Harbin Ice and Snow Festival 101: Weekend Guide

By Isaac Roosa

Is a winter trip to Harbin worth it for just the weekend? If you live in Eastern China, the answer is “Yes!” Not only is it possible, but we wholeheartedly recommend it!

You may have been searching around trying to figure out how to “Do Harbin in one Weekend” but have been getting some conflicting information. I know we were… Well, look no further! It took us quite a bit of searching around various forums, YouTube channels and Tripadvisor reviews to finally form a perfect itinerary for a winter weekend in Harbin. You can fly out after work on Friday and be home in time to get some sleep before returning to work on Monday!

If you’re just here for the basic info on the top sights in Harbin, scroll to the end. For a detailed itinerary read on! You’ll also find some tips on flights, accommodation, transport, food and weather. Here we go!

Friday – Arrival

This day is just for arrival and settling in. After heading out of the airport, you’ll get your first of many hefty slaps in the face by Jack Frost. Don’t worry though, because that long line of cars you see are all warm taxis and Didis. Don’t pay more than 200 RMB to get to the city center. We’ll cover transport and accommodation later in this article.

Anyway, unless you got off work super early and somehow arrived before midnight, you probably won’t have time to go out after arriving. We wouldn’t recommend staying out late anyway, because you’re in for a couple of long and chilly days!

Saturday – Sun Island + Ice and Snow World

On Saturday you’ll tackle the first two items on the list. Feel free to sleep in a bit and grab some breakfast nearby. You’re not in too much of a hurry because the main event of the day is in the evening. We arrived late, so we slept until about 9:00, suited up, and were out the door by 10:00.

Your first stop is the Sun Island International Snow Sculpture Expo. It’s best to visit here during the day because at night the lighting isn’t so good, and of course because you want to spend your only night at Ice and Snow World. So, hop in a taxi or Didi and tell them to take you to Sun Island. You can show them the Chinese name and the picture at the end of this article.

We had them take us to Entrance #1. Follow the obvious mobs of people heading to the ticket booth and pay for your ticket. After entering, you’ll be herded by several guides into golfcart-like buses. It’ll take you about 1km to the main attraction of the park… Don’t be sad that you’re passing some statues and pretty scenery; you’re not missing a lot because the bulk of the things to see are at the end of the line. You can always return later if you have time – the park isn’t huge.

Spend a good hour or two walking around photographing the various sculptures and statues. While marveling at the artistic craftsmanship, remind yourself that Harbin does get very warm in the summer, and 100% of these sculptures are doomed to melt! This makes it all the more special to see. I’m intentionally not posting many photos, because you shouldn’t be spoiled!

There’s a café or two by the lake so if you get too cold go and grab some coffee (26 RMB) inside. There are also plenty of outlets to charge your batteries which you are no doubt noticing have lost half their charge already due to the frigid cold.

Head back out and make sure you’ve done a good circuit of all there is to see. When we were there, there was even a place to inner-tube down an icy hill at terrifying speeds – for free! Try it if you dare!

By 14:00 you should be finishing up this leg of the trip. Make your way back to where the bus let you off and head directly in the opposite direction from the entrance to the area, towards the cable cars. We managed to find it with a combination of Google Translate and miming, so I’m sure you’ll be fine!

The Cable Car costs 50 RMB one-way or 80 RMB round-trip. It takes you across the frozen Songhua River to the center of town. It’s up to you if you want to spend the extra 30 RMB to go both ways, but we just grabbed a 40 RMB Didi right to the Ice and Snow World when we got to the other side… After stopping at a shop for some well-deserved Russian vodka, that is!

Again, you can use the Chinese name and picture at the bottom of the page to show the taxi driver that you want to go to Ice and Snow World. Believe me, they’ll know where you want to go!

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the main attraction! Hopefully you’ve managed to make it by 15:00 or so because the sun will set by 17:30 and trust me, you’ll want to see this place both at day and at night.

