I visited Changchun City in the Jilin Province of northern China because I was already in the area. I had heard of the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival, the largest and (arguably) most famous winter festival in the world! It sounded awesome, so I planned a trip there. I didn’t want to spend too much time in Harbin since a friend told me four days would be plenty. I ended up squeezing Changchun into my itinerary! It has some snow sculptures of its own. Though they’re not as impressive as the ones in Harbin, of course, they do make a nice addition to the landscape.
Changchun is definitely a smaller city than almost any other that I have visited so far. It’s only about one hour away from Harbin though! If you have a day or two, spending some time in Changchun is a good use of your time. It was much calmer than I have been used to in China. That was pleasant, and Changchun is not as convenient with public transportation as some other cities. Still, I enjoyed my trip overall. Though I went in winter, this itinerary works for the summer as well! (Unlike my winter itinerary for Harbin, which wouldn’t make as much sense during the summer.)
Travel Tips for Changchun, Jilin, China
I felt that about 1.5 days was pretty good for Changchun. The city actually has quite a bit to offer, but aside from its main draws, the attractions would be more suitable for children. For adults, including college students and recent graduates, about 1.5 days (maybe 2) is the sweet spot.
I arrived to Changchun by train and left by plane. Train has the benefit of less security and location; you can take the bus, light rail, or subway to/from Changchun station. The airport is a bit farther away, so you have to take the train from Changchun to Longjia station, which isn’t very far away and will take you directly to the airport entrance. Still, you’d be going to the train station anyway!
The way Changchun’s public transportation is set up is confusing. You have the regular bus system. That’s straightforward. You also have two light rail lines and a subway system. Those two should not be confusing, but they frustratingly are! On a map the light rail and subway look like the same (or at least complementary) systems. You can even see the stops on the light rail if you are buying tickets at a subway station! However, they operate separately. You can switch between them at the 卫星广场 (Weixing Square) stop. However, you have to go out the station and cross the street! It’s good because you’ll be able to walk through a small market on your way, with food and trinkets. But, it’s very confusing especially as there are no signs. Just look for the structures that look like a typical subway entrance!
Where to Stay in Changchun
I stayed near Guilin Road. It’s right around Nanhu Lake, pretty central in town! I thought it was a good place because it wasn’t too far from the city center (I could walk to Guilin Road, the shopping street). It also wouldn’t be too far from the train station. There were lots of hotels in the train station area, but those weren’t close enough to Changchun attractions. There were some others in the technology part of town, but those were too far southwest. The light rail system, which goes directly to Jingyuetan National Scenic Area, had no stops there.
Day 1: History and Local Culture
I planned this day for convenience. I arrived at Changchun Train Station, which is in the north of the city. TheMuseum of the Imperial Palace of Manchukuo (Puppet Emperor’s Palace) is a direct light rail ride from there! I planned to go to my hotel next. Since it was walking distance from Guilin Road and that’s walking distance to Nanhu Park, this schedule worked out this day.
Museum of the Imperial Palace of Manchukuo
Visit time: 2-3 hours
#5 Guangfu North Road
For Changchun’s small size, it actually has several worthwhile places to visit. The first I went to was the Museum of the Imperial Palace of Manchukuo. It’s a very large palace that is closely tied to Manchuria, the combination of Jilin, Liaoning, and Heilongjiang provinces in northern China. Before WWII Japan invaded the area to pursue their idea of a united Asia and caused a lot of suffering for Chinese people in the north. When the Japanese took over, they renamed the area Manchukuo. This has been a sore spot between the two countries ever since, and the leader that the Japanese installed in China during that time was Puyi. He lived in Changchun at this palace during part of his rule.
The very cool thing about this palace is it preserves many things from that time, so you could see the extravagance of the Japanese regime leadership at a time when people were dying because of the Sino-Japanese War. There is a good amount of information in English, and even a museum that explains more in detail what happened. I learned quite a bit! Even though some of the language they used was reactionary (ugly traitors’ betrayal v. national heroes bravely facing crisis), the information at its heart presents the official Chinese view of that part of modern history. I was pleasantly surprised by this!
Visit time: 1 hour (more if you have lunch or dinner here)
I had read somewhere that Guilin Road was a good place to go in Changchun. I agree, but it’s mostly restaurants. If you’re looking for Korean food, there are plenty of choices here! There are some Western food restaurants as well. The main building is a small mall near Guilin Road and Tongzhi Street that has good Western restaurants as well! I went to a restaurant (Europa, 欧罗巴) that had the best hazelnut milk (Nutella milk anyone?!) and cheese fries I have ever had! 10/10 would go again.
Visit time: 1-2 hours
Nanhu is a large lake in the middle of town! It’s within walking distance from Guilin Road, about a 15-minute walk away. The lake is completely frozen over during the winter, and the ice is thick enough for a variety of activities! If you want to slide down slides, sled, spin tops, or anything else, you can do it there. Those activities are perfect for children.
