A weekend in the coastal city of Qingdao has much to offer: the relaxed coastline, which lights up at night; the Olympic sailing center; fresh seafood, Tsingtao beer and German sausages; European-style streets and a Catholic church that serves as the backdrop of many Chinese wedding photo shoots.
Here’s how you can get the most out of the city in 43 hours.
Day 1, Evening: Beer Street
There’s really no better way to celebrate the end of the 4.5-hour train ride from Beijing than to visit Qingdao’s famous Beer Street. Travel guides describe it as a place with unique Sino-European architecture.
It’s actually a street with dozens of brightly lit open-terraced restaurants that serve seafood straight from salt-water fish tanks and filtered and unfiltered Tsingtao beer.
Visitors enter the street under a brightly lit arch and walk along a cacophony of lights that converge at the Beer Museum – the site of the original Tsingtao beer factory.
Funny enough, restaurant employees try to attract patrons by advertising Tsingtao beer, which might as well flow in a river alongside the road. But once you decide on a place and pick your own fish, crabs and scallops from the fish tanks, you’re sure to have a delightful and savory dinner. Musicians are also available to serenade diners.
Day 2, Morning: Olympic Sailing Center
Start your day out right with coffee on the beach. Yilangyuan Coffee Shop is a quaint place, slightly below ground level, that offers hot and cold coffee and beautiful views of the ocean. A 10-minute walk east is Qingdao’s No. 3 Bathing Beach. This beach has soft, golden sand and offers great views of the city’s skyline.
Dip your feet in the waves or go for a swim if the water is warm enough, as it was in early October. Alternatively, you can book a ride on a speedboat from one of the locals.
Take in the coastline’s relaxed vibe. Along the shore, you might see people poking sticks with fuzzy nets through the cracks between cobblestones. They’re fishing for tiny crabs, which they gather into buckets to sell to passers-by or to cook at home. Locals can also be found selling ornaments and jewelry made of shells and pebbles.
Walk back west through Qingdao Music Square, which features a statue of Austrian composer Ludwig van Beethoven and hosts frequent live concerts, and May Fourth Square, with its iconic “May Wind” (Wuyue Feng) sculpture.
The Olympic Sailing Center celebrates the city’s hosting of the sailing competition in the 2008 Olympic Games. It’s a well-kept port that features the Olympic rings, a statue of the keeper of the Olympic torch and flags from the participant countries. It’s also a great place to watch people and boats or go on one of the many sailing tours available.
Stop for lunch at Chuan’ge Yu Shuijiao restaurant for excellent seafood dumplings.
Day 2, Afternoon: Ride a Bike to Badaguan
The best way to experience as much as you can of Qingdao’s vast coastline is on a bike. As elsewhere in China, bikers in Qingdao ride fast and chaotically, and you should too. Let the breeze caress your face during the adventure.
Ride to Badaguan, a picturesque area by the coast with historic mansions that were built during Qingdao’s period as a German colony (1898-1914). The area features more than 200 villas built in the architectural styles of the countries that had consulates there: Russia, France, Great Britain, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Spain, Greece, the US and Japan, among others. The streets are named after ancient military forts (Badaguan means “the eight great passes”), and each is lined with a single species of trees, including peaches, pines and gingkoes.
For being a former German colony, Qingdao has surprisingly few German restaurants. Ride west toward Laoshan Mountain to Zur Bierstube, a restaurant that serves schnitzel and schweinemedallions, among other traditional German dishes. Along the way, as the sun sets, Qingdao’s skyline will light up in thousands of colors reflecting into the black sea.
Day 3, Morning: Catholic Church
One of the best things about Qingdao is its streets. Whereas Beijing was built along a classic grid, Qingdao has curvy roads that take you to surprising destinations.
The streets have a European feel, with their lines of trees and fenced courtyards around European-style buildings. At some intersections, it’s hard to tell whether you’re in China or Central Europe. As a bonus for urban hikers, the city is built on hills, which means you’ll often be climbing or descending a slope.
Take a walk on the last morning to St. Michael’s Cathedral, an iconic Catholic church on the southwest side of the city. You’re likely to happen upon wedding photo shoots. Couples line up to take pictures in front of the church not because they just got married there, but because it’s an exotic backdrop.
Have lunch at the nearby Wan Xin restaurant and coffee at Feiyue Shiguang Café before heading to the railway station to catch the train back to Beijing.