The affluent capital of Jiangsu rivals Beijing for ancient tombs, palaces and historic monuments.
Nanjing, meaning Southern Capital, was one of the four great capitals of ancient China, and its urban landscape is crammed with history. The city was the nerve centre of six dynasties from AD 229, and capital of the Republic of China between 1912 and 1949. Located 300km (186 miles) northwest of Shanghai beside the Yangtze River, is now the capital of the affluent Jiangsu province.
A relaxed city with a large university contingent but a relatively small population (by Chinese standards) of seven million, Nanjing’s modern development has lagged behind neighbouring Shanghai and Hangzhou. However, the hosting of the 2nd Summer Youth Olympic Games in August 2014 has inspired a citywide infrastructure boom.
Nanjing rivals Beijing for ancient tombs, palaces and historic monuments, and is also home to hot springs, some of China’s top universities and tasty local cuisine. Newer icons, such as the 450-metre (1476ft) Greenland Tower – the world’s 10th tallest skyscraper – are part of Nanjing’s plan to establish itself as a modern centre for architecture and the arts, while preserving the historical sites that commemorate its colourful, and at times brutal, 2,500-year timeline.
Spring (mid-March to May) and autumn (September to early November) are the best times to visit Nanjing, when the temperature is mild with low humidity. Surrounded by heat-trapping mountains, Nanjing is known as one of China's three 'furnace cities,' and it swelters during summer, while winter can dip below freezing.
Singaporean citizens can visit China for a period of 15 days without a visa, while most other nationalities require a visa in advance. Ensure your passport is valid for at least six months and that you have a return or onward ticket.
China's currency is the yuan (Y), also known as renminbi, or colloquially as kuai. International credit cards and bank cards (Cirrus, Plus, Visa, MasterCard, American Express) can be used to withdraw local currency from ATMs, which are found throughout the city.
Nanjing Lukou International Airport is a 35km (22-mile) drive from downtown Nanjing, via a new expressway. Three new subway lines are set to open in 2014, including an Airport Express, bringing the total to five lines.
Nanjing is a relatively safe city, but petty crimes such as pickpocketing do occur in crowded areas like train stations, markets and busy streets. There is very little violent crime against foreigners, but tourists should be aware of scams that generally begin with a request from the scammer to practise their English or visit a student art exhibition. Avoid unlicensed cab drivers or motorcycle taxis.
In case of Health concerns: International SOS Nanjing Clinic, G/F, Grand Metropark Hotel
|How are you?||Ni hao ma?|
|Fine, thanks||Hen hao, xie xie|
|Excuse-me! (to get attention)||Qing wen!|
|Thank you||Xie xie|
|What's your name?||Ni jiao shen me ming zi?|
|My name is…||Wo jiao…|
|Nice to meet you||Jian dao ni hen gao xing|
|Are you on Facebook/Twitter?||Nin zai shi yong Facebook/Twitter ma?|
|Where’s an internet café?||Wang ba zai na li?|
|Where can I get a taxi?||Wo ke yi zai na li zhao dao chu zu che?|
|Where is the bus/train station?||Qi che zhan/huo che zhan zai na li?|
|A one-way/return ticket to…||Yi zhang dao…de dan cheng/shuang cheng piao|
|Do you have a room for one/two?||You yi/liang ren de fang jian ma?|
|When's check out?||Ji dian tui fang?|
|Can you recommend a good restaurant/bar?||Ni neng tui jian yi jia hao can guan/jiu ba ma?|
|A table for two, please||Qing gei wo liang ge ren de zhuo zi|
|A menu, please||Qing gei wo cai dan|
|The bill, please||Qing gei wo zhang dan|
|Where's the toilet?||Xi shou jian zai na li?|
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Gate of China
The 30km (19-mile) crenulated wall that once encircled Nanjing is said to have been the longest ancient city wall in the world and the remnants of the broad fortification are well preserved. The castle-style Gate of China (Zhonghuamen) was the southern gate into the city. You can explore provisions depots and a small exhibition at its base, and walk along the top of the ramparts for excellent views of Nanjing’s historic buildings and its evolving skyline.
Nanjing Municipal Museum
Next to Zhongshan Gate, within the historic ochre-walled Chaotian Palace, the Nanjing Municipal Museum contains an extensive collection covering 5,000 years of history. Artefacts include ceramics, jade objects, lacquerware, textiles, bronzes, porcelain items and stone figures from Nanjing and elsewhere in Jiangsu province. The facilities are state-of-the-art, and well labelled in English.
Within Yuhuatai Park – where, according to legend, Buddha made flowers rain from the sky in the 4th century – the Martyrs Memorial honours the Communists and their supporters who died in 1927 at the hands of Nationalist troops. Giant 1950s socialist realist statues are dotted across hillsides that once served as execution grounds. Look out for the Chairman Mao memorabilia exhibition adjacent to the park’s main monument.
House of John Rabe
Adjacent to the beautiful campus of Nanjing University is the little-known House of John Rabe. Nicknamed the ‘Good German of Nanjing’, this Siemens employee helped shelter more than 600 Chinese refugees during the Japanese invasion. The three-storey cottage where he lived, protected the refugees and wrote the famous Diaries of John Rabe, is now a museum detailing the horrors of pre-war Nanjing.
