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Harbin Travel Guide

Harbin Overview

Harbin is the capital of Heilongjiang Province, China. It's a place of many contradictions. Travelers are faced with frequently cold and inhospitable climates, but comforted by a warm and friendly population, increasing huge and stark skyscrapers, but also winding streets of quaint, colonial architecture, and impressive Siberian Tiger conservation policies that are somewhat offset by hunting grounds where a variety of animals are killed for pleasure. These contradictory scenes continue back in time, so that the history of Harbin is one of turbulence and economic prosperity.

Nowadays this old Chinese outpost is a place not overly visited by travelers, despite the popular Ice Lantern Festival and the many other good reasons to visit. Anyone interested in history, Russian or Japanese architecture, skiing, tigers, or traveling on the Trans-Siberian Railway could do a lot worse than Harbin.

Harbin city first came into being with the settlement, in 1097, of the Nazhen nationality. The place then was a natural, and cold, fishing area, situated right on the Songhua River. By the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368AD) the area was renamed Harbin, literally meaning "where the fishing nets are dried".

It was later in the nineteenth century, however, that the city really began to thrive, and when the Russian influence, that was to remain and heavily dominate Harbin's history, began to take a hold. The Russian Tsar and Qing court agreed, in 1896, to the signing of a contract that granted the latter the right to build a railway from Dalian, through Harbin, to Vladivostok. By 1898, the city had become a Russian concession, with its own powerful Tsarist police force, as the Tsar continued to enforce his colonial plans for Manchuria, plans that were strengthened by the completion of the rail link in 1904. The Tsar was finally thwarted by the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) that ended with a shock victory for the belligerent and rapidly militarized Japan. The Japanese took over the railway. The city then swung between these two nations, the Russians returning in force to the city in 1917, mostly White Russians fleeing the newly established Bolshevik state, the Japanese taking control in 1932 as a part of their Manchukuo invasion, and the Soviets retaking the city in 1945 and remaining dominant here for almost ten years.

It was not until after the Cultural Revolution (when factional fighting made it almost impossible for anything to get done) that the city returned to its forte of rapid economic growth.

The city now commemorates both historical trauma, some of the darkest pages of China's history are represented including Japanese atrocities at the Japanese Germ Warfare Experimental Base Museum and the many serious floods at the Flood Control Monument, as well as historical triumph, including the great Russian architecture in the northern Daoli District. For those a little daunted or unimpressed by these, there is skiing, hunting, leisure resorts on Sun Island Park and a Siberian Tiger Park for pleasure.

Harbin Facts
Harbin Geography
Harbin Climate & Weather
Best Time for Harbin Travel

Area Code: 0451

Zip Code: 150000

Area: About 53,800 km²

Population: The population of Harbin is 9,353,200 (2010).

Administrative Division: The sub-provincial city of Harbin has direct jurisdiction over 8 districts, 3 county-level cities and 7 Counties. On August 15, 2006, Dongli District merged with Xiangfang District.

Harbin is located in southern Heilongjiang, on the southeastern edge of the Songnen Plain. The city centre also sits on the southern bank of the middle Songhua River. As the prefecture is rather large, its latitude ranges from 44°04′-46°40′, the longitude 125°42′-130°10. Neighbouring prefectures are Yichun to the north, Jiamusi and Qitaihe to the northeast, Mudanjiang to the southeast, Daqing to the west,and Suihua to the northwest. In the southwest is Jilin Province. The terrain of the city is generally flat, with an average elevation of around 150 meters.

Located in the most north-easterly region of China and influenced by continental climate conditions, Harbin has four distinct seasons with long cold winter and short cool summer. In winter, Harbin weather is extremely cold with the temperature dropping to -14.2 C (6.4 F) on average while it is just 20.8 C (69.4 F) on average in summer. The city can be visited at any time, especially from July to September and from December to January.

With little rainfall, the temperature of Harbin in spring (March-May) is changeable from month to month. Summer from June to August has plenty of rainfall, and as such Harbin is not as hot as the other cities of inland China. The measurable highest temperature is just 22.3C (72F) on average, which occurs in July. So, it is the best time for you to visit here and escape the hot summer. During the transition from Summer to Winter, Autumn (September to October) in Harbin has little rainfall and a fluctuating temperature; it is also windy.  Harbin in Winter (November to February) is the coldest city of China, yet it is also one of the most attractive, and consequently, this is the popular tourist season in Harbin, with ice and snow concentrated from December to January, which is the coldest month of the year, with an average high temperature at -13°C and an average low at -25°C.

Harbin is at the same latitude as Montreal, Canada.

Climate Data Table for Harbin


Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
-13.4 -8.1 1.13 12.6 21.6 26.1 28.3 26.7 20.2 12.7 -0.7 -10.1
-26.0 -21.3 -11.6 -0.62 7.1 14.1 18.2 16.5 8.6 -0.2 -11.5 -20.7
Rainfall (mm) 8.2 5.6 10.2 18.0 40.2 84.6 143.8 121.1 58.6 31.3 10.8 6
Days of rainfall 0.25 0.4 0.7 0.8 1.4 3.9 4.8 3.9 2.1 1.0 0.6 0.2

The best time to visit Harbin is from December to February of the next year, when the weather is freezing cold, and Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival takes place. People come there to enjoy the area’s ice and snow and relative activities, including skiing. The festival usually runs on December 20 every year. On January 5, it's formally open to the public and lasts for about one month.

What to pack

In spring: Prepare the same clothing as in winter because it is still very cold in March, but gets warmer in April and May. Prepare an overcoat, a medium sweater and base shirts for April, and prepare a trench coat and a long-sleeve shirt or T-shirt for May. Wearing layers is practical, as they are easier to take on and off in the changeable weather.

In summer: Prepare summer clothes, such as T-shirts, skirts and light pants.  Add a light cardigan in case you feel chilly in early morning or evening and an umbrella during the rainy season (July and August).

In autumn: In September, prepare long-sleeve T-shirts and long pants for the day and a cardigan/trench coat for early morning and evening. Prepare sweater and overcoat for October and down jackets for November when it may snow.

In winter: It is necessary to wear down jackets, woolen pants, thermal underwear, snow boots, hats, scarves and gloves, everything that can keep you warm. Because the weather is very dry, it is suggested that you wear a mask to protect your nose.  Try to wear a coat loose enough at the chest to cover and protect your camera to prevent condensation problems and preserve battery power by keeping it relatively warm with your body-heat.

Harbin Tours & Tings to Do