Just 90 minutes by fast train from Shanghai, the old capital of Nanjing is another appealing 2-day weekend getaway.
When booking train tickets for this excursion, I discovered that some trains depart and arrive at either Hongqiao station or Shanghai Train Station. For some reason, I usually only book departures and arrivals via Hongqiao but this time decided to try arriving back in Shanghai via the Shanghai Train Station. I was thrilled to discover this station is connected to the metro system in a way that cuts transit time back to Jinqiao almost in half, so I will definitely source tickets in and out of this station in the future. This discovery was a side bonus to our fun weekend in Nanjing.
We arrived at the Nanjing South Railway Station and this was perfect for seeking out the southern main gate (Zhonghuamen 中华, photo above) in the old Nanjing City Wall (http://www.china-tour.cn/Nanjing/South-Gate-of-City-Wall.htm). Dating back to the 1300s, this is the longest circular city wall in the world. Almost 39 kilometers of the wall still stands, and you can explore a lot of it, meandering atop its massive ramparts. A nice site for more information is https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/nanjing-ming-dynasty-city-wall/index.html.
The gates into the old walled city are impressive and large, with the Zhonghuamen gate boasting three towers and four separate gates which used to be armed with huge stone slabs that could be released to bar enemies from entering or escaping. One sign atop the wall indicated that invaders could have been trapped between gates as a tactic to obliterate enemy armies like “turtles in a barrel”.
Shortly after entering into the area of the four entry portals, there is a fun archery station. We stopped for a few minutes to try our hand at shooting some arrows before continuing up a huge stone ramp and onto the top of the wall.
An interesting detail to note is the carved letters on each stone of the wall. It's hard to believe but each stone for this project had to be inscribed with the details of the artist and studio where the stone was created. Walking along the wall, I became fascinated with the different inscription styles and took photographs of several. Those letters were carved 700 years ago and still tell a story.
You can spend an entire morning wandering around the gate and the adjacent walls and it’s all interesting and beautiful. There’s an area just outside the city wall in this section of the city that has been rebuilt to look like the old town, complete with cafes and shops. This is also a fun area to explore.
On Saturday afternoon, we used the subway to get to the Jiming temple 鸡鸣寺, the oldest temple in Nanjing dating back to the 1300s. It was a busy day with lots of worshippers burning incense and visiting the site and we found some beautiful old bells and trees on the grounds. You can get some nice views of the city here, too. (http://www.gonanjingchina.com/places-to-go-nanjing-china/attractions-nanjing-travel/jiming-temple)
In the evening, we enjoyed a simple dinner at a local noodle restaurant close to our hotel and then got to bed fairly early so we could enjoy another full day on Sunday. The hotel we chose wasn’t right downtown, but I got a sense there would be some fun evening and night options for dining and entertainment if you opted to stay in a more central place.
On Sunday, we arrived at the Memorial Hall to the Victims of the Nanjing Massacre 南京大屠杀遇难者纪念馆(https://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/jiangsu/nanjing/memorial-hall-nanjing-massacre.htm) right as the museum opened at 10 am. I had read in advance that it was good to arrive early to beat the crowds and, indeed, this site is a popular one featured on the itinerary for many tour groups. Even arriving early, there were still many people there. However, the memorial site and the museum buildings are large and well-designed, so there is capacity for large crowds and I recommend visiting this sober, informative site. Designed to chronicle what happened when Japanese forces invaded Nanjing in 1937, the exhibits feature a lot of valuable primary source information about the invasion, rape and massacre of 300,000 Nanjing residents. Mammoth sculptures on the grounds depict the horror and grief of the late 1930s events, and visitors leave the spacious site passing a large reflecting pond and a sculpture dedicated to peace and hope.
We spied a mall kiddy-corner to the museum’s entrance and decided to look for lunch options there. Many options presented themselves, including a scrumptious Sichuanese restaurant, perfect for restoring our energy for the rest of the afternoon.
We took a taxi across town (this took about an hour because of some traffic) to the Sun Yat Sen Mausoleum 中山陵 on Purple Mountain. The taxi let us off at the bottom of the mountain, where we could purchase tickets for the tram that would take us to the memorial site. The entire area is green and gorgeous, with old trees lining the roads in a crafted, symmetrical fashion. We walked between the memorial and the nearby Linggu temple 灵谷寺 (with its impressive vaulted Wuliang beamless hall with no supporting beams or wooden structures; this was built in 1381!) and it was lovely to wander beneath the leafy roof of the boulevards. The original Linggu Temple was built in 515 CE but was destroyed and rebuilt. http://www.gonanjingchina.com/places-to-go-nanjing-china/attractions-nanjing-travel/linggu-temple
The Sun Yat Sen Memorial involves a walk up 392 steps to the mausoleum itself. If you’re lucky and it’s clear day, you’ll have spectacular views over Nanjing. The site is popular and there will be many visitors, and there are also lots of restaurants and snack shops along the way.
We spent the bulk of the afternoon visiting both the memorial site and the Linggu Temple before catching a city bus (look for blue buses at the temple entrance) back down the mountain to the metro station and then on to the Nanjing Train Station to catch our train back to Shanghai. We were only gone one night and two days but felt refreshed and rejuvenated. With a population of around 6 million people, Nanjing feels much more intimate than Shanghai and it’s pretty easy to navigate once you figure out subway options.