Beijing Getaways: Qingdao
The Chinese Riviera: Qingdao serves up beer, beaches and bratwurst
The city of Qingdao in Shandong Province, formerly known as Tsingtao, ranks alongside Dalian as one of northeast China's most enticing coastal resorts. The name Qingdao means "Green Island", and this city of 2.5 million people on the Yellow Sea now attracts millions of visitors every year, each looking to enjoy the healthy environment and range of attractions. In August 2008 Qingdao will play host to the sailing events of the Beijing Summer Olympics.
With the start of a high speed rail connection between Beijing and Qingdao, the city is now only 6 hours by train from the Chinese capital, and there are numerous flights to cities all around China. There are also regular ferries to Japan and Korea, and like Dalian, Qingdao has a large Korean population which gives the city a cosmopolitan edge. Spring and late summer are the best times to visit Qingdao to get the best of the weather and avoid the overcrowded beaches.
Qingdao is a city steeped in China's eventful 20th century history. The city was taken as part of the German concession of Jiaozhou Bay, which was signed in 1889 as a 99-year lease (the same as Hong Kong). However, the Japanese took over in 1914 as part of the First World War. Although they were evicted in 1918, they returned in 1938 and stayed until the end of the Second World War.
Qingdao's colonial history has left a distinct mark on the city. German architecture can still be seen today in the city center and train station - although the latter has been extensively redeveloped - part of the original station has been preserved and incorporated in the new design. Many colonial buildings have been restored as heritage monuments, and the city's German heritage is even reinforced by vendors peddling Bratwurst on the street.
Perhaps Germany's most enduring (and enjoyable) legacy in Qingdao was in liquid form. The brewery founded by the Germans during colonial times still brews Tsingtao beer according to German purity laws, and Tsingtao has become China's most famous beer brand.
Tsingtao is available all over China, and has expanded into foreign markets too - the company is an official sponsor of the Beijing Olympics.
Given its beer-related history it is no surprise that Qingdao hosts an annual International Beer Festival in August, with many Chinese and European breweries taking part.
The event is a lively celebration of Qingdao's brewing heritage, with formal ceremonies as well as carnival rides, tasty snacks and games. Every evening the event really gets going as crowds flock to huge tents to quaff copious amounts of beer and watch (or participate in) various forms of live entertainment.
Qingdao has some of China's best beaches, although litter and overcrowding can be a big problem. There are bathing beaches all along the coast from Zhanqiao Pier to Shilaoren Beach in the eastern suburbs, although the best one is generally regarded as Laoshan Beach, at the entrance to Laoshan National Park, about half an hour by taxi from the center of Qingdao. It is advisable to pack your own sunscreen - while there are numerous vendors on the beach few sell UV protection, and if they do, it is usually of the skin whitening variety so loved by Chinese women.
In addition to the beaches, German architecture and beer, Qingdao's other attractions include Zhan Bridge (Zhan Qiao), which was originally built in 1891 as a naval pier.
Lotus-shaped lamps provide illumination and decoration, and at its southern end is a Chinese style octagonal pavilion which stands in stark contrast to the European buildings in the background. Admission is 5 RMB.
Families might also enjoy the Qingdao Aquarium and Polar Ocean World (tickets 100 / 120 RMB), with interesting displays of fish and aquatic animals, and entertaining live shows.
Close to Qingdao is the sacred Taoist peak of Mount Laoshan, facing the Yellow Sea and renowned for its picturesque mountain and coastal landscapes. There are three trails within the Mount Laoshan National Park leading visitors to a variety of cultural sites - admission is 70 RMB and a number of buses stop at the park entrance.
As well as its beer, Qingdao's seafood is also worth sampling. Upmarket establishments such as the Shangri-La and Qingdao Hotels, and the Yiqinglou Restaurant, serve up some mouthwatering (if pricey) seafood dishes. For cheaper seafood meals and snacks check out the restaurants on Yunxiao and Minjiang Roads, and Maidao Seafood Street. Popular dishes included fried spicy clams, seafood wonton and roasted sleeve fish.
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