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NANJING, China – Globalization and the ease of information sharing can make it difficult to find an authentic travel experience that everyone hasn't already posted on Instagram. But Nanjing, a city of ancient greatness transformed in modern times, offers just that. This Chinese city in the Yangtze River Delta is the real deal.
Nanjing, one of the nation's most important cities for over a thousand years, combines all the creature comforts of a sophisticated metropolis with a uniquely untouched Eastern culture. Just don't expect the secret to stay quiet much longer. The word is out, and the path is being cleared. Here are five reasons why you should take the less-traveled road that leads to Nanjing.
Culture Meets Comfort in Cosmopolitan China
With a population that's roughly the same size as New York City, Nanjing's urban center has all the city comforts: luxury and boutique hotels, nightlife happenings, incredible upscale dining options, street food galore on Shizaiqiao Food Street, an emerging hipster scene, even urban gardens. But it also has historical sites dating back many centuries and cultural celebrations and festivals unique to the area. Local traditions like weaving, are expressed in ways both ancient (as in the beautiful UNESCO cultural heritage Nanjing Cloud Brocade) and modern (by designers using the craft in contemporary styles).
An Old City with a Young Heart
In the last decade, Nanjing's youth has developed a rich arts and culture scene, and the city has invested heavily in the technology sector. (With 59 universities, Nanjing has the largest student population in the country.) Striking buildings that give the city a modern edge include , a high-concept villa designed by David Adjaye, which is part of , designed by Steven Holl. A high-speed rail link, completed in 2012, connects locals and visitors to Shanghai in 75 minutes, while the recently opened offers a tech-focused take on Buddha's relics.
The Duck Dynasty Prevails
Authentic Chinese cuisine doesn't get much better than in Nanjing, a region known for its love affair with all things duck. In this city, no duck organ goes to waste, which will thrill adventurous eaters the world over. In addition to salted duck and burnished Peking duck, the local speciality is duck blood soup, which combines coagulated blood and gizzards. Other delicacies include gelatinous duck chin, duck fat pastries, sticky duck rice dumplings, and skewered spicy duck hearts.
The Lesser-Known Great Wall
The ancient Chinese have proven themselves masters in the art of wall building. The City Wall of Nanjing is an architectural marvel, one of China's best-kept secrets. Built during the Ming Dynasty, the wall was intended to protect the ancient capital from invaders. Originally 22 miles long, more than fifteen miles are accessible to visitors today. They can stroll, cycle, or hop a rickshaw along the wall, pausing for photo ops at gates along the way at places like Zhonghua Gate, the largest castle-style gate in the world.
Bliss Out the Buddhist Way
Visitors looking to explore the deep Buddhist roots of the area and add more Zen to their travels should head south of the buzzy city center to visit , which was established in 2015. The attractions here include Usnisa Temple, a hillside monastery and residence with a meditation hall where guest can tap into a higher level of being, along with an opulent Buddhist palace built six floors underground into the side of Niushou Mountain. Relaxation and appreciation are Buddhist teachings that every traveler would do well to embrace.
Plan Your Trip
Fly: Nanjing Lukou International Airport (NKG) is 40 miles from the city center and is accessible via direct service from Los Angeles on China Eastern Airlines or through connections from other major cities.
Train: Two stations in town connect to major Chinese cities via high-speed trains: Shanghai is 90 minutes away; Beijing, 3.5 hours. .