Although Nanjing is quite a tourist magnet for Chinese tourists you don’t see so many Western tourists here. We stopped off in Nanjing while on our way from Xian to Shanghai and I highly recommend it as a stopover destination to anyone travelling in China. You could also add Nanjing to your day trips from Shanghai if you’re not passing through. In this article, I want to showcase some of the things to do in Nanjing and thus inspire you to add it to your trip itinerary.
Things to do in Nanjing
Xuanwu Park and Lake
Firstly, let’s look at Xuanwu Lake which is an ancient Chinese lake dating back over 2,000 years. It’s a lovely scenic area to explore and you can also take a boat ride around the lake to get a closer look at the small islets.
To get to Xuanwu lake take the metro to either Nanjing Forestry University/Xinzhuang on line 3 or Xuanwumen on line 1.
As with all parks in China, it is similarly open long hours. From 6 am until 9 pm all year and 5 am until 10 pm in the summer.
Purple Mountain ( Zhongshan Mountain National Park )
Zhongshan Mountain National Park or Purple Mountain is a surprisingly large area of scenic beauty just outside the city of Nanjing. Here you can wander through the trees and walkways and enjoy the natural surroundings. You can also visit a number of key tourist sights including Dr Sun Yat-Sen’s Mausoleum and the Xiaoling Mausoleum.
To get to the mountain from central Nanjing, take subway line 2 until Ming Xialing Tomb (Muxu) station 明孝陵（苜蓿）站. I’ve put the Chinese symbols out of interest but you’ll find the names in English letters as well. When you get there just follow the crowds. It’s a popular area and you certainly won’t be on your own. There are signs to the Ming Tombs also.
Zhongshan Mountain National Park, also called Purple mountain is a vast area and there is transport available if you don’t want to walk everywhere. A tourist train takes tourists from the ticket kiosk at the bottom of the mountain to various stops along the way and there is also a bus. We took the train to the top of the mountain and then made our way back down on foot.
Dr Sun Yat-Sen’s Mausoleum
Dr Sun Yat-Sen is known as the Father of the Republic of China so you can imagine that he’s a popular figure in Chinese culture. Of course, this is reflected in the crowds of people who joined us as we visited his mausoleum. Dr Sun Yat-Sen’s Mausoleum is at the top of the hill on Purple Mountain so be prepared for some steps.
As you can see, it was indeed very busy. We did visit on a Saturday so it may well be quieter during the week though. When you start the long climb up the steps to the mausoleum don’t make the mistake that I did and think that the small tower you are climbing towards is your destination.
It’s only a half-way point and you must walk through the gateway (or around it) and then on upwards towards the actual mausoleum.
Here you can see the marble stele which was also erected as a memorial to the great man. So significant was his role in Chinese history that the memorial features only pictorial symbols and no epitaph. That is to say that his contribution to Chinese culture is believed to be beyond mere words.
Once you reach the top you will see the actual mausoleum which is beyond this rectangular gateway building with the three arched doorways. Dr Sun Yat-Sen helped the Chinese people to overthrow the unpopular Qing Dynasty who ruled until the beginning of the Twentieth century. Significantly, it was a landmark event for the Chinese people and the beginning of a new era in Chinese history.
Once at the very highest point, the Sacrificial Hall, you can queue to go inside and view the marble statue of Dr Sun Yat-Sen which rests on his tomb.
Dr Sun Yat-Sen Mausoleum: Practical Information
Opening Hours: 8.30 am to 5 pm (closed on Mondays)
Entry is free but you must obtain a ticket. Book online or get a ticket at one of the machines on site.
10 CNY per person
Nanjing Massacre Memorial and Museum
The Nanjing massacre is a shocking event in Chinese history. Although such atrocities are difficult to hear about I urge you to visit this site and find out more about the massacre. I know some people have concerns about what is now called dark tourism. However, I feel very strongly that things like this cannot slide into obscurity but must be remembered so that history isn’t allowed to repeat itself. Additionally, we owe it to the many victims to ensure that they are not forgotten.
A Brief History
Firstly, a brief account of what took place here. I say here because the memorial stands on the actual site of the massacre. Towards the end of 1937, the Japanese army took control of Nanjing. In the 6 weeks that followed they went on a killing spree in the city, murdering more than 200,000 citizens. The vast majority of these were unarmed and included many women and children.
The Memorial Site
As you approach the entrance to the memorial you will pass a series of sculptures that commemorate the victims. You can see one of these in the photo above. Once inside the courtyard area of the memorial, you will find a series of different sculptures and carvings. All dedicated to the massacre victims and designed to create an environment for contemplation and remembrance.
Many thousands of remains were found on this site and in the surrounding areas and some are displayed in the coffin-shaped memorial hall. The victims’ names are also displayed on a stone tablet.
To one side of the courtyard, you will see the entrance to the museum building. Inside you can learn more about the events that occurred during those tragic 6 weeks. The exhibition comprises a comprehensive collection of displays about the massacre including photographs and documentary footage. Additionally, you’ll see many artefacts related to these terrible events. It’s a thought-provoking museum but very educational.
Nanjing Massacre Memorial: Practical Information
Opening Hours: 8.30 am to 4.30 pm (closed on Mondays)
Entry is free.
Yunjin Road Station on Line 2