Nanjing City Guide for Expats

Liz Smith
Liz Smith

Liz Smith left the daily grind in the States to travel the world with her husband. Eventually teaching English in China & loving it, she began sharing her experience with others who are interested in embarking on this new adventure!

 / Jul 23, 2017

There is absolutely no doubt that Nanjing city can be a wonderful city to live for anyone aspiring to visit, work or live in China. The country’s most beautiful mainland city boasts lush green parks, historical buildings and monuments, small mountains and natural scenic lakes, all of which attracts dozens of tourists to the city each year. With a plethora of awesome historical sites, a world-class infrastructure, a robust economy, a vibrant culture and a wide range of breathtaking tourist attractions, then there isn’t any doubt whatsoever that the city can be a great place to be for anyone seeking a perfect getaway in China or anyone seeking employment in China. 


Nevertheless, living in Nanjing can be equally challenging just like living in any other Chinese city, thanks to the terrible traffic, language barrier as well as overcrowding. But life here can be a lot easier if one just knew what to expect while living or working in this city. Whether you plan to visit Nanjing or you want to work in Nanjing, understanding the city can help you prepare for the life that waits you here. This detailed guide of Nanjing city will give you virtually everything you may wish to know about this stunningly beautiful city. 


Overview of Nanjing city


Situated in the heartland of China’s Yanghtze River region, Nanjing is the capital city of China’s Jiangsu province. Nanjing (also popularly known as Ginling or Jinling) is the largest city in China’s eastern and southern regions, boasting a land mass of approximately 6,600 square kilometers. It is home to over 8.2 million people. The city occupies a prominent place in the country’s history and culture, having been the capital of numerous Chinese kingdoms, dynasties and republican governments. Situated at the heart of east China and Yangtze River Delta, the city is one of the largest inland ports in the world. It is also home to some of China’s best and high-quality universities such as Nanjing University. Moreover, it is among the country’s 4 great ancient cities and has consistently been one of the largest cities in the world for hundreds of years. It boasts several historical landscapes, numerous cultural facilities and key heritage sites that are well-known in the world over. 


Neighborhoods/districts of Nanjing city


As a sub-provincial city of Jiangsu province, Nanjing is sub-divided into districts. Here are some of the city’s most prominent districts.


  • Xuanwu District-the urban district is located in the city’s north-eastern area. Moreover, it is home to Nanjing Municipal Government, in addition to being home to some of China’s finest attractions such as Hongwu Emperor’s Mausoleum , Xuanwu Lake and Nanjing International Exhibition Center,


  • Baixia District-located along the Qinhuai River and covering the city’s downtown areas, the district boasts a rich history and a long culture. Having benefited from massive infrastructural development over the past decade, the district is now an elegant living environment boasting a modern communication network and a world-class infrastructure.


  • Gaochun District- It is the city’s southernmost district, bordering Anhui province to the west and south. It is renowned for its traditional seafood and a vibrant nightlife.


  • Lishui District-located in the city’s southern region and neighboring Gaochun District to the north, Lishui is a fairly rural district though having a modern transportation network. It is also home to one of Nanjing’s busiest railway stations- Lishui Station.


  • Pukou District-located in the city’s northwestern area, and between Chu River and Yangtze River, the district is home to many cultural heritages, natural landscapes as well as numerous places of interest such as Forest Park and National Ancient Mountain Park.


Getting in/out


International departures from the city as well as international arrivals to the city are mostly by air. The main airport that handles international arrivals and departures is Nanjing Lukou International Airport, which presently has more than 130 air routes to over 20 international destinations and 54 domestic destinations. There are numerous shuttle buses that ferry international visitors from the airport to various places throughout the city. Again, there are several buses operating between the airport and the neighboring cities such as Huai’an, Shuyang and Yangzhong.


Transportation/getting around Nanjing


Getting around Nanjing has never been easier than now, thanks to the fact that Nanjing has a thoroughly developed transportation network characterized by high speed trains, subways and a superb road network. Below are some of the common ways to get around the city. 


