Harbin's Russian heritage architecture has often been praised. The city which was founded along the Chinese Eastern Railway by czarist Russia was indeed known as the St Petersbourg of the East because of its resemblance to the capital of the former Russian Empire. There are still many orthodox style churches in town today, though some of them have been turned into catholic churches or even museums (see Saint Sophia on the left). The Chinese Cultural Revolution in Mandchuria however destroyed a few of those previous beauties. In the main city artery, one is also fascinated by rows of buildings in the Russian baroque style, most of them shops like "Churin" famous Russian brand introducing the Harbin sausage in 1903 or restaurants like "Moderne" where you can still enjoy a bowl of borscht today at the sound of live classical music. Exactly like in the 1920s when some 50000 White Russians dominated the Harbin cultural life!
Textile and food industry attracted a large number of workers from all Northern parts of China. They used to live in the alleys connected to the workshops. Some of those houses are now in bad conditions but there are still many people staying there. Facades can be in Chinese baroque style or "comprador" style, just like those in Xiamen or Kaiping. Some Art Deco can also be found, though those are Japanese firms premises from after 1931 invasion of Mandchuria by the Japanese Empire. Most interesting patterns can be seen in some inner courtyards resembling Beijing siheyuan or even caravanserails along the former Silk Road.
Courtyards and alleys bordering workshops are been renovated at the moment in order to allow tourists to enjoys the many local specialties. However I prefer the street side with its colourful facades, some of them with wild grass growing within the bricks and always small shops at the ground floor. Those are really authentic! Close to the main street of Daowai, you can find a large open air market selling birds and pets as well as fresh food. This one is not far from the Songhua River where runners and walkers add to the already lively picture of this part of the town!
This first visit of Harbin gave me the same impression as when I came to Wuhan for the first time: A combination of culture, history and a great deal of Chinese charm. So I strongly recomend you visit it!