If you're like me, you always like to keep moving. I hate it when I'm stuck at home watching TV on my days off instead of exploring this amazing country I live in. I've been living and working in Shanghai for almost a year now and over that time I've come to appreciate the often discounted “day trip”. Similar to the now trendy “stay-cation”, a day trip is the best of both worlds where you get to have all the fun adventures, while still coming home to your own bed and shower. Intrigued? Here are my favourite day-trips that I've taken so far, and some tips and tricks to get the most out of them!
You might know this one already as it's probably the most popular place for Shanghaiers (Shanghainese?) to go and get a glimpse of a more laid back China. If you don't already know, Suzhou is an ancient water city about 20 minutes by train from Shanghai. Think Venice, but with a lot less canals and a lot more fried meat stalls. Suzhou was one of my first trips in China, and is the perfect balance of newness and familiarity. Because Suzhou is only about 20 minutes from Shanghai, it's super easy to get to (besides the chaos that is China's train stations) but feels far enough removed from Shanghai that you still get that spark of adventure. My suggestion is to visit the classical gardens of Suzhou; they are, dare I say, even better than Yu Garden in Shanghai. A quick tip: bring cash - about ¥80 (roughly $11) - as the gardens do not take Alipay, Wechat or cards (I learned that the hard way). Another one of my favourite things to do in Suzhou is, of course, wander the canals looking for that Insta worthy shot. Or, skip the walking, and grab a nice cold beer and sit looking out at the water.
Nanjing? A day trip? What? Okay, okay this one might sound a bit crazy (and I admit I did Nanjing in three days), but locations/china/Nanjing can be done in one day. The high speed train from Shanghai to Nanjing is about an hour and a half. For some that might seem like too long for one day, but back in Canada, I used to drive that every week to visit friends or family. If you are brave enough to do Nanjing in one day, I would suggest prioritizing yourself to three things: the Sun-Yat Sen Mausoleum (and maybe explore the park a bit), the Nanjing City Wall/Zhonghua Gate (like the Great Wall but less great), and visit the old town near the Confucius temple. Some other suggestions would be the Nanjing Massacre Museum, the Nanjing museum (both free!), or taking a boat ride down the Qinhuai River. Now, this might seem like a lot but I believe it is feasible as Nanjing is a smaller city and, using Didi, it takes only about 20 minutes to get from attraction to attraction. Another great thing about Nanjing is that food, transportation, and souvenirs are significantly cheaper than in Shanghai!
Like Nanjing, you might think I'm insane for suggesting Hangzhou as a day trip, but if you're a wanderer like me then you know anything is possible for those internet bragging points. But first, disclaimer: I have not visited the city of Hangzhou, although I have gone hiking in the mountains around it (Zhejiang province). If you want a very pretty day hike in lush forested mountains with ancient villages and rice fields all around, then Zhejiang is perfect for you! If you are more of a city slicker, then stick to Hangzhou. When I went hiking I was with a travel group and we took a bus; however, there is a high speed train from Shanghai to Hangzhou that only takes around 45 minutes. My advice for Hangzhou? Stick to the attractions you can't get in Shanghai! Mainly anything outdoors and in nature such as: The grand canal (built in 610 AD!), XiXi National Wetland Park, the Botanical Gardens, and the West Lake. But be prepared to hike it!
So continuing this trend of disclaimers: Zhujiajiao is technically in Shanghai. But hear me out - I speak from personal experience when I say it takes a full day to visit this ancient water town. It takes about an hour and a half to travel (one way) by subway to Zhujiajiao, so that eats up a lot of your day. The positive is that you don't have to buy train tickets! Yay! Because of this, Zhujiajiao is my go to for showing off to my friends and family who visit. I've been there twice already, and it has never disappointed! Like Suzhou, or Qibao, Zhujiajiao features amazing ancient architecture, stunning canals, and a fun exploring atmosphere. My favourite part of visiting Zhujiajiao is taking a boat ride down the canals, included when you buy a tourists pass. This tourist pass can be purchased at a couple booths throughout the town, including at the “entrance”. Although the pass is ¥80, it gets you access to everything! I think the gardens, the temple(s), and the boat ride alone are worth it! But my absolute favourite part of Zhujiajiao, and traveling in general, is all the wonderful restaurants where you can enjoy a traditional Chinese meal on a patio overlooking the water. Truly delicious.
I hope I have inspired you to get out of your comfort zone and experience all that China has to offer. I also hope that you like water towns (of course you do!). Remember that all these day trips could also be extended into two, three or week long trips! So, if you're sick of Shanghai (which is near impossible, but hey maybe) then pack your day bag because there is a lot more to see just outside the city limit.