Things To Do In Nanjing 🛫 A Complete Guide To the Best Sights
If you’re looking for the best things to do in Nanjing then we have the perfect guide for you. Situated just an hour’s journey on the fast train Nanjing is the perfect weekend getaway trip from Shanghai.
With plenty of beautiful scenery and lots of greenery it’s an ideal location to escape the city and get back to a bit of nature.
- Things to do in Nanjing – Purple Mountain
- Things to do in Nanjing – Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall
- Things to do in Nanjing – Xuanwu Lake
- Things to do in Nanjing – Niushou Mountain Cultural Park
- Things to do in Nanjing – Old City Walls
Things To Do In Nanjing – Purple Mountain
The beautiful Purple Mountain (also known as Zijin Shan 紫金山 zĭjīn shān) is definitely top of the list of things to do in Nanjing because there is just so much to see here:
- Sun Yat-Sen’s Mausoleum
- Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum
- Toutuo Ridge Scenic Area
- Blossom Hill
- Purple Mountain Observatory
- Meiling Palace
- Linggu Temple
- Purple Cloud Lake
However, unless you’re planning on spending your whole weekend here you’re not going to have time to see everything so we’ve picked out the top three things you really shouldn’t miss!
Dr Sun Yat-Sen’s Mausoleum
In terms of modern Chinese history Sun Yat Sen’s Mausoleum (中山陵 zhōngshān líng) is one of the most important sights in China.
This is the burial place of Dr Sun Yat-Sen (孙中山 sūn zhōngshān) who is dubbed the “Father of the Republic of China”.
For those who are unfamiliar with Chinese history, Dr Sun Yat-Sen was the first provisional president of the Republic of China and Nanjing was made its capital.
Some Chinese people say that you could compare Dr Sun Yat-Sen with George Washington in the United States.
The Mausoleum is placed on top of a small hill so you’ll have to climb up quite a few steps to get there so be sure to wear comfy shoes!
Given Dr Sun Yat-Sen’s importance in Chinese history it should come as no surprise that this attraction can get super busy!
This means that it’s a good idea to book your ticket in advance as they do sell out fast. Tickets are free, however you’ll need to use your passport to book one and also bring it with you to the sight.
Did you know that the traditional Chinese clothing the Mao suit is actually named after Dr Sun Yat-Sen in Chinese? It’s called the 中山服 zhōngshān fú.
Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum
The Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum (明孝陵 míng xiào líng) is one of China’s 55 UNESCO World Heritage Sites so has to be one of the top things to do in Nanjing.
This is one of the biggest imperial tombs in China and is the burial site of Zhu Yuanzhang (朱元璋 zhūyuánzhāng) the first Emperor of the Ming dynasty and his wife Empress Ma.
There are two main sections to the mausoleum:
- The Main Mausoleum Building
- The Sacred Way.
The Sacred Way is the path that leads to the tombs which is lined with pairs of stone animals such as lions, camels, elephants etc.
There are 12 pairs of animals which guard the way to the tombs and each pair have their own auspicious meaning.
Another Sacred Way can also be found at the Ming Tombs in Beijing.
Toutuo Ridge Scenic Area
The main peak of Purple Mountain is the Toutuo Ridge Scenic Area (头陀岭景区 tóutuó lǐng jǐngqū) where you can take in a spectacular view of many of the mountain’s scenic spots and Nanjing in the distance.
If you’re feeling energetic you can hike up to the ridge, or take the cable car a single ticket or 100 CNY for a return.
If you take the cable car these is also the option to get off halfway when it stops at the Purple Mountain Observatory.
For those who are short on time, coming up to this peak is a great option as on a clear day you get a bird’s eye view of many of Purple Mountain’s main scenic spots such as the mausoleums and Purple Cloud Lake.
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Things To Do In Nanjing – Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall
Although a rather sombre activity to put on our list the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall really can’t be missed.
This hall gives valuable insight both into the history of Nanjing and also modern Chinese history in general.
The Chinese name is 侵华日军南京大屠杀遇难同胞纪念馆 Qīn huá rìjūn nánjīng dà túshā yùnàn tóngbāo jìniànguǎn which translates to the Memorial Hall of the Victims in Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders.
The memorial hall pays tribute to those who were killed by the Japanese Imperial Army during the Nanjing Massacre in 1937.
An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 people were killed over this 6 week period during the Second Sino-Japanese War.
This site is part memorial, part museum and part graveyard with one section being an excavation site of a mass grave.
The exhibit shows the history of the Nanjing Massacre with photos, testimonials and relics from the time.
The outside area of the site has various sculptures and art displays with a large courtyard at the centre of which is the eternal flame which commemorated the victims of the massacre.
Things To Do In Nanjing – Xuanwu Lake
Located in the central-northeast part of Nanjing Xuanwu Lake (玄武湖 xuánwǔ hú) is a great spot to appreciate some of Nanjing’s greenery.
Strolling around the lake you can take in the tranquil surrounding and stunning views of the Nanjing skyline including the 10th tallest building in China: Zifeng Tower.
