Explore the gateway to the heart of the empire
FIVE GREAT AVENUES
The five avenues running off Wu Dadao are the core of the old concession area, where hundreds of colonial buildings remain. Many of them have been occupied by restaurants, bars and cafés, making this a great place to explore by day or night.
One of the city’s quirkier colonial buildings, this five-storey French-style villa has been decorated inside and out with over 700 million pieces of crystal and Chinese porcelain, including vases, bowls and dishes, all set into the walls.
Near the river, the old Italian concession has been redeveloped as a dining and nightlife hotspot, attracting many foreigners to its Italian, French, German, Spanish and even Thai restaurants.
DABEI BUDDHIST MONASTERY
The city’s largest and oldest temple, this Buddhist monastery was built in 1669. Famed for the fine statuary in its many brightly coloured halls, it’s also a great place for vegetarian food.
One of the most famous in China, the prayer hall of this Qing dynasty mosque can hold over a thousand worshippers and features couplets and tablets written in both Arabic and Chinese characters, with carved brickwork in the Hui style.
XIKAI CHURCH (ST. JOSEPH’S CATHEDRAL)
The three green domes of this 1917 church built by French Jesuits make it one of the city’s major landmarks. It’s been beautifully restored as a working church, with Mass in English held at 11.30 am daily.
It’s become somewhat de rigueur for a major city to have one of these nowadays. Tianjin’s doesn’t disappoint, with fine views along the Hai River from the top of this 120-metre-high Ferris wheel.
TIANJIN RADIO AND TELEVISION TOWER
Located in the southwest of the city, this 415-metre-tall TV tower (the fourth highest in the world) offers even better views than the Eye, with observation decks from 248-278 metres.
Housed in a huge, modern building inspired by the appearance of a swan, this is the place to get a grip on the city’s complex history, with well-laid-out exhibits captioned in both Chinese and English.
Located in the ancient city centre as it was used for signaling, this recent reconstruction of a Ming Dynasty structure offers views across the old town and a small exhibition space. The streets around it are lined with souvenir stalls.
Perhaps the most interesting building in Tianjin, this residence and gardens with lakes, pagodas and bridges mix Spanish and Japanese architecture. It was the Tianjin home of Puyi, the last emperor of China.
Located on top of Tianjin Railway Station, this plaza of newly built Renaissance-esque buildings is a good place to wander while waiting for trains, with views of the surrounding skyscrapers and several restaurants on the riverbank nearby.
TEMPLE OF THE QUEEN OF HEAVEN
Located in the heart of Ancient Culture Street, this temple was built over 700 years ago and is one of the earliest in China dedicated to the sea goddess. It’s where local sailors came to pray for safe navigation.
TIANJIN FOLK MUSEUM
The temple above also houses this museum, which is a nice way to learn about the cultural history of ordinary folk. With a wide range of artefacts and exhibitions, it also hosts traditional arts performances during Chinese holidays.
Historically the main artery of the city, the banks of the Hai River make an excellent escape from the everyday bustle, with several attractions strung along, such as Haihe Park and the Haihe Cultural Centre.
Not far from the cultural street and hemmed in by shopping malls and glass towers, the city’s largest ancient temple complex offers an island of tranquility and the chance to learn about Confucianism with multilingual captions in its small museum.
This tidy French-built red-brick church near the river is the site of the 1870 Tianjin Massacre. A photo exhibition inside examines this event and the difficult history of the European colonial encounter with China.
Being next to the sea makes Tianjin an ideal place to try seafood. It’s not hard to find a typical restaurant where you chose your intended meal from tanks; staff will net it and send it to the kitchen to return to your table cooked to perfection.
HEPING DISTRICT FOOD STREET
Head here to try authentic local flavours such as the Eight Great Bowls, a spread of mainly meat dishes, and goubuli baozi, the typical Tianjin steamed bun.
ANCIENT CULTURE STREET (GU WENHUA JIE)
Although a bit of a tourist trap, this highly renovated street of shops and restaurants is kept clean and is a good place to get shots of iconic Chinese objects and architecture, as well as buy local handicrafts.
Tianjin’s most famous handicrafts include Yang Liu Qing’s New Year woodcut paintings, the brightly coloured and exaggerated Zhang clay figurines, and silken Weiji kites, which make great gifts to travel home with as they’re light and designed to be portable.
YANG LIU QING ANCIENT TOWN
Located in the western suburbs and famous for its vivid New Year woodcut paintings depicting everyday scenes, this old town has been heavily restored and has some fine old buildings. It is slightly cheaper than the centre for souvenir shopping.
For over 400 years, the ‘ancient clothing street’ has been lined with clothing and shoe shops, as well as tailors. You might just come across street performances of traditional opera and local Xiangsheng comedians.
Worth The Trek
THE GREAT WALL AT HUANGYAGUAN
Just three hours from Tianjin lies this restored section of the Great Wall, which is not only rugged and picturesque but considerably less crowded than those nearer to Beijing.