Harbin, China: A Winter Destination

January 20, 2016
When I decided to live in Shanghai for a year, I knew that I wanted to try to make it out to Harbin in the winter to experience the Snow and Ice Festival, which is one of the biggest ice and snow festivals in the whole world and has taken place each year since the 1980's! The sculptures are made with blocks of ice from the Songhua River and it takes more than 15,000 people to carve the them, so you can see why going to Harbin in the winter has become a major tourist attraction.

Scott and I went to Harbin during Christmas, which was technically before the official opening date in January. Luckily for us, Harbin's Ice and Snow World opened earlier for "a trial run." The Ice and Snow World was really incredible this year and worth the 300 RMB ticket price (about $48 USD.) There are massive sculptures of famous landmarks from all over the world that you are able to climb on. We decided to go at night so that way we could see all of the sculptures lit up with vibrant colors.

When we went, there were men holding Arctic foxes so that tourists could pose with them, and then later Santa's sled pulled by real reindeer appeared. You could also ride in a horse drawn carriage, but I did not want to do any of these things because I'm not quite sure how the animals were being treated.

At first we felt okay underneath all of our layers, but after awhile the cold started to get to us and made our hands numb. Luckily, we were able to go inside and order some hot chocolate at one of the huts and warm up. We climbed up on some of the sculptures and got a good look at everything that had been completed in the park. Scott even went down an ice slide!

There is also a snow sculpture festival on Sun Island, but that was not yet open when we were in Harbin. Zhaolin Park has some snow and ice sculptures to see as well, but it looked a bit lame in comparison what we had just seen at the Ice and Snow World. Plus, if you walk down Central Avenue in Harbin, you are able to see more snow and ice sculptures for free, which was good enough for us.

Central Avenue is another must-do in Harbin. It's one of the main streets and was built by the Russians over one hundred years ago. No cars are allowed on it, which makes it a great spot to take a stroll. You can admire the architecture, shop for souvenirs, or grab a bit to eat at one of the many restaurants. We walked along this street each day we were in Harbin, as it was a fun, bustling spot.

Because of its location, there is a huge Russian influence in Harbin. Many Russians settled in Harbin, especially those who fled to China during the Bolshevik Revolution. The influence is still prominent, as there are plenty of Russian restaurants and souvenir shops. At our hotel, the other visible foreigners there were Russian, and we got spoken to in Russian several times.

Although most of the churches got destroyed in the Chinese Cultural Revolution, St. Sophia, a Russian Orthodox church, remains standing. Of course we went in and toured it. It was built in 1907, but the inside was damaged during the revolution, so to me it appeared much older. I think it is one of Harbin's most worthwhile attractions.

What winter travel destination is on your list?

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