Nanjing travel information and travel guide

Nanjing travel information and travel guide

Nanjing, historically also Nanking, is the capital city of Jiangsu Province in the People’s Republic of China. It is situated in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River and is the central city of the lower Yangtze Basin. Nanjing means “southern capital” (versus Beijing meaning “northern capital”.) It is a renowned historical and cultural city and was the capital of several dynasties over the course of Chinese history. It has many historical sites including Ming tombs that are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It was most recently the capital of China under the Kuomintang, from 1927 until their retreat to Taiwan in 1949. With a current urban population of approximately 5 million people, Nanjing is an important center for commerce and trade in Eastern China.

Get in

There are plenty of airlines offering flights to Nanjing from major UK airports including London Heathrow, Birmingham, Manchester, Aberdeen, Belfast, Glasgow, Cardiff, New Castle, London Gatwick.

By plane

Nanjing’s Lukou International Airport is about 35km from the city center and serves inbound international flights from Japan, Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Germany. You can also fly to Lukou International from most major cities in China, including Hong Kong (with the exception of Shanghai due to its close proximity to Nanjing.)

From the airport, there are several ground transportation options into Nanjing. The 30-minute taxi ride to the downtown area will cost ¥100 or more (there’s a ¥20 toll about 3 km away from the airport). It usually works out cheaper to take the airport bus to downtown and take a taxi from there.

There are two express-bus routes from the airport to downtown Nanjing – both terminate at the railway station and connect with the subway and local city buses. The services run at 15-minute intervals with one line serving Zhonghuamen (also has good subway and bus connections) and Hanzhongmen, while the other runs to the east of the city and stops close to Fuzimiao. A one-way ticket costs ¥20 and can be purchased from the kiosk outside the arrivals hall. WARNING – if taking the bus to the airport from Zhonghuamen, ignore the touts who hang around outside the bus station and subway station claiming to operate the official bus service – they will usually quote the same price, you’ll be loaded into the back of a small, run-down minibus and will usually drop you off several kilometres short of the airport and claim that the fare into the actual airport is several hundred kuai. To find the actual bus service, enter the bus station building and go to Gate 7 – buy the ticket from the kiosk at the gate, not the main ticket office.

If you’re flying into Shanghai, there are bus and train services that travel to and from Nanjing. The bus runs four times a day from Shanghai Pudong International Airport, with a stop at Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport and then on to Nanjing Zhongyangmen (and back). From there, take the metro or a taxi to your destination. It costs ¥136 from Shanghai and the trip takes about five hours (only about four at night). Many people prefer to take a train to Shanghai then bus, taxi or train to Nanjing.

By train

There are many daily departures to and from Shanghai and Shanghai HongQiao Station, which is about four hours away on slow trains and around 75 minutes on the new fast ones (see High-speed rail in China). Both types of train also stop at Wuxi and Suzhou and some continue on to Hangzhou. Fast trains offer better equipment and are comparable with a business class flight, while slow trains are older and without as many amenities, but may suit people traveling on a budget. Generally, the Chinese train system might appear a bit “weird” for European passengers, but it’s comfortable, reliable, and is recommended over a bus for most trips.

The main station is simply Nanjing Station, although locals refer to it as Nanjing North. It is situated on the north shore of Xuanwu Lake and is also very close to Zhongyangmen long-distance bus station. It is modern and more like an airport than a train station – the departure areas are on the 2nd and 3rd floors and you’ll go through a ticket and security check to enter this area. Look for your train number on the indicator boards to find the right waiting room and when your train is called (usually 10 minutes before departure) just follow the crowd to find the right platform. Arrivals are in the basement, as is the taxi stand and the entrance to the subway station. The ticket office, pedestrian entrance and the local-bus station is on the first floor.

Many southbound trains start from Nanjing West, a small terminal staiton just west of the downtown area, however the facilities and public transport connections are nowhere near as good.

Nanjing South station (adjacent to Zhonghuamen metro and bus stations) is to undergo a major redevelopment and most long-distance overnight services will depart from here in the future. Although it’s only a tiny station with a few services a day, the majority of services between Nanjing and Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) will stop here so it’s worth booking a ticket to Nanjing South (Nanjingnan) to avoid a slow 45-minute ride around the eastern suburbs to the main station. The south station is located about 1 block east of Zhonghuamen subway station so onwards connections are easy and usually quicker than from the main station.

