Tianhou Palace is often the first museum visitors encounter in Tianjin. Located at the end of the crowded Ancient Culture Street, the palace was traditionally a temple of worship for the Chinese sea goddess, Mazu. Built in 1326, it is now both a Taoist temple and a museum. Although there is no admission charge, the etiquette is to make a donation. This is a mark of respect to the mythical protector of mariners, fisherman and soldiers, who both risked and gave their lives to the seas surrounding Tianjin. Upon exiting the palace, visitors are invited to ring the fortune bell. Again, it’s customary to offer a monetary donation, or alternatively a prayer.
From the outside, the flawless design of the Natural History Museum looks like many of the other structures in Tianjin, European architecture with a modern twist. The museum houses its own version of Jurassic Park (ironically donated by a wealthy American) with a robotic dinosaur exhibit alongside the prehistoric fossils and artefacts on display. You’ll also find just about every animal under the sun in its taxidermy form, along with plentiful exhibits walking you through the history of the earth from an evolutionary perspective. Be aware that captions are primarily in Chinese with occasional ‘Chinglish’ translations.
This is Tianjin’s most authentic representation of its Western-infused past. The Astor’s small museum not only tells the story of the hotel but also of pre-modern Tianjin, which was one of the few cities in China initially open to foreigners. You almost feel as though you’ve stepped out of China. The site is an immaculately preserved hotel from the late 1800s to early 1900s, with numerous authentic vintage items such as cars, umbrellas and photos of famous visitors still on display. The little museum is free for Astor Hotel guests and 50 RMB for visitors. Definitely worth the visit to this unique historical site.