Itinerary: Nanjing in two days
This is the first in hopefully a number of posts where I put up travel itineraries which have worked well for me. See notes below on my choice of sights and alternatives.
Where: Nanjing is a historic city located in eastern China, about 300km from Shanghai as the crow flies, or roughly 1.5 hours by bullet train. Today, Nanjing is the capital of Jiangsu province, but for centuries it was the capital of various regimes throughout Chinese history, and the capital of a unified China in the 14th century and again in the early 20th century. Its long history has given it many poetic names, but its modern name means, simply, “the southern capital”, mirroring the name of Beijing, “the northern capital”. Culturally and linguistically, Nanjing is a thorough mixture of northern and southern China, reflecting successive influxes of northern rulers and its location in the heartland of Wu culture. Visitors to Nanjing are usually attracted by its great monuments, including the tomb of Sun Yat-sen, the “father of modern China”, but it is also famous for its food, boulevardes, lakes and mountains, and the legends that still echo from laneways to ruined palaces.
- Train to Nanjing: I took the 8:00 am bullet train from Shanghai station to Nanjing station (about 1.5 hours travelling time). If you are travelling by train, note carefully the departure and arrival stations. If you are departing from relatively central Shanghai, I recommend choosing a train that goes from Shanghai station to Nanjing station, rather than from Shanghai Hongqiao to Nanjing South. Also be aware that Nanjing South station moved in 2011 from just south of the city centre to much further away, and now takes about 30-45 minutes longer to get to from central Nanjing.
- Purple Mountain (紫金山） / Zhongshan Mountain （钟山） area: the most impressive monuments in Nanjing are located in these hills just east of the city centre. The three key attractions here are the Mausoleum of Sun Yat-sen, the tomb of the first Emperor of the Ming Dynast, and the Linggu Temple area, which was formerly the Nationalist war cemetary for the 1911 revolution and conflicts with Japan leading up to World War II. Each of these are arranged up the slope of a mountain, and there are golf carts / electric shuttle cars to convey tourists within the larger park area.
- From the railway station, take the Metro Line 1 to Xinjiekou station (新街口), then change to Line 2 to Muxuyuan station (苜蓿园). Leave the station from Exit 1, and follow the signposted boardwalk which runs parallel to the main road to a parking area next to the elevated expressway.
- Buy tickets for the park shuttles. Current prices are RMB 5 per ride, but I recommend the five-ride ticket for RMB 15 since you will most likely take at least three rides while in the park.
- Find the park shuttle to the Mausoleum of Sun Yat-sen (中山陵). The tomb complex is free to visit. From the shuttle stop, follow the crowds to reach Fraternity Square, in front of the Gate of Fraternity. Directly across the square from that gate is an interesting bronze cauldron, which marks the southern tip of the tomb complex. Follow the stone steps up the hill to visit the tomb itself. The burial chamber (influenced by that of Napoleon) itself is currently closed to visitors due to the influx in visitors since the tomb complex stopped charging admission. (About 1 hour)
- Coming back to Fraternity Square, cross the square slightly to the left (while facing away from the tomb) and you will see a sign for the Music Bowl (音乐台). Here you can buy a ticket that covers admission to the other major sights in the Purple Mountain area for RMB 90. The Music Bowl itself is an interesting example of Republican architecture and design.
- Coming back to Fraternity Square, go right as you face the tomb to board the shuttle for Linggu Temple (灵谷寺). Take a walk up the hill to see:
- the Hall of Infinite Strength (无量殿/无梁殿), a rare, brick-vaulted traditional Chinese building which was converted into a shrine to the war dead of the National Revolutionary Army;
- Linggu pagoda, an early 20th century construction decorated with works of calligraphy by artists who happened to have been leaders of the 1911 revolution, and which offers great views over the area and Nanjing generally;
- several interesting tombs, shrines and memorials of various styles, such as the tomb of Tan Yankai, a 20th century construction with classical Chinese elements; and
- Linggu Temple, a modern recreation of the temple from which this ensemble derives its name; and
- In the right season, sweet osmanthus blossoms.
