Jinan is the provincial capital of Shandong in the People’s Republic of China. It is located in the North-West of the province. In the South the city is flanked by the hills of The Tai’an massif, while the Yellow River passes North of the city.
Jinan carries the nickname City of Springs (泉城 quánchéng) because of the many artesian wells that bubble up within the city limits. The water from these springs flows North towards the main landmark, Daming Lake (大明湖 dàmíng hú), and onwards to the Yellow River.
While it doesn’t always make the short list of tourists visiting China, there is certainly enough to be done in Jinan to warrant a couple days stay. It is also a perfect base for exploring the region, notably Qufu, the hometown of Confucius, and Mount Tai, the foremost of the sacred Five Great Mountains known in Taoism.
Jinan is in basin region. The heat can be crushing in the summer when the breeze doesn’t get down in the basin. Infamously hot in summer.
There are plenty of airlines offering flights to Jinan from major UK airports including London Heathrow, Birmingham, Manchester, Aberdeen, Belfast, Glasgow, Cardiff, New Castle, London Gatwick. Jinan is the hub of traffic for the region and province so you’ll likely end up here if heading elsewhere in Shandong, notably Qingdao and Yantai. Most people will arrive by bus or train.
You can fly to Jinan, but the airport is located 40km northeast of downtown. A taxi will take an hour and cost about CNY100 (foreigners might be asked to pay a higher fixed price or be taken a detour). There is a shuttle bus between the airport and downtown that runs hourly from 6 am to 5 pm. It takes just as long and costs CNY20. A subroute of bus 16 also goes to the airport.
You can find flights from most major cities with Shandong Airlines being the major carrier. (Shandong Airlines code-shares with Air China, so your ticket and check-in may well say Air China.)
For the train, you will likely arrive at the main train station, north of town. Getting a taxi is chaotic and navigating the terminal is difficult so if you can get someone to meet you, it’s advisable.
Jinan is on the major line from Shanghai to Beijing so you can take the bullet train. It’s about 3.5 hours from Beijing and 5 from Shanghai. There’s plenty of transport outside the station: bus 83 stops nearby to take you downtown to more options, K51 takes you to Quancheng Square and Thousand Buddha Mountain.
Several travel agencies around the city sell train tickets for an additional CNY5.
It is very easy to get to Jinan with lots of buses running all day and some at night. Be sure to ask which station the bus will arrive in as there are two main ones, the long distance bus station (长途汽车站) and the train station bus station (客运汽车站).
Several expressways connect to Jinan.
First thing you have to consider is, do you really need to take the Bus? Taxis are the easiest options. Other options are various motorcycles, and other vehicles that are either unsigned or a bit flimsy-looking. These are hard to use as you have to negotiate not only the destination, but also the fare.
Buses are often overcrowded. Still, if you are interested in traveling as the locals do, hop on.
Buses are CNY1 yuan, or CNY2 for air-conditioned. Buses that begin with K are supposedly air-conditioned and even if the a/c is off or not working, you are likely to get a seat on these buses as they are much less crowded than the CNY1 (no a/c) buses. It should be noted though, that a line either is a K-line or not, same lines don’t have K buses and non K buses operating on them, so mostly it is not possible to prefer either type without some walking being involved.
Most busses with two digits serve the central city (which is tiny). Three digit ones are either coming from or going to the suburbs (may be very far). Bus stops are easily identifiable and bus numbers are written in the Western numbers both on the busses and at the bus stops. The lists of stops for a given route are posted at every bus stop, but in Chinese only, although the beginning and end stations are written in pinyin.
Taxis drivers do not speak English, and they will often not be able to read maps or your destination in pinyin. So to be certain to reach your destination, make sure you have it written out in Chinese. Price for shorter trips from CNY7.50. It can be difficult to get a taxi between 7am-8am and 6pm-7pm.
