When you think of China, do you picture yourself exploring the giant, westernized cities of Shanghai or Beijing, whizzing up sci-fi-esque towers of over 1,500 feet? Or do you imagine tucked-away temples and bustling marketplaces heaving with traditional Chinese food and fare? If you don’t have the time to visit both ends of the diverse Chinese culture, why not meet in the middle and experience a bit of everything China has to offer by living like a local in Tianjin.
What to do and see in Tianjin
If you’re looking for souvenirs, make a trip to Drum Tower where you can mingle with the locals and join in with a game or two of kick-shuttlecock (warning: it’s much harder than it looks!). Small stalls line the street and sell good quality traditional Chinese musical instruments and ornaments. While Ancient Culture Street is more vibrant and has a wider variety of goods, it tends to be overpriced and the street is a particularly sticky tourist trap.
If you’re a sucker for Bonfire Night, then you’ll fit right in with the Tianjin locals. Ancient Chinese history suggests that an evil spirit prowls the streets of China, breeding bad luck in its wake. Loud noises frighten the spirit away and offer protection from his ‘wrath’. Therefore, day or night, it is not an uncommon sight to see cars casually weaving in and out of exploding crates in the middle of the road. To protect your family in true Tianjin style, grab a box of firecrackers and join in.
Where to eat in the city
While restaurants like Pizza Bianca and La Seine serve some of the most delicious and affordable European dishes in Tianjin, they are often filled with ex-pats and tourists. For a local experience, try the vast array of street food at Nanshi Food Street. Situated in ancient building complex, try snacks such as dry crackers and dim sum, crispy scorpion and fried snake. Skewer stands obscure the thoroughfare, vendors drumming up trade with corn on the cob, roasted vegetables, sausages and glazed fruit – basically anything that you can skewer onto a stick.
Coffee shops frequented by the locals include Paris Baguette and Bread Talk, but go to Guishunzhai for some traditional jasmine infused cha and a plate of earthy delicacies made from sesame oil, ground white sugar, dates and raisins.
Where to shop
Joy City and Aqua City are two shopping centres frequented by Tianjin locals which house a large variety of European high street fashion. For a very different retail experience, go to the largest marketplace in Tianjin, Da Hu Tong. Its name, aptly translating as ‘big alleyway’, is not remotely exaggerated – one could spend an entire day wandering in and out of the narrow corridors, bartering with shop keepers for goods so cheap that you’ll find you have a suddenly desperate “need” for them.
Where to walk in Tianjin
The canal in Tianjin runs right through the centre of the city and makes for a very pleasant walk morning or evening. If you have an hour or two, amble up to the Italian district, absorbing the German inspired architecture and the Renaissance style bridges and statues. The Italian district itself is chock-a-bloc with tourists, but do enjoy a coffee while trying to avoid being photographed by curious residents.
In January to March, an arctic chill settles over Tianjin and the canal freezes over. Join the locals for a spot of ice fishing, or put on your ice skates for an afternoon of fun.
It’s time for us to say ‘Zai Jian’ (goodbye). Armed with local knowledge, have fun travelling Tianjin!
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Category: Expert Guides