Regarded as a major historic relic preservation project, The Astor Hotel in Tianjin is a luxury hotel decorated in classic Victorian era style. Open since 1863, it has been recently restored and reopens this month. The Astor has hosted Prime Ministers and Presidents, including Dr. Sun Yat Sen and US President Herbert Hoover.
The Astor boasts 152 rooms, all varying in style. The original 1863 building has rooms decorated in European style, complete with four-poster beds. Another wing, built in 1984 contains more contemporary rooms. Families might consider renting a suite (141sqm). Rooms are equipped with a flat screen LCD TV, an iPod dock, Internet and a private marble bathroom. A deluxe room with two queen beds is suitable for two adults and a child, and starts at RMB 1,298 net – contact the hotel to find out about additional child costs. It’s worth inquiring about their packages as prices are subject to change.
For those looking to escape the sight of Beijing skyscrapers, Tianjin offers beautiful architecture and historical attractions.
There are many places of interest within walking distance of the hotel. Five Roads (五大道) can be a pleasant walk in the shade, while admiring the European architecture of the old legation quarter. Lined with cobble streets, Italian Style Town has interesting sites to match its peculiar English name, including a KTV that is housed in a church, a tall Roman pillar topped with a winged creature and a 50-story building that looms over the rest. Jinwan Plaza has shopping, food and entertainment. Kids will love Jeifang Bridge, which lifts when big ships sails into the pier. Just across from the Astor’s Historical Wing lies Jiefang Bei Park. It is formerly known as Victoria Park and was built to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s rule.
Families can also enjoy a day or night cruise along the Hai river, or a ride on the giant Eye of Tianjin (similar to its London counterpart). The Eye of Tianjin is 35-stories tall and one rotation takes 30 minutes. Tickets cost RMB 50 (adult) and RMB 25 (child under 1.2m). Groups of 20 or more receive a 10 percent discount.
Families should also amble down Old Cultural Street. Find a typical Tianjin treat on Food Street and see the Old Bell Tower. Kids will also love the horse-carriage ride. The hotel can arrange an English-speaking tour guide should you like one.
After a long day, families can relax with a swim in The Astor’s indoor pool, which is open until early evening. Mom and dad can also enjoy the fitness center. (The pool and fitness center are currently under renovation.)
There is a lot of history to unearth in Tianjin. A visit to The Tianjin Museum is recommended. It houses art, such as watercolors, calligraphy and pottery, as well as historical items to reflect the history of Tianjin. Visitors can see a uniform worn by Chairman Mao during a speech he gave in Tianjin. Giant murals and kid-friendly movies (Chinese only) will keep the little ones entertained.
The Astor also houses a 700sqm museum displaying historical relics and memorabilia related to the city of Tianjin and the hotel. It is open daily and admission is free for guests.
A seaport, Tianjin is known for its wonderfully fresh seafood. It is also famous for a few snack items, including steamed buns called goubuli (狗不理包子), guifaxiang, a type of mahua twisted dough stick, and erduoyuan (耳朵眼炸糕), a fried rice cake.
The hotel has three restaurants that are open daily and friendly English-speaking staff. Café Majestic is open all day and has an international buffet that includes seafood and Chinese food. Dinners can also order a la carte. 1863 The Dining Room is for lovers of European fine dining. There is also Shui An Chinese restaurant, serving up local Tianjin delicacies. For families with tired feet, don’t forget the 24-hour room service with a menu of local and international food. Kid-friendly fare includes sandwiches, burgers and pastas.
The Astor Hotel 天津利顺德大饭店
33 Taier Zhuang Lu, Tianjin (+22 2331 1688)
From Beijing, Tianjin is 30-minutes away by train and an hour-and-a-half by car.
Catch the high-speed D train from Beijing South Railway Station. Trains depart every 30 minutes and tickets are around RMB 60.
Take Jinshen expressway. Next, take Jingjin Tang expressway and follow the signs to Tianjin. Upon entering Tianjin, take Weiguo Lu and make a left onto Shiyijin Lu. Cross Daguangming Bridge. Turn into Jiefang Bei Lu. The hotel is on the right as you drive along Astor Historical Wing.
*Correction: In the article, Sitting Seaside (beijingkids, September 2010), The Astor Hotel package should have been priced at RMB1,298, not RMB 1,398. Also, The Astor’s swimming pool and fitness centre are not yet open.