By bus

Nanjing is well connected to Shanghai, Hangzhou and most destinations within Jiangsu, Anhui and northern Zhejiang provicnces by bus as well as longer overnight sleeper services to Beijing (12 hours) and Guangzhou (24 hours). Most services depart from Zhongyangmen bus station, a large, clean modern terminal in the north of the city approximately 10 minutes walk to the west of the main train station. The station has English signange and announcements but the ticket clerks generally cannot understand English. Some services into Anhui province depart from Nanjing South (Zhonghuamen) station, which is adjacent to Zhonghuamen metro station. There are also bus stations serving nearby destinations at Hanzhongmen, Nanjing East (to the north of Purple Mountain) and Nanjing North (on the west side of the Yangtze River) although they are less useful to travellers.

By road

There is a modern highway system between Shanghai and Nanjing, which can allow you to travel quite quickly from city to city. Beware of traffic in the morning and evening rush hours. If you’re just one person, it may be much cheaper to travel by train, but if you’re in a larger group, sharing a car service can be cheaper. Keep in mind that you need to be a very experienced driver to handle Chinese traffic, so you may be better served using trains and buses between the cities and taxis in the cities, unless you’re really on for a challenge.

By boat

Nanjing is situated on the Yangtze river. Scheduled passenger liner service is available along the Yangtze river between Shanghai downstream and Wuhan in the Hubei province upstream, although, the river is mostly used for transport of goods.

Get around

If you’re staying more than a few days it’s worth buying a Jinlingtong (also known as IC-tong). These are available from any subway station, most bus termini and from any branch of Huaxia Bank (look for an information window displaying the letters ‘IC’). The card costs Y80 and contains Y30 refundable deposit and Y50 credit, and can be topped up at the aformentioned locations. The card can be used on the subway, all city buses (but not all suburban buses), cross-river ferries, taxis (although drivers are reluctant to accept them and may tell you the scanner is broken) and in some Suguo convenience stores.

By taxi

Taxis are a great way to get around and you can generally go anywhere in Nanjing for under ¥15, which is comparable to a bus fare in many North American cities. The cab driver should start the meter as soon as you are picked up (starting at ¥9); if the cab driver doesn’t start using the meter and you don’t say anything he/she may assume you don’t know any better and overcharge you at the end of your journey. Any fare over ¥20 is probably a scam unless you are going to one of the suburbs. If this happens, ask for a printed receipt detailing the cab number, kilometers traveled, times, and money exchanged from the driver upon exiting the cab. Don’t expect to get a cab during both the morning and afternoon rush hours; demand is high and the drivers make their shift changes around these times, too. Tipping is not expected in cabs in China, so the price on the meter is the price you should pay. Unlike cabbies in Beijing or Shanghai (who frequently shuttle foreigners around and may be accustomed to gratuity under the table) tipping in Nanjing is an alien concept. You are likely to befuddle but please a driver by insisting that they accept additional ‘free’ money. As with anywhere else in China, you are very unlikely to get a driver who speaks any English, so unless you speak Mandarin, remember to get your hotel’s business card, and get hotel staff to write down your destination names in Chinese to show your taxi driver before you set off.

By subway

Subway Line 1 is the fastest way to cut north-south through central Nanjing,Line 2 is from east to west. It stops at the main shopping areas around Zhujiang Lu, Xinjiekou and Hunan Lu (Xuanwumen Station), the main railway station and also serves the West New City development close to the Olympic Sports Centre. Fares are cheap (Y2-Y4 depending on distance) and there is a 5% discount if you use the IC card. Single-journey tokens can be purchased from the ticket machines using notes or coins and change is usually available. Trains run every 3-6 minutes from 5:30am to 11:00pm. A second east-west line will open in 2010.

By bus

Buses are handy for getting around – particularly places that are inaccessible by subway, although Nanjing’s bus system feels a little aged compared to Hangzhou and Shanghai and has no English information. However, Google Maps displays bus services for Nanjing and some tourist maps such as those sold around the train station will have bus routes.

Buses running within the city proper will carry a route number displayed on a red placard below the front windscreen next to the entrance door. Low-numbered routes (1-100) follow major thoroughfares and link major shopping, residential and transportation hubs. 3-figure route numbers follow indirect routes and run around quieter residential streets and are less handy for travellers, but can be an interesting way of seeing Nanjing’s ordinary working class neighbourhoods. Routes displaying the Chinese character for ‘you’ (travel) are primarily aimed at tourists and link all the major tourist sights. Routes numbered ‘8XX’ e.g. 801, 806, 813 etc are night buses which run approximately twice an hour between 11pm and 5am when the regular service ends. Buses heading to surrounding suburban towns depart from hubs on the edge of downtown such as Nanjing Train Station (North/East), Changjiang Daqiao (Yangtze River No.1 Bridge – going north-west), Hanzhongmen (West) and Zhonghuamen (South/East). These services display the name of the suburb/town that they serve in Chinese characters and have no route number.

