Zhenjiang is a small city in Jiangsu Province, near the eastern coast of China.
Situated between Nanjing and Changzhou and about an hour’s train journey from Shanghai, it’s also the city where I’ve worked in for the last few years.
So, when it comes to knowing the best things to do in Zhenjiang, I know what I’m talking about!
Zhenjiang is a forgotten about city
You probably haven’t heard of Zhenjiang. Foreign tourists don’t often come here.
And, many expats who want to work in China tend to give small cities like Zhenjiang a miss, preferring instead the hustle and bustle of mega cities like Beijing and Shanghai.
In my opinion, that’s a great shame!
Those who are adventurous enough to venture into the small cities can expect a more authentic China experience, and for expats, less competition for jobs.
So, what can a foreigner get up to in this part of China?
Here are 10 things to do in Zhenjiang, should you decide to visit for a short or long stay.
1. Hike up a local mountain
There are numerous mountains here so one thing to do in Zhenjiang is to go hiking.
I’ve personally been to two of them – Meihua Shan and Chui Shan (‘Shan’ means ‘mountain’ in Mandarin Chinese).
My trip to Meihua Shan was my first excursion after I started working here a few years ago. My university took a group of Chinese and foreign staff there by coach one weekend in the spring.
When we arrived, the place was packed! It’s a pretty popular tourist attraction.
We saw some nice Chinese architecture including gates, arches, statues and pagodas.
If you’re into nature and you visit in spring, you’ll see row upon row of cherry blossom trees.
There’s also a nursery where you can buy lovely potted plants – just remember that you probably won’t be able to take anything like this out of the country.
Recently, a friend of mine invited me to go with him on a trip to Chui Shan, another mountain nor far from Zhenjiang.
The first thing I saw when I arrived was a lake where some people were pedal-boating. A lot of Chinese people find this relaxing or romantic!
At the base of the mountain there’s a pink building resembling a church, while at the top there’s a tower and a few pagodas.
The most interesting thing at Chui Shan is the long wooden walkway that has an uncanny resemblance to the Great Wall of China.
For a moment, you might think you’re in Beijing! It’s surreal.
2. Get into traditional arts and crafts
If you prefer something a little less strenuous, attending a local arts and crafts activity is another thing you can do in Zhenjiang.
There are several art studios and workshops that you can visit here.
One year, in the middle of winter, I went on a trip to Changjiang Village with a group of students. When we arrived, the village was covered in snow and was a sight to behold.
Although the scenery was beautiful, I was pleased to get inside the warm arts and crafts studio.
We tried our hand at making dumplings, traditional Chinese paper decorations and even Chinese knots.
It turned out that a reporter was also there, so our story and photos appeared in a newspaper the following day. Pretty cool!
3. Make friends with the locals
On WeChat (a China app), I found a local group that went by the name of ‘Local Guy’.
This group meets weekly on Thursdays where various people give a series of lectures on a wide range of topics.
In addition to the Thursday evening meetings, the group also organizes excursions, Saturday tea parties, meals out and various cultural activities for its members.
By joining this group, I’ve been able to make many new friends, greatly improve my social life, and practice my Chinese skills.
If you’re here for the long haul, joining a local WeChat group is definitely one of the best things to do in Zhenjiang.
4. Have fun in the shopping mall
In the Auchan Shopping Mall in the city centre is a sort of a play area where you’ll have the opportunity to try a range of interesting activities.
The most exciting include trampolining, a climbing wall, an obstacle course and a ‘Gladiator Duel’.
Although largely meant for children, the equipment in this play area is big enough and strong enough to take an adult’s weight.
I learnt some basic trampolining moves in my early thirties as part of a residential course that I once attended.
So, I was fascinated when I stumbled upon this facility by accident one day.
I decided to invite some of my students to join me there. We had a great time trying out everything that the mall had to offer.
5. Eat out
I’ve worked in four different cities across China and I have to say that eating out in Zhenjiang is one of the best things to do here.
Just across the road from my place of work, in the area affectionately known as the ‘back street’, there are numerous hawkers selling delicious and cheap street food.
