Beijing gets all the attention, but not far away is the port for Beijing known as Tianjin on the Bohai Sea with strong roots founded in the 12th century, and a town of the Qing Dynasty. If you truly want to explore more of China, stop by Tianjin. It’s a big city yet has a very different appeal than the more famous ones like neighboring Beijing. With an interesting mix of East meets West, historic landmarks, robust culture, gorgeous coastline and stunning mountains, it’s no wonder Tianjin is so popular with tourists.
What should you do when you come to Tianjin? Check out our list of 16 things to do and see while you’re there!
1. The Hai River
In the center of Tianjin, the Hair River flows along between the modern skyline and the mix of buildings with western architecture that popped up from 1860 to 1940. Among these buildings, visitors like to check out the Wanghailou Church, built in 1869. The other must-see building is the Tianjin Railway Station which was first built back in 1888 and then rebuilt in 1987.
2. Notre Dame des Victories
Another church to marvel at is the Notre Dame des Victories. You’ll find it in the northwest part of the city. When Catholicism was introduced to Tianjin, it was built in 1869. However, it was destroyed and rebuilt a number of times. During a massive earthquake in 1976, it was destroyed once more and then rebuilt in 1983. But be aware that this church is only open to the public on Sundays during the morning service. If you’re satisfied to photograph it from the outside only though, you can see it any time.
3. Ancient Culture Street
And that’s really not such a bad idea to simply photograph the Notre Dame des Victories. Keep walking and you’ll eventually happen upon the entrance to the Ancient Culture Street, marked by an arch. Of course, it’s a redone bit of the city in an attempt to bring back a taste of ancient China despite the modernization around it. Here, you’ll find interesting souvenirs to take back home that resemble antiques. Bargain for your best prices on painted clay sculptures, calligraphy and paint brushes, beautiful embroideries, jade carvings and art ceramics.
4. Tianhou Temple
A beautiful temple sits by the sea. This place was built in 1326 AD as a tribute to the goddess of the sea to protect the people of Tianjin. Like many ancient things, the temple has had to undergo reconstruction several times, but the design has been kept true to its original form and is a particularly lovely place to visit.
5. Tianjin Binhai Aircraft Carrier Theme Park
Here’s a really cool option whether you’ve got your head in the clouds or not. In the Binhai New District of Tianjin, you’ll find this theme park built around the Kiev Aircraft Carrier. What makes it so fascinating is that you get a slice of military knowledge as you have fun learning. There’s a command center, an intelligence room and a museum for science and technology. There are also 4D movies and there’s a western restaurant on the aircraft carrier – the only one of its kind in the world. Also, you’ll find a rebuilt version of the Tianjin Pavilion from the famed Shanghai Expo here which gives you the inside scoop on the history of Tianjin and how it has developed over the years.
6. Haihe River Bund Park
This leisure park located along the river makes for a pleasant way to take in the outdoors. Keep walking along it and you’ll eventually run into a pedestrian mall on Jiefang Road where you can have some fun shopping. In the park, you’ll find 19 bronze sculptures for outstanding photo opportunities plus when you walk over to that mall, you’ll encounter a water fountain that shoots water up to 170 meters into the sky. Nighttime in this area is even more spectacular because all the lights twinkle and dazzle, making it a fabulous place to visit.
7. Baxian Mountain National Nature Reserve
On the southern slope of Yanshan Mountain, this famed nature reserve is one of the most beautiful in China. It has earned the nickname “the Green Kingdom” because it boasts such an extensive variety of plants and wildlife. The massive mountains in this range melded with the forest and meandering brooks are a breathtaking backdrop. It’s an ideal stop in the summer where you can take on some hiking and even visit the highest peak in Tianjin, Cricket Cage.
8. Tianjin Eye
Stop by the eye of Tianjin. The Tianjin Eye is a giant Ferris wheel that stands 120 meters tall over the Yongle Bridge on the Hair River. While there are many giant Ferris wheels in the world, this one has the notable distinction of being the only one to have been built over a bridge. This massive Ferris wheel contains 48 capsules to transport passengers, each one capable of holding 8 people at once. It is a beautiful and fun way to see Tianjin from above.
