Harbin is the capital city of Heilongjiang province, Northeastern China. It is famous for its Russian settlement history, as well as the bitterly cold Harbin winter wonderland Ice Festival held there each winter.

A visit to the city itself is well worthwhile, especially if you enjoy 20th century architecture, cobbled streets and delicious hot pot. Walking around the Daoliqu area, or Old Harbin, during winter time is a delight for the senses – tread carefully over black ice as you look up at the array of ice-sculptures lining the streets. Treat yourself to one of their famous ice creams that are being sold out of a box (the outside air acts as a freezer) and hear only chattering of other chilly folks, for these streets are permitted only for pedestrians.

20th century Vs high rises

These quirky streets bring you out by the Songhua river, 1km wide and 1 meter thick with frozen ice. Join in the many activities on offer; dog sledding, skating, sledging, ice-slides and dancing along to the loud, uplifting music are just a few options!

Escape the cold by visiting the beautiful church of St Sophia. This building was erected by the Russians in 1907 and today displays photographs of the city during the 1900s. Nearby there is also the Harbin New Synagogue which tells the story of the 20,000 Jews that once inhabited the area after fleeing Russia.

St Sophia church

When darkness falls, brave the -25 degree temperatures and head to the world famous Ice Festival held on Sun Island. Here stand huge ice castles, Buddha, animals and even a section of the Great Wall of China! Of course there is an opportunity to go tobogganing and ice-skating if you can brave the cold long enough.

How to get there:
Harbin: Trains from Beijing are overnight and affordable, but make sure you book in advance as the festival is very popular!
Daoliqu area: In the centre of the city – grab a taxi from your hostel/hotel. The Songhua river is at the end of the main street.
Sun Island: To get here you can either take a taxi or a bus. It is best to get as close to the main bridge as possible and try and fill the taxi to bring the price down.

Entrance fee (Ice festival): During early 2016 it was 200RMB for entry to the entire festival. There are also smaller ice exhibits dotted around the city if you have more time on your hands.

Hotel: I stayed at the HaHa Harbin International hostel. The man who ran it was super friendly and spoke good English – he invited me for lunch and it was one of the best parts of my trip. The Winter Wonderland in Harbin is truly a majestic experience!

The jaw dropping ice festival