- (About 2 hours in total)
- Coming back out to the shuttle stop, look for the shuttle that goes to the Ming Xiaoling Tomb (明孝陵), the 15th century tomb of the first Emperor of the Ming Dynasty. The shuttle takes you close to the tomb complex itself, which is an interesting mixture of original elements and later reconstructions of buildings destroyed by war. After you reach the burial mound, come back out, and upon exiting the gate of the tomb complex there is a path that leads left. (Less than 1 hour)
- Optional: if you are doing well for time at this point, follow that path to the left, which takes you into the Zixia Lake (紫霞湖) area. A 20 minute walk up the mountain is rewarded with pretty views of Zixia Lake, a reservoir high up the mountain built at the time of the construction of the Mausoleum of Sun Yat-sen. It is a favourite swimming, fishing and picnicking spot for locals. Walking around the lake takes you to some medieval ruins and also Zhengqi Pavilion (正气亭), which reputedly marks the spot that Chiang Kai-shek picked out for his own tomb. On the way up or down the hill you will also see the ruins of the tomb of the first crown prince of the Ming Dynasty, who predeceased his father and so was buried close to his tomb, and a gallery of Chinese calligraphy carvings. (About 1.5 hours)
- Coming back down to the front of the Xiaoling tomb, a road leads to the right as you stand before the bridges before the tomb (facing away from the tomb). Follow this road as it turns left and then left again to see the stone statues of civil and military officials who guard the “spirit way” of the Emperor’s tomb, and, after another turn to the left, paired statues of animal guardians both mythical and real. The camels and elephants are especially impressive. At the end of the “spirit way”, follow the path until you see a tall brick enclosure on your right. This is the official tombstone for the mausoleum, a giant granite block carried by a colossal tortoise-like creature. From here, take the pedestiran bridge across the main road to exit the mausoleum complex from its official entrance, the Great Golden Gate.
- At this point you will find yourself in a complex of shops, restaurants, and galleries capitalising on the tourist trade. If Republican history interests you, turn left here, exit the mall complex via the path marked by ornate columns on the left to return to the main road. Walk along the road to the right and you will come across Meiling Palace (美龄宫), formerly an official residence for the President of the Republic of China but in reality a villa used mostly by Generallissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-shek. The villa is ticketed separately.
- To get to your hotel or to the city, there are shuttle stops on the main road near Meiling Palace. The one across the road takes you back to Muxuyuan subway station but services are infrequent. You can walk back to Muxuyuan station by following the main road, it takes about 15-20 minutes.
- Gate of China (Zhonghua Men) / the Confucian Temple night markets / Hunan Road snack street
- The Gate of China (中华门) was the southern gate of Nanjing, and is well known for its formidable construction and elaborate defences. Unlike ordinary city walls which are defended by one barbican, the Gate of China has three, and an invader who chooses (unwisely) to attach the city here would have to breach four gates and face traps and arrows at every turn. From here, you have the option of walking or cycling along the city wall for quite a long way in either direction. The gate complex itself houses exhibitions as well as a temple to a treasure bowl that legend holds was buried under this gate. Note that the subway stop named “Gate of China” is some distance from the gate itself, the most convenient transport option is by bus. The “Tourism route 2″ or “Y2″ (游2) (see general tips below about the ”tourism route” buses) takes you to the gate.
- From the Gate of China, take the Y2 (游2) bus out (the bus stop is on the side of the gate complex, on your right if you are standing on the gate facing away from the moat and into the city) to the Confucian Temple (夫子庙). This is not just a temple – indeed the temple itself is quite small and not entirely authentic. In times past, this area housed one of the main imperial academies in China, and with the large concentration of students the area became a centre for restaurants, taverns, shops of all description, and brothels. The brothels are gone now but the other establishments have been re-established. Take a walk (and maybe a boat trip on the river) and absorb the bustling atmosphere.
