Want a break from tall buildings, rush, and traffic? Tianjin is the get-away destination for you. Less than a two-hour drive from Beijing, it’s a city that will make you feel at home with its unique cultural infrastructure and friendly citizens. My 12 years there have allowed me to discover my inner “Tianjiner.” It is the fourth largest city (by area) in China and is located around the Hai River. With exciting attractions to visit and mouth-watering delicacies to eat, the city will surely warm your heart.
How do I get there?
If you own a car, enjoy the greenery on the drive along the Jing Jin Tang and Jin Ku expressways-and if you wish to reach the city faster, take the intercity train from Beijing South Station which will get you to Tianjin in less than 40 minutes. After reaching Tianjin station, catch a taxi to your first destination.
What places/attractions should I visit?
Strolling down the little streets of the financial district past old banks, churches and foreign architecture will transport you to Europe. It’s my favorite part of Tianjin. It’s much like a fairytale land with narrow roads and ornate traffic lights. The street itself was originally built by the foreigners that lived in China before World War II, and is made up of British, Italian, French, German, Swedish, Austrian, Hungarian, Belgian and Korean concessions and banks. It’s a tourist must-see because it has rare traces of foreign architecture which survived the boxer rebellion that took place between 1899 and 1901. My long visits to the street and my curiosity lead into banks and old buildings; exploring dusty staircases, broken picture frames and collapsed bookshelves and furniture. The financial center is a place for Europhiles in particular; everything you see recalls a different part of the world.
Next, head to the ancient cultural street (also known as Gu Wen Hua Jie) and walk through the bright red rows of shops which look traditionally Chinese. The street is filled with flags and tall pagoda style roof tops. You’ll find a variety of traditional jewelry, snacks, clothing, paintings and show pieces. When I walk down this street, I feel as if I am walking down China’s memory lane. I always wonder if this is how China looked before the revolution. I love the shopkeepers hawking their wares and the mingled aromas of foods and snacks. You need to bargain if you want to buy, because prices quoted range from almost reasonable to totally ridiculous. Stop for some snacks along the way – I really enjoy tang hu lu – mini sugar coated apple sticks.
Before heading back to Beijing, spend your evening at the unmissable Tianjin Eye, built on the bridge that spans the Hai river. Hop onto a dragon boat and enjoy the view of colorful lights reflected in the water. (You can ride on the Tianjin Eye from around 11:00am to 5:00pm in winter). At night the colors are mesmerizing as the wheel spreads a white glow. The last train back to Beijing leaves the city at 10:00pm. Don’t forget to take a camera with you, because you will want to capture this!
Where should I eat?
Good food is not hard to find in Tianjin. If you’re looking for authentic Chinese, head to Gou Bu Li where you’ll get a range steamed dumplings to choose from – great to gobble on a cold winter day. Around thecultural street there are plenty of Chinese restaurants serving good dumplings and Kung Pao chicken. Explore and find the cuisine you want -I go to a different restaurant every time; the streets are filled with choices from barbeque to hotpot.
In the Italian concession you’ll find a row of authentic Italian restaurants and bars, with a good variety of pizzas and pastas to choose from. My personal favorite is Trattoria-perfectly decorated in a rustic Italian style. After your meal, try and satisfy your sweet tooth with some Italian gelato from one of the street’s many gelato vendors.
Tianjin is definitely a great day trip destination. Whether it’s with your family, friends or even alone, this city is guaranteed to win your heart.
Photos by Gurkriti Singh