A popular place with the locals this is a great spot to people watch and see some of Nanjing’s senior citizens practicing tai-chi, dancing or enjoying various other activites.
Another great way to explore the lake is by boat. You can rent either a paddle or electric boat and head out on to the water to take in the breath taking views instead.
If you have enough time it’s also definitely worth visiting Jiming Temple which is located just off the south-west side of Xuanwu Lake.
This is a renowned Buddhist temple and one of the oldest temples in Nanjing.
Bright yellow in colour, the temple architecture is truly stunning and once you make your way to the top you will be rewarded with some amazing views of Xuanwu Lake, Purple Mountain and the old city walls.
Things To Do In Nanjing – Niushou Mountain Cultural Park
Niushou Mountain Cultural Park (牛首山文化旅游区 niúshǒu shān wénhuà lǚyóu qū) is the newest site on our list of things to do in Nanjing, only opening as recently as 2015.
Located in southern Nanjing the cultural park is built on an ancient Buddhist site where the Niutou sect of Chinese Zen Buddhism originated.
After what is believed to be a piece of Buddha’s skull was found in Nanjing, the reconstruction of the spot was started by the Chinese government.
Within the park there are three main places of interest:
- Unisa Palace
- Unisa Temple
- Unisa Pagoda
The most impressive of these is definitely the Unisa Palace which is an architectural marvel.
The outside is made up of two huge, overlapping domes which are a real step away from traditional Buddhist architecture.
The palace has nine floors in total, however six of these floors are underground.
The inside of the palace is just as impressive as the outside with the Thousand Buddha Hall, the Ten Thousand Buddha Corridor and a massive reclining Buddha.
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Things To Do In Nanjing – Old City Walls
Along with the Ming Tombs the Nanjing City Wall ( 南京城墙 nánjīng chéngqiáng) is one of the key historical and cultural remains of the Ming Dynasty.
The wall was built by Zhu Yuanzhang and took 21 years to build, being completed in 1386.
That means it’s still standing after 600 years!
Yes it seems no one else in the world quite does walls like China 😂.
The Nanjing City Wall was originally 22 miles long, making it the longest city wall in the world! 15.5 miles of the wall are still intact and there are six sections that are open to the public.
Out of these sections, three of them require an entrance fee:
- Shence Gate to Taiping Gate, including the City Wall Museum: 30 CNY
- Taiping Gate to Guanghua East Street: 20 CNY
- East Water Pass to West Water Pass, including the barbican of Zhonghua Gate: 50 CNY
The other three sections are completely free, which is great if you’re on a budget!
- Qingliang Gate to Guofang Garden
- Dinghuai Gate to Yijiang Gate
- Zhongfu Road to Central Gate
Our personal favourite section to visit is the Taicheng section which gives you amazing views of Xuanwu Lake, Jiming Temple and Nanjing’s skyline. This is also one of the free sections of the wall so even better!
Things To Do In Nanjing – At Night
To finish of our weekend guide of things to do in Nanjing we have some of the most popular evening and night time activities for you!
Now, as the name suggests, this is home to a Confucius Temple so you may be wondering why we’ve suggested it as a night time activity…
Although home to a Confucius Temple this area has now become a lively tourist hot spot with plenty of shops, restaurants and snack bars.
The temple is located on the Qinhuai River and at night all of the temples and bridges are lit up in colourful lights.
The best way to appreciate this night time display is by taking a river cruise down the Qinhuai River.
All of the area around the temple is pedestrianised which makes it the perfect place to take a stroll around and do some shopping or people watching if shopping isn’t your thing! Do bear in mind that this is a very popular spot for both tourists and locals so it can get a little crowded.
Xinjiekou (新街口 xīnjiēkǒu) is the central business district of Nanjing and the heart of all things shopping related.
There are multiple malls with the biggest designer brand shops and department stores.
However, the most fun area to visit is the huge mall called Fashion Lady.
Made up of various small stores, nail salons, photography studios, snack stands and much more this underground labyrinth has everything!
To really appreciate the crazy display of neon lights on display at fashion lady we recommend heading here in the evening for a bit of late night shopping.
If you’re looking for a few drinks or maybe a big night out then 1912 is the perfect place for you! Known as the bar district of Nanjing, 1912 has a mixture of bars, clubs, restaurants and of course KTVs.
It first opened in 2004 and has quickly become the “place” for young and trendy Chinese to hang out.
Unsurprisingly it’s also a huge hit with foreigners and you’ll be bound to see many here, especially on the weekends.
Looking for more weekend trips away from Shanghai? Check out our guide to Hangzhou!
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Things To Do In Nanjing – FAQs
How far away is Nanjing from Shanghai?
The distance from Shanghai to Nanjing is about 300km (186 miles).
How long does it take to get from Shanghai to Nanjing?
On the fast train it takes between 1 hour to 1 hour and a half.
How many days do you need in Nanjing?
Spending 2-3 days in Nanjing should be enough time to see the main sights, however if you want to see everything a longer stay will be needed.
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