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Nanjing is located on the banks of the Yangtze River, about 200 miles (320 km) inland of Shanghai. The city is home to over nine million people.
The name Nanjing actually means southern capital and this city was the capital of China for several dynasties. It’s now one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China, standing beside Luoyang, Beijing, and Xi’an.
You’ll see and experience this history everywhere you go in Nanjing, overlaid by the busyness of modern life. It also has a sometimes-dark modern history, and this has had a profound effect on Nanjing and its residents.
But it isn’t all history and old buildings. Like most places in China, Nanjing has a vibrant food culture, great shopping areas, and lots of attractions for people who want a break from old temples.
Everyone in China knows about the events in Nanjing during WWII.
In 1937, the Japanese army moved from Shanghai to Nanjing and the city was the location of a famous battle. The death toll during the Nanjing Massacre was enormous, and it wasn’t just soldiers who were killed.
Accounts from locals and foreign residents in Nanjing describe scenes of great brutality in the six weeks after the capture of Nanjing.
The number of Chinese civilians and troops killed during this period is unknown because the invading troops burned the bodies or threw them into the river. However, the number is thought to be around 300,000.
The events during this six-week period are an important part of the city’s history and of the consciousness of every person in China.
It has also fundamentally affected the rebuilding and development of Nanjing.
Nanjing doesn’t see as many tourists as other parts of China. This means you’ll stand out a little more when you visit this city.
However, the locals are still welcoming and accepting of tourists.
The lower number of tourists also explains why things tend to be less expensive in Nanjing. This makes it a great place to visit if you’re on a budget!
There isn’t a lot of English in Nanjing, and the level tends to vary among people who can speak it.
So, make sure that you have a maps app on your phone and always keep the name of your hotel written down in Chinese characters in case you get lost.
There are numerous historical attractions in Nanjing, so be prepared to learn about the history of this ancient city and to see how it influences the present.
The Nanjing City Wall is really special. It’s the longest city wall in the world.
Constructed in the mid-to-late fourteenth century, the wall surrounded Nanjing when the city was the capital of China’s early Ming Dynasty.
One section, the Palace City Wall, was used as a prototype for the famous Forbidden City in Beijing.
The wall is so long, and there are so many parts, that the admission cost depends on which bit you want to check out. Visit the official website for ticketing.
It’s open daily from 8.30 am to 5.30 pm.
This is a somewhat grim but essential Nanjing attraction.
The museum remembers the people who were killed in the Nanjing massacre. It was built by the Nanjing Municipal Government in 1985 and expanded in 1995.
You can’t truly understand the locals without understanding this dark part of the city’s history but be prepared for a somber experience.
This museum isn’t suitable for small children or anyone who’s particularly sensitive. But if you can handle it, then it’s one of the most important places to see in Nanjing.
This temple mingles the old and the new.
It dates back to the Ming dynasty and was known as one of the most famous temples in Nanjing. People visited to worship Buddha and to release souls into purgatory.
The temple has been through a lot over the years and was even destroyed at one point. Today it’s used as a modern art exhibit, and you’ll get some wonderful photographs inside its walls.
Nanjing is famous for its duck dishes, even more famous than Beijing!
You’ll find a huge range of duck dishes in this city, from appetizers to pastries, but you must try Jinling Roast Duck.
This delicious dish is also known as Nanjing salted duck and it boasts tender meat and a crispy, delicious outside.
It’s said that you can’t understand the present without understanding the past, and the Nanjing Museum is the best way to overcome this problem.
This was one of the first museums in China and one of the largest, containing more than 400,000 relics.
It also contains one of the largest collections of Ming and Qing dynasty porcelain as well as artifacts ranging from China’s ancient past to the twentieth century.
Located on the Qinhuai River, the Confucius Temple Qinhuai Scenic Area remembers the life and teachings of this great man.
A temple has stood on this spot since 1034 AD, though it was destroyed during WWII and then rebuilt.
Today, the entire area is filled with gardens, historic sites, and restaurants. This includes China’s largest statue of Confucius and a collection of panels depicting his life.
Take a sightseeing cruise along the water while you’re in the area or just wander and enjoy the relaxed, soothing vibes.
