Harbin (Hā'ěrbīn, 哈尔滨) is full of surprises. The snow-capped onion domes and facades are more Petersburg or Paris than Peking, and with winding cobblestone streets, fantastically lit winter ice castles and modern Chinese economic vitality, Harbin is an incredibly warm and welcoming place for a city situated on the edge of Siberia.

Best known for the annual Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival (more commonly referred to as the Harbin Ice Festival, plain and simple), this unique city is beginning to make a name for itself for its other qualities, from the distinct Russian architecture typified by the Church of St. Sophia, to nearby skiing hotspots like Yabuli, to the concession-era "gallery of European architecture" found along Zhongyang Dajie, a cobblestone-paved pedestrian street.

Harbin's local cuisine is an intriguing blend of Russian and northern Chinese, and the surrounding Heilongjiang countryside—the province was part of historical Manchuria—is one of China's better-kept secrets, full of forests, lakes and mountains that have yet to feel the sting of overdevelopment and overcrowding.

Beijing to Harbin flights are cheap and quick, and an excellent modern airport is well served by flights to Harbin from throughout China Harbin flight schedule, making a quick weekend getaway a snap. Its relative remoteness makes train travel and bus slower propositions, but an outstanding road and rail infrastructure in and around the city ensure a fairly smooth approach.

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