Don’t head directly for the sign marked “Entrance”. Go to the indoor ticket hall first, pay the ridiculous but worth it entrance fee, fill up on some free hot water, and head to the entrance.

Here I’ll leave you to your own devices. Every year is vastly different so chances are the sculptures and structures are not the same as when we went in 2018. All I can advise is to try to do a quick circuit while the sun is going down, find some high ground to watch the sunset and turn the ice a gorgeous silvery color, and then be dazzled as lights go on everywhere, giving you a visual feast beyond your wildest imagination.

By 22:00 or even before, you’ve probably been inside and out several times, eaten some greasy KFC or dumplings, lost all feeling in your fingers and toes, and have been sufficiently wow’d by this marvel of man’s artistic manipulation of nature. It’s time to get back into a cosy bed! Take your last few snapshots and head out the main gate where taxis are waiting. We took a Didi around 22:30 and were in bed by 23:00.

Sunday – Zhongyang Street + St. Sophia’s Cathral

Good morning! Again, unless you have a pretty early flight you won’t be in any hurry. Our flight was at 19:55, so we could take our time. Adjust your schedule accordingly and head out a good 4-5 hours before you need to be at the airport. You’ll probably have to check out of your accommodation, but ask the reception, or the AirBnB host, if you can leave some luggage. Our host let us leave our things until 5!

This time you’ll have your taxi or Didi take you to Zhongyang Street. Again, show them the info at the bottom of the page and you’ll be good.

They’ll drop you off at the North end of this old street, and if you have a bit of extra time, head north a bit to Stalin Park before heading south down the historic street. You can once again gaze out at the frozen Songhua River, and if you’re feeling up to it you can skate, sled, slide, or eve drive a car out onto the river! We didn’t have time for those kinds of things so we grabbed a few snapshots and headed down Zhongyang Street. Along the way, you might see the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac all made of ice!

Zhongyang Street is basically a shopping street, but even if shopping isn’t your thing it’s a lot of fun. You’ll pass various shops selling Russian goods, a few Russian restaurants, interesting architecture, and of course, countless advertisements made of ice sculptures! Including lunch at one of the many pubs and restaurants, expect to spend about two hours on Zhonyang.

The streets are numbered on a grid, just like New York, and your next destination is on W 14th Street. Take a left onto this street and keep going until you see St. Sophia’s Cathedral. No need for more of a description because the massive Neo-Byzantine dome of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral will be a dead giveaway after 500 meters.

Spend a nominal 15 RMB on a ticket inside and pop in for an interesting experience. Having lived in Europe for quite some time, it was a bit odd for us to see how this church had been first closed down and then converted into a museum. The altar and pews are gone, and in their place are historic artifacts and photos. Not much information is in English, but it’s worth a quick look, especially for the cheap price.

Grab a few more photos from the back side of the Church, then get into one of the many taxis waiting behind it.

We had enough time to spare to also head to Zhaolin Park, but we decided against it. We felt like we had already been sufficiently satisfied with our experience of Harbin. Also, we read that it was best viewed at night, and that wasn’t an option for us. We’re not at all saying it’s not worth the trip, because we simply don’t know. Go for it if you have the time and energy! Take a look hereto help make your decision, or just play it by ear.

What we can say is not worth it during the day is the ice bar at the Shangri-La hotel. We wasted a bit of time going there and found that 1) it wasn’t open for business and 2) it’s more of a restaurant than a bar. It was kind of cool, but not worth the time. If you have an extra day and 300+ RMB to spend on dinner per person, go for it.

Head back to your hotel, hostel or BnB, grab your stuff, and head back to the airport! From the city, it should be around 180 RMB to get to the airport. Again, don’t pay more than 200. If you don’t use Didi, take a metered taxi to avoid any scams.

On the plane, browse through your photos, relish in this thrilling experience, post a few snapshots to social media to make your friends jealous, and take a well-deserved nap on the flight home. Go to sleep that night with visions of brilliantly-lit ice dragons swarming in your mind!