In the park are also several ice and snow sculptures. They are there mainly to add to the winter ambiance, and they definitely do lighten the mood! I found several cute ones that made the cold a bit more bearable. It looks like there are some kids rides as well, but they were closed for the winter.
The First Day Overall
There was nothing to complain about! I had spent a bit more time resting at my hotel and wandering Guilin Road than I expected. This just meant that my day was relatively relaxed. Since the sun went down at about 4:15pm, it seemed like a really short day. However, that was a blessing because I got back early and rested! That’s crucial in such cold weather. I had some appointments to teach online at night, so I did that and went to sleep!
Day 2: The Big Attractions
My agenda for Day 2 was just to hit the most well-known places in Changchun! Both are nationally recognized as 5A attractions (as is the Museum of the Imperial Palace of Manchukuo). They were also farther from the city and I would need to get to the airport later, so I knew keeping a looser schedule was ideal. Even if I hadn’t had an 8pm-ish flight, my schedule wouldn’t have changed much!
Changchun World Sculpture Park
Visit time: 3 hours
The Changchun World Sculpture Park is arguably the best park of Changchun! It’s just south of downtown, and plenty of buses go past it. It is 92 hectares of 9200+ sculptures, all of them displayed along roads you walk along or in one of 4 museums. They don’t all have explanations, but they do have English names. The center of the park stood Moore Lake, frozen and walkable (meaning you could cut through if you were running short on time!). Some of the sculptures weren’t too interesting, but I love some of the others. There were several in the Michelangelo Square, designed by the famed sculptor himself! The Songshan & Hanrong African Art Collection Museum might have been my favorite because of the variety of works there.
I spent more time than I expected because it was AWESOME! The sculptures were unique and thought provoking. I probably would have spent more time but the Changchun World Sculpture Art Museum was closed. I also saw a Sand Sculpture Hall, where there were restaurants and looked like it hosted workshops, but the workshop portion of the hall was closed.
Jingyuetan National Scenic Area and the Jingyuetan Snow World
Visit time: 2-4 hours [In winter, Snow World takes about 2 hours total to visit – including transit inside Jingyuetan. The additional time is for skiing, walking around the lake, participating in ice activities, etc.]
By the time I got to Jingyuetan, I was a bit worried because I was running late. The problem was how early sunset came! I took the light rail to Jingyuetan Station, which stops near the front entrance of the scenic area. In summer, you can go boating, have a picnic, etc. This is normally great, but not for the winter! In winter, the main activities are skiing, playing on the ice, and going to Snow World. All these activities are concentrated in the southeast area of the lake. If you want to go to Jingyuetan, the west entrance, closer to the winter activities, go to the Huaxuecheng station instead! You’ll be able to walk out the entrance, turn left, and see the entrance of the scenic area. It costs ¥30 to get in, or ¥40 if you are driving. It doesn’t make too much of a difference which entrance you go through, because although the area is large you can take shuttle buses for ¥10 each way.
The Snow World is awesome! I loved that there were all kinds of snow sculptures, both large and small. The normal entrance fee is ¥100. There seemed to be a Vasa International Ski Festival happening at the time. Skiers were finishing up, going between the snow sculptures on both sides of Snow World. It wasn’t much of a distraction, but it did mean tickets were ¥70 instead of ¥100!
Even though Snow World was much, much smaller than Harbin’s Sun Island Snow Sculpture Art Expo, the big plus was that I could get pictures of the sculptures without other people in the way! There were also more mid-sized sculptures, rather than very large or very small ones. They provided a nice contrast to the very large and relatively small sculptures in Harbin.
The Second Day Overall
I was rushing myself because I thought there would be a lot of things to do in Jingyuetan. The internet told me it’s apparently called the “sister lake” to Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan; since I spent several hours there, I thought Jingyuetan would be the same! It wasn’t. The time that you spend there is mostly in transit (the shuttle bus to and from the entrances and Snow World, walking from the ski area to Snow World, etc.). Even though I only had two things to do, that was deceptive. Both places took a lot of time to visit, and weren’t next to each other! I should have left my hotel a bit earlier in the morning than I did.
I was glad to visit Changchun. Though I could have spent a bit more time in Harbin, I thought splitting the time with Changchun was a better allocation of time. I had a pretty relaxed schedule in Changchun, and was only a bit rushed because the Sculpture Park was so big! I also learned a lot about Chinese history during Japanese occupation.
Places to eat!
Guilin Road was a good place to find a restaurant, but no where else! I had trouble knowing where I could get a bite to eat elsewhere.
Though the slightly higher temperatures in Changchun compared to Harbin were welcome, they were still -20°C at night and a high of maybe -10°C in the morning.
I think the light rail and subway system was extremely confusing, and the limited number of stops they had was equally puzzling! I wish they were closer together, and/or there were more rail lines. The fact that the light rail and subway system don’t directly connect is also very, very weird.
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