Lay of the Land
Its prime position makes Ningbo the ultimate destination to explore local treasures or pursue distant adventures.
Like the porridge Goldilocks chose to eat, the city is just right, neither too large nor too small, and, if the weather is favourable, it is relatively easy to walk between the historic sites clustered around the old heart of town.
Perhaps because of its proximity to Shanghai and Hangzhou, Ningbo is something of a forgotten gem in the necklace of jewels strung across the southern coast of China. However, Ningbo, which is one of the oldest Chinese cities, has been an important port and cultural centre for centuries and its cosmopolitan vibe, clean, tree-lined streets and river views have an immediate appeal.
Like the porridge Goldilocks chose to eat, the city is just right, neither too large nor too small, and, if the weather is favourable, it is relatively easy to walk between the historic sites clustered around the old heart of town. Even if you are only visiting for a couple of days, it is small enough to take in the most interesting sites, while for those with more time, it makes a good base from which to explore further afield.
A sanctuary from storm-tossed seas, the “calm waves” that gave the city its name were the inspiration for the distinctive wavy facade of Shangri-La Hotel, Ningbo, and the hotel is a welcoming haven whether you are visiting for business or leisure.
Situated where the Yao and Fenghua rivers meet to form the Yong River, the hotel’s stunning views — take time to watch a sunset from the Horizon Club Lounge — and exceptional service are complemented by two of the city’s best restaurants and the premium pampering that can be indulged in at the spa with its signature Ningbo treatments.
Old and New
Just across the Fenghua River from the hotel is the heart of modern Ningbo, Tianyi Square, which is a popular hangout for the locals thanks to its wide selection of fast-food outlets, cafes, restaurants and luxury brand stores.
Passing through the square you’ll come to the older part of town and the quiet, shady paths of the pleasant park surrounding Moon Lake. On the northwest side of the lake is a branch of Shipu, a Ningbo restaurant chain famous for its seafood, and there are clusters of restaurants in the nearby streets.
Beyond the lake is Tanyi Pavilion, the oldest private library in China, and the city’s Mosque, which was built in 1699. At the western end of the lake sits Tianning Temple with its collection of Buddhist art and the fascinating fashion museum, which traces the history of Chinese dress through the centuries. On the eastern side of the lake is Tianfeng Pagoda; built in 695 it was used as a navigation mark during the Tang Dynasty.
Those interested in the city’s maritime history should head to the Qing’an Assembly Hall on the south bank of the Yong River, which, as well as some fine stone carvings, houses a variety of exhibits charting Ningbo’s maritime history.
Bundle of Joy
Ningbo became a British treaty port at the conclusion of the First Opium War and as a result got its own Bund. Although smaller than its more famous namesake in Shanghai, it is definitely livelier as many of the old European style houses have been renovated or reconstructed and transformed into restaurants and bars. Called Lao Waitan in Chinese, it is quiet in the daytime but comes alive at night when it becomes a vibrant drinking and dining destination for both locals and expats. Popular restaurants include Da Chang Jin, which serves a good selection of Korean dishes; Da Bossi, a traditional Italian restaurant with excellent pizzas; Casa Maya, serving Mexican staples such as burritos and tacos; and Zorba, a Greek restaurant that has a good atmosphere and a nice bar.
Take time before perusing your menu of choice to check out the intriguing Museum of Art at the North end of the Bund. A conversion of the old port control building, the materials and entry bridges are inspired by the old docks along the Bund and the design symbolises an "Ark of Art".
Zhejiang province is known as the “Land of Cultural Relics” in China, and for those with the time to venture away from the city there are plenty of historic places of interest nearby, many of them in natural beauty spots. Tiantong Forest Park, located on the slopes of the mountains about 16 miles southeast of Ningbo, is home to nearly 1,000 species of plants including some rare plants used as traditional herbal remedies, and the picturesque Tiantong Temple, whose many yellow-walled halls rise like the rungs of a ladder up the side of a mountain. The Yue-Kiln sites at Shanglin Lake are regarded as the origin of Chinese porcelain and produced the famous green-glazed porcelain associated with the Tang Dynasty. The remains of the ancient kilns are situated along the scenic shores of the lake. The sandy beaches and verdant temple-dotted hills of the lovely Buddhist isle of Putuoshan are also easily accessible, although unlike the others this is not a day trip, but is well worth a visit.