Tianjin - also known by the Chinese as the "Shanghai of the North" - has a venerable and colorful history. Located on the Bohai Gulf, Tianjin is the sixth largest urban area in China and one of the fastest-growing cities. Tianjin will surprise you with its modern Binhai area that is rapidly developing and with its old city where several foreign concessions were built between the 15th and 19th century. Tianjin has long been a transport hub for international commerce, and so a great deal of history has accrued to the municipality. It has played its role as a hub for Chinese transport as well, its spokes radiating out to a dozen northern provinces. This is an area which has seen considerable activity through the centuries as a consequence with the varied comings and goings of foreigners and Chinese from many different regions and of many different ethnicities.
The Five Great Avenues
These are now to be found to the southern side of modern downtown Tianjin, running east-to-west. There are in excess of 230 buildings of interest preserved from the days of colonial Tianjin. Many are modest, but 50 or so were made for rich and famous Europeans in markedly opulent style. In keeping with the fashion in Europe at the time, the bewildering array of architecture is made still more startling by the incorporation of styles revived from the Renaissance, ancient Greece, Gothic, and the Romantic period. To complete the mix, the array of European and ancient styles are complemented by the architecture of Qing-dynasty China itself. There is nowhere else that such a collision and mixing of civilizations has led to such an explosion of architectural styles so beautifully preserved, and the Five Ancient Avenues are a sight not to be missed.
The Hai River
Originating at the King Bridge in Beijing, running for more than 70 km before emptying out into the sea at Da Gukou, the Hai is the arterial river running through Tianjin. It is also one of the better places from which to view the fascinating architecture of the old town arrayed along its banks.
The Tianjin Eye
The Tianjin Eye, (or, to give it its full title, the Yongle Bridge Tientsin Eye), is a huge ferris wheel spanning the Hai River. It serves both as a bridge, and as a spectacular fun ride from which to see Tianjin from an elevated height. How high? Well, raised above the bridge, and with a diameter of 110 metres, it's the equivalent of a building 35 storeys in height and dwarfs its surroundings.
With 64 transparent, 360-degree viewing gondalas hanging from it, each able to seat eight people, it's a fascinating ride in the 30 minutes it takes to rotate with views of up to 40 km. Even if you don't take a ride on it, the eye itself is an incredible sight, particularly at night when it is lit up in changing colors.
Opening hours: Every day from 9.30am to 9.30pm except Mondays, when it is closed in the morning.