Nanjing is one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China. With options like a leisurely stroll around Xuanwu Lake, an adventurous hike at Purple Mountain, and many historical sights to see, the 'southern capital' city should be on your China bucket list. Here are our top 10 recommendations for what you should do during your visit in Nanjing:
1. Bao'en Temple
In the early years of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Bao'en Temple, also known as the Porcelain Tower, was one of the three most famous temples in Nanjing. The pagoda was where people worshiped Buddha and released the soul of the dead from purgatory. At one point, the temple was destroyed but a Chinese businessman donated a substantial amount of money toward its reconstruction and renovation.
Today, the temple still represents its major role during the Ming dynasty, as well as operates as a modern art exhibit. The temple sits on the south bank of the Qinhuai River not far from the Confucian Temple area.
2. Visit the Nanjing Massacre Memorial
The Nanjing Massacre Memorial is in remembrance of 300,000 people and a place to learn from history. In 1937, half of the 600,000 helpless people living in Nanjing were slaughtered by the highly disciplined Japanese army when China fought against them in Shanghai for a period of over 6 weeks.
This is not to denigrate the Japanese; it's to learn how mankind can sometimes be so terrible to others—not unlike animals. There is an old saying, "Those that ignore or refuse to learn from history are forever bound to repeat it". Pay tribute to those who lost their lives during the Nanjing Massacre in 1937. The memorial commemorates the hundreds of thousands Chinese civilians who were murdered and today stands as a symbol of peace and hope against war.
3. Feast on Jinling Roast Duck
Although Beijing duck is notorious around China for its sumptuous flavor, Nanjing still holds the title for being duck capital. Local chefs produce soups, appetizers, main courses, pastries and snacks out of the livestock.
The Southern capital city offers Jinling Roast Duck, also known as Nanjing Salted Duck, which unlike its north neighbor does not come with the wheat flour pancakes or cucumbers on the side. Instead, what you can expect to find is tender and juicy meat on the inside, with a crispy exterior. Together, these textures have created the staple dish for Nanjing and is a must-try for visitors.
- You can find a well prepared Jinling Roast Duck at Meiyuan Canting (梅苑餐厅) located at Floor 2, Jinling Hotel, 2 Hanzhong Road, Gulou District (鼓楼区汉中路2号金陵饭店2楼)
4. Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum (Zhongshan Ling)
It is great to pay respect to Dr Sun Yat-sen, the creator of Communist China. The Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum is a great insight into China's history and it is very pretty. There are almost 400 steps to get to Dr Sun Yat-sen's final resting place and statue at the top of the hill. It is easy to climb with benches on each platform to relax. The sight at the top is nice; you can enter the mausoleum and you can walk around his statue. There are also plenty of shaded areas in which to simply sit and rest.
5. Stroll around Xuanwu Lake
Walking around the lake is a nice way to escape the loud and busy city. It is a tranquil place to unwind and relax with plenty of green scenery and fresh air. It is harmonious, quiet, clean and beautiful. Watching the sunset where the skyline meets the lake is a Nanjing experience you will want to see for yourself. Alternatively, boating on the lake is a good way to enjoy the great views of the city skyline. For an affordable price you can rent a paddle boat and explore the lake in a whole different way.
The best time to visit is in July when the lotus flowers are in full bloom and standing almost six feet tall in the lake.
6. Explore Purple Mountain
One simply cannot visit Nanjing without seeing the majestic Purple Mountain where many ancient historical sites are preserved and developed for visitors. Praised as "the First Mountain of Chinese Humanism", the Purple Mountain is the final resting place for emperors and outstanding heroes from over ten dynasties.
A number of famous cultural relics are dotted near the Purple Mountain, which are centered with the Mausoleum of Sun Yat-sen (the first president of the Republic of China).
7. Presidential Palace of Nanjing
The Presidential Palace was the political center during the Opium War and the Liberation War from 1840 to 1949. It is the largest museum of modern history, also a typical South China classic garden with pavilions, trees and lakes. It is a nice place to learn history and relax.
There are three exhibition areas for tourists. In the middle is the national government office of the president and subsidiary bodies. The west area is the office of the temporary president, his secretary, Joint Chiefs of Staff and garden. In the east area, are the executive council, barns and gardens.
8. Jiming Temple
It is a very nice Buddhist temple built in the Three Kingdoms period. It is close to Xuanwu Lake and a part of the city wall. The view from the city wall is gorgeous; you can go to the top of the wall from the temple and get good photos.
Inside the temple complex there are a few typical Chinese pavilions with Buddha images, awesome pictures, paintings, and sculptures to see.
9. View the city from the Zifeng Tower Observation Deck
Currently standing 89 stories high and as the 7th tallest building in the world, the Zifeng Tower offers visitors a unique experience. For a small fee, visitors have the unique opportunity to take the elevator the 89th floor and view all of the city from high up above.
On a clear day, one can see Nanjing's skyline, the lake and even Purple Mountain from miles away.
10. Nanjing's Ming Tomb
Our final top thing to do in Nanjing is a thought-provoking, UNESCO World Heritage Site with centuries of history behind it. The tomb of Zhu Yuanzhang, the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty, and his queen, has been buried here for over 600 years. It represents the crowning achievement in architecture and stone-carving arts of the Ming Dynasty, and affected the building of tombs in the following dynasties. The statues on the sacred paths are wonderful, consisting of elephants, lions, and new leaves on trees.
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