So starting in Beijing is probably the best idea in mainland China. From there, I would recommend getting out to see more of the real country. A great choice, that is only a mere overnight train ride away, is Harbin!
The city is a couple of hundred miles from the Russian border which provides for a very nice fusion of Russian influence on the Chinese city. Many of the buildings are the more classical Russian architecture, which provides a welcome break from the efficient Asian high-rises. The reason we chose Harbin was because of their famous annual Ice and Snow Festival which officially opens around January 5 of every year, but is usually up and running about a week or so ahead of time for the Christmas holiday.
We only spent a day and half there, but it was quite nice. The weather at night dropped to at least -30 degrees Celsius. As you can see from the pictures we were very bundled up. It was very worth it though.
We stayed at one of the nicer hotels in the area that was right on the main pedestrian street, Zhongyang Dajie. Thats what $40 USD will get you there. The food was good, cheap, and plentiful. We had lunch at the The Russian Cafe and chose a local joint for dinner. Try Harbin Beer if you get the chance. There are many nice little cafes as well to get a break from the cold with some tea and snacks.
The best sight in the winter time is the Ice and Snow Festival which is simply amazing. I will let the pictures below speak for themselves. The theme this year happened to be Disney and something I have learned is that the Chinese like to do things BIG! Like the Cinderella Castle made from ice below....yeah, big. There are many more sights too, such as St. Sophia's cathedral, which is also pictured below and definitely worth checking out. We didn't have nearly as much time as we would have liked, but we got our fill of the magnificent Ice and Snow Festival and were very pleased with that. Picture two 24 year-olds running around like wee children taking pictures with Disney ice sculptures. Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. Good times!
USA and Russian shops side by side, kind of like holding hands.
St. Sophia's....very nice.
Playing in the snow and ice.
I don't care who you are, that's just plain awesome.
Hangin' with our buddy the snow dragon.
The grand work in progress at the Snow Festival.
A ferris wheel and fireworks? Yep, that would be Disney!
Cinderella's castle made of ice. They don't mess around here.
On our way in to the Ice Festival.
Us and Steamboat Willie.
The girl likes The Little Mermaid.
I told you...we were like little kids. And Toy Story.
No explanation necessary.
Aladdin's Palace. It was getting a bit chilly by this point.
That would be Pirate Mickey and the Black Pearl from the Pirates movies.
We topped off the evening with a nice slide down from the castle.