As summer's heat begins to turn to pleasant autumn weather, what better way to enjoy the cooler temperatures and clearer skies than to spend some time outdoors? For those looking for a weekend excursion, a trip to Nanjing is a great getaway.
The new express G train shortens the trip between Shanghai and Nanjing to as little as 73 minutes.
The city may be best known for its historical past as one of China's ancient capitals, but Nanjing offers many outdoor activities to the modern traveler, including leisurely paddles around its lake, snacking and shopping in a labyrinth of lanes and lounging in luxurious hot springs.
Most visitors start their outdoor excursions at Xuanwu Lake, a favorite with both locals and tourists because of its convenient location and picturesque scenery. It is just north of Nanjing's downtown area.
The lakeside tree-lined sidewalks are great for a bike ride or a casual stroll. Paddleboats are available to rent for those who want an active row around the lake, while the nearby amusement park and zoo offer alternative entertainment.
Another attraction is the Nanjing city wall, the longest surviving one in the world. A major section borders the lake on the south and other remains of the wall thread through Nanjing.
Along one part of the city wall is the Jiming Temple, a tranquil refuge. This Buddhist temple dates back to the Jin Dynasty (AD 265-420) and has seen its share of destruction, rebuilding and name changes.
The temple was last rebuilt in the 1980s, but its calm, serene atmosphere and its location by the scenic lake, with Nanjing's soaring downtown as a backdrop, makes it a special place.
The Confucius Temple is another of Nanjing's main attractions. There is seldom a day when the temple and surrounding lanes of shops and restaurants are not crowded with visitors.
Even after the temple closes at night, visitors linger for the other highlight of the area - the famous snack street. This diner's paradise offers a cornucopia of Chinese cuisines including many local delicacies such as pineapple cakes, the Chinese hamburger called roujiamou, meat skewers and duck blood soup, a Nanjing specialty.
After gorging on snacks, walking around the area's extensive shops is an ideal way to ease a full stomach and lose some of those extra yuan weighing down your pockets. From T-shirts to tea to trinkets, these shops offer an array of interesting souvenirs to take home and it's a good opportunity to hone bargaining skills.
The tense traveler may opt for a visit to the Tangshan Hot Spring Resort far outside the city wall. This retreat is a 40-minute drive from downtown Nanjing and is an affordable alternative to high-priced spa treatments.
It has warm pools filled with varied spa treatments, green landscapes and hillside views. Guests are treated like the ancient imperials that once enjoyed these same hot springs.
Some of the pools reportedly have medical benefits.
The tea-infused pools moisturize and hydrate your skin as you soak in what seems like a mug of steeping tea.
Fragrant flower-infused pools calm the nerves while a soak in the mud bath rejuvenates body and skin.
But for the truly exotic, try an unusual exfoliation in the fish pool, where tiny fish nibble off dead skin on feet, legs, stomach and even underarms. An hour in the fish pool and your skin will feel totally renewed.
The spa stays open until 1 am daily and guests can indulge in complimentary fruit, cookies and drinks.
For both veteran expatriates and new arrivals to China, Nanjing is one of the best second-tier cities to visit.
If you go
Trains: G trains depart for Nanjing from the Shanghai Railway Station and Shanghai Hongqiao Station almost every hour starting at 6 am with the last one leaving at 9 pm. Travel times vary for each train. Economy tickets cost 146 yuan. From Beijing, the D train, takes about eight hours, with three trains leaving in the morning at 7:45 am, 9:50 am, and 11 am and two at night both leaving at 9:45 pm.
Flights: Daily flights from Beijing to Nanjing leave almost every hour from 8 am until 11 pm. From Hong Kong, there are three flights daily departing at 10:40 am, 11:20 am and 6:35 pm.