China’s a big country. Did you know that? Well, kudos. Given its scale and scope, even if you’ve lived here for 5+ years, there’s no way you would be able to see every worthwhile sight and city in the country. For those of you in Shanghai that are stuck in your metropolitan bubble, train travel is the answer to see the many worthwhile sights nearby and expand your China experience. Train travel is an experience in of itself, but is often intimidating for many expats who can’t speak Mandarin because they are afraid their bumbling at the train station will result in a long line of impatient people yelling at them and a ticket to the wrong place.
Our parent company, Ctrip, now has a new feature worth schilling to the masses, a comprehensive booking system with train schedules, all in English, and the tickets are the same price they would be at the station. (It’s illegal to make money off of train sales in China, so no mark-up.)
Without further ado, here are some of the essential weekend getaways from Shanghai, the ones you should do first before checking out the lesser-known cities near Shanghai.
G7078 leaves from Shanghai Railway Station (7:28pm) to Suzhou (8pm).
- First class: RMB 59.50
- Second class seat: RMB 39.50
Time: 32 minutes*
Constantly referred to as the "Venice of the East," Suzhou is most famous for its UNESCO World Heritage-listed classical gardens, ancient canals and stone bridges. While you shouldn't expect a carbon copy of Venice, it's one of the major tourist destinations close to Shanghai. You can still admire the picturesque waterways or stroll through its famous gardens including the Garden of the Master of Nets and the Lion Forest Garden. Alternatively, take a wander around the park surrounding Jinji Lake and do some people watching. It's full of interesting statues which have become magnets for Chinese holiday snappers. You might also like to check out Suzhou's Gate to the East (Dōngfāng Zhīmén, 东方之门), also called the Gate of the Orient, on the east side of the lake near the SRT Line 1 Dongfangzhimen Station. Intended to resemble a gateway, some say this large skyscraper looks more like a pair of pants. Trains between Shanghai and Suzhou depart from both Shanghai Railway Station and Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station and take between 23 and 45 minutes. Numerous trains run in both directions throughout the day and prices may vary slightly from those mentioned above depending on the train. To make the most of the weekend, we suggest choosing one departing Friday evening or early Saturday morning.
Choose this city if…
- You'd like to pick up some decent quality silk handicrafts.
- You're looking for an interesting and quick getaway not too far out of Shanghai.
- You enjoy classical gardens and can handle the weekend crowds.
G7104 from Shanghai Hongqiao (7pm) to Nanjing (8:39pm).
- First class: RMB 219.50
- Second class: RMB 139.50
Time: 1 hour, 39 minutes
Why visit Nanjing?
While it's not at the top of everyone's must-see-destinations in China, Nanjing certainly deserves a spot. The former Ming Dynasty and Republic of China capital is still surrounded by the remains of its city walls (some of the oldest and longest in the world) and offers other impressive historic monuments including the Mausoleum of Sun Yat-sen, the father of modern China, and the Ming Dynasty Tombs. The Memorial Hall of the Nanjing Massacre explores the "Rape of Nanking," Zijin Shan (Purple Gold Mountain) looms up beside former imperial playground Xuanwu Lake next to the city center, meaning a natural getaway is just 15-30 minutes away. Stay near Gulou District (near the Drum Tower and Nanjing Metro Line 1 Gulou Station) for easy access to the best of the city.
Choose this city if....
- You're interested in Chinese history.
- You like relaxing in hot springs.
- You enjoy the city and the outdoors.
G7104 leaves from Shanghai Hongqiao (7pm) to Hangzhou (8:03pm).
- First class seat: RMB 77.50
- Second class seat: RMB 123.50
Time: 1 hour, 2 minutes
"Hangzhou, the most beautiful and splendid city of the world." That’s the standard Marco Polo quote people throw at you to convince you it’s a special place. There are several others I could reference that paint an equally flattering picture, but there are scholars who believe that the Venetian merchant/trader may not have even been to China. We’ve been to Hangzhou however, and can definitively tell you, “Hey, it’s not bad!” Regardless of the hype, Hangzhou is a very relaxing place to spend a weekend; it's definitely worth visiting at least once. It’s a tranquil and clean city, partly because motorbikes are banned from the downtown area. West Lake offers so many picturesque spots for capturing a single moment in time to share with friends and family back home who want to see somewhere that looks "Chinese." You can also make your way to Lingyin Temple, or get some exercise climbing Baoshi Shan (Baoshi Hill) so you can see the Baochu Pagoda. However the most enjoyable thing you can do is rent a bike around West Lake and simply take a casual ride around the lake, passing through Bai Causeway, and seeing it from every angle. Stop whenever there's a sight worth savoring, a snack worth trying or if you just want to confirm the other quote about Hangzhou concerning beautiful women.
Choose this city if....
- You don't want to spend too much time on a train. It's only a 1 hour trip.
- You want to bike around a beautiful lake and appreciate the coming spring scenery.
- You just want to go somewhere quiet so you can think about the mysteries of life. And stuff.
So there you have it. Each city has something special about it to entice you to leave your comfort zone and see another aspect of China. While some expats in 2nd and 3rd tier cities will play their hipster card when declaring that Shanghai isn’t “real China”—a naïve concept about what constitutes typical China—beat them at their own game and use your weekends and Shanghai's convenient location to see more of this country. Chances are, you might find a new weekend getaway to escape to when your office or classroom duties in Shanghai become too much. And at the very least, it can serve as a reminder why you chose to live in your Shanghai ivory tower in the first place.
If any of that sounds remotely intriguing, then check out the Ctrip trains page to plan your trip.
*Train times vary. For example, train G7418 from Shanghai to Nanjing (7:30pm) takes 1 hour and 15 minutes while train G7092 (7:50pm) takes 2 hours and 9 minutes. Back to top.