Logistical Notes:


Our go-to website for flights literally anywhere is Skyscanner. You can read more about it here. With the help of this website, you can book a flight from Shanghai to Harbin only a few weeks in advance for around $450 per person. We went with China Eastern Airlines to get there, and Spring Airlines to get back to Shanghai (PVG). With a little luck and flexibility, you should be able to get a similar price.


When it comes to budget travelling in comfort, you can’t beat AirBnB. We found a place just a 10 minute drive to most of the main attractions for $84 for the whole weekend, for three people. If you break it down, that’s $14 per person per night. There are hostels for cheaper than that, but this place has had private bedrooms with huge beds and was very quiet. It’s a matter of preference, but we usually go with AirBnB. The host didn’t even speak English, but we got their WeChat info and used that to communicate the whole time and had zero problems even though we arrived at 1:00 in the morning! Here’s a link to the place we stayed.

Verdict: If AirBnB isn’t your thing and you don’t mind spending extra, there are plenty of nice hotels in the area. Check out Booking.com or CTrip. If you want even cheaper than AirBnB and don’t mind sleeping in a dorm-style room, you can find beds for as little as $7 each on Hostelworld.


Like with accommodation, this is down to comfort to cost ratio. For transport in general, you’re looking at three possibilities:

  1. Public bus – Cheapest, but slow, and very difficult to navigate if you can’t read Chinese.
  2. Taxi – Trustworthy, no risk of a scam, don’t need to speak Chinese, but a bit more expensive than Didi. Just show the driver the name of the place in Chinese, at the end of this article. Make sure they turn on the meter! If you do speak a bit of Chinese, you can negotiate with most drivers and even hire them for the entire day as a private driver!
  3. Didi – Similar to Uber. This is our preferred method. It’s super cheap and you know how much you’re going to pay before you even order the taxi. We probably took a dozen Didi rides on our trip and never waited longer than five minutes or paid more than 50 RMB, aside from the airport ride (180 RMB). Even if you don’t speak Chinese, you can open this article on your phone, copy the place name where you want to go, and select the first option on the list. From there, it’s pretty self-explanatory. The driver will no doubt try to call you, but if you don’t speak Chinese just ignore it and wait. Be sure you’re in an easy place for the driver to spot you, and be on the lookout for your car. Note: You need a Chinese bank account and a Chinese SIM card for this app to work properly.

Verdict: If you have experience with Didi, or are a bit adventurous, go with that. If not, a taxi isn’t too much more expensive. Don’t do the bus, because it’s not worth the hassle.


This was actually challenging for us because we are vegetarian. We ended up eating a lot of fast food French fries, plain rice, and boiled vegetables. If you’re a carnivore though, you’ll find eats everywhere, from street food to fine dining. Search around here if you’re a foodie!


Harbin is COLD! The weekend we went, temperatures approached -30°C (-22°F). At this temperature, you can lose feeling in your hand just by taking a gloveless selfie. Come over- prepared, because you can’t be too careful. Wear thick boots with several pairs of socks, at least three layers on your legs, another four on your upper body, a good pair of cloves, a warm hat, a scarf, and even a head/neck warmer if you have one. I even wore a face mask, so the only part of me that was visible were my eyes. You might look like an arctic ninja, but you’ll be glad you thought ahead! We also brought a lot of disposable heat packs to stick on our backs, in boots, gloves, underwear, you name it. Don’t underestimate the cold!

Details about each site (With original photos)

#1 – Ice and Snow World

Chinese Name: 哈尔滨冰雪大世界
Address: No street address. Just show your driver the Chinese name and/or the picture.
Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/ycj9gd6c
Price: 330 RMB for adults, 200 for kids. Free for kids under 120cm
Opening Time: 11:00-22:00
More info here.

#2 – Sun Island International Snow Sculpture Expo

Chinese Name: 太阳岛国际雪雕艺术博览会
Address: Same – No street address, just show the photo or name to the driver.
Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/y6wqlcmw
Price: 330 RMB for adults, 200 for kids.
Opening Time: 8:30-18:30
More info here, but the pricing is outdated.

