Over this winter, like many other NYU Shanghai students, I traveled with my friends to the northernmost province of China to visit Harbin, known as the City of Ice. Harbin is situated in Heilongjiang province, which borders Russia. It is famous for its frozen river splitting the city into two sides that you can not only walk across, but is so thick that people drive minivans on the ice. This is, like my mom said, a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but I have actually been there three times so here are my Top 5 activities in Harbin!

  1. Ice World

This is what everyone comes here for — the Ice World. There is a reason this is the place to go, as the giant ice sculptures are a really magical sight to see. They are completely made of ice, with no other supports. With tens of feet of hight surrouded in spectacular lights, they come in all different designs: from a replica of The Forbidden City to churches and a giant ice slide (which in my opinion goes WAY too fast). The designs change every year so I am excited to see what isin store next season! This attraction is best seen right as the sun is setting (around 4 p.m.) and a little into the night so you can see the colorful lights. Tickets are expensive at 300RMB each but with a student booklet you can get them half off at 150RMB a person.

  1. Snow Sculpture park

Giant, chainsaw carven snow sculptures line the streets of the park on sun island in Harbin. These are so massive that you cannot believe it until you see them. Although not lit up like the Ice world, they are still a must-do in Harbin. Take a peaceful stroll through the galloping horses, play soccer with a snowball on the world cup field, and admire Russian architecture. Designed by different artists, each sculpture is unique with its own style. Apart from the giant ones, there are also a lot of smaller ones that dot the park. Tickets are 150 RMB or 75 RMB with a student booklet.

  1. River Activities

Remember how I said you could drive a minivan on the river if it was so frozen? Well, another main attraction are the activities you can do on the river. They have the basics such as ice skating, hockey, etc. but they also have some unique ones. You can get in a tube that is pulled and swung around by an ATV. One great way to get from the snow sculpture park to the ice festival is takin the gondola one way over the river letting the ATV each to drag you back. You can also pay to drive the ATV or the go-kart-like buggies they have. They also have dog sledding and a few other activities on the river. At least take a walk across the river to experience standing on a giant frozen body of water that is larger than the Huangpu River.

  1. Siberian Tiger Park
  2. wendy Wei tours

This one is debatable. The largest tiger sanctuary in the world is located in Harbin, with over 800 Siberian tigers and covering over 1.4 million square meters (355 acres). While the first link you look up talks about the negatives, I think it is a great place to see tigers up close, certainly better than any zoo in the world. Most of the time the tigers get free reign on large open fields and seem happy to lounge around before coming to the bus you in to get food from the tourists. Sometimes they are in smaller cages butmost of the time they are allowed to roam free. One part I specifically did not like was the other tourists taunting the tigers with the food. In my opinion, while I think it is okay to feed them, they should not tease the tigers. You can also see other large cats like lions and leopards. The breeding program in the Harbin sanctuary has been very successful and it would not have been possible without the tourist attraction money, which is another reason I feel comfortable supporting the park. While it is not for the faint of heart with tigers being inches from your face, I think it is awesome to see.

  1. Old Russian Street & Saint Sophia’s Church

The old Russian street (which is also the area you should stay in) is a great place to experience the Russian history of Harbin. With old Russian architecture, shops, and food, you can see how close it was to Russia at a certain time. Make sure to snack on some ice cream and to get some of the Russian sweet bread. You can also pick up some hand-painted Russian nesting dolls, which can make a good gift. St. Sophia’s church has some of the most stunning Russian architecture I have ever seen and you can view beautiful paintings and listen to the piano inside. You can also try to read about the history of Harbin in Chinese to challenge yourself, then switch to English if it is too hard.