Ideal Itinerary: Nanjing, China

What to see and do in China’s former capital, Nanjing By: Gary Bowerman
The mausoleum of Sun Yat-sen in Nanjing, China // © 2011 Maggie Lijing
The mausoleum of Sun Yat-sen in Nanjing, China // © 2011 Maggie Lijing

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The Details

China National Tourist Office
800-670-2228
www.cnto.org

Where to Stay/Getting There

Where to Stay
Located in central Nanjing overlooking Xuanwu Lake, the 234-room Westin Nanjing is set to open in the first quarter of 2011.
www.starwoodhotels.com
86-258-556-8888

The Sofitel Galaxy Nanjing caters to upscale and executive travelers in a 48-floor CBD tower.
www.sofitel.com
86-258-371-8888

Getting There
Nanjing Lukou International Airport has several daily flights to and from all major Chinese cities, plus Tokyo, Frankfurt, Hong Kong and Singapore.

For an up-to-date high-speed train timetable, visit www.travelchinaguide.com/china-trains
Nanjing, China's former capital, rivals Beijing in ancient tombs, palaces and historic monuments. Located inland on the Yangzte River, Nanjing also boasts statuesque old city walls, the intensely moving Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall plus the world's seventh-tallest building. Even better, the city is now accessible in just 73 minutes by super high-speed train from Shanghai Hongqiao railway station. There's plenty to see and do, so clients should be prepared for a few busy days of sightseeing.

Historic Downtown
Nanjing means "Southern Capital," and the city is crammed with history. Clients should begin their day by exploring the Presidential Palace, where Sun Yat-sen was sworn in as the President of the Republic of China in 1911. The next stop is the ancient Drum Tower, which now bizarrely sits on a traffic island in the middle of an intersection. Soaring above the upturned eaves of the Drum Tower is the 1,500-foot Greenland Tower, the world's seventh-tallest building. Next, clients should catch a cab to the Martyrs Memorial in Yuhuatai Martyr Memorial Park, where giant 1950s socialist realist statues dot the hillsides that once served as execution grounds. And adjacent to park's main monument, an intriguing Chairman Mao memorabilia exhibition can be found.

Walking the Wall
Developed as an inland port on the banks of the Yangtze River, Nanjing was historically encircled by a defensive wall, plus two more inner walls protecting the imperial palace. The uneven steps of the Old City Wall Museum are a good place to begin a leisurely walk. Clients can explore the broad ramparts, which yield excellent views of Nanjing's historic buildings and its evolving skyline.

Learning From the Past
Memories of the 1937-1938 "Rape of Nanjing" -- when occupying Japanese forces massacred and tortured the local population while stepping up their pre-war invasion of China -- still hang heavily over the city. Clients should not miss the haunting Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall near the old Jiandong Gate, though they may wish to dedicate a half-day to this well-curated museum and memorial to the reputed 300,000 victims.

Lesser known is the House of John Rabe, adjacent to Nanjing University on Guangzhou Lu. A German employee of Siemens in China, Rabe became the chairman of the International Committee of the Nanjing Safety Zone, and helped shelter up to 200,000 people from certain death at the hands of the Japanese army. Rabe's renovated former cottage is now a museum detailing the horrors of pre-war Nanjing.

Head for the Hills
When the afternoon heat rises (Nanjing is known as one of China's summertime "furnace cities"), follow the locals and head for the hills. The most popular retreat is Zijin Shan (Purple Gold Mountain) just beyond the city walls. The eucalyptus-clad slopes shelter the Tomb of Zhu Yuanzhang, China's first Ming emperor. The tomb is accessed via the Sacred Way, a stately roadside parade of life-size stone lions, elephants, camels and mystical creatures. Purple Gold Mountain's most popular attraction is the pagoda-style mausoleum of Sun Yat-sen, revered as the Father of Modern China. The engraved tomb rests in a deep chamber accessible by climbing a sweeping 392-step stone staircase cut into the mountainside.

Dinner and Drinks
Nanjing's varied local cuisine is revered across China, particularly its variety of river fish dishes, roast goose, sturgeon and its own variations on Beijing's signature roast duck. For a fun and colorful introduction to the local dining scene, follow the crowds to the neon-lit Hunan Lu. The pedestrianized Lion's Bridge dining district is crammed with local eateries plus restaurants and cafes serving numerous cuisines from around China.

For a post-dinner drink, the Nail Bar is a popular spot that attracts a mixed clientele, serves a large menu of imported bottled beers from around the world and doubles as a live jazz venue. 
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