Tianjin City in northern China holds the distinction of being a ‘dual-core city’, which means it is split between the old city and what is called the Binhai New Area. Also called Tiensin, meaning ‘Heavenly Ford’ or ‘Ford of Heaven’, this coastal city is one of mainland China’s nine national central cities and is the largest coastal city in northern China. Nestled along the banks of Hai River, a tributary connecting the Yellow and Yangtze rivers, Tianjin City has around 15.6 million people, the fourth largest in China after Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou. Known as a walled city in the 1400s, Tianjin’s history goes way back to as early as 900 A.D. It became a thriving international port in the mid 1800s enjoying vibrant economic relations with European countries, such as Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Italy, among others. This is evident in the well-preserved European-style buildings, villas, churches, and mansions. Today, Tianjin’s contemporary concrete and glass skyscrapers stand side by side with these historic 19th and early 20th century colonial architectural marvels, most of which have been declared protected areas. Modern-day Tianjin City offers lots of tourist attractions, as well as a variety of shopping opportunities including antiques. Home to 285 Fortune 500 firms, the city’s Yujiapu Financial District is also referred as ‘China’s Manhattan’.
1. A Myriad of Colonial ArchitectureA stroll through the protected cultural streets of Tianjin is like meandering through any European city with colonial-type buildings of a bygone era. This is due to the concessions granted by the government to various European countries in the 1800s, especially along the banks of the Hai River. These ‘small territories’ independently controlled by these respective European countries allowed for the building of these western structures ranging from French chateaux to Bavarian villas, and from Italian churches to English-style homes. These concession areas and streets can be found south of the Hai River, as well as east of the city’s central train stations. Other foreign influences can be seen from the European-style bridges, fountains, street lamps, and spacious squares — all set with the city’s modern skyscrapers as a backdrop.
2. Enduring Local CultureTianjin is recognized for several prestigious forms of artistic performances in the country. It is acknowledged as the home base of the highly-acclaimed Beijing Opera and is also known for its brand of stand-up comedy. Called Xiangsheng, this stand-up comic crosstalk is a form of entertainment highly popular among Tianjin locals. In terms of art works, the city is known for its vibrant wash paintings, clay figurines, as well as its foldable and portable huge kites. The city’s ancient culture can also be seen from the folk architectural styes dating back from the Qing Dynasty. Its traditional food culture also persists through its cuisine highlighted by its well-loved Eight Great Bowls (consisting eight predominantly meat-based dishes) and Four Great Stews, which refers to a wide variety of stews consisting of beef and mutton, duck and chicken, and even seafood.
3. Wide Array of ParklandsVisitors to Tianjin will never want for green places and lush spaces to go to, especially if they want to get away from the city center. The city’s biggest urban park and recreation center built way back in 1951 was built upon an area that dates as far back as the 1st century A.D. Springtime is popular for tourists who troop to the city’s postcard-pretty ponds and pavilions, as well as traditional arch bridges with lots of quiet corners where one can just sit and reflect, or do some sketches or paint. For the younger crowd and young at heart, theme parks are popular destinations offering diverse fun activities, including penguins, whales, polar bears, wolves, and seals, as well as dolphin performances. Amusement parks with seaside locations are also available offering thrilling rides, games, and other leisure attractions.
Tianjin Tourist Spots
1. Five Great Avenues: Charming Clusters of Colonial ArchitectureLocally named Wudadao, the Five Great Avenues located south of the city center is like entering a different world. Comprising the avenues of Chongqing, Changde, Dali, Munan, and Machang, this popular tourist destination has more than 230 buildings, and over 2,000 villas showcasing architectural designs from Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and Great Britain. Said architectural styles range from Gothic to Renaissance, Greek to Romantic, to name a few. Apart from colorful western-style bricks, tiles, stone works, and wood carvings, some parts also showcase a fusion of European and Chinese design styles, such as a courtyard displaying Chinese-style gardens complete with traditional pavilions. Other ways to pass the time include exploring museums, riding horse-driven carriages, or relaxing in its many cafes and restaurants.
2. Tianjin Ancient Culture Street: Colorful Blast from the PastTianjin City’s Ancient Culture Street offers a festive respite from the usual for visitors of this thriving metropolis. As it is open throughout the day, the main street and surrounding areas are a feast for the senses showcasing the Qing Dynasty’s folk architectural designs. Tourists will have a heyday clicking on their cams as they go through hundreds of shops along the main street, including art galleries, and stores selling calligraphy and paint brushes, painted clay figurines and sculptures, ceramics, embroidery, jade carvings, and so much more. Music lovers will be treated to Chinese traditional musical instruments, while the fashionistas will never get enough of fine gold and silver jewelries. As it’s a very touristy locale, expect the cafes and restaurants, constructed to replicate Qing Dynasty buildings, to be quite crowded. Tin Hau, a temple dedicated to the goddess Mazu and considered to be the biggest in the northern region of China, is worth a visit.
3. Jingyuan Garden: Serene Garden Steeped in HistoryJingyuan, otherwise known as Serenity Garden, covers about 3,360 square meters overflowing with 80 years of fascinating history. Set in a blend of European and Chinese architectural style, the former residence of Pu Yi, the Last Emperor of China’s Qing Dynasty, also features a museum within its peaceful grounds. Visitors can wander around its three courtyards consisting of the front yard, the back yard, and the side yard of well-tended gardens and water features. A heritage site under city government protection, Jingyuan has 21 rooms done in luxurious royal interiors. Guests can have a tour of the two-story Spanish-style building’s rooms and chambers. The Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi Exhibition Hall is filled with images and articles of the late Emperor’s activities in Tianjin.