This academic hub’s international feel and brilliant cultural heritage makes it one of China’s top cities for long-term expats.
Although the Chinese government does not officially define cities into tiers, China analysts frequently do so. First tier are the commercial megacities; second-tier are generally provincial capitals; third-tier important provincial cities. Nanjing is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It has a rich cultural heritage, sizable expat community (international students, teachers, corporate workers, entertainers) and a world-class infrastructure that includes a rapidly-expanding subway system and a high-speed railway hub.
Stacking Nanjing against the megacities:
|City||Population||GDP per capita (in $USD)||# of expats||# of universities for foreign students|
Nanjing is well-developed, with modern highways and high-speed railway connections (7 hours to Beijing, 3 hours to Shanghai). It is a cycling-friendly city with many other convenient options: taxis; public buses; a metro service; tourist buses.
It is an attractive city by Chinese standards, with leafy boulevards, Ming walls looming over riverside parks and a cosmopolitan range of visitor facilities.
- Spring: March-May. Temperatures gradually warm and humidity increases until the summer furnance hits.
- Summer: June-Sept. Extremely hot and humid with heavy rains in June and July.
- Autumn: Oct-Nov. Pleasant, cool and dry; the best time to visit. Evenings tend to get cool.
- Winter: Dec-Feb. Cold and humid with occasional snow. Temperatures drop as low as -7 °C (19 °F).
Getting to Nanjing
- By train: there are two main railway stations: Nanjing Station on the north shore of Xuanwu Lake and Nanjing South (at Zhonghuamen Metro Station). Until 2010, Nanjing Station was the city’s main station, but now it only serves some routes to Shanghai, Zhenjiang, Changzhou and Suzhou. Nanjing South serves long-haul high-speed trains to Beijing, Shanghai, Xuzhou, Zhengzhou, Zhenjiang, Danyang, Changzhou, Wuxi, Suzhou, Kunshan, Jinan, Tianjin, Wuhan, and Hefei. There are two 300kph high speed trains that reach Shanghai in 75 minutes, and slower options that take upwards of 4 hours.
- By bus: overnight buses connect Nanjing with large hubs such as Beijing and Guangzhou via Zhongyangmen Station and Nanjing South Station. Other popular bus routes go to Shanghai, Hangzhou, and the nearby provinces.
- By air: Nanjing Lukou International Airport is 35km from the city center and offers flights to most cities in China and a number of Asian destinations including Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. From the city center, taxis cost around 150 RMB (45 minutes); 20 RMB shuttles depart every 20 minutes from the Zhonghuamen Long-Distance Bus Station (near Zhonghuamen metro station); subway line S1 costs 6 RMB and takes around 30 minutes to get into town.
Getting around Nanjing
- Taxi: Taxis can be found all around the city with rush hours being most difficult to hail one down from the street. All vehicles should be metered but keep an eyes on this in case of fraud.
- City bus: Although bus is the best way to get around many cities in China, this fact is a little less so in Nanjing. Buses run to most areas of the city that are inaccessible by its comprehensive subway system and are very affordable. It is best to bring exact change in order to take a bus.
- Subway: There are 2 main lines that well cover most main destinations. Line 1 runs north-south, line 2 runs east-west. Trains run every 6 to 8 minutes and fares are charged by distance, generally between 3-5RMB.
- Bicycle: most areas have bike lanes and coin-operated public bikes are available for rent all over the city. There are several high-end mountain bikes in town and hundreds of places to buy used Chinese bikes for cheap. Theft is a major problem – thieves will often dump locked bikes into trucks.
The Chinese currency is the rénmínbì (RMB), the basic unit is the yuán, which is also referred to as kuài. Bills are issued in denominations of ¥5, ¥10, ¥20, ¥50 and ¥100.
If landing in Nanjing, you can change most major foreign currencies into RMB at the airport.
In the city, ATMs (usually those operated by the Bank of China, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, China Construction Bank and Agricultural Bank of China) accept most international credit and bank debit cards to draw out cash.
You can exchange currency at the aforementioned banks with your passport (M-F, 9am-5pm).
Nanjing is one of China’s safest cities: violent crime against foreigners is rare, but troubles can potentially arise.
- Theft: pickpocketing is most common around the Fuzi Miao (Confucius Temple) area, while some have reported stolen cameras in Purple Mountain Park.
- Bike theft: if you have a nice bike, be careful. If thieves can’t cut your lock, they will toss your locked bike into a flatbed. If security guards are posted, expect them to claim ignorance. Say goodbye.