In addition, there are plenty of restaurants whose collective menus include a wide range of international foods like pizza, steak and even Muslim food.
I go out for supper with my colleagues at least once a week.
In my time in Zhenjiang, I’ve tried several unusual and exotic dishes, like starfish, turtle and even donkey meat!
Eating out is definitely one of the best things to do in Zhenjiang.
6. Eat a sumptuous buffet at a five-star hotel
One of my fellow teachers once came up with a crazy idea.
“Why don’t we try the buffet dinner at the Sheraton Hotel?”, he said.
So, a group of us went there for dinner one evening.
The food was delicious and there was a huge range of different dishes to try.
The cost? 300 RMB per head. What a great way to blow your generous salary in China!
In my opinion, if you’re a fan of great food, or want a break from Chinese food, going to a buffet dinner at a top hotel is one of the best things to do here.
7. Immerse yourself in the local culture
Zhenjiang has a number of interesting cultural events to attend.
For instance, during the annual Lantern Festival, the huge model ships in Xijingdu are brightly decorated with multi-colored lights.
Going to the Lantern Festival was one of the first things I did when I moved to Zhenjiang.
Zhenjiang vinegar is famous in China. I’ve visited a traditional vinegar factory where I was able to see for myself how this condiment is made.
There are also various Chinese music concerts to attend in Xijingdu. Musicians dressed in ancient costumes play songs using traditional instruments.
In China, it’s very common to see elderly people outdoors taking part in “guang chang wu” or Chinese square dancing.
As a keen ballroom dancer, I’ve had a go at this myself on several occasions.
Immersing yourself in the local culture is a great thing to do, not just in Zhenjiang but also in any Chinese city that you happen to visit or work in.
8. Watch a movie at one of the local cinemas
There are at least five cinemas in Zhenjiang, and most show 3D movies.
There are two in Changfa Plaza, one in Wanda Plaza, one in Hongdou Plaza and another one in Zhongshan East Road.
In the other cities that I’ve previously worked in, I rarely went to the cinema. The movies were mostly Chinese ones and I also didn’t know enough Mandarin at the time to be able to buy a cinema ticket.
Fortunately, the cinemas in Zhenjiang do show some English movies. I’ve seen several movies lately from the Avengers series (Chinese people love Marvel!).
In some cinemas, there are double seats called “qínɡ lǚ zuò wèi” or “couples’ seats” – perfect for romantic dates!
Going to the cinema is one of my top things to do in Zhenjiang, not only because it’s a good way to socialize with friends but because it’s a great way to court a woman!
9. Hit the bars
Downtown Zhenjiang is home to at least 20 bars and clubs.
Some are tucked away in little known commercial buildings and don’t have many customers.
If you’re looking for a quiet place to unwind and dislike the busier smoke-filled bars of China, these small bars are a good place to go to.
Alternatively, if you prefer a busier bar with lots of people, live music, food and pool tables, you can get that here too.
The Runzhou area of Zhenjiang is the place with the most bars.
I usually go there with a fellow British teacher who loves to play chess (yes – you can play chess in Chinese bars). I’ve not managed to beat him yet!
In the UK, my friends and I like to go on pub crawls so I don’t have a favorite – I like to go to a different bar each time.
If you’re ever at a loose end in the evening, hitting the bars is definitely one of the coolest things to do in Zhenjiang.
10. Take up tai chi
If you’re feeling guilty after pigging out at the buffet or you’ve had one too many drinks at the bar, why not burn off the excess calories by doing some tai chi?
Tai chi, or to give it its proper name, tàijí quán, is a Chinese martial art. It’s practiced for defense training, health benefits and meditation.
The Local Guy group once organized a tai chi taster session at a local studio. I learnt some interesting moves that I now practice regularly.
In summary, Zhenjiang isn’t the most beautiful Chinese city that I’ve been to but it’s by far one of the liveliest.
Whether you come here for a short stay or decide to make it your home, you won’t have any trouble finding things to see and do.
Do you have any questions about what there is to do in Zhenjiang? Or have you got your own suggestions? Please comment below.