Your Winter Escape: China's Ice City

By Anabela Mok 2021-02-09 17:11:19

If you miss traveling overseas and experiencing a winter wonderland, look no further than the magical city of Harbin. Located in the northernmost Chinese province of Heilongjiang, Harbin is known as China’s Ice City. With their winter recreational activities, iconic Russian-styled architecture, and the the annual Ice Sculpture Festival, your magical winter escape is closer than you expect. Come, head north and experience this wintery city yourself.

Brief History:

Many would describe Harbin now as the “Moscow of the East”. But few would know that Harbin was originally named after a Manchu word meaning "a place for drying fishing nets". It was a small rural settlement on the Songhua River. With the construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway in 1896 financed by the Russian Empire to connect the Trans-Siberian Railway, Harbin grew to become the capital and largest city of Heilongjiang Province.


What to Do:

Ice Sculpture Festival

This is the festival for many artists around the world to show off their snow sculpting and ice sculpture talents. To see the gigantic snow sculptures, you will need to go to Sun Island, which is on the opposite side of the Songhua River from the city. To see the famous full-sized illuminated ice buildings, you will need to visit the Ice and Snow World, which is an open area as large as 88 hectares. Each of the iconic ice buildings are made from blocks of 2-3 meters thick ice taken from the Songhua river. The park opens in the late afternoon until nighttime, where an entire ice city comes to life. The best time to visit would be between end December to end February, when the Ice Sculpture Festival is in full swing. However, do allow for a margin of one or two days as the festival will adjust their opening dates depending on the weather.


St. Sophia Cathedral

This is the largest Eastern Orthodox church in the Far East that is a prime example of the Neo-Byzantine style architecture of its time. The cathedral was firstly built in 1907 out of timber, which has been replaced with stone masonry. It now houses Harbin Architecture Art Gallery, showcasing photographs of the city’s past, present and future.

Zhongyang Pedestrian Street

Originally the street was opened up by carts used to transport railway supplies, however in 1924, the Central Street was floored with square stones according to a Russian engineer's design. Since then this strip began to develop as the center of fashion and design. In its heyday, it was home to many foreign shops, hotels, and bars. In its heyday, you can easily find Russian leather, British woollen cloth, French perfume, German medicine and plenty more. Buildings reflected prime examples of architecture, from the Renaissance to the Baroque Period as well as Eclecticism to the Modern School. Today, you can still see the dominate architecture style in 13 of these buildings and stretching 1.4km in length, this pedestrian street is one of the longest in Asia.


Yabuli Ski Resort

If you are looking for action on the slope, this will be the place you would like to visit. It is the largest ski resort in China and, also includes the country’s largest ski jumping facilities. Although it is 2.5hrs away from Harbin by train, this location was the host to the 1996 Asia games and the 2008 National Winter Games.


Traveller Tips:

1.Dress in layers. Outside temperatures will range from -10C (high temperatures) to -24C (Low) in January. Indoors is always heated,

2.Bring warm shoes. Walking for hours on the snow and ice will make your feet cold. Invest in shoes with a good non-slip sole, and make sure your shoe-soles are not too thin, so you don’t get cold easily.

3.Keep your phone and backup battery in a warm place. The extreme cold will drain your phone and camera batteries. Keep your phone in the inner pocket of your jacket so you won’t risk running low on batteries when you need it.

Where to Stay

Harbin is actually a very large city, if you want to be around the downtown shopping area then stay in Daoli. You can easily access the pedestrian street and Sophia Square also it is close in proximity to Sun Island for the snow sculptures. Another area to consider would be the area North of Song Bei. This is also close to the ice sculpture sights. However, if you are an avid winter sportsperson, then you would be better staying at Yabuli Ski Resort.