Fares are a flat 2 yuan on numbered services except for some routes which run older non-airconditioned buses which charge 1 yuan – no change is given so have some coins ready. For suburban routes, fares are charged by distance and a conductor collects the fares. There’s a discount of 20% for IC card users. Note that many bus stops are some distance apart (often 3-4 blocks) so keep an eye out for your stop and an ear out for the stop’s name on the PA announcements (which are only in Chinese). If the bus is quiet then press the buzzer next to the door to signal to the driver that you want to alight.

By bicycle

Most of the streets have a fenced off section for bicyclists, so riders are relatively safe from passing vehicles.

Places to see in Nanjing

  • Presidential Palace (总统府). Spend a day exploring the headquarters of past emperors and the Nationalist government. The Palace includes the former offices of many top governmental officials, including Chiang Kai-shek and Sun Yat-sen, as well as the former residence of Sun Yat-sen. It is one the few places in mainland China where the flag of the Republic of China still flies. Informational placards around the palace are printed in four languages. ¥40.
  • Nanjing Museum (南京博物院), (inside Zhongshan Gate). Eleven exhibition halls contain a variety of ancient Chinese artifacts and lots of different culture murals, including the sailing of Zheng He (the eunuch admiral of the Ming Dynasty who explored at least to Africa, perhaps further). Be sure to take a look at the Jiangnan silk-making exhibition. It’s a great place to spend either a hot or rainy day.
  • Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall (侵華日軍南京大屠殺遇難同胞紀念館). Memorializes the hundreds of thousands of Chinese who died at the hands of Japanese troops in Nanjing during World War II. The memorial features an excavated mass burial site, and newly opened tomb-like multimedia museum explains the entire history of the event in English, Chinese, and Japanese. A harrowing, but worthwhile place to visit.
  • Confucius Temple (夫子/夫子廟). Once an imperial examination testing center for the entire Jiangsu region, this museum comprises a tiny fraction of the once-massive original buildings. The rest of the site is a massive, labyrinthine market; a top tourist draw in Nanjing and a place where you can get all your haggling out of your system. Get your picture taken with the Confucius sculpture and grab some tea on one of the gondolas on the canal. On the southern side of town next to Zhonghua Gate and the Taiping Museum.
  • The Gate of China (Zhonghuamen) (中华门). The southern gate of Nanjing’s city wall; this massive gate is one of the best preserved parts of Nanjing’s city wall, and one of the best remaining examples of early Ming defensive architecture extant anywhere. The wooden castle at top was destroyed by fire, but the immense masonry (each complete with the mason’s name and home province by order of the emperor) substructure remains. Two courtyards contain an archery range and vegetable gardens. The main gate has three immense depots within where, long emptied of provisions, you can find some scale models and exhibits about the gate. In one depot you can find an air raid siren used during the Japanese attack on the city.
  • Taiping Kingdom History Museum (太平天国历史博物馆). A small museum focusing on a little-known historical event in the West (1843-68), the Taiping Rebellion. In addition to being one of the most sanguinary episodes in recorded history (some estimates put the loss of life higher than the dead from World War I), it was a crucial moment in China’s relationship with the West, modernity, and its relationship to its own imperial history. The quasi-Christian, peasant-lead rebellion overran an area greater than Texas which it ruled, at one point threatening the Qing government in Beijing, from the old Ming capital of Nanjing. On exhibit are documents relating to Taiping history and the grinding reduction of their movement by enterprising Qing generals and their European auxiliaries, culminating in the siege of Nanjing. Next door are the beautiful Zhanyuan Gardens.
  • Jiangsu Province Kunqu Theatre. This highly-regarded theater company in Nanjing will give you a chance to see Kunqu Opera, a traditional Chinese art form, firsthand. Expect the dialogue to be sung in ancient Chinese, but LED subtitling in contemporary Chinese characters is provided.
  • Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge (南京长江大桥). This 6km bridge over the Yangtze has sculptures that are classics of Chinese sociallist art; with workers and farmers carrying tools, soldiers carrying weapons, and all of them holding books, most likely Quotations of Chairman Mao Zedong (better known as The Little Red Book). The bridge was built after Soviet advisors left China during the Sino-Soviet Split of the 1960’s, and is therefore the first major project built entirely by Chinese, without foreign help. A new town is currently being constructed on the other side, which may include a direct subway connection in the future.
  • Purple Mountain or Zijin Mountain (紫金山), (From Nanjing take bus 9 or Y1). Contains the tomb of the first Ming Dynasty emperor and his consorts, the mausoleum of Dr. Sun Yat-sen (中山陵)(leader of the 1911 revolution), the tomb of Sun Quan from the Three Kingdoms period and other impressive historical stuff. Plan an entire day just exploring the mountain and surrounding areas. The park has a shuttle “train” you can ride and is included in the price of certain tickets. There is also a cable car going up the hill for ¥25 one-way and ¥45 round-trip. If you have the right shoes, feel free to walk back down (or up) the hill. ¥100 (approx.).