- Taxi scams: while in-city taxis are generally solid, unlicensed taxi operators (from the airport, bus and train stations) will aggressively try to herd newbies away from the official taxi stands to private cars charging triple the price.
- Teahouse scams: although not as common in Nanjing as in Shanghai, keep your eyes out for overly eager (hot, young) Chinese females striking up a conversation and then inviting you to a “traditional tea ceremony”. If you fall for it, once the tea gets served, the girl will disappear, and then you’ll be hit with a monstrous bill – likely presented by a hulking goon.
- Crazy Traffic: statistically, the biggest threat in Nanjing is the traffic – China has only 3% of the world’s drivers, but one of the highest per capita rates of road fatalities. The general rule on the roads is that the biggest vehicle has the right of way. Pedestrians go last. Cars will not stop for you or respect red lights. Driving on the sidewalk is allowed. Mashing horns is normal. Walk slowly and employ locals as shields when crossing streets.
- Bar brawls: the worst thing a foreigner can do in a bar confrontation is make a local “lose face”. Although less of an issue than in Shanghai, the 2013 Shanghai Crime & Safety Report’s advice is applicable to Nanjing: “Violent crime affecting the expatriate community most often occurs in the bars and clubs of the nightlife districts. Bar fights have occurred due to cultural miscommunication, xenophobia, and alcohol… Prostitutes and drugs are known to be present in some clubs.”
Expenses and income potential
A broad look at expected costs for visitors to Nanjing (prices in $USD):
|Gasoline (per liter)||$1.16||$1.06||$1.07|
|Local bottled beer||$1.21||$0.89||$1.53|
|Pack of cigarettes||$3.23||$2.70||$2.42|
|Fitness club membership||$41.00||$59.00||$33.00|
- Guesthouse dorm bed: 250 RMB ($40.00)
- Street cafe meal: 40 RMB ($6.50)
- Local draft beer in a restaurant: 20 RMB ($3.20)
- 3-star aircon hotel: 400 RMB ($65)
- Expat restaurant meal: 100 RMB ($16.25)
- Bottle of imported beer: 50 RMB ($8.00)
The biggest expense for most people will be alcohol – per-unit prices are cheap, but add up fast!
Nanjing is a popular tourist town with plenty of easy day-trips to enjoy.
For directions to each place listed (plus more), check out our Nanjing tourist attractions on Google maps.
- Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s Mausoleum: located at the southern foot of Purple Mountain, this revered tourist destination serves as a tribute to the ‘father of China’. There are marble archways, copper gates, and a huge statue of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen. Surrounding this statue are small scupltures that depict some of the struggles Dr. Sun endured during his life.
- Presidential Palace: following the establishment of the Republic of China, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen took the oath of Provisional President here. After Japan’s defeat in WWII, then Nationalist Government returned to Nanjing, and declared the compound to be the Presidential Palace in 1948. Located near the 1912 entertainment district, architecture and history buffs may find a visit worthwhile.
- Nanjing Museum: covering an area of 129,000 square meters, the Nanjing Museum is made up of two buildings packed with historical and revolutionary cultural relics, including porcelain from the palace of the Qing dynasty (221 BC – 206 BC) and relics from the Shang dynasty (16th – 11th century BC).
- Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall: this monument memorializes the hundreds of thousands of Chinese who died at the hands of invading Japanese troops in Nanjing in 1937.The 28,000 meter memorial is made up of three main sections: outdoor exhibits; a gruesome presentation of excavated bones; and an elaborate multimedia presentation (films, audio, text and images) that explains the entire history of the massacre in both English and Chinese.
- Confucius Temple (FuziMiao): pickpocket central is crowded and dirty but the punters flock here. The temple was built in 1034 to honor the great philosopher Confucius. Around the main buildings is a labyrinthine of market stalls, food vendors, a KFC and a McDonald’s.
Bars and Restaurants
For directions to each place listed (plus more), check out our Nanjing food and beverage guide on Google maps.
Since the demise of Castle Bar in 2011 (the place where every partier showed up to party every Sat. nite), Nanjing has lacked a cohesive “scene”, now fragmented into several small clusters.
The 2015 Nanjing food and beverage scene is easy to figure out: Shanghai Road features the densest cluster of expat-friendly places, several good spots are scattered around the downtown area, and the 1912 district has a huge block of clubs and higher-end restaurants.
