Winter in the North: Harbin Ice Lanterns and Skiing

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4 Days

Nestled in China’s chilliest, most northeastern province of Heilongjiang, Harbin, the provincial capital, is a multicultural hub, boasting a unique confluence of Chinese and Eastern European cultures.

About this Journey

When wandering past the emerald domes of the Church of St. Sophia and along Harbin’s main thoroughfare, one would be forgiven for thinking they’ve been miraculously transported to the streets of Saint Petersburg. 

When it was founded in 1898, Harbin’s population primarily consisted of Russian and Jewish immigrants. Although the European citizenry diminished through the years, the remnants of the city’s international past live on in its architecture and folklore.

What we love
  • Meeting a real ice-sculptor extraordinaire, Mr. Chankun Li, for a look behind the curtain of the world-famous Harbin Ice and Snow Festival
  • Getting lost between the gargantuan snow sculptures at the International Snow Sculpture Art Expo
  • Skiing down the ribboned slopes of Helongjiang's Yabuli Ski Area
Harbin map

Day 1Arrive in Harbin

Step off the plane in Harbin and meet your local WildChina guide in the airport arrivals hall. They’ll be waiting to welcome you and will have your driver on standby, ready to whisk you off to your hotel for check in.

Welcome Dinner at Café Russia 1914

The antique styling of this quaint bistro in the heart of Harbin’s pedestrianized shopping district is a portal into the city’s Russian past. Founded by Harbin Russians at a time when the city was an administrative post for the Russian-financed China Eastern Railway, the café remains a family business to this day, run by the descendants of the original restaurateurs. Pull up a chair and hunker down for a warming plate of bread and borscht, the perfect complement to a frigid Harbin winter’s day.

An Evening to Yourself

Spend the remainder of your final evening as you please.

Meals included: dinner

Day 2Harbin

Church of St. Sophia

Towering over the sprawling Chinese metropolis, the verdigris domes of the Church of St. Sophia are a sight for sore eyes. Constructed in 1907 to serve Harbin’s booming Russian population, this once-functioning Russian Orthodox Church – the largest in the Far East – was almost lost to development. Fortunately, charitable donations during the 1990s helped to transform the cathedral-turned-warehouse into a museum. As you walk beneath its timeworn arches, peruse the collection of images and artifacts depicting the lives of foreigners in old Harbin, including its vivacious Russian and Jewish communities.

Central Street

Alive with Russian heirloom shops, locals going about their daily life, and a fascinating blend of architectural styles, Central Street (or Zhongyang Dajie) is the main boulevard through Harbin’s historic quarter. Once called Kitayskaya Street, meaning Chinese in Russian, this pedestrian-only thoroughfare is lined with churches, synagogues, and Baroque and Art Deco buildings, some newly renovated and some worn by time. As you wander the cobbles listening to tales of the city’s rich history, you can almost picture the locals from Harbin’s founding, bedecked in fur and walking the age-old streets with Jewish pastries in hand.

Lao DaoWai

East meets west and old and new collide on Lao DaoWai. Wander past the remnants of Harbin’s Russian heritage and tuck into a local snack as you walk along this old street. Some grand, some dilapidated with time, and many of them centuries old, the historic district’s timeworn Baroque buildings (with nods to Chinese design) will leave you feeling like you’re in Europe instead of China.

Ice and Snow World

When winter comes to China’s icy north, the city of Harbin transforms into a veritable winter wonderland. After all, Harbin doesn’t have the nickname ‘Ice City’ for nothing. With ice hauled from the frozen river by over 10,000 workers, a monumental city is constructed – complete with glacial castles stretching to 35m tall and thrilling slides – and lit up like the world’s coldest disco when the sun sets. So, don your warmest clothes and get ready for a whole host of wintry fun.

One-on-one with a Harbin Ice Sculptor

Get acquainted with ice-sculptor extraordinaire Mr Chankun Li for a look behind the curtain of the world-famous festival of all things frost: the phantasmagorical Harbin Ice and Snow World. Mr Li has been honing his craft, creating fanciful sculptures from ice, for 30 years, and delights in explaining precisely what goes into this unusual art form, where masterpieces are doomed to eventually melt away. Like many fellow Harbinites, Mr Li only speaks Chinese, but a guide will be on hand to translate throughout the 30-minute meeting.

An Evening to Yourself

Head back into town, rest up, and spend the remainder of your evening as you please.

Meals included: breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Day 3Harbin - Yabuli

International Snow Sculpture Art Expo

Setting foot in Sun Island’s International Snow Sculpture Art Expo is like stepping through the wardrobe and into the snow-covered fairyland of Narnia. Here, artists from around the world craft gargantuan sculptures out of tightly packed powder. Marvel at the sculptors creating their frozen masterpieces and get enough snowman-making inspiration to last a lifetime as you wander the frosted snowscape.

Next stop: Yabuli

Magnificent Yabuli is the first, largest and best ski resort in China, and the home to the country’s Alpine, Nordic, and Freestyle olympic teams. Riding any of the nine lifts is an unforgettable experience of its own; a front row seat to a spectacular alpine landscape seldom associated with China. The season here runs from mid-November through to the end of March, with 17 slopes offering ample opportunity to skiers of all levels.

