By Chinese standards, Harbin is a relatively small city. That said, it is still almost 20 kilometres from north to south, so being able to get around by public transport is going to be very useful. Because of its size and relatively low population density (compared to Shanghai, for instance) public transport options are somewhat more limited. However, the options that exist are the most affordable way to get between the major sights of the city. Here’s a guide on how to use the system and get the most out of your trip to Harbin.
Harbin has just two underground metro lines currently in operation: Line 1 and Line 3. Line 3 forms a loop connection Yidaeryuan and Chengxianglu, and according to the city’s long term plan, there will eventually be a total of nine lines serving the city. In winter, the hours are rather limited, with the service beginning at 6am and the last train departing at 9pm, though in summer these times are extended by a few hours.
There are currently six ferry lines that form part of Harbin’s public transport network. Four of these take passengers to Sun Island to the north side of the Songhua River. These services operate from Jiu Zhan, Tongjiang Jie, the Flood Control Monument and Dao Wai Qi Dao Jie between 8am and 5pm daily and take about half an hour for the one way trip.
The fares for using Harbin’s public transport are very reasonable. Journeys on the metro cost between ¥2 and ¥4 depending on distance, and every station has manned ticket windows and automatic machines where you can buy single journey tickets or rechargeable travel cards that can be used on both the metro and the ferry services.
Onward travel from Harbin
Harbin is a hub for rail transportation in northeast China and has three main railway stations: City Railway Station, West Railway Station and East Railway Station. City Railway Station is located in downtown Harbin and it is from here that you can get direct daily services to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Changsha, Xian, Chengdu, Wuhan, Shenyang, and Hangzhou. West Railway Station is the terminus of the many high-speed railway services for the northeast of the country, including to Dalian, Jilin and Beijing. East Railway Station is from where services that travel further to the north, with destinations such as Chifeng, Dandong and Heihe on the Russian border depart.
To travel to Russia directly, the most convenient way is to take a bus from Harbin to Vladivostok, with a luxury bus that takes 12 hours to make the journey across the border. This is often more convenient than the train since it does not require changing at the border.
The city’s airport, Harbin Taiping International Airport, has direct connections to more or less every major cities in China as well as several destinations in Russian Siberia, South Korea, Japan, Thailand and Indonesia. It’s situated 35 kilometres northwest of central Harbin, reachable by shuttle bus for ¥20 per person, or by taxi for roughly ¥100 one way.