Memorial to the Nanjing Massacre
The Memorial to the Nanjing Massacre is a sombre reminder of the 1937 ‘Rape of Nanking’, when the occupying Japanese force massacred swathes of the local population while stepping up its pre-war invasion of China. The well-curated museum contains photographs, maps and eyewitness accounts documenting the arrival of Japanese troops in December 1937, the burning and looting of houses and historical relics, and the slaughter of up to 300,000 Chinese that followed. Most poignant of all is a viewing hall overlooking a mass grave, one of many wan ren keng (pit of ten thousand corpses).
Begin by exploring the Presidential Palace (292 Changjiang Lu), where Sun Yatsen was sworn in as the President of the Republic of China in 1912. The imposing complex with its maze of courtyards originated in the Ming dynasty and contains the China Modern History Museum.
Just across Daxinggong Square is the Jiangsu Provincial Art Museum, a contemporary piece of architecture clad in travertine stone with a glass roof. Refuel with a coffee next door at Nanjing 1912. This popular entertainment enclave is packed with restaurants, bars and cafés.
Stroll north to the ancient Drum Tower (Gulou), dating from 1382. Bizarrely, the small tower now sits on a traffic island in the middle of a busy roundabout.
Stretching east of Gulou is the leafy campus of Nanjing University, which has some fine historic buildings and is surrounded by lively streets filled with student cafés, eateries and bookstores. Adjacent to the university entrance is the little-known House of John Rabe, a Siemens employee who helped shelter more than 600 refugees during the Japanese invasion. His cottage is now a museum detailing the horrors of pre-war Nanjing.
Rabe’s house is a sombre scene-setter for the haunting Nanjing Massacre Memorial Museum near the old Jiandong Gate. You could spend a half-day exploring this compellingly exhibition documenting the arrival of Japanese troops in December 1937, and the subsequent slaughter of an estimated 300,000 Nanjing inhabitants. Most poignant of all is a viewing hall overlooking a mass grave, or wan ren keng (pit of 10,000 corpses).
Presidential Palace, Jiangsu Provincial Art Museum, Drum Tower, House of John Rabe, Nanjing Massacre Memorial Museum
Next to Zhongshan Gate in the eastern part of the city, within the historic ochre-walled Chaotian Palace, the Nanjing Municipal Museum is well worth a visit. Its extensive collection covers ceramics, jade, lacquerware, textiles, bronzes, porcelain and stone figures from Nanjing and elsewhere in Jiangsu province. Nanjing itself is like a living museum – southwest of the Museum you can spot the scattered remains of the Ming Imperial Palace in Wuchaomen Park.
From here, catch a cab to the Martyrs Memorial in Yuhuatai Park, where giant 1950s socialist realist statues are dotted across hillsides that once served as execution grounds. Keep an eye out for the Chairman Mao memorabilia exhibition adjacent to the park’s main monument.
Hop in another cab to the steps of the Old City Wall Museum at Jiafeng Gate. During its Southern Capital days, a 30km (19-mile) crenulated defensive wall encircled Nanjing and is believed to have been the longest ancient city wall in the world. The handsome, broad ramparts are well preserved, with several intact sections to the north and south that you can walk along, enjoying excellent views of Nanjing’s historic buildings and its evolving skyline. The pretty Xuanwu Park below is a pleasant place for a stroll.
Another popular spot for wall-walking is the castle-style Zhonghua Gate (Gate of China) in the south. Time your visit during the late afternoon for wonderful sunset vistas.
Nanjing Municipal Museum, Martyrs Memorial, Old City Wall Museum, Zhonghua Gate
No visit to Nanjing would be complete without venturing to Purple Mountain (Zijin Shan), which rises just beyond the city walls. If your idea of a romance includes a little adventure, a lot of culture and a bit of physical exertion, then strap on your walking shoes and head to Nanjing’s picturesque, eucalyptus-clad slopes, which are ideal for peaceful hiking. You can spend a whole day here exploring the relics and delightful natural landscapes.
Purple Mountain’s most popular attraction is the pagoda-style Sun Yatsen Mausoleum, which covers a monumental eight hectares (20 acres). Though born in Guangdong province, the father of modern China wanted his final resting place to be in Nanjing, amid the Purple Mountains. A sweeping 392-step stone staircase leads to his engraved tomb, but if you don't fancy the climb, you can opt to be carried up in a vintage sedan chair.
Sharing the mountain with Dr Sun is the Tomb of China’s first Ming emperor, Hong Wu (1327–98). The atmospheric remains of the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum are accessed via the Sacred Way, a stately roadside parade of life-sized stone lions, elephants, camels and mystical creatures.
Also on the hilltop is the Purple Mountain Observatory, which has a museum containing old and new astronomical instruments. The chair lift to the observatory provides a splendid view of the city, and is one of the lesser-known, and wonderfully romantic, highlights of a visit to Nanjing.
Purple Mountain, Sun Yatsen Mausoleum, Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, Purple Mountain Observatory