- Simplified Chinese: 哈尔滨
- Pinyin: Hā’ěrbīn
Harbin is the largest city, as well as the capital, of Heilongjiang province in Northeast China. Heilongjiang is the country’s most northern province, bordered by Russia and Inner Mongolia.
According to the 2010 census, Harbin as a sub-provincial city has over 10 million inhabitants, making it the eighth most populous Chinese city and most populous city in the Northeast.
Originally a Manchu word that means “a place for drying fish nets,” Harbin has become known as the “Ice City” due to its abundance of winter attractions and events.
It currently serves as a political, economic, scientific, cultural, and communications hub in Northeast China, and also acts as an industrial base for the entire nation.
Due to the city’s location above 45° north latitude, it experiences the coldest weather and longest winter of major Chinese cities. Harbin has four distinct seasons with a long, freezing winter and short, cool summer. January is the coldest with the lowest temperature dropping to -38°C (-36 °F), while it is on average 20°C (68°F) in the summer.
- Railway: Harbin is an important railroad hub for the Northeast of China. The city has five main rail lines running to the following cities: Beijing, Suifenhe, Manzhouli, Beian, and Lalin. Additionally, Harbin has a high-speed train that links it to Dalian, China’s southernmost seaport. Currently, the three main railway stations are Harbin Railway Station, Harbin East Railway Station, and Harbin West Railway Station and Harbin North Railway Station (clearly they have no shortage of trains in this city).
- Air: Harbin Taiping International Airport is the second largest international airport in Northeast China, located about 35 kilometers from the urban center of the city. The airport offers flights to over thirty large cities domestically, as well as international flights to Russia, Singapore, Malaysia, and South Korea.
- Subway: The Harbin Subway began construction in late 2006. Line 1 opened in September of 2013, while lines 2 and 3 are still under construction. Although the metro is not fully developed currently, Harbin plans to have nine subway lines by the year 2025.
- Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival: Held since 1985, this festival has two main exhibition areas – Sun Island and Ice & Snow World. Sun Island houses the enormous snow sculptures, whereas Ice & Snow World features life-size buildings made from blocks of thick, clear ice from the Songhua River, which passes through Harbin. The festival has an official start date of January 5th (even though many sculptures can actually be seen before this day) and concludes at the end of February.
- Siberian Tiger Park: Next to Sun Island, this park houses five hundred endangered, purebred Siberian tigers. Not only are these creatures magnificently beautiful to look at, but this park also allows you to buy poultry or animals to feed them (if you are interested in such an interactive activity).
- Sophia Cathedral: This is the largest Orthodox Church in the East and is a perfect example of Neo-Byzantine architecture. Built in 1907, it was closed during the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution periods. In 1996, it was designated as a national cultural heritage site and turned into a museum in 1997.
- Central Street (Zhōngyāng Dàjiē): This street reflects the Russian influence on Harbin via its Renaissance and baroque architecture. Beyond its historical value, it is the most bustling pedestrian street in Harbin with tons of stores and restaurants.
Locals prefer to eat dishes that are hot and contain dense, strong flavors, using few spices.
- GuōBāoRòu (锅包肉): This sweet and sour, fried pork is probably Harbin’s most famous dish. It consists of large, thinly sliced pieces of pork in potato starch batter that is twice deep-fried until crispy. The dish is then coated in a honey yellow-colored sauce made of honey and ginger flavors.
- Hóngcháng (红肠): Harbin-style smoked savory red sausage is similar to German and Lithuanian sausages and mild Russian sausages. It is unlike any Chinese sausages and has become a distinct and popular product in China’s northern region.
It seems that visiting Harbin during the winter season (from about November to February) is the best in terms of being a tourist, so I would recommend planning your trip around the wintertime activities (and make sure to pack warm clothing).
Cover image: spfaust.wordpress.com