In the often frosty reaches of China’s Dongbei region – formerly known as Manchuria –you will find the northernmost province of Heilongjiang. Its cosmopolitan capital Harbin, features a distinctly European architectural heritage, but is in fact more famous for its annual International Ice and Snow Festival.
Each January and February, the city is lit up like a child’s snow-dome and intricate ice sculptures hold firm in an ethereal winter wonderland. Past displays have included a scaled-down Forbidden City and a Great Wall of China that doubled as an ice slide.
The bulk of the sculptures can be found in central Zhaolin Park and Sun Island Scenic Area, while the hardiest of festivalgoers can join Harbin’s winter swimmers for a dip in the frozen Songhua River. Temperatures in Harbin can drop near to -40°C in February, so bring every bit of warm clothing you’ve ever owned. Stick around until the festival’s end for the fun of destroying the sculptures in an ice-axe free-for-all.
Other local attractions
Admire Harbin’s Russian heritage in the Daoliqu area and the Church of St Sophia, while the city’s rich Jewish past lives on in the restored buildings on busy Zhongyang Dajie, and around the Old Synagogue, now serving as a classical music hall. Check out Wanda Indoor Ski Park, the world’s largest (for now), if you feel the urge for an urban shred.
Travellers on the Trans-Siberian Railway to or from Moscow can start or finish in Harbin.
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