Recommended nightlife spots
Nanjing’s nightlife scene in no way compares to the awesomeness of Shanghai’s – on many weekend nights, it’s not unusual to find most places near-empty.
An exhaustive list of options is not necessary here. There are a few spots where expats congregate – meet one, and you will be connected. If you are new in town and looking to network, choose among the following and get yourself out there:
- 1912 District (club district): a big nightclub area that is mainly frequented by young affluent Chinese, although foreigners are welcome. Expect ridiculously loud music, forced table service and small dance areas. (more info)
- C-Lounge (young hipsters): run by the man behind Castle Bar, this space (within walking distance of 1912) continues the tradition of touring bands and DJs passing through for sets. Very popular with international students, they hold rotating club, live music and party nights – plus an excellently chilled and stylish vibe on off-nights. (Facebook Page | directions)
- Jimmy’s (sports bar): this long-time expat favorite this is one of the best places in town to make new friends (just sit at the bar and start chatting). The bar offers killer southern bbq, a huge selection of imported beers and every sport imaginable on multiple big screens. (website | TripAdvisor)
- Brewsells (social space): giving Jimmy’s a run as the most popular expat bar in town, Brewsell’s is a tiny smoke-free space in the heart of the student district that serves Belgian beers and international pub fare. Despite the small space, Brewsell’s regularly gets so crowded that it’s not unusual to see 20 people inside the bar while dozens more chill outside (in an international hipster-ish communal way) as bemused locals walk by in pyjamas. (TripAdvisor)
- Secco (German): this cavernous space serves as a local for local Germans and Nords working as engineers for big $$ in Nanjing. It doubles as a playspace for a loyal crowd of international regulars romping round club nights, live music, strong cocktails and the best European food in the city. (TripAdvisor)
Conclusion: to get connected with local expats, head to whichever spot suits your taste. Sit at the bar, order a drink and start asking questions. It is literally that easy.
The best way to discover Nanjing cuisine is in the company of a local. If you don’t know anyone, wander around Nanjing Normal University’s campus and ask a Chinese student to join you for lunch.
On your own, there are plenty of local food shacks near the main bar areas. If you lack language skills, make sure the place has picture menus and you’re set.
Easily-accessible things to look out for:
- Salted duck: in the 14th century, as Nanjing was under seige, local farmers began salting and pressing ducks in order to smuggle them in for hungry residents. It caught on and became the city’s signature dish: typically served boiled, sliced and cold.
- Duck blood soup: locals use every part of the duck, including congealed chunks of blood served in a thin broth with coriander.
- Roasted duck: the most accessible duck option for foreigners. It is considered a crispier and juicer variation of the Beijing version that is served sliced with plum sauce.
- Jiaozi (Chinese ravioli): Nanjing dumplings are wildly popular and served in carts, shacks and shops all over town. Filled with ground meat or vegetables, they are most often served in broth.?
- Baozi (steamed buns): steamed bread with fillings. Famous China-wide, Nanjing varieties include ground pork, tofu mince and steamed greens. These are cheap, filling, and served out of small shops all over town.
In China, shopping malls are for day-trippers and rich people – shoppers buy online.
- Clothing & general goods: Taobao fronts with clothing, toys and similar Amazon fare, but their back room is the true Silk Road – a goldmine of countercultural delights.
- Electronics: the fear of buying fakes from local shops (including fake warranties) is mitigated with JD.com, the Chinese version of Newegg. They sell guaranteed authentic products that are delivered to your door, cash paid on delivery.
- Organic food: Fields China offers organic meats, vegetable and a wide selection of imported products. They charge a premium, but deliver to Nanjing with superb service.
To order from Taobao or JD.com, you will need help of a local.
Accommodation in Nanjing
Here are some solid basic to 3-star motels that go as cheap as 200 RMB (USD$33). For long-term stays, there are a few cheap student dorms and dozens of agents around town who will help you find a place. Highlights:
- Jasmine Youth Hostel: located in the student district, this hostel is in a large garden compound with cheap rooms and a social lounge area with a fully-stocked bar. Dorm beds start at 60RMB nightly ($9.70) (book online).
- Super 8 Motels: a cheap and reliable option (rooms start at 268 RMB ($43), with 11 locations around the city (book online)
- Long-term rentals: budget private accommodation in Nanjing rents for around 3,000 RMB monthly ($480) and will require use of an agent (Chinese landlords tend to be very prickly).
Cash still flows through Jiangsu province and Nanjing is the hub of that. Most of the tourists coming through town are Chinese – foreigners tend to come here for business or to live.