Just a few hours train ride away from Shanghai… Nanjing awaits. Recognized as one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China, Nanjing is nestled on the delta of the Yantze River and boasts the perfect mix of a modern city with hundreds of years of history.
Nanjing might not be one of every traveler’s radar. With big cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong and many others, China is busting its seams with cities to explore! But after visiting this gem of a city thanks to Cathay Pacific and an utterly easy flight thanks to Cathay Dragon, I have no doubt that Dame Travelers will fall head over heels for it’s understated charm and history.
Nanjing’s rich and deep history begins in ancient times, as long ago as half a million years ago. (Yep, you read that right, half a million years!) Because of it’s perfect location along the Yangtze River and halfway down the Chinese coastline, Nanjing has been the capital of China for over ten dynasties and regimes… making it the perfect place to gain a greater sense of China’s deep history and vivid culture.
Should you find yourself exploring Nanjing, here are thirteen of our favorite unique sights to see in China’s southern capital!
During the Song dynasty, this temple was built along the Qinhuai River almost a century ago! The original temple may have been destroyed in World War Two, but what was reconstructed (and built out) is a sight to behold. Today, visiting the Confucius Temple houses the largest statue of Confucius in the world. The spanning, enormous space is also home to an outstanding collection of panels of jade, gold and silver that detail Confucius’s life and legacy. The area surround the Confucius Temple is almost worth separating into it’s own category for this list! Quaint riverboats, footbridges and the babbling Qinhuai River (known as the “mother river”) line the outside of the temple. It’s a gorgeous relic to an amazing philosopher deeply tied to China’s history and culture.
An awe-inspiring sight with such thoughtful intent and rich history behind it. The tomb of Zhu Yuanzhang, the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty, has been buried here for over 600 years. Walking through the Sacred Path leading to the tomb is simply breathtaking. I can only imagine seeing it through the various seasons of the year! The half mile walking path where four pairs of stone warriors and twelve paris of mythical creatures serve as guards for the emperor’s tomb feels so sacred. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is an iconic sight of China’s history.
Plum Blossom Hill
Nanjing’s flower, the plum blossom bursts with vivid color and fragrance each spring on the Purple Mountain. It’s a sight to behold! The 35,000 trees bloom a spectrum of purples, pinks, oranges and magenta that are a feast for the eyes. Seeing the Plum Blossom Hill in its prime with traditional music and dance feels like a scene of ancient China bursting into life.
This museum is built on the original site of the historic Porcelain Tower (which is one of the seven wonders of the medieval world) on the south bank of the Qinhuai River. Besides the stunning architecture and exhibits, it’s amazing to know that a few years ago archaeologists found a golden box with a piece of Gautama Buddha’s skull on the site! After finding it, donations starting pouring in to rebuild the tower and modernize its inside. The galleries will leave you breathless!
The 197-acre area Usnisa Palace is located in is now open to visitors. And it is filled with architectural details that will make you swoon. From opulent stonework, murals, paintings, etchings and so much more… no stone was left unturned in this palace. Favorite spots include the Thousand-Buddha Hall, a 360 degree panorama of luxury and elegance and showcasing towering Buddhas above, and the sprawling Sakyamuni statue, rotating slowly on a lotus shaped pond. Elegance and opulance abound!
This restaurant is best known for it’s tiny bites and traditional Nanjing culinary treats. These street side snacks are pretty much the perfect mid day bite to grab on the go. It’s really no wonder why it’s been listed as one of the “Top 10 Restaurants in China”!
Nanjing is known as the birthplace of Peking Duck. And thank goodness for that! Make sure to tuck in to some famous Nanjing Salted Duck. Other local delicacies include dishes that include river fish, shrimp and crab.
Nanjing Niushoushan Cultural Park
This is a relatively new sight to see in Nanjing! Niushoushan Cultural Park is so gorgeously landscaped and features many sacred artifacts of the Niushou Mountain (an ancient Buddhist site). Explore the Pagoda of Hongjue Temple, the nine story tall Usnisa Pagoda and finally the Usnisa Temple – a monetary with monks and a meditation hall. Make sure to visit the stunningly ornate and intricate Buddhist place which is six floors underground and built into the side of the mountain! It’s truly a gem.
Rain Flower Terrace
Home to a ton of historical monuments and flanked by nature in its purest form, the Rain Flower Terrace is irresistible. It’s an excellent place to find some peace and mindfulness in your busy travel schedule. Budding flowers and the laughter of the children in the amusement park nearby will make you feel close to all that is good in life.
New to the Nanjing restaurant scene, this fabulously pink and Instagrammable restaurant serves up delicious Western cursing and features a cute little tea house. It’s a ‘grammer’s delight!
Dinner on the 1912 Block
Right by the famous Nanjing Presidental Palace, this famous bar street is a great peek into local nightlife. Named after the year when the Republic of China was founded, it’s an awesome place to grab a bite or a drink with friends.
Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall
After learning about the horrific stories of the Imperial Japanese Army occupying Nanjing and the atrocities that followed, visiting the Memorial Hall is a commemorative way to honor the city’s history. Built on the “pit of ten thousand corpses,” where thousands of bodies were buried, the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall gives homage to the significant and horrifying six-week Japanese invasion. The hall’s collection of historical letters, documents, art, photographs and testimonies will leave you utterly moved.
Zhonghua Gate and Nanjing’s City Wall
The remnants of the Ming dynasty’s 14th century city walls remain towering and aged. The wall, that was ordered to be built by Emporer Zhu Yuanzhang when invaders were rumored to invade Nanjing. Made of more than 300 million bricks and soaring up to 39 feet high, the Nanjing City Walls are some of the longest in the world.
Lao Mengdong Area
A photographer’s delight! The Lao Mengdong Area is a gem. The block-paved streets and ancient walls, textures, buildings and restored boutiques and restaurants will make you go absolutely snap-happy. The weaving back-allies, hanging red lanterns and etched carvings that line the walls of the homes and buildings will set you heart pitter-pattering.
The Jiming Temple is one of the most famous temples in Southern China. The sky-high tower, built in 527, became known for its strict vegetarian diet ordered by monks who lived and worked there. Be sure to visit the vegetarian restaurant close to the temple! The climbing stairs, colorful pagodas and blooming lotuses that lead to the temple area will make you immediately imagine ancient China in its heyday.
Nanjing, the southern capital of bold and beautiful China, is the perfect location to gain a deeper understanding of China’s sprawling and ancient history and radiant, lively culture.
Have you ever visited Nanjing?
Trip sponsored by Naning Tourism.
I have always wanted to visit China but always felt so overwhelmed on where to start. Nanjing looks really beautiful and so much to see too!
I live in Nanjing and am slowly ticking off this list! I would LOVE the location and name of the pink bar!
Thanks so much!
Hi Tara! We just updated the post to include the name of the restaurant. It’s called Frenzy Fountain! It’s an Instagrammer’s dream come true 🙂
Yay! Thank you so much! I’ll have to go there for some blog pics! Thank you again 🙂
I have been in China for juat under a month and have absolutely loved every moment! Nanjing is a gorgeous city with so many beautiful places to visit! I was upset I only had one day to explore…I only got to see the city wall ans Confucius Temple but would definitely go back to spend more time visiting these other wonderful places!
Great treatment of the sights and places of Nanjing. I lived there in 2008-2009 and saw only one or two of the places mentioned. Time for another trip, eventually.