A cosmopolitan commercial centre since medieval times, Tianjin has a character all of its own. The city has long been a key Chinese port and, as is so often the case, the constant flow of people and goods into Tianjin helped forge a distinct local culture. Rich in architectural, cultural and culinary heritage, the city is today a hotbed of development and one of the core financial epicenters of China. Here are the best things to see and do in this dynamic seaside metropolis.
In 1901 Italy was given 46ha (114 acres) of central Tianjin as a trading headquarters. The area is now known as Italian Style Street and remains a terrific place to mingle with the city’s after-work crowd. Stroll the streets, idle over a dinner of pasta or pizza; it’s also particularly pretty at night when the streets and fountains glow with coloured lights and the many restaurants buzz with diners.
This former stadium was designed in part by athlete Eric Liddell – of Chariots of Fire fame – who worked as a missionary in Tianjin in the 1920s. With its grand parade of stately colonnades, his design was inspired by Chelsea FC’s Stamford Bridge stadium. Minyuan Stadium served as the home of the Tianjin Tigers football team, which plays in the Chinese Super League, until the team moved into the plush new TEDA stadium in 2004. It has since been repurposed as a public park and boutique shopping centre.
Looking as if it was teleported from Rome, this elegant neoclassical bridge over the Hai river recalls an era when the city was run by European powers as their Chinese trade headquarters. The bridge is lined with gilt statues of the muses – look for the one playing a Guqin, an ancient Chinese seven-stringed lute. There are good views of the skyline at the halfway point, particularly after dusk, when Tianjin’s buildings are mirrored in the water.
This theme park is Tianjin’s answer to Disneyworld – a mishmash of reproduction fantasy palaces, purpose-built pagodas, boating lakes, water rides and rollercoasters. It has an enormous fan base among families, especially at weekends, when you should be prepared to wait a while to board the rides. Many of the attractions rely on 3D technology and are based in huge cinema rooms. Even though the commentary is in Mandarin, they are easy enough to follow and you’ll find the staff super-obliging if you need assistance.
Jon Santangelo has contributed additional reporting to this article.