The capital of Heilongjiang province and laid out on the southern bank of the Songhua River, HARBIN is most famous for its wonderfully photogenic winter Ice Festival. While visiting at this time is highly recommended, it’s certainly worth popping by in a warmer month too, for this is one of the few northern cities with a distinctive character. A few roads near Harbin’s centre are lined with gorgeous colonial-era structures, most of them painted in soothing lemon tones. In fact, the city used to be nicknamed “Little Moscow”, and though much of the old architecture has been replaced with sterile blocks and skyscrapers, corners of Harbin still look like the last threadbare outpost of imperial Russia – leafy boulevards are lined with European-style buildings painted in pastel shades, and bulbous onion domes dot the skyline. There are several Russian restaurants, and the locals have picked up on some of their neighbour’s customs: as well as a taste for ice cream and pastries, the residents have a reputation as the hardest drinkers in China.

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