Hongbo Square 红博广场 and the WWII Russian Victory Monument
Hongbo Square used to be the site of the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas which was destroyed by the Red Guards the Cultural Revolution. Today, there’s a large roundabout above ground with a pretty decorative sculpture in the middle.
Some buildings in the area, like the KFC (in the photo below) that once housed the railway director, have plaques that talk about the city’s historic architecture.
In front of the Heilongjiang Museum is a monument to Soviet soldiers who liberated Manchuria/Northeastern China from the Japanese, built in 1945.
Fun fact: The Soviet Army gained control of Harbin on August 20, 1945, and transferred the city to the Chinese PLA in April of 1946. It was never under the administration of the Kuomintang, whose troops retreated around 37 miles (60 km) of the city!
Beneath the square houses a huge labyrinth of underground malls built in the remains of bomb and air raid shelters. Displaying mostly various men and women’s fashion, it’s easy to get turned around as many of the shops look alike. However, it is a nice place to stop into to take shelter from the cold.
Heilongjiang Museum 黑龙江省博物馆
This provincial museum might be a little hard to find at first glance, unless one can read Chinese. It’s located in a three story plain-looking building along the rows of stores along the road. It was built in 1906, and was originally a department store named the Moscow Department Store. It is one of the oldest buildings in Harbin and was originally run by Russians. There’s a really small ticket stand in front of the building to the right that I had to ask a guard to show me. This museum is open daily from 8am to 4pm. Entrance is free with passport.
Upon first entering, there’s a small exhibit of paintings and award-winning drawings to the left. The entrances to the main exhibits of relics from Heilongjiang’s history (including Chinese, Japanese, and Russian) and ancient fossils are on the second floor through either side of a gift shop. While some of the exhibits have a large sign at the entrance explaining the major events of the time period, the individual displays lacked translations. This was a little frustrating, as it did have quite a few interesting artifacts.
The dinosaur exhibit was limited to two standing duckbill skeletons and other glass-enclosed fossils from the region. There are a few unintentionally hilarious areas: a badly drawn woolly mammoth mural and prime examples of how not to taxidermy animals.
Downstairs had a couple rotating exhibits: one on Chinese paintings and another on carpentry. One exhibit, that I think was meant to inspire taking care of the environment and recycling, displayed lots of large, sad-looking turtles tanks that were painfully small. The poor creatures had to deal with Chinese tourists shouting and tapping on the glass…
I must say, this museum is not as nice as other museums that I have been to. The restrooms were pretty bad, and overall, the building has a confusing layout and feels pretty rundown. If you really like history, this might be a place to go since it is free and has lots of relics (although without translations).
Church of Saint Sophia 圣索菲亚教堂
One of Harbin’s most famous landmarks, the green domed and red-bricked Neo-Byzantinesque church is the largest Orthodox church in the far east.
It was originally built in 1907 as a means to reinstall confidence in the local Russian army after its defeat in the Russo Japanese War (1904-1905). The building is open 8:30am-5pm, and for 20 Kuai, one may enter and view photographs of old Harbin.
The church is gorgeous at all times of the day. I’ve never been to Russia, but I imagine the square it stands is similar to Moscow’s Red Square.
Flood Gate Memorial防洪纪念塔 and Stalin Park 斯大林公园
Located at the northern end of Central, facing the Songhua River, lies the Flood Gate Control Monument. Shaped in a half-circle with columns on one side with a bronze statue of soldiers in the middle, this memorial was built in 1958 to commemorate the thousands of people who died in past years when the river overflowed and to honor those who built the 42 km embankment that steadied the waters.
There’s a significant lack of “Stalin” at this park, but a lot of the stores in the area have souvenirs featuring the dictator. The park itself is a nice place to walk, I assume during the summers it might be a good place to picnic under the trees, but since we were here during winter, there were lots of snowmen for the festival.
Science and Tech Museum 黑龙江省科技馆
Our last stop on our final day in Harbin, we took a public bus over to the Harbin Science and Technology Museum. We thought about going to Volga Manor, but decided against spending even more on expensive tourist traps. The decision to go here was definitely money-saving! Entrance to this museum is free with passport Tuesday through Sunday 9am to 4pm.
The museum wasn’t quite what I expected in a science and technology museum. It was more of a play and learn-type place for children. There’s lots of hands-on educational activities, however, more than half of the interactive exhibits were broken and/or in need of serious repair.
On the other hand, the museum was virtually empty! Coming here ended up being a nice break from all the crowds. We went from interactive display to display, twirling wheels and pumping water spouts. We’re big kids anyway, so it was fun for us. On a few of the contraptions, you could pull yourself up with ropes or spin yourself around and throw plastic balls into slots that shoot them across the room in clear tubes. Some exhibits had you playing with sound or kinetic energy. There was one floor dedicated to a classroom-learning environment with an old beehive that looked to once be active, mainly from the dead bees surrounding it, and a bunch of reptile tanks.
I enjoyed the sensory exhibits that had one smelling different mystery tubes and playing with all sorts of musical contraptions. There were also computers with memory games and a dummy puzzle to put internal organs in. The museum had quite the variety! I just wish most of it wasn’t broken.
In addition, for the added fee of 20-40 kuai per person, you could pay to watch a 12-30-minute 4D movie in the Imax on the first floor. We did watch one of the cheap ones (turned out to be in another non-imax theater) just to see what it’d be like. Honestly, it was strange and super confusing about a demon – I assume since it was all in Chinese with no subtitles – stealing candy from the heavens and having to stop the earth from being drowned in candy. The ride wasn’t very memorable – a couple shakes here and there with water and bubble sprays. The pricier Imax ones might be better quality and more entertaining.
Visiting Harbin over the winter season was fun!! Sure, the people aren’t as nice or friendly and it’s bitterly cold every day here in the Winter, but there’s so much amazing history and culture to experience. Should you choose to come during the peak times (Mid-January to February), be aware that it’ll be insanely crowded, and try to book your hotel and tours as early as possible. We were lucky to come right before the busy season started, so we got to experience a lot of the festival, but at a much lower cost.