what to do in Najing, China: the 10 best things to see + do in China’s Southern capital

After spending nearly 10 months in China, I created a list of Nanjing attractions that were worth the entrance fees and effort to see. In the name of being honest, most of the things you can see and do in the city are tourist traps not at all worth the entrance fee. However, if you look close enough you will stumble upon jewels hidden among the grimy skyscrapers and black pavement of Nanjing. History, modern art, and beautiful vantage points are around every corner if you're willing to take the time to look.

This post contains all of my favourite things to see and do in Nanjing so that you don’t waste time or money during your visit.

As I’m currently traveling, Nanjing missing files are being published! I hope you enjoy reading more about mainland China! Posts about Hong Kong coming your way soon!


here's what you shouldn't miss in nanjing...


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1.Bao'en Temple 

Bao-en Temple was once destroyed, but with its restoration came an influx of money turning it into a sort of hybrid modern art exhibit/holy site. Every room you walk into is either has historical information or is a modern take on the Chinese story of the Buddha. I went when there were two school tours wandering through it on a field trip and it still felt mostly empty, making it an ideal spot to see some art and beat the heat on a summer afternoon.

You can watch highlights from my time at Bao'en Temple here. 

COST: 80¥

OPEN: 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM

HOW TO GET THERE: take Metro Line 3 to Yuhuamen station and leave out exit 4

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2. Yuejiang Temple

Yuejiang Temple, also referred to as Yuejiang Tower, sits on the top of Lion Hill in West Nanjing. Every set of stone stairs you climb up leads you to more interesting architecture and better views of the city below. Make sure you bring your own water bottle and try not to go in the middle of a summer day as the heat is excruciating, however, Yuejiang is well worth the 40RMB you pay. There are so many gorgeous colors and pretty rooftops to peek at.

You can read more about my time at Yuejiang Temple here. 

COST: ¥ 40

OPEN: 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM

HOW TO GET THERE: Take a DiDi or regular taxi cab to No.202 Jianning Road, Xiaguan District, Nanjing 210015, China

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3. the Nanjing Massacre Memorial 

It makes for a very dark day out, but you can’t visit Nanjing and not pay tribute to the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their lives during the Japanese occupation of the city. It’s a total “must-do”.

The full name of the memorial is the Memorial Hall of the Victims in Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders, but if you ask anyone about the Massacre Memorial, they'll know what you are referring to. The memorial is a thorough account of what began in 1937 when the Japanese army invaded and occupied Nanjing. The Japanese occupation was especially gruesome to learn about {it included killing competitions and rape by bayonets}. While 'dark tourism' is controversial, the free memorial stands as a symbol of peace with the hope that we can all learn how terrible war and violence is. 

COST: Free

OPEN: closed on Mondays, open Tuesday-Sunday from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM

HOW TO GET THERE: take Metro Line 2 to Yunjinlu Station and leave out exit 2

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4. rent a boat at xuanwu lake

Without a doubt, my favourite area of Nanjing is Xuanwu Lake. The area has my favourite Indian restaurant in the city, pretty lake views, perfect picnic spots, and electric boats you can drive around the lake. As part of my good-bye/farewell/so-long/peace-out, my girl friends {who have been my family here} took me to the lake for another picnic {like this one} and we took a boat out for a spin on the water. We split the bill {a whopping 30RMB per person} and it ended a sunny day 

COST: ¥ 120 per hour + ¥ 200 deposit, which you get back once you return the boat

HOW TO GET THERE: take Metro line 1 to Xuanwu Gate station

5. the lao mendong area

Lao Mendong is filled with book stores, tea shops, and museums. It’s also home to a little taste of New Zealand. There are a multitude of photo-ops for you to take advantage of, and the area boasts some of the more traditional Chinese architecture.

COST: Free

HOW TO GET THERE: Jump off the metro at Wudingmen station on line 3

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6. the ming tombs

The Ming Tombs themselves are more or less just a walk around kind of thing. It's more or less a complex of pretty archways that lead to concrete walkways lined with trees. While it's not too much to get excited about on any given day, an autumn visit provides beautiful reds and oranges. The Ming Tombs become truly stunning when the leaves have changed, making them well worth a visit. 

You can read more about the Ming Tombs here.

COST: ¥70

HOW TO GET THERE: Take the Metro on line 2 to Muxuyuan station and leave out Exit 1. 

 

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7. VOLUNTEER AT THE NANJING RAINBOW CENTER

I’m a sucker for a good cause. Volunteering in Nanjing was one of the best things I did. I gained a lot of insight into the repercussions of the one-child policy and the stigma surrounding children with mental and physical impairments. The Rainbow Center has too many babies and not enough people to cuddle them, meaning they are looking for…wait for it…VOLUNTEER BABY CUDDLERS! You read that right. Basically, what I was made for.

You can read more about ways to do good here.

COST: Free

HOW TO GET THERE: A maze of bus routes exists that will get you about a 20-minute walk away from the Rainbow Center. You’ll need to take a taxi or DiDi. I suggest organizing your transport with Linda, the volunteer coordinator.

 

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8. KTV

KTV in China is different than anywhere else I’ve tried it. Basically, you gather a bunch of your friends and pay for a private room to do karaoke in. Some KTV joints are super posh with crazy bottle service and chandeliers. Others are sorta sketchy rooms in shopping malls without air=conditioning— both are hilarious experiences. The music lists can be belly laugh inducing in and of themselves {think Taylor Swift, Creed, and Eminem’s entire discographies}.

COSTS, OPENING TIMES, + NAVIGATION: These all vary depending on where you decide to go

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9. THE DOUBLE-DECKER BUS TOUR

The double-decker tour of Nanjing takes you passed all the highlight the city offers. You can hop on and off as you like to visit attractions. Tickets cost less than USD $5, making the bus the cheapest way to see the city in completion. Buses are air-conditioned so that you can enjoy the bus even on the hottest day!

You can read my entire guide to Nanjing’s bus tour here.

COST: ¥ 30

OPEN: Tours operate from 9:30 AM - 5:30 PM

HOW TO GET THERE: There are multiple stops around the city. You’ll need a Chinese speaking friend or co-worker to help you find the closest stop as the website is fully in Chinese and the map does not translate.

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10. GO FOR A BIKE RIDE ALONG THE RIVER

 One of my favourite days in China, and probably one of the most special days ever, was spent cycling along the river and jumping off and on my bike for photos whenever I found something interesting. It’s a great way to see some of the hidden sights of the city. Let yourself get lost along the trail, but make sure you stop to enjoy the sunset with a TingTsao .

COST: Share bikes cost ¥ 1 for individual rides or you can invest in a plan that requires a deposit of ¥ 200

HOW TO GET THERE: The river path is located in West Nanjing near the Longjiang stop on Metro line 4

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Nanjing didn't capture my heart in any way, but I do feel like there have been places I've seen and things I’ve done that made for hilarious anecdotes and interesting days out. If you find yourself traveling through China's old capital city, hit all of these attractions and you can leave knowing you'll have seen the best of what Nanjing has to offer. 

For more things to see and do in Nanjing, check out this post by Dame Traveler.


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