When a city is as strategically located as Tianjin, it’s bound to attract attention. My hometown first caught the eye of the imperial family in the 1400s, during the Ming dynasty. It is said that Prince Zhu Di first crossed the river at Tianjin in his southward journey to fight for the throne. After he became Emperor Yongle, he renamed the city ‘Tianjin’ — the ferry of the emperor.
Since then, Tianjin has quickly flourished into a major port, trading hub, a gateway to northern China and the entry point for foreign powers. At one point in its 600-year history, Tianjin was shared by nine countries including Italy, Germany, France, Russia, UK, Austria, Japan and Belgium. Signed treaties allowed these powers to divvy up the city and establish their own self-contained concessions, ensuring that each left an indelible mark. Later, Tianjin would become home to China’s last emperor, Pu Yi, after he was expelled from the Forbidden City in 1924.
As a Tianjin native, I believe that our rich history makes us a unique and charming travel destination. Just a half-hour train ride from Beijing will bring you to another world — one where Chinese culture meets foreign influences and where ancient traditions co-exist with modern life.
A glimpse into the past
The first place I’d like you to go is the Ancient Culture Street, which is the heart and soul of Tianjin. Here, ancient architectural styles and classic cultural features have been preserved to help visitors learn a little more about Chinese history. It’s also a great place to check out traditional Chinese handicrafts. Tianjin is particularly famous for its Yangliuqing New Year Paintings, produced by folk artisans in the city’s western suburb, which adorn the doors, walls and windows of homes as people usher in the Spring Festival. The bright, vivid paintings are full of Chinese symbolism for an auspicious start to the lunar new year and make great mementos to bring home for family and friends.
As you wander down the street, you’ll also notice many miniature clay figurines. This local folk art, called Nirenzhang (or Clay Figure Zhang), has been listed as a national intangible cultural heritage in China. Moulded from clay and usually no more than an inch tall each, these lifelike figurines are testament to an intricate, age-old craft.
Retrace royal steps
After exploring the Ancient Culture Street, rest your feet on a Hai River cruise that will take you past Yongle Bridge, named after the emperor, and which offers stunning views of the Tianjin Eye. The 120-metre-tall ferris wheel claims to be the only one in the world to be constructed on a bridge, adding an interesting dimension to the view. This cruise is best taken in the evening, when the city lights up against the darkening night sky.
Continue the cultural adventure
After soaking in the sights, dock at Tianjin Train Station, from which you can take a leisurely stroll around Jinwan Plaza and Italian Style Street. The latter is a great photo opportunity with its old-style European architecture and more restaurants and bars than you can count. Grab a meal and a drink, and take in the city’s charms.
Bike down the Five Great Avenues
After a well-rested night, rent a bicycle and explore the Five Great Avenues at your own pace. The streets are dotted with over 2,000 buildings from the concessionary era, many of which used to house celebrities in the 1920s and 30s. If you’re a history buff, enlist the help of a professional guide to understand the different architectural styles (Renaissance, Classicism, Baroque and many more) and the stories behind each building.
In the afternoon, I would suggest a trip to TEDA (Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area), which is easily accessible by metro. With its large square lawns and well-planned avenues set against the sea, TEDA is a different side of Tianjin that visitors shouldn’t miss. From here, you can also head to Beitang Old Town for a fresh seafood dinner.
This is just a small snapshot of what Tianjin has to offer the curious traveller. There’s a lot more to see, do and experience here, so I hope you’ll visit my charming city soon!
Come stay with us:
Ascott TEDA MSD Tianjin
7 Xincheng West Road
Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area, Tianjin 300457
Tel: +86 22 5999 7666
Fax: +86 22 5999 7688
Somerset International Building Tianjin
75 Nanjing Road
Heping District, Tianjin 300050
Tel: +86 22 2330 6666
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Somerset Olympic Tower Tianjin
126 Chengdu Street
Heping District, Tianjin 300051
Tel: +86 22 2335 5888
Fax: +86 22 2335 3555
Somerset Youyi Tianjin
35 Youyi Road
Hexi District, Tianjin 300201
Tel: +86 22 2810 7888
Fax: +86 22 2810 7999