#3 –Zhongyang Street (Central Street)

Chinese Name: 中央大街
Address: Zhongyang Dajie, Harbin. Get dropped off near Stalin Park (斯大林公园)
Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/y89n7l3g
Price: Free! Only what you want to buy
Opening Time: 24/7
More info here.

#4 – St. Sophia’s Cathedral

Chinese Name: 圣·索菲亚教堂
Address: 88 Toulong St, Daoli Qu, Harbin
Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/y8ldd6qw
Price: 15 RMB
Opening Time: 8:30-17:00
More info here.

#5 – Zhaolin Park Ice Lantern Show

Chinese Name: 兆麟公园
Address: Daoli, Harbin
Google Maps: https://tinyurl.com/y7czog55
Price: 150 RMB for adults, free for kids under 120cm
Opening Time: 10:00-21:00
More info here.

Still not convinced? Check out some of TheTravelBugBite’s videos of our 2018 Harbin experience!

Tips? Questions? Comments? Feel free to leave them below. Whether you have you own experience to share or if you’re still unsure about your trip and need some help, please share!


Electronics Market in Huaqiao

The famous Huaqiao electronics market is located just a few minutes walk from Zhaofeng Road metro station (line 11). You don’t even have to be a tech nerd to appreciate the hundreds of stalls selling everything from phones, laptops, cameras and all the individual bits and pieces required to build it all yourself.

Flashing neon signs and the typical chatter of bartering customers give the market a lively atmosphere. It’s a fun place to visit even if you’re just passing through, but it’s a great place to buy a phone or get your laptop fixed. Prices are low and the service is great. Unfortunately, no one at the market specializes in cleaning Mongolian sand out of my DSLR Nikon camera.

You can get to the electronics market by taking a bus: 100, 101 and 228 all go from the emart stop to the Zhaofeng transportation hub. You can also just take the metro a few stops. From there, you need to walk past KFC about two blocks until you get to a large building filled with all the electronic goodies that you can possibly imagine.

Wuxi’s Taoist Temple (Photos)

Wuxi is a great place to visit and explore. On a recent trip to the Cherry Blossom Festival at the scenic Turtle Head Island, we discovered a beautiful Taoist temple! We discovered quite late that we weren’t allowed to take photos inside… but hopefully the Tao gods will forgive us!



Kubuqi Desert Adventures, Inner Mongolia (Photos)

On our weekend trip to Inner Mongolia we got to explore the Kubuqi desert! We actually thought we were going to see the Gobi, but apparently that’s only in Mongolia (Outer Mongolia). Whoops! Despite the mix-up, a desert is a desert and this one was gorgeous! We took the tour with Anda Tours: http://andaguesthouse.com/


Where to Ride a Camel in China?

Camels are fascinating creatures that can live off grass, survive extreme temperatures and they are absolutely adorable. They seem to be quite popular in China since you can ride them at most large zoos and even in the most unexpected places!

We once saw a camel dressed up all fancy right outside of our local supermarket. Have I mentioned that we live outside of Shanghai in a tiny economic development zone? Basically, it’s the last place you’d expect to find a camel and it is certainly not an ideal spot to ride one.

While the camels at Shanghai Wildlife Park are cute and cheap to ride, for a more authentic experience you should head over to Inner Mongolia. It’s a fascinating place to explore the grasslands, visit the desert, sleep in a yurt and drink horse milk, just to mention the most popular activities.

A lot of the tours from Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia, are ridiculously expensive and not worth it considering the time it takes to get to the desert from the city. This is why we went with Anda Tours, organized by Anda guesthouse a.k.a. the best (and only) hostel in Hohhot. Everyone there is extremely helpful and will make you feel right at home!

