City confidential Tianjin
Beijing’s neighbour may not be an obvious choice for a trip, but Tianjin offers a perfect weekend escape, says Kaye Holland
If you’ve already used up your holiday time, but still fancy an indulgent weekend away, look no further than Tianjin. An exhilarating clash of the modern and historic, this port city situated 130km south of Beijing has a scene for everyone. For the urbanite, there’s modern architecture, hip hotels, top-notch dining and chic bars. Yet while much of Tianjin, like its big brother Beijing, resounds to the frenzy of construction, there are plenty of corners that echo the past. Wander around Wudadao and check out its concession-era architecture for starters. You’ll find charming early 20th-century buildings that once housed a bustling community of British, French and other European merchants and diplomats. Nature lovers aren’t neglected either; whether you want to hike the Huangya Pass of the Great Wall, take a break in the Tianjin Tropical Botanical Garden or work up a sweat swinging a golf club (Tianjin has 15 golf courses) – it’s all there for the taking. Tianjin is just over half an hour from the capital by train, which means you can be there before you’ve even finished reading this magazine!

The Tianjin crowd The city offers a great short break from Beijing – whether you’re a culture vulture or a gastronome daily, 10RMB) and colourful Ancient Culture Street – a cacophony of shopkeepers selling all manner of cultural treasures from calligraphy gear to jade stones and the clay figurines for which Tianjin is famous. Once you’ve gotten the old town out of the way, make for the open-air museum that is Jiefang Bei Lu. Unlike Shanghai, the colonial buildings here haven’t been reconstructed and an air of fading grandeur prevails. Next, wander around Wudadao – which is lined with charming European-style villas dating from the 1930s – before checking out the Memorial Hall to Zhou Enlai for the lowdown on the PRC’s first Premier (and the city’s famous son). Then, admire the architectural feat that is the Tianjin Olympic Center Stadium (it’s a giant flying saucer to Beijing’s bird’s nest), or ride to the top of the 415m-tall Tianjin TV Tower (open 8.30am-9.30pm daily, until April, 50RMB) for impressive views of a city in the making. Dowager Cixi. Visiting gourmands can munch on hearty European fare at Kissling (33 Zhejiang Lu, 22 2331 1702) – a local landmark famous for its 100-year history, culinary excellence and elegant ambience (the restaurant sits in an original art deco building). For dinner, head to Yue Wei Xian (283-285 Hebei Lu, 22 2339 8888) for unbeatable Cantonese cuisine and culture – the restaurant’s four floors are adorned with Chinese artefacts and antiques. When the sun sets, take in panoramic vistas over a Tianjin Sling cocktail in City Space – a gorgeous drinking den perched on the 50th floor of the Raffles Tianjin hotel (see Where to stay, below, for address). Or, for more killer cocktails and top DJs, party the night away at Mayflower Bar (junction of Zijinshan Lu and Qixiangtai Lu, 22 5859 9898). city’s skyline. The opulent Raffles Tianjin hotel (219 Nanjing Lu, 22 2321 5888, from 1,150RMB) towers above its more established competitors, both figuratively and literally – it’s the tallest penthouse in town. The Holiday Inn Tianjin Riverside (Haihe Dong Lu, 22 2627 8888, from 730RMB) enjoys an enviable location overlooking the Haihe River and offers 419 tastefully decorated rooms. On a budget? Head to the Hanting Hotel (164 Liaoning Lu, 22 5109 9828, from 208RMB). The decor is a tad old-fashioned, but the rooms are spick-and-span, and it’s not a bad base if cash is tight.

What to do
Spend a not-to-be-missed morning getting acquainted with Tianjin’s old quarter. Much of the action revolves around the restored Drum Tower (open 9am-5pm

How to get there
The best way to get from Beijing to Tianjin is by bullet train. The journey from Beijing South to Tianjin’s main train station takes 35 minutes, and you’ll travel at more than 320kmph. One-way tickets cost 69RMB for first class and 58RMB for second class. Trains run throughout the day, with the first service leaving Beijing at 6.15am and the last departing for Tianjin at 10.10pm. The last train to Beijing leaves Tianjin at 10.06pm.

Where to eat and drink
No gastronomic tour of the city is complete without a pilgrimage to Goubuli (77 Shandong Lu, 22 2730 2540) to sample Tianjin’s most celebrated treat: steamed buns filled with meat that were a favourite of the Qing Dynasty Empress

Where to stay
Following on from the success of co-hosting the 2008 Olympic Games, Tianjin is now marketing itself as a tourist destination, and hotels are rising all over, puncturing the

42 December 2010

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