NÃ¡njÄ«ng is often overlooked on the tourist trail but those who miss a stop-off at this vibrant and absorbing city do so at their own peril. Whilst nearby cosmopolitan ShÃ nghÇŽi oozes sophistication, NÃ¡njÄ«ng, in many respects, is the key to experiencing the ‘real’ China sought by so many tourists today. Largely destroyed by the infamous Rape of Nanking in 1937, NÃ¡njÄ«ng now offers a taste of the charming and rather kitsch side to modern China that it is harder to find elsewhere. With fewer tourists and less Western influences than other major cities, NÃ¡njÄ«ng is an intriguing amalgamation of old and new; a place that exists under a shadow of a haunting past, whilst simultaneously embracing the China of the future with gusto. If you are travelling in search of somewhere both modern and intrinsically Chinese, NÃ¡njÄ«ng is the place for you.
Memorial Hall of the NÃ¡njÄ«ng Massacre
Memories of the war crimes committed by the Japanese army in 1937 still permeate the very core of NÃ¡njÄ«ng’s identity, so to truly understand the city and its people, the Memorial Hall of the NÃ¡njÄ«ng Massacre is a must-see attraction. Constructed over one of many mass graves, the building is vast and modern; potentially somewhere you could lose yourself for hours on end if only the experience were a little less harrowing. The Memorial Hall tells the tale of NÃ¡njÄ«ng’s suffering at the hands of the Japanese in intricate detail. It provides an engrossing and fascinating way to fill a morning, but with the bones of the dead laid bare for all to see and countless diary entries and statements from those involved, the experience is something of a tear-jerker and is definitely best saved for a sunny day.
A remarkable 15km in circumference, Xuanwu Lake is the perfect place to see how the local people take their exercise, have a picnic, or spend an afternoon watching the world go by. From kite-flying and playing bizarre ball games to practicing Tai Chi and clapping whilst walking backwards, Xuanwu is always buzzing with activity, even in the winter months. There are plenty of food stalls and places to sit down as well as a multitude of paths to choose for a long walk. Try taking a boat out onto the lake for only Â¥20 (Â£2.00) per person and while away an hour or so surrounded by the tranquil sound of lapping water.
Ming City Walls
Take a stroll around the Ming city walls on the south-western corner of Xuanwu Lake. The walls are overgrown and ancient, and as well as giving you a real sense of Chinese history, they also provide spectacular views of the city and the lake. Wandering through the Buddhist Jiming Temple will lead you onto the walls whilst also giving you the precious opportunity to watch the local people at worship, lighting incense or praying.
ZÇjÄ«n Mountain (Purple Mountain)
Purple Mountain is well worth a visit, if not two or three. Surrounded by an expanse of thick, green forest, it is very much a rural retreat from the bustling city centre and is the perfect place for a breath of fresh air. Sights include the Sun Yatsen Mausoleum, Ming Xiaoling Tomb and the Lingu Temple Scenic Area. If you don’t have time to go inside the Ming Xiaoling Tomb, be sure to visit the avenue leading up to it which contains a collection of impressive stone animals. The enormous animals, both ‘real’ and mythical, are intended to guard the tomb and each one has a different story.Â Take bus no.9 from the city centre to reach the mountain.
Confucian Fuzi Temple and Sanshanjie Shopping Area
An ancient centre of Confucian study, the Fuzi Temple is a must-see in NÃ¡njÄ«ng; not least because the surrounding area will absorb you for hours on end if you enjoy hunting and bargaining for souvenirs. The shops around the Sanshanjie area are your best bet if you are looking for gifts to send home.
If shopping is your forte then Fashion Lady is the place for you. A world away from the glossy designer clothes stores that dominate NÃ¡njÄ«ng’s larger shopping centres, Fashion Lady is an underground labyrinth, lit primarily by garish and extravagant neon lights, and comprised of endless flashing passageways lined by shops and booths. This is where local people come in search of a good deal and a few hours here will certainly enlighten you to some intriguing NÃ¡njÄ«ng fashions. Be careful to check the quality of whatever you buy and remember to put your bargaining hat on before descending into the darkness.
Good Chinese food is easy to come by in NÃ¡njÄ«ng but there are too many big, commercial chain restaurants waiting to lure you inside. It is almost always advisable to sample the smaller, non-commercial restaurants instead. Explore down side-streets to find intimate places with wooden benches and tiny kitchens where you will experience the best food and the cheapest prices.
Shiziqiao Pedestrian Street – Near Hunanlu
An entire street dedicated almost entirely to restaurants, cafes, and booths selling street food or take-away drinks. At night Shiziqiao Street will take your breath away; teeming with people and bright lights it is the ideal location if you’re unsure where to eat. If you fancy a snack try some of the abundance of roasted chestnuts with some Chinese milk tea (nÇŽichÃ¡).
