January 2, 2009 / 11:08 AM / 9 years ago

Travel Postcard: 48 hours in Tianjin, China

<p>A couple of Japanese tourists are reflected on a glossy pillar as they admire paper lanterns at an art shop in the port city of Tianjin in a file photo. REUTERS/Handout</p>

TIANJIN, China (Reuters Life!) - Got 48 hours to explore Tianjin, Beijing’s port city neighbor and a magnet for foreign investment? Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors get the most out of a visit to the old colonial city.

FRIDAY

6 p.m. - Start your evening with a walk by the Hai River, which runs through Tianjin. As a host city of some soccer events during the Beijing 2008 Olympics, Tianjin has had a lot of money spent on it, including a massive revamping of its waterfront. A stroll by the river will give a good overview of a city undergoing a transformation to become a financial center of northern China.

7 p.m. - You cannot go to Tianjin and not eat goubuli. These are steamed dumplings famous throughout China and are a real treat. Their name literally means “dogs ignore it,” the origins of which are lost to history. But one story goes that it’s because the inventor of the dumpling was so ugly, even dogs couldn’t stand to look at him. The pork goubuli are the simplest, and many say the best. You can eat them at various locations around town, though the largest and possibly most famous goubuli restaurant is at 322 Heping Rd. (022-2303-1115)

9 p.m. - Finish off the evening with drinks at Rose Music Lounge. A laid-back little place just next to the Hyatt and on the corner of Tianjin’s historic financial district, where many buildings date from the 1920s and 1930s. The decor is slightly tacky, but comfortable, and the staff are friendly. (Jiefang North Rd, next to the Hyatt)

SATURDAY

10 a.m. - Tianjin has done a good job at protecting its colonial heritage, namely the buildings put up in the early part of the last century when the city was a concession port and housed enclaves of British, French, Americans and Japanese, among others.

The north part of Jiefang North Road is the best place to go and see these buildings, which look a little like Shanghai’s much more famous and grander Bund. Unlike in Shanghai though, Tianjin’s old buildings have not been turned into upmarket boutiques or Michelin starred restaurants, and still look gloriously old-fashioned. The post office, for example, does not appear to have changed much in decades. Other must-sees are the old HSBC and Citibank buildings. Plaques in English helpfully tell you a little of the history of each building. (Jiefang North Rd)

1 p.m. - Lunch at Food Street. Pretty much any kind of Chinese food you can imagine is available here, from Muslim specialties to refined Cantonese. Take your pick. (Rongye Avenue)

3 p.m. - After lunch, go and explore Tianjin’s old quarter, centered on the Drum Tower. There are a couple of places worth pocking your nose into here, including the Confucius Temple and Guangdong Guild Hall. Be aware that much of this part of town has either been redeveloped, or is in the process of it. One must-see is a tiny, 1930s church.

7 p.m. - Dinner at another of Tianjin’s landmarks, the Kiessling. Starting out as a German bakery in the early 1900s, the restaurants sit in its original beautiful art deco building in the center of town. The second floor is a French restaurant which does buffet-style food, but the third floor is the German restaurant. Admittedly, the staff are somewhat sour and the interior designer appeared to have little imagination, but the food and home-brewed beer more than make up for that. (33 Zhejiang Rd, next to the Renaissance Hotel. 022-2332-1603)

9 p.m. - Drinks at Sitong, a rather cool basement bar with live music and nicely decorated with old Chinese doors and pink silk lamps. (Bottom of the Somerset Olympic building, corner of Chengdu and Kunming Roads)

SUNDAY

9 a.m. - Get up early for bargains at the antique market. It’s a smaller version of Beijing’s famed Panjiayuan, and with hardly any foreign tourists prices are much cheaper, even if the selection is not as wide. To get a genuine Ming vase, though, probably requires a lot of luck. (Shandong St and Jinzhou Rd).

11 a.m. - As a co-host of Olympic soccer events, Tianjin has a vast stadium in its western Nankai district. Go and have a look at it simply to be impressed at its scale, and the fact that it looks like a giant flying saucer.

12.30 p.m. - If you’re over at the stadium, pop into La Seine Cafe, tucked away in the oddly named Magnetic City mall. Fabulous sandwiches and salads, with real Italian coffee and hand-made ice cream. A very surprising discovery considering the random part of town it’s located in. (Magnetic City, Area B, store 7-9. 022-2385-5018)

3 p.m. - Another of Tianjin’s hidden corners is Wudadao. Wandering around the art deco villas you could be forgiven for thinking you are in the suburbs of London or New York. Home to warlords, concubines, bankers and miners in China’s chaotic pre-Communist era, the whole area has a very relaxed, low-key feeling about it today. Plaques on the sides of the most noteworthy buildings give a bit of history. Most are private residences, so you can’t just go into them.

6 p.m. - The new high-speed train between Tianjin and Beijing takes less than 30 minutes and travels faster than 320 kmph -- a fine way to finish up a trip to Tianjin.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard, editing by Miral Fahmy

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