- On the south side of the river are some historical neighbourhoods, including the newly constructed Ancient Residences of Wang and Xie (王谢古居). This is a museum which is intended to reflect the era when Nanjing served as the capital of several dynasties ruling over southern China. The museum is located in Wuyi Xiang (乌衣巷), or “Black Suit Alley”, named after a unit of elite troops of the Wu kingdom in the Three Kingdoms period which was stationed here. Their distinctive uniform – as you may have guessed – was black.
- Being so saturated with tourists, it is difficult to find good food near the Confucian Temple. From here, take a bus (e.g. route 31) or the subway (follow the signs) to get to Hunan Road. The closest subway stop is Xuanwu Men (玄武门). There are a number of “snack streets” off Hunan Road, which are packed with unique restaurants and food stalls. The most accessible is Lion Bridge, or Shizi Qiao (狮子桥). This street is perpendicular to Hunan Road and is marked by a large ceremonial gate on Hunan Road.
- Some recommendations for “local” flavour include:
- Huiwei Duck Blood Vermicelli (回味鸭血粉丝) (past the McDonalds). Their signature dish, duck blood vermicelli souop, features mung bean vermicelli in a soup along with a variety of duck products, including blocks of duck blood (like tofu but with duck flavour), gizzards, cured liver and other delicacies. Great tasting (despite the organic sounding ingredient list). Goes well with a basket of their xiaolongbao (tiny steamed buns with soup). Order at the counter, pick up food from a window and take it to your chosen table.
- A Simple Diet (粗茶淡饭) (before the McDonalds) serves a variety of down-to-earth but delicious regional cuisine. Choose a table, catch a waitress to get your order form, then go to the counters to order. The menu is presented as plastic food so you can get an approximate idea of what you get even without speaking the language. I recommend the chicken soup with stirred noodles. The pastries (xiaolongbao and other steamed dishes) are also nice.
- To leave from Lion Bridge, walk back out to Hunan Road. Walking to the right takes you to Xuanwumen station. Alternatively, walk left until you reach Zhongshan Road, where you will find many bus lines.
- If you still have the energy, take the subway or a bus to Xinjiekou (新街口), the key modern shopping area in Nanjing, where you will find department stores and international brands.
- Presidential Palace: The Presidential Palace in Nanjing was the centre of political power during the periods of Kuomintang (Nationalist) rule in the Republic of China. It is a mixture of a classical Chinese yamen (as the office of the Viceroy of the Two Jiangs), Republican-era architecture and Communist era desecration.
- Take the subway line 2 to Daxinggong station and walk north across the open plaza, alternatively take the Y2 bus.
- There is plenty to see at the Presidential Palace and no single route. It roughly divides into three sections organised around the central, western and eastern axes. The most significant sights are along the central axis. This includes the restored presidential office and executive council conference rooms, all in the Zichao building at the northern end of the compound.
- The western axis features several gardens as well as the presidential office used by Sun Yat-sen as the first provisional president of the Republic.
- The eastern axis has a range of service buildings from the Viceregal era, as well as some early 20th century offices used by the executive government during the Republican era, restored to the way they were in the 1940s.
- Nearby is the Meiyuan Estate (梅园新村), some preserved villas from the Republican era which are today preserved mainly because the Communist party delegation to the capital was located here during the negotiations between the Communists and Nationalists in 1946-7.
- A new attraction which at the time of writing is yet to open despite having been completed more than 3 years ago is the Nanjing Zizhao Fu (南京织造府), or the Nanjing Weaving Works, intended to be a museum on the site of the former imperial weaving and embroidery works. The architecture is interesting as a combination of traditional elements juxtaposed onto contemporary forms. The building currently sits empty due to disagreements between the private sector developers, the city government and scholars as to its proper contents.
