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  • Writer's pictureBianca

Nanjing in a Day, the Unconventional Way

Nanjing was China's largest city during the Ming Empire and its lingering history will make itself apparent as you make your way around. However, because of its sheer size, you'll need to plan out your visit carefully so you don't waste time going back and forth!

Located in Jiangsu province, China's "southern capital" has no shortage of things to do and sights to see. If you're looking for an easy day trip to escape the hustle and bustle of Shanghai, Nanjing is the perfect option.

By high speed rail, you can get here from Shanghai in roughly one hour and tickets will run you anywhere from 115-150rmb ($17-22 USD).

I found the most efficient route for this itinerary to be from Shanghai Railway Station to Nanjing South Railway Station.

DISCLAIMER: This is far from a comprehensive list of places to go in Nanjing, it's only what I managed to fit into one day. Also note that if you travel on a holiday, you might not be able to hit everything in this list due to crazy long lines so plan accordingly.

Usnisa Palace Temple Exterior

Ox Head Mountain (牛首山, Niúshǒu shān)

Named for its two peaks which face each other in the shape of ox horns, Ox Head Mountain features numerous tourist attractions spread out across the mountain and is the perfect spot to start off your day in Nanjing.

This is a relatively new attractions, as the mountain was largely ignored up until 2015 it was chosen as the resting spot of Buddha's parietal bone which was only recently discovered in the city. After 3 years of development, the Ox Head Mountain cultural park and Usnisa Palace were finally opened up to the public.

Usnisa Worshiping Palace (taken from their website)

By far the coolest of all the attractions in the park was Usnisa Palace where Buddha's parietal bone is housed. Unfortunately, the Worshiping Palace where it is held is only opened for public viewing on New Year's Day, National Day, during the Spring Festival, and over a handful of important Buddhist holidays. I went on a random Monday, so while I got to avoid the crowds, I wasn't graced with the opportunity to see this ancient artifact.

Thousand Buddha Hall

All that being said, it is still worth a visit inside the palace. After taking countless escalators deep deep below ground, you will come across the Thousand Buddha Hall - a grandiose room decked in gold and lined with Buddha statues along the wall (hence the name).

Here, you can also find a 3D rendering of the Buddha's parietal bone which is pretty dope.

Heads up: Remember to walk clockwise in this room as it is Buddhist tradition and there are many people paying their respects. It's easy to forget that this is not just a tourist attraction, but a sacred space!

Liji Islamic Restaurant (李记清真馆, Lǐ jì qīngzhēn guǎn)

After spending a couple hours roaming the mountain, it's easy to work up an appetite. Liji Islamic Restaurant at 1 Dading Alley was my pick.

An unassuming local canteen, Liji is actually one of the oldest halal restaurants in Nanjing. Everything is amazing, super cheap, and EXTREMELY filling. My friend and I ordered an assortment of foods, only to find that our eyes were bigger than our stomachs.

How much for all the food in the picture? A whopping 42rmb ($6 USD).

Fried beef dumplings, beef noodle soup, and soup dumplings

If you're stuck between all the amazing options (and I wouldn't blame you if you were), an absolute must is the beef fried dumplings. Perfection.

Heads up: You'll order your food at the cashier and pay first. They will hand you a receipt which you take with you as you line up at each food station.

Xuanwu Lake (玄武湖, Xuánwǔ hú)

Not gonna lie, this destination is a bit out of the way in terms of the rest of the attractions. My original plan was to hit up the Nanjing museum, Nanjing massacre museum, and Xinmao mausoleum, however I did this day trip on a Monday when all of these places were closed (whoops).

Lily pads in Xuanwu Lake
Lily pads in Xuanwu Lake

But I would say Xuanwu lake is still worth taking a walk around. There are 5 ”islands” within the lake connected by bridges. You’ll find a slew of picturesque scenes from pagodas and tea houses to gardens and even a small zoo!

Tip: If you want to ensure everything is open, learn from my mistake & make sure your visit does not fall on a Monday.

Zhonghua Gate/Nanjing City Wall

The Zhonghua Gate is one of many preserved gates of the Nanjing City Wall. This particular entrance is China's largest castle-style gate tower. The city wall itself acts as one of the best kept records of the Ming Dynasty. The inscriptions on the ~400 million bricks allow researchers to understand calligraphy styles, the history of the originating areas, and even Chinese surname culture in Nanjing. Each brick is inscribed with the city of origin as well as the name of the official responsible for quality control. Those whose names wound up on bricks of poor quality were punished by death ☠

You can opt to walk or bike along the Nanjing City Wall and it's easy to spend as much or as little time as you want here since there are many exits along the way.

Nanjing City Wall
Nanjing City Wall

Confucius Temple Area (夫子庙, fū zǐ miào)

Ok so there is a temple here buuuut I didn't check it out. This area is more widely known for it's shopping and dining scene. You'll spot familiar brand name stores as well as local shops selling handmade crafts. Foodies, fret not - Fuzimiao has more than enough to offer in this category! I opted to try Nanjing Salted Duck, the southern capital's answer to the famous Beijing Peking Duck. If you want to try a bunch of different foods instead, this area is also great for snacking at different street vendors.

Qinhuai River

Lastly, you must must must (and I cannot stress this enough) MUST treat yourself to an evening boat ride along the Qinhuai river. Once the sun sets, all the buildings are lit up, making for a beautiful backdrop to the boat ride. The history of the river plays from speakers on the boat, while performers sing and dance at intermittent points along the course of the boat ride.

Cost: 60rmb/$8.90 USD in the daytime, 80rmb/$11.87 USD at night. Performance is only at night.


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