Sunset at Hufengling

Bear witness to the setting sun from the forested rise of Hufengling, whose snow-laden birch trees suggest more Narnia than northeast China. The mountain ridges beyond provide the perfect stage for this solar play, rich oranges and reds enhanced by the haze of the crisp winter air. At this time of year, the sun sets early – around 4:30pm – leaving plenty of time to head back down for a restorative, warming meal.

Meals included: breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Day 4Yabuli - Harbin departure


Skiing at Yabuli (half-day)

Take to the slopes of China’s premier ski resort with a half day among the alpine wonderland of powder and pines that is Yabuli. Numerous, graded routes cater for every skill and confidence level, with a five-kilometer Nordic trail for those seeking a lower octane excursion. Multiple ski lifts ensure there are seldom long queues onto the mountain, enhancing what is already an exquisite winter sports experience.

Your Flight Back Home

After a farewell lunch, your WildChina guide will escort you to the Harbin airport and help you check in for your flight home.

Meals included: breakfast and lunch


Hampton by Hilton Harbin Zhongyang Street
4 stars

Opened in 2020, the Hampton by Hilton Harbin Zhongyang Street is stylish comfort in the heart of the northeast’s most famous city. Gliding through the elegant colonnaded atrium sets the tone for the sleek, up-to-date rooms to come, which have excellent views across Harbin’s historic cityscape. 

Yabu Loni Hotel Yabuli
Deluxe Ski Lodge

Invigorating views and an excellent Chinese restaurant keep guests fully charged for days on the mountain, while billiards, table tennis and arcade machines are available for families to unwind. The hotel package includes unlimited access to the Yabuli ski area as well as gear rental for a seamless transition to the slopes.


Recommended Seasons

What’s Included

  • All accommodations based on double-occupancy including breakfasts, as indicated in the itinerary
  • All meals, as indicated in the itinerary, and drinking water
  • All admission fees and activity expenses, as indicated in the itinerar
  • Ground transportation, including airport transfers
  • Services of an English-speaking WildChina guide

What’s Excluded

  • International and domestic flights, domestic trains, plus relevant taxes
  • Chinese tourist visa, which is required for most foreign passport holders
  • Travel and medical insurance
  • Meals, apart from those included in the itinerary, and alcohol
  • Expenses of a personal nature
  • Excursions and activities not included in the itinerary
  • Discretionary gratuities for guides and drivers
What to expect

Trip Difficulty: Moderate Adventure

Your journey is considered a moderate adventure. Moderate adventure includes full days outside the hotel, with drives up to 3 or 3 ½ hours on mainly well-maintained, paved roads. We may spend up to 4-5 hours walking and hiking.

Your Guides & Expert

Your guide will arrange the logistics of your trip, including meals, hotel reservations, sites, and activities, as well as providing you with information about the local region. You will also be traveling with a WildChina expert, who will serve as an in-depth source of knowledge covering your trip as a whole. Your WildChina guide is specific to each local region, but your WildChina expert will accompany you throughout your journey, escorting you to all locations. Your WildChina guides will be confirmed during booking.

Meals and Water

Meals are included, as listed in your itinerary. We strive to arrange meals that highlight authentic local cuisine in clean, local establishments.

It is safe to drink bottled mineral water, but tap water, even in 5-star hotels, is not safe for drinking. We will provide bottled water, tea, and snacks throughout your journey.

We request guests with severe allergies to consult their physicians prior to traveling and to bring all necessary medicines with them. Inform us ahead of time of specific allergies, such as peanuts or shellfish, or sensitivities to MSG, so that we can do our best to ensure these items are not used in your meals.

Next Steps

How do I secure my spot on this tour?

We will continue to work with you until your trip is perfect.

For international bookings: Once you are ready to book, a USD$500 planning fee, per booking, is required to begin reserving your arrangements. This will go towards your trip costs and will be taken off your final balance amount.

For bookings made in China: Once you are ready to book, a RMB1,000 deposit, per person, is required. This will go towards your trip costs and will be taken off your final balance amount.

What is the payment schedule?

1. Deposit:
A deposit is required to secure your reservation. Once your deposit has been received, we will send your confirmation along with a detailed itinerary and all the information you’ll need to prepare for your journey.

2. Full payment:
Full trip payment should be made 20 days prior to departure. If you’re booking within 20 days of your departure, you may be asked to pay make the full payment straight away.

Payments can be made via credit card, bank transfer, WeChat or Alipay

Is this trip guaranteed to run?

This trip will be scheduled to run once we receive bookings from six (6) passengers. Should the journey be cancelled due to lack of sign-ups or government restrictions, WildChina will fully refund any deposits or fees paid.

Traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic

In order to travel around China at the moment (Summer, 2020) you will need to provide your passport, residency permit and, occasionally, proof of employment in China. Your travel designer will explain the exact requirements for your specific trip.

Different sites and regions of China currently have different health and safety requirements. We will let you know in advance what the restrictions are in your destination. We encourage all of our guests to bring their own face mask and wear it whenever possible. We will also have face masks and hand sanitizers available. A province or city-specific green health code is currently required for domestic travel. Your travel designer will talk you through the details of this process. Please note that certain areas also require clear COVID-19 test results.

What is your cancellation policy during the COVID-19 pandemic?

We’ve updated our booking conditions due to the current situation. See our full cancellation policy for more information.

For more information, see terms and conditions for our small group tours.

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