9. Dule Temple
This temple is the oldest of its kind in China. It is a pavilion made of wood that is named for the spring that runs behind it. While most of the buildings at the temple were destroyed between 841 and 846 when the Tang Dynasty ruled because of their stance on Buddhism, some of the buildings were restored when the Liao Dynasty took over. More were consequently added with both the Ming and Qing dynasties. The biggest draw here is the huge statue of the goddess of mercy. It’s kept in a pavilion with incredibly detailed and graceful murals.
10. Shi Family Courtyard
Once the residence of the Shi Family, this courtyard was built in 1875. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because the Shi Family was one of the most prominent families of Tianjin in the late part of the Qing Dynasty. They gained wealth through trading with cotton and grain, earning enough to buy up land and build their own homes. A very enterprising clan, they grew their wealth even further and you can behold the legacy of their lives by visiting their magnificent mansion and grounds. What you’ll find here are ancient-style courtyards flanking the mansion with all the architectural design and décor that you would expect from a place so grand from this time period. Over 200 years of family history resides here, making it a protected site. You can also visit the museum on-site to learn even more about the Shi Family and the Qing Dynasty.
11. Five-Avenue Area
In the Heping District, there is a rectangular region where five roads make up an unusual array of architectural styles. You’ll see European prevalence with Italian, French, German and Spanish styles. It’s an interesting place to see because it has captured the uniqueness of Tianjin’s history and style. Lest you think there is nothing to do here but gawk at buildings, try out a ride in a horse-drawn carriage to truly marvel at the experience.
12. Panshan Mountain
Just outside Tianjin’s city center, this mountain is highly regarded by tourists to the area. It is full of impeccable natural beauty while holding plenty of historical significance. Temples and pagodas dot the landscape here and make for phenomenal backdrops to your photos. China has many mountains, however Panshan Mountain is ranked in the top 15, making it one you’ll want to stop and see.
13. Huangyaguan Great Wall
Oh did you think that you could only access the Great Wall from Beijing? Think again! The Great Wall is so massive and part of it runs along the mountain ridge on the north of Tianjin. This part of the wall was first built during the time of the Northern Qi Dynasty between 550 and 577. The Sui Dynasty later lengthened and restored it from 581 to 618, and then the Ming Dynasty also put in some work on the Great Wall from 1368 to 1644. This ancient site was again repaired after suffering extensive damage over the years and in 1987 was once again available for tourists. Tianjin’s section of the Great Wall is incredibly steep and is hailed as the “Impregnable Pass.” It’s also the longest restored section of this ancient monument.
14. Dagu Fort
Once upon a time in Tianjin, there were forts on both sides of the Hai River. Today, Dagu Fort on the southern bank is the only one left. At one time, two forts stood proud until the other fort on the northern bank was taken apart. Dagu Fort was built during the Ming Dynasty and underwent many renovations during the Qing Dynasty. This fort is a popular day trip for many Chinese travelers as it’s close to the center of the city.
15. Grand Mosque
While China is an incredibly homogenous place in regards to its people, the architecture reflects a different feeling. This mosque is a prime example of Chinese Muslim structures, built in 1644 during the rule of the Qing Dynasty. It features four structures that include a front hall, a praying hall, a screen wall, and a preaching hall. It is still actively used today where the Muslim community of Tianjin comes for worship.
16. Zhou Enlai – Deng Yingchao Museum
Zhou Enlai was one of the founders of the Chinese Communist Party. He studied in Tianjin in his younger years at Nankai University in Tianjin and then went on to Paris. That’s where he got involved in the Chinese Socialist Youth League. He was also the very first premier of the People’s Republic of China, a position he held for 26 years until he died in 1976. Chinese people highly regard him as a respected hero of China’s revolution, as well as his wife, Deng Yingchao, who devoted her life to the women’s liberation movement. This museum is a fascinating peek into their lives as well as the rich history that developed due to their involvement.
Tianjin is still a big city in China without being as congested as Beijing. It offers a splendid juxtaposition of Eastern and Western architecture, delightful food, and plenty of interesting historic sites to visit along with shopping and dining, making it a smart choice for the savvy traveler who yearns to see more of China without as many crowds. As tourism picks up more and more for this port city though, it’s wise to take it in now. After all, it’s got the Great Wall, mountain ranges and a prime location on the Bohai Sea so it won’t stay very secret for very long.