Places to see in Jinan
- Hero Mountain (Yingxiongshan), SE of downtown, at the curve of Ma’anshan Rd, near intersection of Jingshi Yi Rd (bus 32, 42, 75). Good for a climb and a stroll. On weekends it’s overcrowded so choose a weekday. Also nearby is the Jinan Hero Mountain Culture Square, a shopping area known as the “Culture Market” (see below under Markets). free.
Jinan has 72 springs and is famous for them from ancient times. However, nowadays some of them do not have much water.
- Baotu Springs, (Many buses (5 41 49 66 K51 K52 K54 K59 72 80 82 85 102 106)). Has several temples and pavilions. Especially beautiful late in the afternoon, when the locals come to hang out with their feet in the river.
- Black Tiger Spring. Sounding like the roar of a tiger gurgles out through three carved tiger heads into the city moat. free.
- Five Dragon Pool (Wu Long Tan), (Located on the outside of Ximen of old city of Jinan and on the north of Leyuan Bridge. On the west end of Quancheng Road (the main padestrian shopping street) and near Wal-Mart. Many buses (1,3,5,41,85,K50,K54,K55,K95,66,101,104)). It has a very deep pool of spring water and a few natural springs. Very tranquil park with lush greens and ancient Chinese architecture. It also has a temple for a Tang Dynasty army general Qin Qiong who was living in Jinan. In summer, people can walk on the stone tiled floor with spring water flowing on them and kids can have water fights.
- Shandong Provincial Museum, On the end of Lishan Lu (In south Jinan near the Thousand Buddha Hill). Sometimes has travelling exhibits of interest. Check out the calendar dating from 134BC, and bronzes from the Shang and Zhou eras (1766-770BC). That is old.
- Scientific and Technical Museum, (East of the Spring City Square). Or just browse the interminable shiny floored shopping malls, such as the Silver Plaza next to the Hotel Sofitel, near the Square, and marvel at the new wealth of this emerging powerful nation.
- Daming Lake Park (Dàmínghú Gōngyuán; 大明湖公园), Daming Lake Street (Dàmínghúlù; 大明湖路) (In the centre of city; buses 6, 11, 31, 33, 37, 36, 41). 6.30am – 6pm. Large park with pagodas, temples and an amusement park. The largest Taoist temple in Jinan is located here as well as a temple in memorial of some local official. Also large natural lake formed from a number of springs and with a large fountain. There are boats for rent. Nice landscaping with willow trees and lotus flowers. Festivals and exhibitions take place in the park. CNY30; boat CNY200.
- Thousand-Buddha Hill (Qianfoshan), (2.5 km south east). 7am-6pm. A small hill (with many steps) you can climb to view the smog haze and overlook the city itself on clearer days. Allow about half and hour to reach the top. Features temples, caves, pavilions, terraces, towers, and er Buddhas. On the eastern side of mountain stands the Shandong Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery for Revolution of 1911, a key historical relic site under provincial protection. Other scenic spots on the Mountain include the Tang-Dynasty Pagoda Tree Pavilion, Shandong Nine Clouds, and Cloud Passing Zen Temple, etc. If you prefer a bus ride, then you can go by bus to the top of the mountain along a mountain road winding up the eastern side of the mountain. A ski lift system and a slide also operate on the mountain, so if the buddhas get boring, you can always slide down the mountain. CNY30.
- Spring City Square (Qian Cheng Guang Chang). A great place to go any weeknight, and observe why China has relatively few obese people. You can join people dancing, playing many sports, writing poetry (calligraphy) with water, etc.
- Hongyegu (Red Leaves Valley), (Outside Jinan and to the north. An hour by bus (65, 29, 88) and up in the mountains). Beautiful area which is always in a splendour of color in the fall. Red Leaf valley is a private park which encompasses mountains and lakes of great beauty. However, getting there is next to impossible without being fluent in Mandarin or having a Chinese translator due to the obscure address of the bus service and the weird rule of having to buy your tickets one day in advance.
- Longdong Cave. Apparently good in Autumn
- Jinan Zoo, (To the north).
- Yellow River.
- Yaoshan Hill.
- The Great Wall of the Qi State (dating back to 408BC).
