As you meander down the charming cobblestone streets, the scent of fresh Italian cuisine greets your senses. You hear a French ballad being sung somewhere nearby, accompanied by the dulcet tones of an accordion. Your children happily skip along beside you, enjoying the sweet gelato you just purchased at a nearby vendor. Surely, you must be in Europe! Think again: You’re in the Italian Concession of Tianjin, one of China’s “five central national cities.”
Formally opened to foreign trade in 1860, Tianjin is still filled with remnants of various foreign concessions built between 1895 and 1900. Located on the east bank of the Haihe River and recently restored in 2010, the Italian Concession is a must-see for those visiting Tianjin. Numerous Western restaurants offer a variety of dishes, from Italian pasta to French desserts. The combination of architecture is fascinating; numerous Italian villas dot the landscape as an enormous skyscraper looms overhead.
On the western bank of the Haihe River, in contrast to the Western influence evident in the Italian Concession, Guwenhua Jie (or the Ancient Culture Street 古文化节) features numerous products unique to Tianjin. As you roam from store to store, you can purchase Zhang’s clay figurines (泥人张), Zhang’s Peanuts (崩豆张) – intricate clay figurines and flavor-blasted peanuts, respectively. Both of these boast 180 years of history. One can also purchase tasty snacks, such as goubuli baozi (狗不理包子), guifaxiang mahua (桂发祥麻花) – a traditional type of twisted fried dough snack – and erduo yanzhagao (耳朵眼炸糕), a sticky rice dish been fried in hot oil.
Other attractions include Tianjin Water Park (天津水上公园), the largest water park in Tianjin, and the Tianjin Zoo (天津动物园), where one can find approximately 3,000 animals of around 200 species. There’s also the Tianjin Eye, the only ferris wheel in the world built over a bridge, and the Tianjin Cultural Center, which includes a library, the largest museum in Tianjin, and a theater. The center also contains Tianjin Sunshine Park, which contains lots of entertainment for children and teenagers, such as an “adventure world,” a photography and animation world, and a cinema.
High-speed trains leave from the Beijing South Train Station every 20 to 30 minutes. Tickets can be purchased from the South Train Station for about RMB 110 roundtrip. The train ride itself only takes about 30 minutes.
Photo by gill_penney via Flickr