  • By rail- Nanjing is a crucial railway hub in the entire East China. In fact, it serves as a meeting point of China’s east-west and north-south railway lines, all of which connect the country’s eastern, northern and middle regions. Train transport is the country’s most popular and convenient form of transportation. Transportation is usually handled at all the city’s 17 railway stations, with all of them operating partial and regular trains. With 5 hub stations, Nanjing South Railway station is renowned globally as the largest railway station in the whole of Asia. Rail transport is one of the fastest ways of getting around Nanjing for both international visitors and locals. But if you would prefer moving around by train, it is important you book your ticket in advance and also know the right railway station to board your train and the most convenient one to alight.


  • By subway-the city has a modern subway system comprising of 7 subway lines, and there are also many subway lines presently under construction. The subway has offered the fastest way of transportation for nearly a decade now. Better still, you can get to nearly anywhere you want to go by subway, provided you know the right subway line to use. Again, buy your ticket from the right subway station to avoid confusion. Most importantly, don’t throw away your ticket because you may be asked to produce it at the next station.


  • By long-distance buses-This is the most preferred form of transportation for long distance travelling. There are over 8 bus stations operating within all the districts and along the Nanjing –Shanghai Highway. Though using long-distance buses can help you get around this city, particularly to distance places, it is prudent you learn some Mandarin so that you can interact effectively with the bus’ staff and also understand the entire road signs on various roads. But the only drawback with using long-buses is that, most of them are congested thus compromising on your comfort during your journeys. 


  • By city bus-the city has a bus transportation system that caters for those travelling within the city. The various buses operating in this city are more flexible compared to other forms of transportation, thanks to the fact that they travel to all places within the city. Besides, fares are quite cheap and thus taking a city bus can help you tour the city conveniently and affordably.. 


  • By taxi- with over 20,999 taxis in Nanjing, the city has the highest number of taxis compared to other big cities like Shanghai and Beijing. Most foreigners prefer taxis for moving from their hotels to the destinations of their choice within the city. They are various types of taxis in the city namely regular cars, British cars, mid-range cars and electric cars. However, touring the city by taxi may be a costly option for you just in case you are travelling far from the city. You can however bargain for reasonable rates by requesting the driver to charge you based on the number of kilometers you travel. That way, you can avoid being overcharged by some unscrupulous drivers who take advantage of foreigners


  • By rental cars- the city has a vibrant car rental service industry that allows travelers to rent a wide array of rental cars, ranging from executive cars, mid-size cars to small-size cars. The car rental prices normally vary based on the car types and the rental duration. However, make sure you have an experienced driver with a valid driving license before renting a car. In most cases, foreign drivers aren’t allowed to drive in the city, especially in areas with high traffic. 


Safety/scams to be aware of in Nanjing 


Like with any other Chinese city, there are a couple of scams mostly targeting tourists. But as a whole, the city’s residents are honest and friendly people. It is just that the few scammers are only a small sample of bad people in a city with millions of people from all walks of life. Below are a couple of common scams to be wary of while visiting or living in Nanjing.


  • Tea House Scam-if a stranger approach and offer to accompany you to a tea house in the city, kindly turn down their offer. This is because when you get to the tea shop, they may ask you to pay them something small for their service. In case you want to go to a tea house, ask the receptionists at the hotel you are residing to show you the direction. 


  • Fuzimiao scam- at Fuzimiao market, there are petty pickpockets waiting to steal personal items from tourists as they shop around the crowded souvenir shops. As such, always stay alert and watch your personal items when shopping at this crowded market. Still in this market, some souvenir owners may try to rip you off your balance or give you counterfeit money as your change. Always purchase with the smallest currency possible to avoid the chances of being given fake Chinese currency.


  • Nanjing Taxi scam- there are several cars masquerading as official taxis and they are infamous for overcharging foreign visitors. Worse still, some drivers can drop you randomly long before you arrive at the destination of your choice. As such, make sure you are taking an official taxi to avoid this notorious scam. 


  • Cheap Nanjing tour scams- in most public places, there will be people trying to lure you with cheap tours. Avoid such people. In most cases, they are scammers who aren’t authorized to work on behalf of the travel agencies they purport to work for. If you must go for a tour of the city, insist on knowing whether the agency you have in mind is licensed.


Climate and best time to visit Nanjing


Nanjing has a North subtropical monsoon climate, which is characterized by four seasons, plentiful rains and sunshine. The average annual temperature is 17.8 . The best time for visiting Nanjing is spring(which normally starts from March), thanks to the fact that the weather is warm though humid. This is a great time to tour all the city’s attractions and also indulge in various outdoor activities. But July may be the worst months to be in the city, thanks to the extreme heat that can reach up to 32 C on average. The most pleasant season to be in the city is during the autumn, which is relatively shorter than other seasons. During this season, the weather is usually cool and dry. Sweet scents from Osmanthus flowers also fill the air during autumn. 