- Also in this area of the town are several universities such as Nanjing University (the former Nanking University) and Southeast University (the National Central University during the Republican era), which feature some interesting architecture from the Republican era. Also interesting is Yihe Road (颐和路), reputedly the best collection of Republican architecture in Nanjing.
- Jiming Temple (鸡鸣寺), or the Temple of the Crowing Rooster, is a historical temple built along the slopes of a hill to the north of central Nanjing. You can reach it by walking by buses including the Y2.
- While the temple itself is fairly small and mostly the result of modern construction, its most interesting features is original: a covered walkway at the back of the temple takes you from the hill on which the temple is built onto the city wall. This section of city wall gives some great views over the city, and also over Xuanwu Laketo the north.
- From here, it is not too far to go to one of the eateries of Hunan Road for a late lunch and perhaps shopping for some souvenirs.
- Duck is a traditional specialty of Nanjing and often bought as souvenirs. One particularly well known shop is the Halal Han Fu Xing (韩复兴) Cured Duck Shop, which makes great salt ducks and roast ducks, as well as the eponymous cured ducks and a variety of duck products and other types of roasted poultry. One unique product, sold from a window facing the street, is duck-oil pancakes. These come in both sweet and savoury varieties, and are delicious if eaten hot (or reheated). Han Fu Xing have branches on Hunan Road (No. 110 Hunan Road) and in several other places.
- When returning by train, the best way to get to the station is via subway Line 1, either to Nanjing Railway Station or Nanjing South Railway Station. The latter takes longer to get to, and should not be confused with the old Nanjing South Railway Station, now re-named Gate of China (or Zhonghuamen) Station.
- Nanjing has a relatively small but convenient subway system. Metro Line 1 takes you from Nanjing station south through the commercial centre of the city through to Nanjing South station. Metro Line 2 intersects Line 1 at the city centre, and from there goes east and reaches most of the main tourist destinations. I recommend booking a hotel close to a Metro station.
- Single tickets on the Metro can be purchased at ticket machines, but can only be used on the day of purchase and for travel from the station where they are purchased.
- Metro networks and station announcements can be confusing because the city has apparently auctioned off naming rights to a lot of stations, so what in formal sources is called “Daxinggong station” is announced as “Baoqing Jellewers – Daxinggong”. It also doesn’t help that most station names are transliterated and not translated – so you may have to carefully match long strings of pinyin names like “Xinmofanmalu” (literally “New Model Road”) when navigating the Metro.
- There are many bus routes. A few are designed for tourists and the route takes you from and to various tourist destinations. These are identified as “Y1″, “Y2″ etc, or “游1″, “游2″ etc, these buses are run by Argos so look out for that as well.
- All prices above are in RMB (Renminbi). Renminbi currently trades about 6.5 to 1 dollar, or about 10 to 1 pound sterling.
- Nanjing has a large range of hotels. I stayed at the Orange Hotel (Donghuamen), which was clean, modern and conveniently located. I highly recommend the Orange Hotel chain in general – they are clean, modern, and just quirky enough to be more interesting than a sterile chain. They have several locations in Nanjing: http://www.orangehotel.com.cn/nanjing# (English version may not work).
- Nanjing is best seen on a 3-4 day trip, this is a compressed itinerary suitable for a weekend trip out of Shanghai.
- I speak passable Mandarin; if language is a problem for you, you may want to ask someone to prepare printed tags for you and rely more on taxis and metros and less on buses, for example.
- I don’t like wasting my travel time on political propaganda. Two major Nanjing “attractions” which fall into this category and therefore are excluded here are the Yuhuatai (“Platform of the Rain of Flowers”) Martyr’s Memorial and the Nanking Massacre Memorial.
- I prefer eating local specialties at restaurants where taste comes first. While hygiene is important to me, decor is not, and I usually avoid foods which are from the wrong part of the world. For example, even though I make no mention of them above, Nanjing, like any other city in China, has a good selection of spicy restaurants if your tastes are inclined that way.