Tianjin. The little cousin who could. For years overshadowed by its larger relative, Beijing, Tianjin has been busy in the first decade of the 21st century, building up its credibility and viability as a world-class city and important place within China.
And while technically it is the sixth largest city in terms of population, and boasts provincial-level status that has it reporting directly to the main government, Tianjin has remained somewhat of an undiscovered place by the modern traveler, since most people shuffle on their way to Beijing or Shanghai, with Tianjin barely registering on the map as more than a stopping point along the way.
Now, Tianjin stands poised on the brink of discovery. The administration has been hard at work in the past few years since the 2008 Olympics, spending literally millions of dollars on renovations, regeneration projects, road-widening, and otherwise. A port city itself, located along the Hai He River with connections to the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers, Tianjin has long been a major trade city for China, but its visibility as a traveler’s destination has been minimal. However, there are plenty of sights beneath the surface, like the Dabei Monastery, the Confucian Temple, or the Grand Mosque and Xikai Church. There are dozens of parks and museums, and the cultural diversity of the city is nearly overwhelming. In addition, Tianjin has close access to things like Huanyaguan and its Great Wall of China Towers and hiking opportunities, or Eight Immortals Mountain. There is also Nine Dragon Mountain to consider, or the Dagu Fort.
While Tianjin is busy reinventing its image in the 21st century, it is still not a typical tourist destination. However, if experiencing the “real” China is high on your list of priorities, this is easily one of the best places to do so. There is no pretense at catering to foreigners here; you either accept the Chinese way of life or you move on to a more tourist-friendly destination.