- Horse Running Mountain, (40km southeast). Boasts the Jinan Wild Life World forest safari park and is first class even in Asia.”
- Five Peak Mountain, (20km southwest). Peaks, pavilions, terraces, bridges, including the fascinatingly named Fairy-Greeting Bridge. CNY25.
- Four Door Pagoda (Simen Ta), (It is on the Qinglong mountain, 33km southeast of Jinan. Take a bus from the Long Distance East bus station 0800 returning 1500). Constructed in 611AD (Sui Dynasty) with Buddha, and 1000 year old pine tree.
- Lingyan Temple, (There is a bus going there from Jiefangqiao Bus Station). Founded about 1600 years ago and “one of the Four Scenic Spots of Temple in the World”. Pavilions, bridges, halls, ponds, terraces, Buddhas, stone tablets, caves. The attractions include “One Line of Sky, Double Pine Bridge, and other grotesque spots like Spring on Mirror Pond.
- Huge bookshop, (Just east of Maccas on the main drag (Quancheng Road)). Includes a mediocre foreign languages section (mostly old classic novels and dictionaries). The management seems to tolerate the thousands of non-customers, using it as a reading room. It is well worth a visit – Borders could learn a thing or two!
- Quancheng Square or Spring City Square (the main square). At night you can watch kids compete in in-line skating, kung fu, or other competitions. Lots of people hang out there so prepeare to be stared at, as Jinan residents do not often see foreigners. If you are not comfortable to be the center of attention maybe it is best to avoid this spot.
- Spring City (Quancheng) Park (formerly Jinan Botanical Gardens), SE of downtown, bordered by Jingshi Rd, Shungeng Rd, Ma’anshanRd, Yuhan Rd (bus 2, 3, 16, 32, 34, 42, 75, K93), . Spring City Park was formerly called the Botanical Gardens. It’s quite shady, with a lake and lots of places to sit and relax or have a picnic, so it’s a very good place to visit during the hot Jinan summer. It also has a small amusement park at the west end. free.
- The campuses of Shandong University, Shandong Medical University, and Shandong Normal University. Leafy, serene, and pleasant to stroll, especially the Medical University. Avoid the weekends.
- Karaoke, various places. One of the most popular activities among the young Chinese. Dong Fang Zhi Yun (used to be called Top Party) on Wen Hua Xi Lu (Culture West Street) is a big karaoke bar which includes a pretty decent buffet. Large rooms can accommodate up to 30 people. Between 20-50 per person for a 3-5 hour session. Prices also depend on how many people there are and whether you consume snacks and drinks (most places sell alcohol).
- New Century Movies (Xin Shi Ji), Quancheng Road (Upstairs of Wal Mart in the shopping mall).
- Tea Houses and Cafes. Yuan Yuan Yuan on Luo Wen Road (near Quancheng Square) has food and drinks. It provides poker cards, Ma Jiang and board games, etc. There might even be Wi-fi in there. If you are after traditioal Chinese tea houses, there are some more traditional looking ones scattered around. They are more popular among business people for the quietness. Tea can be served in traditional Chinese ritual.
Shandong cuisine is known as Lu cai (named after the ancient Lu State) and is one of the eight culinary traditions of China and a major influence on the present day food in northeastern China. Jinan cuisine represents a branch of Shandong cuisine famous for its soups.
There are the usual mediocre international fast food chains, plenty of street food, scores of little restaurants, etc. The easiest is either street food or one of the many buffets where you can see the food and order that way. Or if you want expensive and exotic (eg Japanese, go to the 4-5 star hotels). There are some nice local restaurants, but if you can’t read Chinese it is not worth the hassle and the free entertainment you provide to onlookers. Each restaurant seems to specialise in a style of cooking and a special dish or two. However, finding what you might like can be quite a challenge, as many restaurants don’t have menus with pictures, and next to none have English menus. Some of the smaller places have a part of their menu printed into a large poster on the wall, with photos, and provides an easy way to get something you want.