pots.
St. Sophia Church
After lunch, we headed to the St. Sophia Church before making our way to the hotel. I was glad I put my ski pants on for this stop! We walked around outside to enjoy the views.
After a brief visit the cathedral, we then made our way to the New Gloria Hotel. The lobby was very nice with some cool water displays. Our room was a bit interesting as it had two twin beds rather than one large bed. True to the Northern style, the mattresses were hard but I slept just fine.
Out and About
After checking into our hotel, we decided to venture out and check out the city. Our hotel had a great location as it was right next to the Songhua River (this is a source for the ice). It was VERY cold by the water with the wind. Despite the cold, there were TONS of different winter activities to partake in like ice bicycling, sledding, ice skating, and more! We decided to save this for another morning.
After we got a quick view of the river, we headed to Central Street, which is a pedestrian only zone. We had to walk under a bridge to get to it. There were lots of shops, restaurants and street food. As we walked along, we got to experience some more traditional food.
It was quite the experience! Earlier, I had the chance to try a baked sweet potato. They just cook it on the street on their cart and it gets weighed to determine how much it will cost. Some people love them but I thought it could use some toppings. While on the street, we tried some “hot Coca-Cola” (never heard of that before!). I wasn’t a fan of it as it was too hot for me and tasted more like flat Coke, but Ben liked it. We also finally got to try the candied fruits. There were so many choices like bananas, crabapples, blueberriers, and a mix of many kinds. Ben opted for the all strawberry one. It was a little too sweet for me but (again), Ben enjoyed it! Next, we tried some ice cream. Who doesn’t want ice cream in the freezing cold?! I enjoyed that, and I managed to stay warm in all my layers. Central Street was very pretty with the lights and the ice sculptures lining it. (There were ice sculptures everywhere throughout the city!).
After we finished walking from one end of Central Street to the next, we headed to Zhaolin Park. This was one of my favorite parts of the weekend. It cost 150 kuai (~$20), and I thought it was worth it. It was a quieter park with hardly a crowd. I read that it’s geared towards kids but I really enjoyed myself, and Ben loved taking pictures there. The ice sculptures were amazing. They had anything you can think of-sea creatures, mythological beings, and even the Alien (from Alien).
While there, I also had the chance to go down an ice slide!
Boy, you fly going down! I climbed up the ice steps that led me to the top and sat on a small donut tube to go down. I didn’t want to get out of control, so I opted to keep my feet out to slow my speed.
Day 2-The Big Adventures
The Siberian Tiger Park
The next day, we started off by heading the Siberian Tiger Park. This was Ben’s favorite part of our weekend. We headed in a caged bus to go through the preserve. **Skip this next line if you are an animal lover** Our group (not me), pitched in money to purchase live roosters and a goat that were later dropped off to be fed to the tigers so you could watch them feed. **you can continue** I thought the ride was ok as they drove through pretty quickly. I liked it better after we got off the bus and walked along the caged walkway to view more of the tigers at our own pace.
My favorite part was along the walk seeing a family of tigers all cuddled together and sleeping. There must’ve been about 8 tigers laying on top of each other. As the end of the walkway, they had other felines like a panther, puma, and liger.
Sun Island-Snow Sculpture Art Expo
After we had lunch, we headed over to Sun Island where we saw the giant snow sculptures. This is where my favorite part of the trip happened. I got to hold a snow fox. It was so soft and fluffy! I wanted to take him home.
We walked around to see the snow sculptures that take place in the big contest. We also saw plenty of winter activities here again like ice bicycling, ice skating, and sledding. There was also a huge slide that had blocks of ice built up pretty high on the sides. That was way too big for me to want to go on!
Ice and Snow World
After a quick break at the hotel, we headed to the Ice and Snow World-the main event! Being a main event, there were a ton of people there. (This is a main reason why I preferred Zhaolin Park.) Ice and Snow world is best described as an ice city. There were huge buildings made of ice and you could even walk in the ice buildings. It was pretty amazing!
Along with the buildings, there were giant slides (with giant lines to go down them), and giant ice sculptures like the Temple of Heaven. It was all so pretty lit up different colors.
Again, there were more winter activities to partake in, so I finally got to enjoy experiencing some of the traditional ice activities (check that off my list!). It was great that it was all included in our ticket price, so I just had to wait in the quick moving line (or just wait for something to open up!).
I got to go ice biking (that was fun and a good workout). I then tried my hand at the ice chairs-one where you sit almost on your knees and one where you sit, but both use poles to move yourself along (I didn’t get anywhere). It was a lot of fun to try!
We finished off our last morning by checking out the Songhua River one more time. It was really early when we went down, so it was nice a quiet. We ended up going on a dog sled ride.
We bartered a little for the price of the ride and got to ride the Husky that was super excited to start working for the day. He (along with help from his person) took us on a nice, short loop along the river. Then, I got to give him a great big pant to say thanks! Such a happy pup!
After that, we walked back along Central Street to view the sculptures some more and do some shopping! The sculptures were just amazing!
Being that we were close to Russia, we picked up a nesting doll and a nutcracker. I also found some good deals on scarves (I have so many in my collection now!).
We were lucky that we had good air days when we visited as pollution is still an issue there. We were also lucky that it wasn’t as cold as normal (only -15 degrees Fahrenheit as oppposed to -30 degrees). I felt completely warm and comfortable in my three layers of pants with snow pants on top and my 5 layers of tops with a long, heavy coat along on top along with my Sorel boots, my hat, neck-warmer, and scarf.
If you go…
- Dress warmly and in layers. I always wore my snow pants no matter what.
If you want a fun, furry hat, you can just buy it there (they’re everywhere for maybe 50-80 kuai).
- Have heat warmers and toe warmers. I didn’t need them but others used them. These can also be purchased there.
- Drink water. I got so thirsty but was glad to have my water with me. It was great carrying it around because it became nice and cold and refreshing (rather than the hot water that is served with meals).
- Have cash with you to do the activities and have some snacks!
- Keep your phone and camera close to your body for warmth. Don’t keep it out too long or the battery may die (or the screen may crack!). A hand warmer may help.
- Have cash with you to do the activities and have some snacks! Don’t forget to try the ice cream!
TOTE: Try something new—like hold a snow fox if you get a chance!