The camel riding tour costs 660 RMB for the lunch and transportation +150 RMB for the camel ride 460 RMB (+150 RMB) each. The tour does involve a lot of driving, but it’s 100% worth seeing the vast desert and experiencing activities like strenuous sand-sledding. If camel riding is not your thing (in which case I’m surprised you’re even reading this), there are plenty of other exciting tours.

The camel riding time varies depending on the season from 15 minutes during scorching summer to an entire hour during the freezing winter. We went in early April and had perfect weather for our 20 minute ride.

Our large group had to be split in half since there were only seven camels. After the ride we got to take photos and all of the camels were extremely photogenic and friendly! I stuck my face about a centimeter from the camels nose and he didn’t even try to spit on me – which happened to me in Egypt…

Anyway, our trip with Anda Tours was a wonderful and unforgettable experience that we would definitely recommend! Everything was amazing, from the filling lunch to riding in the back of a bouncy desert car to get to the camels. In between camel cuddling (riding) and sand sledding, we got to meet some friendly locals that shared their roasted ram with us and gave us free beer!

For more information, visit Anda’s website: http://andaguesthouse.com/


Wuxi Cherry Blossom Festival: Where People Outnumber Flowers

The Chinese Cherry Blossom Festival features Japanese Sakura and hordes or people!

The annual Cherry Blossom Festival in Wuxi takes place from March 20th until April 20th and welcomes visitors from all over the country. The stars of the show are the 30,000+ cherry trees, some of which were gifts from Japan. The location where the festival is held, known as the Turtle Head Isle Scenic Spot, happens to be an exciting place to visit year-round but it truly comes alive in spring.

We chose to visit at the very beginning of the festival on March 25th. The trip was preceded by a week of intense rainfall so I expected a blooming wonderland and was disappointed to only find a small percentage of flowering trees. The park was full of trees right on the verge of blooming. Their near-bursting buds were almost torturous to look at. We were tempted to spend the night and visit the following day but the crazy crowds ended up changing our minds.

Even though we arrived about an hour after the park opened, it was packed. If you’ve been to China before then I don’t need to tell you about the horrors of crowded Chinese tourist sites. People push, spit and take photos non-stop of literally everything. I had to wait for ages just to take a selfie in front of a blooming tree. I was there less than a minute before a rude man had the audacity to tell me to move!

It got worse on the boat… we had to wait in line to get on the boat, then were shoved and crowded on the boat and I won’t even mention the line coming back from the island. Other than that, the boat-ride was great and free! What we originally thought was an overpriced entry ticket turned out to be completely worth it.

For 150 RMB (about $20) we got entry to the park filled with temples, beautiful scenic spots and a round-trip boat to an island on one of China’s largest lakes. If I hadn’t looked at a map before the trip, I would have assumed that we were on a calm ocean. The water was clear and stretched as far as the eye could see.

Before coming to the Turtle Head Isle, we read up on the place on Trip Advisor. One of the comments mentioned that the place was “a little fake”. On a previous trip to Wuxi we had visited a large film set park, so we knew all about fake Chinese structures. That’s why I can guarantee you that this park’s monuments, temples and beautiful bridges are far from fake. They just weren’t built thousands of years ago, since the park is just 30 years old. “Look at how fake that is” became a running joke.

Maybe the visitors who left that comment didn’t visit the colorful Taoist temple where visitors prayed, monks preformed their duties and guards tutted at us as we tried to sneak photos of the largest wooden statue I have ever seen! Just outside the temple was a typical Buddhist candle-burning station that transported us back to Mount Takao in Japan. It was vibrant and breathtaking and like totally not fake. *smirk*

As the title of this post indicated, the con of the day was the masses of people who kept stepping on me or sticking their phones in my face to take photos. But the pro was definitely the food. Another Trip Advisor reviewer that we ended up mocking on the trip mentioned lack of food in the area. They must have visited during off-season because I have never seen a wider selection of Chinese food, with the exception of Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter.

