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Harbin, the best winter city in the world

The very mention of Harbin evokes images of snow, ice, and people bundled in ten layers of clothes. Located in Northeast China, Harbin is a major city that’s known for its proximity and visible influence of neighbouring Russia, as well as the yearly Harbin International Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival. If you’re going to have winters that cold (we’re talking -30 degrees celsius at night), you might as well make the most of it, right? Needless to say, winter-loving travellers will find that Harbin has lots to offer apart from beautiful ice sculptures. The city is also the gateway to Russia, so if you’re travelling on the Trans-Siberian Railway, this could you be your first or last sight of China!

Harbin Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival 

harbin_ice_and_snow_world_2010 (2).jpg

Image Credit: Wikipedia

Every winter, Harbin charms and impresses visitors with stunning art and sculpture made of one of the most impermanent material there is, ice. It’s hard not to feel the least bit awed by the dedication and artistic genius that goes into transforming cold, hard blocks of ice into impressive castles, slides, and edifices over 45m tall. 

When night falls, these sculptures are lit up from within with colourful LED lights, which make for an otherworldly experience and a great photographic experience. 

Official dates of the festival vary year to year, but in general, you can visit anytime from around the middle of December to the end of February. While many people would travel to avoid the winter, this festival invites you to plunge right into the icy depths of it!

Church of St Sophia


Image Credit: Chinatoday

The St Sophia Church is one of Harbin’s most famous landmarks, and is probably the most beautiful church in China.  As one of the most prominent and largest Eastern Orthodox Churches in East Asia, the church was built by the Russians in 1907 and is beautiful to look at, especially at night. Enter the church and you will find photographs of Harbin’s development in the last century. 

In wintry nights, the snow-covered grounds make for a sublime atmosphere. 

The Old Quarter


Image Credit:

The Old Quarter is where the Russian influence is obvious, with buildings that were constructed at the brink of the 19th century. Here, you will find baroque and Byzantine style architecture that has yet to be demolished and transformed by modernization.

The Central Street is a highlight. The pedestrian-only cobblestone street was one called Chinese Street by the Russians who first built the town, and was a centre of trade activity for the various groups of people who lived here, including the Jewish community. Today, commerce is thriving with stores and restaurants. 

In winter, an ice bar (of course) pops up in the main street itself so you can warm up to music, vodka, or whatever warms your cold, cold blood.

Sun Island

With a name like Sun Island, you can almost already tell that it’s a place to visit, winter or summer. Indeed, Sun Island transforms itself according to the seasons. In summer, it’s pleasant to stroll around the park and visit some of the attractions like the ‘Russian town’ if you don’t mind the touristy factor of it all. But better still, take your favourite novel and have a picnic by the lake. 

Sun Island becomes even more gorgeous in winter as it’s part of the snow and ice sculpture festival. It may be a tad too cold for a slow stroll across the park, but you can certainly skate and play ice hockey. 

Unit 731 Museum

Being reminded of the evilness and atrocities of mankind may not be a vacation priority, but for those who want to learn a little more about the Sino-Japanese War during the World War II, the Unit 731 Museum is certainly a must-visit. 

Unit 731 was actually a biological and chemical warfare research and development unit of the Japanese Army.  Gruesome experiments such as the infection of diseases and live surgery without anaesthesia were carried out on Prisoners of War who came primarily from China. 

The museum has good English labels and explanations, and although it lies about an hour out of the city centre, it makes for a highly educational, if not impactful learning experience.

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About the author

Tilda is a happy sufferer of chronic wanderlust. When she isn't spending a disproportionate amount of time Googling about places and cultures, she's writing, dancing, and navigating a massive career change. She shares stories and photography on Wanderful People, and shares her coffee with no one.


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