Coming into its own

Updated: 2012-09-28 07:54

(China Daily)

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Coming into its own

The Tianjin Eye is a 110-meter-tall Ferris wheel built above the Yongle Bridge. Provided to China Daily

Historic port city offers attractions beyond Beijing

Tianjin, one of the four municipalities directly under the central government, is considered by many to be the gateway to Beijing. But the coastal city is coming out of the shadows of the Chinese capital and fast becoming a hub of activity in its own right.

Close to the Bohai Sea, Tianjin's Binhai New Area is already drawing attention as a center for high-end manufacturing and R&D.

Tianjin Port, said to be the largest artificial deepwater port in China, ranks fifth in the world in terms of port throughput. With a total area of 500 square kilometers, the port links to 14 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions of Central and Western China.

Last year, the city reported GDP of 1.1 trillion yuan ($1750 billion, 1350 billion euros), up 16.5 percent year on year. Also a traditional trade center, the city recorded a total amount of foreign trade imports and exports of $56 billion, up by 19.9 percent year on year.

The coastal city lays claim to making the first few Chinese products such as television sets, telephones and watches.

Plans are under way to build on these strengths by pushing ahead with the development of its eco-city, the Bohai Bay region and other sectors in the coming decade.

As an international city, Tianjin also holds many important events such as the Summer Davos Forum. It has established good relations with 23 cities worldwide including the Lombardia region of Italy, the Nord Pas de Clais region of France and Philadelphia in the US.

But it's not all business in Tianjin. Being a historic port city, it also makes for a delightful tourist destination with its seaside views and activities. The city offers an international feel with more than 1,000 Western-styled buildings dating back to its foreign concession days.

Here are some attractions for business travelers and holidaymakers alike.

1. Italian Style Street

Coming into its own

This "Little Italy" is considered to be a major Italian architectural complex outside Italy. Built in 1902, it used to be an Italian settlement in Tianjin and the only one of its kind in China. Renovations were completed in 2005 and these included small Western houses, former residences of celebrities and the Italian barracks.

The area has become the city's major bar street and tourism spot offering treats like live music and a wide range of beers. The street is also a popular setting for TV and film shoots.

2. Five-avenue area

This area is located south of downtown Tianjin and consists of five main avenues: Chongqing, Changde, Dali, Munan and Machang.

It used to be the site of a British settlement and still offers European-style cottages. There are rows of Western buildings and gardens on both sides of the streets. There are more than 230 buildings from Britain, France, Italy, Germany and Spain. Efforts by the local authorities to boost Tianjin's cultural assets have helped these sites become a landmark of the city.

3. Tianjin Eye

The Tianjin Eye is a 110-meter-tall Ferris wheel built above the Yongle Bridge (formerly known as Cihai Bridge) over the Haihe River and is considered the only one of its kind.

The wheel is electrically powered and has 48 passenger capsules, each able to carry eight passengers. It takes about 30 minutes to complete a rotation, with a maximum capacity of 760 passengers an hour.

Visitors are strongly recommended to take the Tianjin Eye at night. When the capsule reaches the highest point, they can enjoy a wonderful night view of the Haihe River and the surrounding scenery within a 40 km radius.

4. Florentia Village

Located in Wuqing district, 38 km from the downtown area, the Jingjin Designer Outlets is said to be China's first authentic Italian outlet village and promises shoppers "the ultimate shopping experience" with nearly 200 international and Chinese fashion brands with discounted prices all year round.

Opened last June, the Florentia village boasts a unique shopping experience with Italian-style architecture, authentic Italian and international cuisines, and entertainment programs that help bring the fashion, culture and spirit of Florence to Tianjin.

5. Tianjin Binhai Aircraft Carrier Theme Park

This theme park in the Binhai New Area is a top attraction built around Kiev, a retired Soviet-era warship. The park includes a weapons exhibition, theme shows and various locations for TV and film production.

The ship itself is 273 meters long and 53 meters wide. The park has offered re-enactments of naval battles and military fans may choose to stay on the vessel, which sports a unique hotel complete with recreation facilities and a Western restaurant.

Visitors can also take in a general view of the park with helicopter rides. The helicopter takes off from the stern of the deck, three passengers at a time. The whole flight takes about 20 minutes and travelers can enjoy a view of many local scenic spots including the theme park, Tianjin port, and the Dongjiang Bay artificial beach.

Eating and drinking

First-time visitors should head to Nanshi Food Street to try a wide range of traditional snacks such as the Goubuli steamed stuffed buns, Er Duoyan fried cake and 18th Street fried dough twists. Built in 1984, the street is located in prosperous Nanshi business area, next to Heping Road.

Other than Tianjin snacks, visitors can also find restaurants serving the "Eight Cuisines" of China that encompass the provinces of Shandong, Sichuan, Zhejiang, Fujian, Anhui, Guangdong, Hunan and Jiangsu.

Besides gourmet food, the street also includes a gatehouse sporting dragon, phoenix and lion motifs in the style of the Qing Dynasty. About 20,000 lights in Chinese and foreign styles help spice up the street at night.

China Daily

(China Daily 09/28/2012 page22)