48 hours in Tianjin

Updated : 2014-05-20 By : Wang Xiang and Zhou YubinSource : Shanghai Daily

Tianjin contains some of the best preserved Western architecture from the concession period and is worth exploring for its Eastern and Western history, culture and food, such as lamb spine hot pot. Wang Xiang and Zhou Yubin leads the way.

The largest coastal city in northern China, Tianjin on the Bohai Gulf is filled with history, numerous former foreign concessions, thousands of Western-style villas and well-preserved architecture.

The urban area, including the old city, is located along the Hai River, which connects to the Yellow and Yangtze rivers via the Grand Canal. A new urban core known as Binhai is to the east.

A two-hour long flight from Shanghai and 30-minute train ride from Beijing, Tianjin is not as crowded and fast-paced as the capital and is easy to get around, with many interesting places to explore.

A major industrial port city today, it is a combination of both old and new China, Eastern and Western cultures.

Day 1 Xikai Catholic Church & night scene of Hai River

Day 1


Arrive in the afternoon, drop your luggage at a hotel and begin your 48-hour adventure in Tianjin. Xikai Catholic Church, also known as St Joseph’s Cathedral, is the biggest church in the city and an imposing first stop. The main church was completed around 1913 and the 45-meter-high cathedral in 1917. The structure is awe-inspiring and at night it’s splendidly lighted.


Tianjin specialties are worth a try at nearby restaurants. These include yang xie zi or lamb spinal cord hot pot, and shao mai or northern-style steamed dumplings. Yang xie zi literally means lamb scorpion because the spinal column looks like a scorpion. The dumplings are stuffed with meat.


After the dinner, visitors can stroll along Hai River, starting from brightly lighted Jinwan Square across from the Tianjin Railway Station. You can appreciate lighted bridges in various construction styles. Jiefang Bridge, the most famous, was built of steel in 1927. It can be raised to accommodate river traffic, a stunning sight at night.

Day 2 China House, Ancient Culture Street, Italian Style Street & Tianjin Eye

Day 2


Typical breakfast requires jian bing guo zi or Chinese wraps, available on most street corners. But there’s no meat. These “wraps” are made of egg and mung bean flour, seasoned by coriander, green onions and sauces. Guo zi is deep-fried dough sticks wrapped in it.

Street vendors say that if you miss jian bing guo zi, you miss Tianjin.


Begin the day at China House, a French-style villa containing literally millions of porcelain pieces. The house on Chifeng Road contains different works of porcelain, including 13,000 vases, plates and bowls, 300 marble sculptures and 300 stone lions, according to the owner. It’s eye-catching, to say the least.


Within walking distance, is Quanyechang, a super shopping mall first opened in 1928 in a magnificent, seven-story building, evoking the city’s history. It’s still one of the city’s largest department stores.


For lunch, grab some food along crowded Snack Street on Liaoning Road. Food from all over China is available and throngs are lined up and munching on the street. If you don’t like crowds, find an alternative nearby.


Central Park makes a pleasant lunch break in the former French concession. Built in the 1910s in French style, it has paths radiating from the center and features different landscapes and plantings, as well as playground. On weekends, it’s a marriage market thronged by eager parents and grandparents, as well as some singles. Like People’s Park in Shanghai, it’s filled with posters advertising prospective mates, their height, income, education, property ownership and so on.


Take a taxi to Ancient Culture Street for folk arts, snacks and souvenirs. Delicate clay figurines are famous and a museum displays masterworks depicting celebrities, religious and historical figures. Yangliuqing New Year’s Paintings are also famous, used to decorate the home during Spring Festival.

For food, there are ma hua (fried dough twist), shu li gao (steamed rice cakes decorated with fruit, chocolates or sesame), Er duo yan (earhole) fried cakes, and cha tang (millet flour porridge and sugar). The water for the gruel is poured from a kettle with a long, dragon-shaped spout and only a master can handle it.

For even more food, Nanshi Cuisine Street is not far.


Filled with snacks, you may wish to rest in Little Italy. Like the former French concession, the romantic area is filled with European-style architecture. It’s an ideal place to enjoy a cup of coffee and enjoy the sunset. Homes of historical figures are nearby.


The last stop for the night is the Tianjin Eye, a Ferris wheel constructed on a bridge. The boarding queue is long but worthwhile. The whole trip takes half an hour and passengers rise slowly above the city, enjoying the panoramic view of the glittering metropolitan area and Hai River. There’s a box for couples.

Day 3 Nankai University, the Memorial to Zhou Enlai and Deng Yingchao, & Wu Da Dao

Day 3


Today’s journey starts at Nankai University, one of China’s most prestigious universities from which late Premier Zhou Enlai graduated. His statue is a landmark. The wooded campus is filled with both vintage and modern architecture and students bicycle along many paths.


Near the university is the Memorial to Zhou Enlai and his wife Deng Yingchao. The memorial exhibition describes the lives of the famous couple who contributed to the nation, notably in diplomacy and women’s rights. The exhibition includes a replica of Xihua Hall in Zhongnanhai, the leaders’ compound in Beijing where Zhou and Deng once lived and worked. Buildings and gardens inside are in Ming and Qing (1368-1911) styles.


Spend the rest of your day wandering around the Wu Da Dao (literally means Five Great Avenue) Area famous for imposing old Western architecture of all kinds, from Greek Revival to Gothic and Art Deco. The area is walkable but bicycle’s, rickshaws and horse-drawn carriages are available.

Magnificent Tianjin Concert Hall in Xiaobailou area attracts many couples who pose for wedding photos.

Near the concert hall is Kiessling Restaurant, a famous Western eatery opened in 1901. German, Russian, British, French and Italian fare are available and it’s said to be authentic. An old-fashioned bakery is on the first floor.

How to get there

There are many daily flights and high-speed trains between Shanghai and Tianjin. Flight takes around two hours and high-speed train takes around five. Most sightseeing spots are downtown and it’s easy to get around by taxi, subway, bus or on foot.

What to eat

In addition to above-mentioned spots, other options include:

Guiyuan Restaurant: 101-103 Chengdu Rd, Heping District; Tel: 022-2339-7530

Tianjin Restaurant: 20 Zone 4, Nanshi Cuisine Street, Rongye Avenue, Heping District; Tel: 022-2733-9998

Hongqi Restaurant: 11 Linshui Rd, Hongqiao District; Tel: 022-26370432

Where to stay

Accommodation of all kinds is available.

For an old-time feel, there’s the famous Astor Hotel. (33 Tai’erzhuang Rd, Heping District) and Tianjin First Hotel (158 Jiefang Rd N., Heping District).

For backpacker, youth hostels in renovated old villas are recommended, such as Tianjin Xikai Youth Hostel (30 Xingyili, Daofeng Rd, Heping District).

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