The former capital, Nanjing is an interesting town with a couple of must-see sights, especially now that the high-speed trains have cut travel times to an hour and 15 minutes.
Chief among them is the mausoleum of Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of Republican China, which is set in the pretty Purple Mountain National Park (close to Xiamafang and Muxuyuan metro stations, open 7am-6.30pm. Entry 70RMB), an area that’s worth setting aside a day to explore. The mausoleum vault itself is set into the hill and sits atop 392 steps.
If you’re there during the summer, you could combine it with a dip in the nearby Zixia Lake, a roughly 60m by 80m lake that’s surrounded by trees and is so clean that they use it for the annual Nanjing triathlon. It’s also worth checking out the Linggu Temple, which features a brightly-coloured pagoda that affords views across the area; or – if it’s not too hot – taking the 45-60-minute walk straight to the top of Purple Mountain (you can also get a cable car for 15-20RMB).
The other chief must-see in Nanjing is the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall (418 Shuiximen Dajie, 025 8661 2230. Open 8.30am-4pm Tue-Sun. Free entry.), which tells the story of the massacre that allegedly killed more than 300,000 civilians and unarmed Chinese soldiers after the Japanese invaded on December 13, 1937. The 28,000sqm memorial hall features a display room showing the skeletal remains of victims, but the main section is a museum that tells the story comprehensively and without the excessive sentimentality or crass nationalism that blights some Chinese museums – the subject itself is powerful enough. Perhaps the most moving section comes at the end, where there are guilty accounts from the Japanese soldiers themselves, and then a section charting Sino-Japanese reconciliation.
Another take on the massacre can be found at Rabe House (1 Xiaofenqiao, Guangzhou Lu. Open 8.30am-4.30pm Tue-Sun. Entry 15RMB), which tells the story through the eyes of John Rabe, the German industrialist (and Nazi) who was the chairman of the Nanking Safety Zone, which is said to have protected more than 600 Chinese refugees. This is where he lived, where he protected the refugees, and where he wrote the famous Diaries of John Rabe.
For an alternative Nanjing experience, head to the Tangshan hot springs area, an 80RMB cab ride from the city, which is home to numerous hot springs complexes. The biggest and most popular is EA Hot Springs, set in a pretty area surrounded by greenery (click the link for full details).
For breakfast, lunch or brunch, the German-Swedish owned Skyways Bakery & Deli (160 Shanghai Lu, 8625 8331 7103
) bakes the best bread and muffins in town, and its fresh coffee and croissants make it a popular hangover hangout. In the evening, head to the neon-lit Hunan Lu, where the pedestrianised Lion’s Bridge dining street is packed with myriad local and national eateries of all sizes and budgets. Try Shizi Lou (29 Hunan Lu, 8625 8360 7888
), which serves Jiangsu Huaiyang cuisine in an indoor market, where you can point to the dishes you want before sitting down. The local meatballs are some of the best in town, with over a dozen varieties on offer.
Nanjing’s nightlife scene is rather fragmented, and leans heavily towards the large student population. Blue Sky Bar & Grill (77 Shanghai Lu, 8625 8663 9197) is the most popular hangout for foreigners, serving up hearty pub grub to accompany its tap beers, pool table and TV. Nail Bar (10 Lulang Xiang, 8625 8653 2244) is a small, split-level jazz and live music venue with a large menu of imported bottled beers. Secco Bar (3 Kunlun Lu, 8337 0679) serves German and European cuisine and has live music on weekends.
The poshest hotel in the city is probably The InterContinental (Rooms from 812RMB/night, see www.ichotelsgroup.com), set in the Greenland Financial Centre, the city’s tallest building at 450 metres (the hotel occupies floors 42-71). Set in the city’s central Gulou Square, the hotel has indoor and outdoor pools, a spa, three restaurants and a viewing deck.
For a cheap option, the best-rated hostel is the Jasmine International Youth Hostel (Rooms from 50RMB, double rooms from 98RMB. 7 Hequn Xinchun, Shanghai Lu, 025 8330 0517; www.jasminehostel.com), an old villa with a great location and a pretty garden.
There are 16 daily high-speed trains from Shanghai Railway Station to Nanjing, taking 1 hour 15 minutes and costing 146RMB. The last train back from Nanjing is at 9pm.