Vendors selling at least ten different traditional street foods can be found approximately every 500 meters. There is a huge vendor area right near the entrance to the park where they sell literally every type of Chinese street food that you can imagine. Tofu (stinky and regular), roast lamb, sushi, dumplings, hot pot, chicken feet, fried rice – you name it, they had it. All of the prices are mostly around 15 RMB ($2) which is only slightly inflated and completely reasonable for the quality.

There were vendors all over the park, but we were the most impressed with the “food court” on the island. We found the spot by following what sounded like the grunts of men in combat. They turned out to be two guys beating nuts with large wooden hammers to make a delicious crunchy dessert. It was the perfect advertisement that we couldn’t resist. Needless to say, the box we bought to take home never made it off the train.

All in all, it was a fun day: as beautiful and delicious as it was crowded! If I could get a do-over, I’d visit a week or two later when everything is in full bloom. Wuxi is just a short train ride from Shanghai and worth a visit if you have the time to explore. It also happens to be really close to Suzhou’s famous ancient water town, but try not to mention Suzhou while you’re in Wuxi or vice versa – they is some rivalry there. It’s no wonder since both are perfect for a day trip and definitely worth a visit!

Great Food and Colorful Lights: Muslim Quarter in Xi’an

The Muslim Quarter in Xi’an is delicious, full of character and an exciting mix of cultures!

Xi’an is known for the world-famous Tarracotta Army that was built over 2,000 years ago but only discovered in 1974. It only takes a few hours to visit the army, which is located about 50 kilometers from the city center. Luckily, there is so much more to see here!

As Going Awesome Places mentions in their blog post about Xi’an: “Go to Shanghai and you will find a 100-year-old China; go to Beijing and you will find a 1000-year-old China; go to Xi’an and then you will find a 3000-year-old China.”

If you only have one weekend to see what Xi’an has to offer, I recommend visiting the City Wall (skip the boat tour, it’s not worth it), the Big Goose Pagoda for the fountain light show and the Muslim Quarter. Although I am still quite confused about the history and social factors of the large Muslim populations living in China, I have a lot of experience sampling their delicious food. It may be available all over the country but it is by far the best and most diverse in Xi’an!

The Muslim Quarter is a vibrant maze of streets full of multi-cultural vendors selling fragrant foods and the cheapest souvenirs in Xi’an. The area is quite large and always busy with tourists from all over the world as well as locals coming to grab lunch. Make sure to come on an empty stomach because there is SO much food to sample.

We happened to visit the Muslim Quarter on a random rainy Saturday with bad moods and low expectations. This quickly changed. As soon as we turned the corner of a quiet street with just three friendly vendors we were assaulted by lights, smells and dangerously driving e-bikes! There were hundreds of vendors selling everything from nutty desserts and pomegranate juice to quail eggs on a stick and large bamboo skewers of smoked lamb.

After trying sweet sticky rice and splitting a bowl of famous hand-made noodles (to save room for more food) we explored the area. Walking past Chinese-style neon signs with Arabic characters and people dressed in colorful shawls and hats, we were almost overwhelmed with the bustling atmosphere and mix of cultures.

The streets were all lined with vendors ranging from young tan men wearing typical Turkish-Islamic hats to older Chinese-looking women in brightly colored headscarves. What really made the place stand out was the attitude of the vendors who weren’t fazed by the bad weather. Everyone was smiling, yelling greetings at passersby and inviting us to film their goods without expectation of purchase.

Since I have never had the opportunity to visit the Middle East (with exception of a family trip to Egypt when I was 8), I can’t make comparisons between the Muslim Quarter and authentic Arab markets. It was definitely different than any Chinese or European market than I have ever been to. Even though it was too crowded and rushing e-bike drivers kept trying to run me over, I highly recommend everyone visiting Xi’an to come explore the area.

The Muslim Quarter has so much character and it was definitely one of the most exciting places I have ever visited in China. Sadly we only saw it during the day and it’s supposed to be even more amazing at night. Come see it for yourself because my photos don’t do it justice. Video coming soon!

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