Since its days as a treaty port forcibly opened to trade with the West following the First Opium War, Ningbo (Níngbō, 宁波) has been overshadowed by its neighbors across Hangzhou Bay—Shanghai to the north, and Hangzhou to the east. Even today, it's often seen more as a point of departure for trips to the holy Buddhist island of Putuo Shan (Mount Putuo) than a destination in its own right.
However, like so many so-called second-tier destinations in China, Ningbo boasts a historical legacy that makes most of the world's big-name tourist draws look like shallow newcomers. As one of China's longest inhabited regions—its roots go back around 7,000 years—Ningbo possesses a rich cultural heritage that makes it well worth a visit. Add in the natural beauty of the surrounding countryside of mountainous Zhejiang Province and the nearby Zhoushan Islands, not to mention a healthy share of eastern China's fast-growing contemporary urban sophistication, and Ningbo shines even brighter.
Finally, the fact that it's not a hyped-up, designated "must-see" like Shanghai and Hangzhou means that working Ningbo into your China itinerary is an affordable way to beat the crowds and avoid some of the over-the-top theme-park style theatrics that can get in the way of experiencing everyday life in China elsewhere.
Ningbo history takes shape in major attractions like the modern Ningbo Museum, where exhibits run from the region's Neolithic artifacts to the 20th century, and Ningbo's Old Bund, where European colonial powers set up shop in the wake of the First Opium War. Traditional Chinese culture can be further explored in a number of historic sites including Tianfeng Pagoda, the Ningbo Drum Tower and Ayuwang Temple.
Situated where the Yao and Fenghua rivers meet to form the Yong River, Ningbo proper sits at the center of a region rich with outlying attractions just an hour or two away by bus, starting with Dongqian Lake and extending to dozens of tea farms, temples and villages scattered throughout a scenic landscape that grows increasingly mountainous the further inland you go.
Ningbo's proximity to Shanghai (only a few hours by bus over the world's longest trans-oceanic bridge, the Hangzhou Bay Bridge), Hangzhou, the historic town of Shaoxing, Putuo Shan and the Zhoushan Islands make it a great base for exploring the region.
Tianyi Pavilion (Tiānyī Gé, 天一阁), located by the tranquil shores of Moon Lake in Haishu district, is thought to be China's oldest library and is probably Ningbo's..
The man-made crescent-shaped Moon Lake (Yuè Hú, 月湖) was dug during the 7th century in the Tang Dynasty in what is now Ningbo's central Haishu District. Today,..
At the base of Mount Taibai, the 20 buildings of Tiantong Temple (Tiāntóng Sì, 天童寺) sprawl out between forested hills some 25 km (16 mi) east of Ningbo proper. The..
The King Asoka Temple, or Ayuwang Temple (Ayù Wáng Sì, 阿育王寺) takes its name from a 3rd century B.C. Indian emperor who, after conquering most of what is..