Ningbo is looking to greatly increase
its share of China’s tourism.
Calm Wave” is a rather pleasant name for a city especially one
located along China’s pulsing east coast. Yet the calmness and
tranquility of Ningbo, a laid-back, green city in coastal Zhejiang
province, could easily have been punctured.
When China began opening up to the world in the late 1980s,
Ningbo was a strong candidate to become the nation’s east coast
financial, commercial and shipping center. Instead, that accolade
was given to Shanghai. Ningbo, meanwhile, settled into a thriving
niche as one of China’s most successful high-tech manufacturing and
import/export cities. Trade, rather than tourism, was its
But the government realized something was missing: tourism
revenue. Ningbo’s seaport ranked in the world’s top 12 provides
fast access to the Zhoushan archipelago of islands, including the
Buddhist retreat and tourism magnet of
Putuoshan. Many of the islands will be developed for tourism and
watersports and Ningbo is surrounded by pretty canal villages,
ancient ruins, accessible mountains and beautiful Dongqian
In addition, links between Shanghai and Ningbo are set to
increase. Next year, the world’s longest sea bridge, measuring over
22 miles, will span the Bay, cutting driving time to about 2½
To the Sea
Ningbo’s Drum Tower is an eclectic
example of different influences on the city.
Given its name and location, Ningbo’s wealth has always been
related to the sea. The city’s original settlement was built at the
confluence of three rivers: the Yong, Fenghua and Yuyao, which flow
into the sea. This area, known as Sanjiang Kou (Mouth of Three
Rivers), is the heart of modern Ningbo, with attractive gardens,
riverside walkways, bridges, retail malls and the buzz of a city on
the way up. Several new hotels, including Shangri-La, are being
From the river mouths, I followed a path across the Xinjiang
Bridge to see where Ningbo’s port history comes into even stronger
focus. Standing alone on a small green is a magnificent Catholic
Church, built by Portuguese traders during the 17th century. Just
past the church is an even more potent symbol of foreign domination
of China’s east coast.
The grand riverfront Bund is said to predate its Shanghai
counterpart by around two decades, though the area only began to
develop after the British navy bludgeoned its way into Shanghai in
1842, forcing China to concede five treaty ports Shanghai, Xiamen,
Fuzhou, Guangzhou and Ningbo to the British, French and Americans.
Just as in Shanghai, many foreign companies, banks and consulates
were built along the Bund in the late 19th century.
Though different in style, the buildings along Ningbo’s Bund
have been similarly restyled, and the area is now a thriving
district of bars, restaurants and galleries. It’s also a popular
location for pre-wedding photo shoots: Wandering around, I stumbled
across several local brides and grooms, dressed in white wedding
dress and dapper lounge suit, posing against the scenic
Two new Bund attractions also merit a visit. Facing the river,
the Ningbo City Exhibition is a fascinating three-floored showcase
of the history of the city and port of Ningbo, as well as its
ambitious urban and tourism development projects. Two doors down is
the post-modern hardwood exterior of the Ningbo Museum of Art.
Designed in warehouse-chic style with high ceilings, raw concrete
walls and oak paneling, this is one of China’s finest contemporary
arts spaces, hosting a broad range of Chinese and Asian art and
From here, I took a cab ride across town to Ningbo’s cultural
pride and joy: the Tianyi Pavilion, one of China’s oldest private
libraries. A series of photogenic temple-style pavilions is set in
beautifully manicured gardens filled with rounded arches, lanterns
and mini courtyards.
Feeling culturally and historically refreshed, I stepped back
into modern-day Ningbo with a short walk along Zhongshan Lu. The
city’s broad main boulevard is flanked by large malls and filled
with heaving traffic, much the same as its counterpart
thoroughfares in cities across coastal ‘New’ China. At the junction
with Gongyuan Lu, I encountered an unusual site. The grand yellow
Drum Tower is built atop an old city wall in traditional style with
slate roofs that turn upward like the bows on a ship at each end.
However, grafted onto the top is a red-brick, western-style clock
tower. Though certainly unorthodox, it stands as a hybrid landmark
for a historic city whose modern development offers a tangible
blend of “old” and “new” China.
Where to Stay: Howard Johnson is creating modern
four- and five-star properties all across China. The one in Ningbo,
opened in late 2006, is a contemporary-style, 450-room hotel with
fine facilities and a central location close to the Tianyi
For More Information: Ningbo Guide is a monthly
English-language city guide, magazine and Web site.
Hangzhou Bay Bridge
Built at a cost of USD1.6 billion and spanning 36km in length, the
Hangzhou Bay Bridge will link the cities of Shanghai and Ningbo
from late 2008.
Ningbo Lishe Airport
Located a 20-minute drive from downtown, the modern Ningbo Lishe
Airport has frequent daily flights to major cities in China and