Note: If you are staying in Nanjing for an extended period of time and want to visit a number of scenic parks then it may be worth buying a Purple Mountain pass for ¥100 and/or a city pass for ¥120. The Purple Mountain pass can be bought at the entrance to Sun Yat-sen’s Memorial (and possibly at any of the other parks on the mountain) and provides you with free entry to nine parks on the mountain. If you are going to visit more than 2 or 3 of the parks on the mountain you will save money with the pass. The city pass can be bought at the entrance to any of the big parks in the city, such as the zoo or Yuhuatai Memorial Park and provides you with free entry to 21 different locations. You need to provide a passport photo for each pass and they are valid for one calendar year.

Things to do in Nanjing

  • Sun Palace. Between Xuanwu Hu and Purple Mountain is a hotel resort with an indoor waterpark and a nice wavepool (activated on the even hours), and a lazy river around the perimeter, a fantastic children’s area, a high-dive, and of course some great slides. ¥60.
  • Xuanwu Hu. One of Nanjing’s lakes has three islands in the middle all linked by causeways, complete with a amusement park for kids, a small zoo, and lots of great views of the city and Purple Mountain. Paddle boats can be rented as well. The picturesque nature of this lake is a nod to the high esteem held within China of Nanjing’s beauty. ¥30
  • Chaotiangong (朝天宫). 11:00-17:00. For antique lovers, this place is a small market hosted next to the Confucius Palace. You can find all sorts of small and big objects there , some are real antiques, others are fake. If you want to buy something, be prepared to negotiate the price ! This place is fun to stroll around seeing both things to sell and sellers as the environment is quite charming.

Education in Nanjing

Nanjing has a number of national and provincial institutions for higher education.

  • Nanjing University of Science and Technology .
  • Southeast University .
  • Nanjing University .
  • Hohai University
  • Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics .
  • Nanjing Normal University .
  • Nanjing University of Finance and Economics .
  • Nanjing University of Posts and Telecommunications .
  • Nanjing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine .

Nanjing U, the Normal U and both medical universities have significant numbers of foreign students. Nanjing U and Johns Hopkins have a joint research center.

Stay safe

Good news! Nanjing is now officially the safest city in China – this was the honour of Hangzhou until a recent rise in hotel robberies put Hangzhou in the headlines. This doesn’t mean there is no risks. Pickpocketing is a problem in Fuzimiao as well as on crowded buses, the subway and around the main transport hubs. Because Nanjing has a relatively small number of foreigners for a city its size, the common scams seen in Shanghai and Beijing are almost non-existant, however you may still see the occasional dodgy salesman selling counterfeit goods in Fuzimiao.

Be careful if taking the bus to the airport from Zhonghuamen bus station as many touts claim to be the official bus service, however there is a strong risk of being overcharged or driven to a location several kilometres from the actual airport. The official bus departs from Gate 7 and tickets should be paid for at the gate. Bus Tickets are ¥20 as of March 2010. Also be careful of fake taxis operating from the bus stations and occasionally the railway station – always use the official taxi stand and ignore any taxi touts.

Although traffic is slightly calmer than most Chinese cities it can still be much more manic than most Western countries – take the usual precautions when crossing the road and also remember that right turns on a red light are legal in China so people driving across the crosswalk while the ‘walk’ sign is showing aren’t actually breaking the law. Also be careful of motorbikes and bicycles driving on the pavement.

Many older Nanjingese may have a resentment towards the Japanese because of the events during World War II. If you are Japanese, don’t let this put you off visiting as the locals will still be very welcoming, however it’s recommended not to appear too conspicuously Japanese and keep any opinions to yourself. Younger Nanjingese are more open and will often be more than happy to discuss the war.

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