Start out with a walk around the former French, Russian, and British concession areas. Although many structures have been torn down and/or replaced, there are still quite a few examples of 19th century European architecture. It’s amazing to happen upon an Italian-style fountain or church built in the French style among the ubiquitous shiny skyscrapers of modern China. Houses and smaller buildings in the European styles also still remain in certain parts of town.
For some more history, Tianjin’s museums are world-renowned, particularly the Natural History Museum and the Science and Technology Museum. If you’re interested in more locally-focused information, though, try the Zhou Enlai Memorial Hall, dedicated to the first premier of the PRC, or the Beiping-Tianjin Campaign Memorial Hall. To take home a bit of history, visit the Ancient Culture Street. Granted, it’s been transformed into a tourist destination and not all of the buildings and souvenirs are authentic. However, you can still find quite a few antiques and local knickknacks to take home with you, and some of the buildings have been preserved or restored to the historical style.
With the crowds and fast pace of the metropolis always surrounding you, you may find yourself in need of a break. Luckily city officials have chosen to preserve swaths of the city as green parkland, and these are the perfect place for a picnic or afternoon stroll. Central Park in Heping has beautifully maintained gardens and rockeries, and Beining Park in Hebei is a series of ponds and pagodas interconnected by dozens of bridges. Huge Shuishang Park is also a nice place to spend a day, as the large lakes make a great spot for boating on a nice summer day. And Haihe Park is right along the river, the perfect place to get a good river view and to watch the world go by.
For the best-preserved parts of Tianjin’s history, though, you have to go out of town. Hop on a train and head north for the day. The pass in the Great Wall at Huangyaguan is one of the more impressive parts of the Great Wall, and the Buddhist temples that surround the peaks of Mount Pan are quite a sight to behold. Or check out the Qing dynasty tombs, where the kings, queens, and concubines of the Qing were laid to rest. The Solitary Joy (or Dule) Temple is also worth a visit, as a massive and beautifully built and preserved Buddhist temple with an important historical background.
[photo courtesy of dearbarbie]