While our first trip, Xi’an, Tianjin, Beijing, Harbin, focused on some of the most famous landmarks in China, the upcoming itinerary will lay great emphasis on exploring one of China’s most iconic cities – Shanghai – and the surrounding area.
What makes this particular trip so appealing, is that the travelling is light and refreshing, baring the initial flight into China. These four cities are incredibly close together geographically, enabling the use of train travel perfectly. Moreover, you are able to visit them in virtually any order. As such, it may be preferable and efficient to take each day as it comes, only booking the next train a day or so before departure. Of course, be wary of travelling during national holidays, where trains can sell out many days in advance.
Nanjing – Suzhou – Hangzhou – Shanghai
The capital of Jiangsu Province, Nanjing is located in Eastern China and lies on the south bank of the Yangtze River. Chosen as China’s capital city during many dynasties in history, it is no surprise that Nanjing has a rich and deep heritage. Similarly to how Tianjin was dwarfed by Beijing, it can be argued that Nanjing sits in the shadows of Shanghai and Hangzhou. Perhaps not an outstanding location for travelers, Nanjing is still worth a visit due to its close proximity to the other, more interesting, cities of this itinerary. Trek China’s other Great Wall; the City Wall of Nanjing is in fact the second longest after the Great Wall itself. Take a trip on a boat and breathe in the cool air of the Xianwu Lake. The Nanjing Massacre Memorial will leave you speechless, pondering the sacrifices of China during World War Two. A sure visit for anyone with historical interest, this deeply saddening memorial highlights the atrocities committed by Japanese forces during the occupation of Nanjing in 1937.
Nanjing Massacre Memorial.
The Good – Excellent day trip location and close proximity to Hangzhou, Suzhou and Shanghai.
The Bad – The Nanjing Massacre Memorial is the only, real, notable experience.
Top Sights –Nanjing Massacre Memorial, Nanjing City Wall, Xianwu Lake, Confucius Temple.
Ginger Shorts Rating (10.5/20) Menna – 5 Joel – 5.5
‘Gardens to the south of the Yangtze River are the best in the world, and Suzhou gardens are the best among them’. Humble Administrator’s Garden is arguably the greatest of the numerous gardens located in Suzhou. Poet, Su Shi said, ‘It is a lifelong pity if having visited Suzhou you did not visit Tiger Hill.’ Whilst only 36 meters in height, Tiger Hill is great for those seeking a relaxing walk with some lovely views of the surrounding area. The pagoda on the summit is a welcoming sight. Menna and I sat for a while atop the hill, finding it incredibly peaceful and quiet. Tongli Water town is only a 40 minute drive away, and unmissable for those seeking a look into authentic Chinese architecture. You could spend hours wandering down the many lanes and corridors. Luoxingzhou, within the Tongli area, is a small island; the hustle bustle of city life seems a million miles away whilst present on Luoxingzhou.
Tongli Water Town.
Boats in use.
The Good – Beautiful Gardens and quaint Water Towns. Only 30 minutes train ride from Shanghai.
The Bad – No dedicated airport. Water Towns can also be accessed easily from Shanghai or Hangzhou.
Top Sights – Humble Administrator’s Garden, Tiger Hill, Tongli Water Town, Luoxingzhou, Lingering Garden, Lion Grove.
Nanjing to Suzhou: 1.5 hours. £12.
Ginger Shorts Rating (14/20) Menna – 7 Joel – 7
Often romanticised as ‘Heaven on Earth’, Hangzhou was delineated by Marco Polo as ‘the finest and most splendid city in the world’. Hangzhou can be seen as a leisurely destination due to its slow pace and relaxed aura. The West Lake is a vast area, with numerous pagodas and temples on the outskirts. It is also the stage for Impression West Lake, an awe inspiring dance performance where the dancers perform only three centimeters above the water. There is no better way to spend your night. Hangzhou produces some of the finest silk in the World and there are numerous factories and authentic shops to visit to find the right purchase. Dragon Well Tea Plantation is a wonderful location where you can watch authentic tea pickers at work and even purchase some of their tasty produce. Qinghefang Old Street is packed full of little shops and food stalls.
Dragon Well Tea Plantation.
The Good – West Lake, Silk industry and Tea plantations, offer something for everyone.
The Bad – None of note.
Top Sights – West Lake, Longjing Tea Village, Impression West Lake, Qinghefang Old Street.
Suzhou to Hangzhou: 1.5 hours. £12.
Ginger Shorts Rating (15/20) Menna – 7.5 Joel – 7.5
Shanghai is the economical, financial and cultural heart of Eastern China. It represents the intense modernisation of contemporary China. The Bund offers one of the greatest skyline views in the world. The French Concession, once occupied by the French, offers tourists the choice of many bars, breweries, antique stores and boutiques. Not explicitly Chinese, but still worth a viewing. Shanghai Museum contains a variety of ancient wares and artifacts. For the avid shopper, Nanjing Road is one of the world’s busiest shopping streets and should meet the needs of any tourist seeking a gift.
Shanghai offers a beautiful blend of some Chinese culture and modern architecture. However, it falls lower down on our list of places to visit in China due to its similar western build and contemporary structure. Nonetheless, it should still be worthy of your time due to its iconic name and international recognition.
The French Concession.
Daytime skyline of the Bund.
The Good – Vibrant and iconic city. Great travel links to other cities and East Asia.
The Bad – Expensive compared to other cities. Lack of outstanding landmark compared to Beijing.
Top Sights – The Bund, Pearl Tower Skyline, Shanghai Museum, Disneyland, Nanjing Road.
Hangzhou to Shanghai: 45 minutes. £8.
Ginger Shorts Rating (12.5/20) Menna – 6.5 Joel – 6
Whilst we’ve labelled Nanjing as the starting point of this itinerary, it’s as appropriate to begin your trip in Shanghai, before moving to Hangzhou, Suzhou and Nanjing. International flights are often cheap into Shanghai. Take advantage of Hangzhou and Suzhou sitting on Shanghai’s doorstep – they offer a taste of Chinese culture, particularly Hangzhou which we highly recommend.
At the time of writing, there is a 144 hour (6 day) Visa-Free transit in the cities of Shanghai, Hangzhou and Nanjing.
This itinerary, or versions of it, is the perfect introduction to Chinese society.