You really don't have to wait for a holiday to map out your next China adventure. There are plenty of cities neighboring Shanghai that are picturesque, quaint, and doesn't require much more than a weekend to cover.
Here we've put together a list of eight cities, all accessible via high-speed rail (Gaotie), and the kicker is return tickets are all under RMB150, with the cheapest journeys costing less than RMB40.
If you can read Chinese, head on over to 12306.cn to book your tickets, then bring your passport along with you on the day of travel to pay and collect. If not, just pop by the train station (or any of the numerous ticketing offices around town) - it’s a relatively pain-free process. Simply scribble down the name of the city (pinyin is fine, Chinese characters are a plus) and the time you want to depart and return (if you’re unsure of exact departure times, note a rough estimate and the officers will provide you with the closest options).
Note that as foreigners, we have to collect our tickets via the counters instead of the automated machines.
(Shanghai Hongqiao – Jiaxing South)
Tickets: RMB 38.50
Journey: 27-41 minutes
South Lake 南湖
Nanxi Xi Lu, Nanhu District | 南湖区南溪西路
Jiaxing’s South Lake is most well-known for being the site of the first meeting of the Chinese Communist Party, and is therefore regarded as highly important and sacred. It covers an area of 540,000 sqm and is sometimes called the ‘Mandarin Duck Lake’ due to its shape. Visitors should make sure to stop by the Misty Rain Tower as well, located within the lake’s grounds.
Jiaxing Zhongzi / Wufangzhai Rice Dumplings (五芳斋粽子)
Nanhu Water Chestnut
(Shanghai – Suzhou)
Journey: 25-41 minutes
Humble Administrator’s Garden
178 Dongbei Street | 东北街178号
The largest and most well-known of the Suzhou gardens, the Humble Administrator’s Garden stretches out over 52, 000sqm and is divided into 3 main areas – eastern, western and central. It is considered one of China’s four most famous gardens, and is listed as a World Cultural Heritage site as well as one of the Cultural Relics of National Importance under the Protection of the State.
Sweet & Sour Mandarin Fish (松鼠桂鱼)
Stir-fried Eel (响油鳝糊)
(Shanghai – Wuxi)
Journey: 42-59 minutes
Ling Mountain 灵山
Lingshan Lu, Mashan, Binhu District | 滨湖区马山灵山路
Lingshan is the representative tourist attraction in Wuxi, where the famous Giant Buddha (also known as the Oriental Giant Buddha), the tallest Buddha in China resides. Guests should make sure to allocate a few hours to the Vatican Palace as well, filled with beautiful Western and Chinese murals.
Turtle Head Isle 太湖鼋头渚
118 Dafu Chongshan Village, Binhu District | 滨湖区大浮充山村118号
Turtle Head Isle in the scenic Taihu Lake area (the third largest freshwater lake in China) is an isle that resembles a turtle raising its head. Other notable photo-op spots around the park include the Shutian Pavilion and the Changchun Bridge. The park is fairly large but there are shuttle buses stopping at strategic spots around so guests can always hop on one and make their way out when they're tired.
Braised Pork Ribs (红烧排骨）
Wuxi Soup Dumplings (无锡小笼)
(Shanghai Hongqiao – Hangzhou)
Journey: 58-74 minutes
West Lake 西湖
West Lake, Xihu District | 西湖区西湖风景区
Hangzhou's Xihu (sat to the west of the city, hence its namesake) is said to be the most beautiful of the 36 'West Lakes' scattered across the country. CNN named it one of the '12 Most Beautiful Sunset Spots Around the World' in 2013, alongside notable spots like Makena State Park, Hawaii, and Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. The best spots around the reserve to photograph the sunset is at Su Causeway, Yanggong Causeway and Broken Bridge.
Meijiawu Tea Village 梅家坞茶文化村
Lingnan Lu, Xihu District | 西湖区灵南路
Located to the west of West Lake, Meijiawu Tea Village is one of China's Four Famous Habitats for Longjing Tea (Dragon Well Tea), widely regarded as one of the best teas in China. It has a distinctive fragrance and subtle sweetness, and superior grades can cost something like RMB600 for 30g of tea leaves. Meijiawu Village features 160 tea houses; tourists can take a short tour through the history and culture of the village, as well as the whole process of the Chinese Tea Ceremony. Do make sure to try some of their tea-infused dishes like Shrimp in Longjing Tea and Stewed Duck with Tea Soup.
Braised Pork Belly / Dongpo Rou (东坡肉)
Beggar's Chicken (叫化童子鸡)
(Shanghai – Changzhou)
Journey: 58-76 minutes
Tianning Temple 天宁寺
636 Yanling Dong Lu | 延陵东路636号
Directly translated to mean Heavenly Peace Temple, the most iconic structure in the temple grounds is the Tianning Pagoda. Standing 13 stories tall with a total height of 153.79m, it is the world's tallest pagoda. After its completion in 2007, it was inaugurated by a crowd of over hundred monks. Although the pagoda was built very recently, the temple grounds itself boasts over a thousand years of history, and is considered among the four most famous Zen Buddhism Monasteries in China. Hongmei Park, also another popular tourist destination is very close by, covering 37 hectares of land, and holds the famous Hongmei Pavilion of which the park is named after.
