The trick of visiting Nanjing is finding a balance between ancient relics and soaring skyscrapers.
Here’s a snapshot of the best of both worlds starting with ideas for accommodation.
Nanjing provides a good deal of high-end accommodation as well as budget stays.
Most luxury hotels lie close to the commercial center Xinjiekou (新街口) or are scattered around Tangshan (汤山), a hot springs mountain in the suburbs.
Intercontinental Nanjing (1 Zhongyang Road, +86 25 8353 8888) occupies the 45th-81st floors of 89-story Zifeng Tower, the second tallest building in mainland China, offering stunning views across the city.
The state-owned Jinling Hotel (2 Hanzhong Road, +86 21 8471 1888) showcases Chinese hospitality at its best. The 37-story property has served as the temporary home for many Chinese and foreign government officials during their visits to the city.
Chain budget hotels are abundant and usually cost less than RMB 200 (US$32) per night. Certain branches, however only take local guests.
Two most popular international hostels are the Jasmine International Youth Hostel (No. 7, Lane 83 Shanghai Road, +86 25 8330 0517) and the Time Youth Hostel (No. 6-5, Yong Garden, Meiyuan Xincun, +86 25 8556 9053). Both are in the city center.
It is hard to leave Nanjing without a growing waistline! Both back-alley stalls and elegant restaurants serve a smorgasbord of traditional Chinese snacks. Local classics include small steamed buns stuffed with juicy pork (汤包), sesame pancakes (鸭油烧饼) and duck blood soup with fried tofu and vermicelli (鸭血粉丝汤). The best venues to sample Nanjing nibbles are the Confucius Temple area and Shiziqiao Food Street.
Yanshuiya (盐水鸭), or duck soaked in brine, is a city icon. The fowl is first cooked in brine till tender, hung to dry for three days and then served as chops.
The Plum Garden Restaurant in Jinling Hotel cooks the most authentic dish (RMB 198 or US$32 per duck).
Nanjing is said to be the hometown of the celebrated Peking Duck. The Ming Dynasty brought the dish northward while moving the capital from here to Beijing in 1421.
Xushang Xunfu is one of the few restaurants that still carries Chakaoya (金陵叉烤鸭), the traditional Nanjing roast duck (RMB 198 or US$32 per duck, 5/F, Building 5, 158 Lushan Road, +86 8777 5588).
Tipping is not common practice in Nanjing.
Nanjing was the capital of 10 Chinese dynasties, including Ming (capital from 1368-1421) and the Republic of China (capital from 1368-1421). Historical sites are key for tourism.
Roughly a third of the Ming City Wall still stands today. Visitors are permitted to stroll along the 600-year-old wall at three former gates: Zhonghuamen (RMB34 or US$5.5), Taicheng (RMB15 or US$2.4) and Shitoucheng (free).
Other iconic attractions include Sun Yat-sen’s Mausoleum on Zijin Mountain, Ming Emperor Tomb and the Memorial Hall of Victims in Nanjing Massacre.
The 4.72-square kilometer Xuanwu Lake Park was the largest Imperial lake garden in China’s history.
Nanjing’s nightlife scene is growing fast, though it is not on a par with what Beijing and Shanghai offer. Bars and clubs cluster around Shanghai Road (between Guangzhou Road and West Beijing Road) and 1912 (54 North Taiping Road), an entertainment complex featuring revamped villas dating from the establishment of the Republic of China.
American-owned Jimmy’s (193 Shigu Road, +86 25 8679 2599) and Australian Blue Sky (77 Shanghai Road, +86 25 8663 9197) are popular sports bars, with the latter drawing an older ‘expat’ crowd.
Japanese-owned Zuo Bar (2/F, A2, 1912 complex, +86 25 86643100) mixes some of the city’s best cocktails, while Sancho Panza (173 Guangzhou Road, +86 25 5188 8096) strums out strong notes from indie bands.
Dance clubs often have unexpectedly lavish decoration like the 10 baby sharks inside T-Rex (1/F, Building 13, 1912 complex) and a European-style church gate outside Mazzo (Building 6, 1912 complex).
Xinjiekou is the Champs-Élysées of Nanjing.
An array of gleaming shopping malls, radiating from the intersection of Zhongshan Road and Hanzhong Road, are visited by more than one hundred thousand shoppers every day. Brands available range from deluxe labels, such as Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior, to fast-fashion houses like Uniqlo and H&M. A strip of tiny stores in Xinjiekou metro station sell the hottest knick-knacks for youngsters.
Digital malls rub shoulders on Zhujiang Road (between North Taiping Road and Zhongshan Road), selling brand-new, secondhand or smuggled electronic gadgets either retail or wholesale. The Confucius Temple (夫子庙) area and Gan’s Grand Courtyard (甘家大院) are the places to hunt for Nanjing folk souvenirs.