Peak season in Harbin is most definitely the summer months of May to September, and flights are more expensive during this time. Many Chinese escape from cities like Beijing to enjoy cooler conditions close to the Russian border, and local school holidays add to the number of visitors. Average temperatures in the hottest month of July are around 28 C and showers are likely as this is also the wettest time of year.
The winter months of December to February can be bitterly cold with temperatures dropping to -12 C in January. Despite the low temperatures, snow is minimal but air quality can suffer as a result of coal burning heating systems. The city’s most famous event, the Harbin Ice Festival runs from December to the end of February and attracts thousands of visitors so flights should be booked in advance.
Low season is from March to April and it is cool and windy in the city. You’re most likely to find cheap flights at this time of year or from October to November.
Located close to the Russian border, Harbin is known for its Russian style architecture and many visitors enjoy seeing historic buildings like St. Sophia Cathedral, one of the few orthodox churches that still remain in the city. Today it is home to the Museum of Architecture, allowing you to get a real feel for the design and history of this unique city.
Zhongyang Dajie is an essential stop for visitors and this beautiful cobblestone street boasts all types of architecture including Russian, Chinese, Byzantine and European as well as an impressive selection of shops and stores. The Songhua River runs through the city and has caused floods on several occasions, so be sure to take time to see the Flood Control Monument at the end of Zhongyang Dajie closest to the river.
Join friendly locals on a riverside walk in beautiful Stalin Park, or sit and have a drink at one of the many outdoor cafes that people flock to during warmer periods of the year. Zhaolin Park is also by the river, and it is a pleasant place for a stroll in summer but in winter it really becomes the highlight of the city. The Harbin Ice Festival is the event of the year, and exceptional ice sculpture fills the park.
Take a gondola ride over the Songhua River during the peak season months or visit for the city’s Beer Festival in August. As well as ice skating and ice sculpture in winter, the city is a great base for winter sports fans who want to ski or snowboard at nearby resorts like Erlongshan. Be sure to take more clothing than you think you will need, and gloves, hats and thick soled boots are essential for the extreme cold of Harbin winters.
Taxi is the easiest way for overseas visitors to get around Harbin, but always ask drivers to switch on the meter or agree firmly to a fare before leaving. While you are unlikely to have any problems, a few drivers may try to charge more when they see that you are a tourist. Take a card with your destination written on it in Mandarin, as many drivers will simply be unable to understand you. There is an extensive bus service and if you are going to be in the city for a while it is worth getting to know the basic routes.
Harbin Taiping International Airport (HRB) is about 23 miles (37 km) from the centre of the city and is in the middle of a huge soybean field. Despite its rural location it is fairly easy to get from the airport to the city and taxis are available from outside the terminal. Try to take a certified taxi and agree on the fare first as many drivers will try to add a toll for the use of the roads – or if possible ask them to use the meter. There is also a regular bus service which goes to the centre of the city and to the railway station.