Metro: Gulou or Shanghailu
If you’re missing Western-style treats from home, Skyways is the perfect place for lunch or an afternoon coffee. This German bakery is always buzzing with happy customers sampling home-made cakes and biscuits or enjoying the lunchtime deal where you can buy a drink and a baguette with your chosen filling for only Â¥25 (Â£2.50). You will find Skyways near the junction of Beijingshilu and Shanghailu. Head south and look to your left.
Metro: Gulou or Shanghailu
Just around the corner to Skyways, Fred’s Place offers delicious Chinese food with the unusual luxury of an English menu.
If you want to do some cooking for yourself, the Sanshanjie area hosts a vast under-cover market which sells every kind of fruit, vegetable, meat and fish imaginable. Prices are very low and the food is always enticingly fresh.
Nanjing’s nightlife is incredibly varied but, as with eating out in restaurants, it is often best to avoid ex-pat bars and try to sample somewhere a little more ‘Chinese’.
Known primarily for being NÃ¡njÄ«ng’s clubbing district, 1912 is far from cheap. On the plus side, what it does offer is a lively atmosphere and a multitude of bars and clubs to choose from, most of which stay open into the early hours. Try T-Rex for an essentially Chinese clubbing experience where you will find NÃ¡njÄ«ng’s Ã¼ber trendy elite lounging on sofas or dancing on the central stage.
Hugely popular with Chinese locals, international students and travellers alike, Ellen’s Bar offers Western food, plentiful drinks and loud music. Although it is always jam-packed at weekends, Ellen’s is great for a quiet drink on a weeknight and Tsingtao beer is only Â¥10 (Â£1.00) for a large bottle. Find it near the crossroads of Guangzhoulu and Shanghailu.
As NÃ¡njÄ«ng’s tallest building, you would have to be extremely unobservant to miss the Zifeng Tower. Head to the 78th floor where you will find a glamorous cocktail bar with glass walls and astounding views across the city. A cocktail will set you back around Â¥100 (Â£10.00) but it is well worth it for the impeccable service and peaceful ambience.
KTV (Karaoke bars)
You won’t need to travel far to find a KTV bar in NÃ¡njÄ«ng; it is by far the most popular way for locals to spend an evening with friends. Go with a group of people to keep costs down, hire your own private room and sing the night away.
NÃ¡njÄ«ng currently only has only two metro lines. Others are currently under construction but the two lines are adequate to travel within walking distance of most appealing locations. Metro fares cost between Â¥2 to Â¥4 (Â£0.20 to Â£0.40) depending on the distance of your journey. If you plan to stay for a while you can buy a travel card which gives a small discount on every journey.
Buses in NÃ¡njÄ«ng are easy to catch and run regularly to most parts of the city. Journeys cost only Â¥1 (Â£0.10) or Â¥2 (Â£0.20) on an air-conditioned vehicle. Make sure you have the right change and drop it into the clear box at the front of the bus.
Taxis are very reliable although don’t assume that your driver will be able to speak English. Fares usually start at Â¥9 (Â£0.90) for the first 2km. Unless you’re travelling a vast distance, journeys across the city will rarely set you back more than Â¥30 (Â£3.00). Although drivers often forget to change their settings accordingly, in NÃ¡njÄ«ng, a green light on a taxi means it is occupied whilst a red light means it is free.
Sunflower Youth Hostel
80 Zhanyuanlu, NÃ¡njÄ«ng
Metro: Zhangfuyuan or Sanshanjie
Right in the centre of the buzzing Sanshanjie area, this lively hostel offers internet for Â¥5 per hour, a bar with a pool table, wi-fi and movies, and even a cute shop downstairs where you can buy arty maps and postcards to send home.Â Dorms cost around Â¥40 (Â£4.00) per night.
Nanjing Fuzimiao International Youth Hostel
68 Pingjiangfulu, NÃ¡njÄ«ng
Metro: Zhangfuyuan or Sanshanjie
This hostel also offers internet for Â¥5 per hour as well as laundry and bike rentals; the perfect way to explore the city. Ask for a room with a view of the river. Dorms cost around Â¥45 (Â£4.50) per night.
The best way to get from NÃ¡njÄ«ng airport into the city centre is by taxi since there is no train or metro line. Avoid being overcharged by going outside where you can take a reputable taxi with a driver who will use the meter. Licensed cars queue by a metal barrier where you can wait to be ushered into a car by an attendant.
Ellen’s Bar offers free beer from 8-10pm on Thursdays although you might have to fight your way through the crowds to get to the bar.
This article was written by Naomi Adams who is currentlyÂ teaching English in Nanjing, ChinaÂ as part ofÂ the British Council’s English Language Assistant Scheme. When she is not busy tackling classes of 56 students, you will usually find her travelling, photographing and blogging about life on the Orient. For a taste of life in China, take a look atÂ her blog at: chinesewhisperings.wordpress.com