Changzhou Comb Alley 篦箕巷
32 Bijixiang Zhonglou District | 钟楼区篦箕巷32号
The Changzhou comb, a type of hand-painted comb that was originally made exclusively for the royal family, has been in production for over 2000 years and dates back to the Jin Dynasty. Changzhou combs can be bought in every corner of the city, but what makes the Changzhou Comb Alley, situated at the side of the Grand Canal, particularly interesting is that every single shop on the lane were comb makers in the Qing Dynasty.
Water Chestnut Cake (马蹄酥)
Sesame Cake (大麻糕)
(Shanghai Hongqiao – Shaoxing North)
Journey: 73-92 minutes
Luxun's Native Place 鲁迅故里
Luxun Zhong Lu, Yuecheng District | 越城区鲁迅中路
A visit to Shaoxing is blasphemously incomplete without a trip to Lu Xun's former residence. The writer, editor, translator, poet and literary critic is one of the most well-known and influential figures in modern Chinese literature. Stretching over 50 hectares, the area also holds the Sanwei Study and Baicao Garden, both the ancestral and new residences of the Zhou Family, plus an exhibition hall and a Luxun Museum, among others. If you have time, do drop by the Shen Garden as well, a short walk away, dedicated to a well-known poet from the Southern Song Dynasty.
Orchid Pavillion 兰亭
Lanting Town, Keqiao District | 柯桥区兰亭镇
The Orchid Pavillion was made famous due to the Spring Purification Ceremony, held during the ninth year of Emperor Yonghe's rule. 42 literati gathered for what was essentially a wine and poetry party, and by the end of the day, a total of 37 poems were composed. Wang Xizhi then produced the renowned Lantingji Xu (directly translated to mean the preface to the poems collected from Orchid Pavilion) on the spot. Must-sees here include the imperial tablet and the calligraphy museum.
Steamed Pork with Preserved Vegetables (梅菜扣肉)
Shaoxing Stinky Tofu (绍兴臭豆腐)
(Shanghai – Nanjing)
Journey: 99-132 minutes
Dr. Sun Yat-sen's Mausoleum 中山陵
2 Sifangcheng, Zhongshanling Lu, Xuanwu District | 玄武区中山陵四方城2号
The Dr. Sun Yat-sen's Mausoleum, sat at the foot of the second peak of Mount Zijin in Purple Mountain National Park, is where the "Father of Modern China" is laid to rest. The actual sarcophagus lies in a vault to the north of the sacrificial hall, of which holds a 4.6m-high statue of Dr. Sun and has a ceiling that bears the Kuomintang flag. Leading up to this structure is a paifang (Chinese architectural arch), 392 steps of stairs, and a 16m-tall 27m-wide tri-arched marble gate inscribed with four Chinese characters written by Dr. Sun - 天下为公 (tianxiaweigong) which translates to mean "What is under heaven is for all". Other notable attractions within the park grounds is the Linggu Temple and the Xiaoling Mausoleum of the first Ming Emperor, Zhu Yuanzhang.
Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall 侵华日军南京大屠杀遇难同胞纪念馆
418 Shuiximen Dajie | 水西门大街418号
Built to memorialize the 300,000 victims that lost their lives during the Nanjing Massacre by the Imperial Japanese Army after the city fell on December 13, 1937, the hall occupies appropximately 28,000 sqm and consists of three major areas - outdoor exhibits, sheltered skeletal remains of the victims, and an exhibition hall of historical documents. Take note that this might not be suitable for younger children - along with victim remains, there are videos illustrating what transpired during the massacre.
Pan-fried Beef Dumplings (牛肉锅贴)
Shredded Tofu in Chicken Broth (鸡汁干丝)
(Shanghai Hongqiao – Ningbo)
Journey: 107-135 minutes
Tianyi Pavilion 天一阁
5 Tianyi Street, Haishu District | 海曙区天一街5号
The oldest private library in China, and one of the three oldest private libraries in the world, Tianyi Pavilion is located beside Moon Lake and houses a collection of 300,000 volumes, 80,000 of which are classified as rare literature. There are numerous ponds, rockeries and groves within the grounds, making for a beautiful garden spot to visit on its own.
Hemudu Site 河姆渡文化遗址
Hemudu Town, Yuyao | 余姚市河姆渡镇
Located 20km from Ningbo city, the Hemudu Site is a must-visit whenever you're in the area. The Hemudu civilization, a Neolithic culture that flourished over 7,000 years ago and viewed as the source of the proto-Austronesian cultures, was one of the earliest cultures to cultivate rice. The site, which was dicovered in 1973, features the original excavation site and an exhibition area, of which a number of tools made from bones, wood, clay, jade and jewelry, and the remains of buildings are displayed.
Bean Curd Skin Roll with Yellow Croaker (腐皮包黄鱼)
Ningbo Glutinous Rice Ball (宁波汤圆)
*All ticket prices quoted are correct at the time of writing
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