This is one of the most popular Nanjing attractions.
Xuanwu Lake is a quiet, peaceful escape from the busyness of the city. It’s particularly beautiful in summer when the lotus flowers in the lake are in bloom, but the beautiful gardens have their appeal at almost any time of year.
You can rent a paddle boat to explore the lake itself or just take a picnic and enjoy the views.
If you’re in Nanjing on a clear day, then make sure you take in the views from Zifeng Tower Observation Deck. This is the tallest building in the city at 89 stories high.
You can take the elevator to the top floor and look out over the city, the lake, and all the way to the Purple Mountain on clear days.
Nanjing’s local food is an offshoot of Huaiyang cuisine, one of China’s Four Great Cuisines.
It focuses on regionally grown produce and seafood, and the city’s location makes this understandable. Nanjing is located in the fertile Yangtze River Delta, which is why food has become like art in this city.
While you’re in Nanjing, expect artistic dishes with a depth and complexity of flavor that has to be tasted to be believed. The locals also believe strongly in eating seasonal food, so your food options will change depending on the time of year.
You’ll find a huge range of places to eat in China and it might be hard for you to choose between them. The best way to choose good places is to look at the customers. If there are a lot of locals, then get in there quick!
This is one of the best places in the city to eat Jinling roast duck. It also offers Nanjing-style dishes and is fairly budget-friendly, so make sure you try a few of the local delicacies.
Address: Address: Floor 2, Jinling Hotel, 2 Hanzhong Road, Gulou District (鼓楼区汉中路2号金陵饭店2楼)
Want five-star surroundings and delicious food at a reasonable price? This revolving restaurant offers delicious Jiangsu-style dishes with views over the whole city. Try the roast suckling pig or the abalone for a real taste treat.
Address: Floor 36, Jinling Restaurant, 2 Hanzhong Road, Gulou District (鼓楼区汉中路2号金陵饭店36楼)
For something a little different, why not try some Cantonese dishes at Yue Hong He? The prices in this restaurant are extremely reasonable and it offers aesthetically beautiful dishes that taste amazing.
Address: Jinying Tiandi, 1 Xuehai Road, Xianlin University Town, Qixia District (栖霞区仙林大学城学海路1号金鹰天地)
If you’re traveling in the cooler months, then you’ll want hot pot. This branch restaurant is famous among locals and visitors for its hot pot dishes, and you can choose your own ingredients. Just make sure that you’re careful with the spice if you’re sensitive!
Address: Floor 4, Communication Services Mansion, 501 Zhongshan South Road, Qinhuai District (秦淮区中山南路501号通信服务大厦4楼)
If you’re looking for a bit of a change from local food, then why not try Indian? This restaurant is decorated with amazing photos and offers popular dishes from both Indian and Nepal. Just remember that it might taste quite different to the Indian food you get back home!
Address: Shi Gu Wan Food and Leisure Block, 193 Shigu Road, Baixia Distict (白下区石鼓路193号石鼓湾美食休闲街区)
Food markets in China are the best place to find bargains and cheap, tasty treats in a noisy, fascinating environment.
So, make sure you visit as many of them as possible while you’re in the city.
This food market is located inside the buildings surrounding the Confucius Temple.
You’ll find everything in this market from local snacks to Chinese souvenirs. And, of course, the local Nanjing salted duck.
The market is buzzing at night and is a great reason to hang around after seeing the temple during the day.
Also known as Lion Bridge Food Street, this is one of the most popular food markets in Nanjing.
You’ll find everything from stinky tofu to intestines on a stick at this market. In fact, half the fun is wandering around watching everyone and everything!
Read more about some of the weird food in China you can try.
This is a walking street crowded with small eateries. It’s opposite the Nanjing Presidential Hall and offers food from all over China.
It’s the kind of place where you’ll find snacks from Shanghai, spicy Sichuan food, and folk dishes all within a few steps of each other.
And the prices are remarkably budget-friendly too!
Nanjing’s accommodation tends to be a little cheaper than in other popular cities in China.
So, you may be able to afford a nicer hotel than you would expect during your stay.
Laomendong International Hostel is beside the Qinhuai River and within walking distance of local attractions like the Zhan Garden.
