Travel Report: Cool Spots Around Harbin, China.

Zhongyang Pedestrian Street Harbin Heilongjiang province China

February 2010. I clearly remember my boss’ reaction when I told her I was going to Harbin for Chinese New Year. “Oh, really? You shouldn’t go there, it’s very cold!” Of course I told her all about the city’s stupendous Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival, the atmospheric Jile Temple and grisly Siberian Tiger Park. But it all fell on deaf ears, after all the place was “cold”. And so it proved! After a disastrous night at one of Planet Earth’s most miserable lodgings (Little Fir Hostel), I relocated to a four-star hotel on the main street where daily temperatures hovered around minus fifteen.

USA Bucks Bar Zhongyang Pedestrian Street Harbin China
USA Bucks Bar – Zhongyang Pedestrian Street, Harbin.

February 2010. Zhongyang Street is a cool place for a whole host of reasons. First up it’s fully pedestrianised, so there’s no car fumes, getting honked at or having to fear for your life as you wander over to that cutesy chocolate boutique on the other side of the road. There are also a bunch of trendy cafes and bars to duck into whenever it feels like your toes have stopped working. My favorite drinking spot was the bizarre USA Bucks Bar, owned by this colorful character, a local millionaire.

USA Bucks Bar Zhongyang Street Harbin China.
USA Bucks Bar – Zhongyang Pedestrian Street, Harbin.

He’d decked the entire place out with framed photographs of himself jetting around the world on private planes and boats, invariably with numerous supermodels attached to each arm.

Bomele 1931 Bakery Cafe Harbin China.
Bomele 1931 Bakery Cafe, Harbin.

February 2010. My favourite breakfast joint was also on Zhongyang Pedestrian street. Bomele 1931 has it all, from coffee, cakes and sandwiches, to ice cream, pizza slices and baked bread. I came her every morning during my stay and loved the fact that they had comfy chairs and dependable Wifi. 

Breakfast at Bomele 1931 Bakery Cafe Harbin China.
Bomele 1931 Bakery Cafe, Harbin.

Just bear in mind that Bomele 1931 is a Chinese style bakery, so expect everything to be sweet (even the savoury stuff!) and for a lot of their products to be filled with dreaded meat floss!

Zhaolin Street Harbin Heilongjiang province China
Zhaolin Street, Harbin.

February 2010. Harbin is a bustling city of five million people. Somehow though it feels way more manageable than other metropolises of its size, maybe because a good chunk of the population hides away from the cold indoors. But fear not, there are some typically chaotic roads like Zhaolin Street, where cardboard-stacked bicycles like this one skid between cars, buses and oblivious pedestrians.

Matryoshka dolls Harbin China.
Matryoshka doll store, Harbin.
Russia Coffee and Food Harbin China.
Russia Coffee and Food, Harbin.

February 2010. Positioned just an hour and a half from the Russian border, Harbin also treats visitors to scattered bursts of old time Russia, from its collection of traditional residential structures and shops selling Matryoshka dolls, to the gorgeous Russian Coffee & Food restaurant on Zhongyang Street.

Saint Sophia Church Harbin Heilongjiang province China
Saint Sophia Church, Harbin.

The epicentre of Harbin’s Russian vibe comes with the magnificent Saint Sophia Church and its distinctive green, onion-shaped dome. Inside, the old joint is enchantingly run down and has a fascinating exhibition of photographs documenting the city’s metamorphosis through the years.

Ushanka hat stall outside Saint Sophia Cathedral Harbin China.
Trying on a Russian “ushanka’ hat outside Saint Sophia Church, Harbin.

Have you ever wanted to get your hands on a Russian ushanka hat? There’s usually a guy selling them at his little market stall directly outside Saint Sophia Church. Be warned though they’re pretty pricy! Thankfully the dude didn’t mind me taking a photo with one his hats and giving it my best sneering Russian soldier pose. 

Frozen Songhua River Harbin Heilongjiang province China
The Songhua River, Harbin.

February 2010. For most of the year Harbin’s wide, murky river is a predominantly unremarkable sight. But if you time your visit for February (which you should to catch the unmissable Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival), then it’ll no doubt be completely frozen over. It took me about half an hour to cross it and the views and colors from all directions were absolutely gorgeous.

The frozen Songhua River Harbin China.
The Songhua River, Harbin.

For more on this unique city, check out my other reports from around Harbin, as well as my short story Sub Zero Adventures.

Like these? Then why not take a look at my zillion reports from all around China.

And I’ve written a short story series called Challenged In China.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001, so why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

Leighton Literature travel reports short stories travel blogger



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Freelance travel writer, voice over and English teacher from London. Former music and film journalist, interviewer of the stars. Passionate about travel, film, music, football, Indian food.

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