Tianjin, The Port of the Sky, The Sky Ferry is a metropolis that sits on the Bohai Gulf in Northeastern China. It boasts a long history as a major port of trade and transportation for both Chinese nationals and foreign European governments. Tianjin is one of four municipalities directly controlled by the central Chinese government.. A high-speed bullet train connects Tianjin to Beijing within 30 minutes, travelling at up to 300 kilometers an hour. Tianjin acts as the port of the capital and its closest connection to trade by sea.
Half-way through the 19th century European governments recognized the importance of Tianjin as a gateway to the culture and economy of China and The Second Opium War in 1858 saw the opening of concession areas in Tianjin to the British, the Germans, the Italians and a handful of other powerful European countries. Hundreds villas, churches and banks built in the concession areas of these countries still stand in Tianjin today and give the city its distinct European feel.
Tianjin’s winters are cold and dry. The Hai River runs through Tianjin and the locals can be seen sledding on it after it’s frozen over. The summers are hot and humid and in Spring sandstorms are known to blow in from the Gobi Desert . The best time to visit Tianjin is late spring and early summer as this is when its weather is neither too hot nor too cold.
Tianjin has one major airport in the Binhai New Area to the South East of the city’s center. In 2013 the metro line number 1 connected the Tianjin airport with the downtown station of Ying Kou Dao. Taxis are also readily available to take you to your hotel, but be sure to stand in the official taxi queue. Drivers will try to get you to come with them often for two or three times the normal taxi fare.
A better option to flying into Tianjin is to travel there by train. You’ll be dropped off right in the center of the city and be given your first picture opportunity – Tianjin’s unique Century Clock in the railway’s square. From there it’s a quick, cheap taxi ride to your hotel. The Tianjin Railway Station is also connected to the rest of the city by lines 2, 3 and 9. Tianjin has a second railway station, the West Tianjin Railway Station, just outside of the main city but it’s conveniently connected by metro line 1. The West Railway Station is an option if you’re looking to travel to or from less popular areas in China, or if all the tickets have been sold out at the central station.
One of the appeals of Tianjin is that it’s not as popular a destination as Beijing or Shanghai. There are fewer tourists and it has a more authentic feel to its scenic spots and sites. But this can also make it more difficult to navigate and to find things to do to fill your day.
The concession areas to the Northwest of the Hai River are filled with well-preserved colonial buildings dating back to the era of European occupation of treaty-ports in China. Wu Da Dao, The Five Main Avenues, is a great place to walk around to look at some of the better examples of these buildings. This area also supports a number of European-style restaurants, popular with the relatively few foreigners that live in the city. The wine bar Chateau 35 on ChangDe Dao is one such example. Besides their excellent menu and decent wine selection, they claim bragging rights to one of the best Kentucky apple crumbles in China. If you like Thai food, you should definitely check out YY’s Beer House on Aomen Lu behind Tianjin’s main avenue, YingKouDao. YY’s is one of the most popular hangouts for locals and foreigners alike. Afterwards head to SiTong night club, but make sure to get there before 11pm if you want to listen to the Pilipino cover band sing Katy Perry and Lady Gaga hits.
A little known secret of Tianjin is that it has one of the best preserved and most scenic parts of the Great Wall. It’s also less crowded than its Beijing counterparts. Huangyaguan, “Yellow Cliff Pass” in Nortern Ji Country is about 80 miles (130 kilometers) from central Tianjin. Built over 1300 years ago during the Qi Dynasty, it’s one of the most eastern parts of the wall. To get there, take the train from the central railway station and then hop on a bus that will drop you off just outside of the park area.
For more walking, and some shopping, head to Binjiang Avenue just off of YingKouDao. Here you’ll find famous Chinese brands like LiNing – named after the former Olympic gymnast turned entrepreneur. Foreign brands are popular in China and Binjiang Avenue is filled with licensed retailers of Nike and Adidas sneakers and sporting goods. You’ll also find an assortment of stores selling tech products, a narrow alley filled with deep-fried snacks and an old arcade where you can still find teenagers playing Street Fighter after class.
Tianjin’s Ancient Culture Street, however, is where you’ll want to buy your souvenirs. Most cities in China have an ancient culture street and Tianjin is no exception. Go to Gongbei Avenue in the Northern part of the city. Some of Tianjin’s oldest buildings are still standing in this area in Nankai district including the Tianhou Palace which was built over 600 years ago. If you like folk crafts and tea pots, this is the area for you.
Ancient Culture Street sits on the West Bank of the Hai River. Exit from the back of Ancient Culture Street to one the smaller bridges that cross Hai River. There you can take epic selfies with some replica World War II tanks at a small memorial to the Chinese soldiers who fought for the independence of China from Japan.
The final sight you shouldn’t miss in Tianjin is the aircraft carrier themed amusement park. You’ll have to drive out to Binhai New Area to get there, but if you’re an enthusiast it is well worth the trip to be able to tell your friends you’ve walked around on the USSR-made carrier “Kiev”, and you’ll have the pictures to prove it.
Tianjin is a good break from the chaos and pollution of Beijing, but you will struggle to squeeze more than two days out of the city. Information is also not widely available on Tianjin’s tourism sights as the city is primarily for living and working. It also doesn’t actively promote itself as a tourist destination because of the competition from Beijing We recommend visiting, but only as part of your greater trip to Beijing and the surrounding area.