It’s located in an area with a lot of traditional old houses and is in a traditional Chinese house, making for a great local atmosphere. It’s also very close to the bus and metro stations.
This hostel has its own café, bar, and restaurant as well as private or shared dorm rooms.
The Tingoo Inn is a boutique hotel located just five minutes’ walk from the local metro station.
It offers pastel-decorated rooms with lots of arty touches as well as private bathrooms, seating areas, and a garden where you can have a drink at the end of long days.
The inn also has its own bar and restaurant for those nights when you’re too tired to go out.
The Jinling Hotel is right in the center of Nanjing’s business district, offering convenient access to the metro and other transport options.
It’s also surrounded by shops and restaurants, so you definitely won’t get bored when you stay in this 5-star hotel.
The hotel offers a fitness center, spa, and a business center just in case you need to work during your trip. It also has its own bar and a restaurant that offers great food and stunning city views.
Nanjing has a comprehensive and modern transport system that should make it easier for you to explore the city.
Nanjing Lukou International Airport is the main airport in Nanjing and offers flights to and from more than 54 cities within China. It also offers flights to some international cities.
There is a second international airport in the city, Nanjing Ma’an International Airport, but it mostly serves as a military airport.
You can catch a shuttle bus to the airport, which takes about an hour, or a taxi which is sometimes quicker.
Nanjing’s high-speed rail is fast, on time, and relatively inexpensive. There are two main stations that serve the city, and you can catch trains that will take you to most of the major cities in China.
Long-distance bus travel is a cheap and fairly easy way to travel from Nanjing to other parts of China.
There are eight main bus stations in Nanjing with buses traveling to cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
Nanjing’s Metro system is currently being upgraded to meet the needs of the rapidly growing city.
At the moment, the metro can take you to numerous areas around the city, but it does get extremely crowded during peak hours.
To take the metro, you need to buy a ticket at the station. Reloadable cards are available, but if you’re only in the city for a few days, it probably isn’t worth the trouble.
The Nanjing city bus network is extensive and cost-effective, but the buses can be very crowded during peak hours.
Fares around the city are usually around 2 RMB, though this can vary depending on your route and what kind of bus you take.
Nanjing also has tourist bus routes. These buses go to the most popular tourist spots and are marked by the Chinese symbol for travel (旅行).
Taxis are cheap and plentiful in the city, but your driver probably won’t speak English, so have your hotel and destination name written down in Chinese characters.
Make sure your driver turns on the meter as soon as you get in the taxi or they may quote a very high price once you arrive at your destination.
Alternatively, use an app like Didi which is China’s version of Uber. You can find out more about the top apps used in China.
When it’s time to get out of the city, there are a couple of nearby places that are a must-go for Nanjing day trips.
Located 15 minutes from Nanjing in the east, Purple Mountain is often covered in purple and golden clouds at sunrise and sunset, which is where it got its name from.
The mountain is beautiful on its own, but it also contains some of the most important historical sites in the city.
There are more than 200 heritage and scenic tourist sites on or near the mountain. It’s the final resting place for emperors and heroes from more than 10 Chinese dynasties and offers stunning natural scenic spots.
Some of the most important sites at Purple Mountain are:
Plum Blossom Hill, with its beautiful natural scenery, is also worth checking out.
This park is built around Niushou Mountain, a beautiful Buddhist site filled with historic and culturally significant attractions. It’s about 35 minutes out of the city, so would make for a great day trip from Nanjing.
While you’re at Nanjing Niushoushan Cultural Park, you can wander through the ornate, underground Buddhist palace, or explore the famous pagoda, an incredible Tang-style building.
The architecture in this area is truly stunning, especially set against the lush natural greenery of the mountain.
Get a visual taste of Nanjing before you visit!
It’s easy to forget a thing or two before you head to China.
So, here are a few reminders for you:
Have a wonderful time in Nanjing. And remember to get your VPN!
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Page last updated 2 November 2021. Main image credit: Colin_Guan on Pixabay. Commercial relationship disclosure: The Helpful Panda has commercial arrangements with organizations that may appear on this page, such as affiliate links. See our terms for more info.
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