Best things to do in Nanjing for visitors 


While it may appear as if Nanjing is overshadowed by Shanghai and Beijing in terms of global city rankings and iconic sites, Nanjing is nevertheless a city of irresistible charms. The very fact that it is China’s former capital means that there are plenty of places worth checking out for visitor. In fact, Nanjing has consistently been ranked among the top tourist attractions in China. Below are a couple of top things to do in Nanjing for tourists.


  • Exploring the Purple Mountain Park- This can be a top activity for visitors seeking to explore and understand nature. The park isn’t just a bastion of nature, but it boasts numerous historic sites as well. It is home to some of China’s best historic sites such as Father of The Modern China’ and the ancient MingT San Yat-Sen among other sites. And just in case you feel adventurous, then you can come with your swimming gear and swim at the nearby Purple Glow Lake. The stunning lake is quite popular with foreigners and locals alike. If you want a cool escape from the city’s oppressive summer heat, this is definitely a nice place to visit.


  • Go for a weekend shopping spree at Fuzimiao -Also known as the Confucius Temple, Fuzimiao is a vibrant market situated around the city’s historic temples and buildings, not far from the CBD (Central Business District).The market spreads along the banks of Qinhuai River, and it is especially beautiful at night. The market is particularly frequented by Western visitors who mostly come here for a souvenir weekend shopping. It is also a favorite place to taste some traditional Chinese food. Taking a boat tour along the stunning Qinhua River can also be a fun way to spend your weekends.


  • Visiting the Nanjing Massacre Memorial- take a day out and visit the city’s Massacre Memorial Park and pay tribute to scores of people who died during the infamous Japanese occupation of Nanjing City, which took place hundreds of years ago. It acts as part museum and part memorial to the massive atrocities that were committed at the time. As much as lines for this memorial park can be long, a visit here can however help visitors understand the expensive cost of war and the devastating effects in can have on future generations. 


  • Take a day out at the Presidential Palace-Until the historic break of Taiwan with China in 1927, China’s Presidential Palace was situated in Nanjing . The magnificent Presidential Palace still stands unblemished, and acts as the country’s modern history museum for visitors seeking to learn about the Chinese post World War 2. The Presidential Palace is accessible to foreign visitors, though at a small fee you can definitely afford to part with. 


  • Wandering around Lake Xuanwu-With a rich history that dates back as early as the 182 AD, Lake Xuanwu is the city’s glittering heart and a truly wonderful place to spend those lazy Sundays if you happen to be in Nanjing during spring or summer. The lake is surrounded by the city’s iconic wall- Nanjing Wall, and it offers a reprieve from the city’s hustle and bustle. You can visit the stunningly beautiful gardens that spread all over the lake’s islands. Just in case you thought the city is overcrowded, then Lake Xuanwu is ultimately a nice place to have a relaxing weekend picnic or indulge in some long, uninterrupted reading sessions. 


Life in Nanjing for expats 


Nanjing boasts a brilliant cultural heritage and an international feel, thus making it one of the top Chinese cities for expats-particularly long-term expats. Expatriates moving to this city are attracted by the numerous economic opportunities and a thrilling cultural experience. Expats looking for a rewarding career here are advised to learn at least a couple of words of the dominant Mandarin Chinese language. Though English is frequently used in the boardrooms, it is widely considered essential for expats workers to communicate in the local language. But expats living here shouldn’t worry, for there are numerous language centers across the city offering Mandarin Chinese classes. While the city’s residents are predominantly Chinese, there are high chances of encountering other expats from various parts across the world. However, the whole concept of moving and living in Nanjing can be difficult for some expats than others, depending on how well one is able to couple with the new life in this populous city. Before moving to Nanjing, ensure you have a valid visa and any other necessary permits. Expats living in this city can look forward to experiencing China’s finest, from living in a thoroughly modern city, watching masterpiece Chinese architecture , strolling the bursting riverside markets to viewing the city’s shimmering skyscrapers.  


