Formerly the last outpost of civilization before the onset of the Siberian Wilderness, Harbin rose to prominence in the late 19th century after the completion of the railway to Vladivostok. The line encouraged many Russian immigrants to the city, which became known as “Little Moscow” for the profusion of onion-domed Orthodox churches that dominated its skyline. The grandest of these, the Cathedral of St Sofia, still stands in the main square, its green domes and gilded crosses now splendidly restored.
Harbin’s principal attraction, however, is the great Ice Festival held here each January-February. More picturesque Russian architecture is to be found amid the narrow backstreets of the Daoli shopping district.