Tips for expats living in Nanjing 


Living in Nanjing as an expat can turn out to be an exciting experience as long as one is prepared to the new life ahead. Here are some tips to help you cope with life whilst living here as an expat. 


  • Get out there and meet the people-making friends is essential when one has moved to a new city. As such, get out there and meet the people. With several places such as bars and restaurants where you can find expat companions from different places across the world, then you will never get lonely whilst living in Nanjing. 


  • Understand the social and work etiquettes-this is key to ensuring that you don’t lose face when living in Nanjing. Expats who fail to understand the social and work etiquettes in this city find life unbearable. For instance, it is worth knowing that it is perceived rude in Chinese culture to turn down an invitation. Again, seniority in this city counts a lot and thus you need to show respect to your seniors. 


  • Travel around-travelling around can help you experience the best of the city, thus giving you a positive impression of the great place you are living in. Better still, you will get to meet plenty of interesting people( especially the locals who are welcoming ) thus expanding your social circle with time. Commit to travelling to a different area of the city each weekend and discover something new every day. 


  • Learn the local language-this may seem like a no brainer for anyone living in Nanjing, or any other Chinese city. However, it is an important step to overcoming culture shock. Having a decent understanding of Mandarin Chinese can help you immerse yourself fully into the new life. Remember you will be interacting with the native Chinese most of the time, from subway stations, local food joints and entertainment spots. Therefore, having a basic understanding of the local language can go along way into improving your communication skills. Luckily, there are many language schools all over the city where you can enroll for Mandarin classes. 


  • Go Chinese-the key to living in Nanjing and other Chinese cities is simply by learning and accepting their culture. That way you can see yourself as part and parcel of this wonderful city, rather than being an alien. Some of the simple things you can do to learn this exciting culture is watching local Chinese TV. 


Festivals/ events


Below are some of the popular festivals/ events in Nanjing 


  • International Plum Blossom Festival-the annual festival is held annually at the city’s Plum Blossom Hill , and it aims to showcase China’s largest plum collection. The festival attracts scores of international and domestic tourists alike. 


  • Crab Festival- held every autumn at the end of every September, the festival is meant to mark an annual crab harvesting season, where thousands of tourists and locals take part in massive crab harvesting.


  • Osmanthus Festival- The popular festival offers tourists and locals a chance to view the country’s fragrant sweet osmanthus, eat all types of osmanthus-flavored cakes in various public parks across the city.


Expat resources in Nanjing


With numerous resources for expats living and working in Nanjing, expats in this city can have an exciting moment whilst working and living here. Below are a number of expats resources in Nanjing that can help you in your quest to living and having the best life possible in this city. 


Nanjing expat magazines 


Many expat bars and restaurants in Nanjing offer their clients with free copies of expat magazines. Here are a couple of these magazines. 


  • Najinger Magazine- this is the city’s most popular expat magazine. It covers a variety of interest topics touching on expat life in the city.


  • City weekend Nanjing- The magazine write about activities and numerous topics for expats and visitors in Nanjing. The free copy is also available for all Chinese cities.


  • TimeOut-the magazine has an edition for Beijing and Shanghai. It also offers information, tips and advice on expat life in Nanjing as well as other Chinese cities.


Nanjing expat forums 


There are several forums and platforms seeking to connect expats in Beijing with their fellow expats. Here are some of them.


  • Expatriates.com- the online community for expats features a special section on Nanjing and also offers classified ads.


  • InterNations-the active expat forum has regular events, activity groups, an informative forum as well as classifieds targeting expats in Nanjing and other Chinese cities. 


  • Fortune Connection Club-the global networking forum focuses on expats in China and host frequent events targeting various expat professionals in China. It has a section on Nanjing as well.


Nanjing travel resources 


  • Lonely Planet Worldguide- the websites offers plenty of valuable travel information, featuring a section on Nanjing.


  • Rough Guide Destinations-provides useful travel tips for expats in Nanjing and China at large.


Conclusion 


Nanjing is truly a great place to visit, live or work. In fact, visiting or living here can be a big step towards discovering the best of China. If you are already thinking of moving to this beautiful city, then you already know what to expect right from the moment you get here thanks to this detailed Nanjing city guide. 


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Liz Smith

Liz Smith left the daily grind in the States to travel the world with her husband. Eventually teaching English in China & loving it, she began sharing her experience with others who are interested in embarking on this new adventure!