Modern Qingdao is a very important port, China's fourth largest, but the old town, which once was a museum piece of red-roofed Bavarian architecture, is today being run down and neglected as a huge, modern industrial city cut by multi-lane highways sprouts 5km to the east; pretty much the only reason to head this way is for the year-round ferry connections to South Korea and Japan.
The main thing to do in Qingdao is to wander through the old German town, where some quiet back lanes retain a century-old ambience, or to head down to the white sand beaches, which get busy in the summer. Anchoring the old German town is the fine Catholic Church (Mon– Sat 8am–5pm, Sun noon–5pm; ¥5), whose distinctive double spires can be seen from all over the western parts of the city. The streets east of here are interesting, some cobbled, many lined with pink buildings with black iron balconies overlooking the street. East again, the Yingbin Hotel on Longshan Lu (daily 8.30am–4.30pm; ¥15) is an incredible, Disney-style fortress built in 1905. It's worth a tour, as the German Governor-General, the warlord Yuan Shikai and Chairman Mao have lodged here in their time. South of here, the Qingdao Museum on Daxue Lu (Tues– Sun 8.30am–5pm; ¥15) is housed in a beautiful, temple-like building. There's a collection of paintings here from the Yuan through to Qing dynasties, and four large Buddhas dating back to 500–527 AD, slim striking figures with bulbous, smiling heads. One last essential sight is the Tsingtao Museum and Bar, at 56 Dengzhou Lu (Tel:0532/8383 3437; daily 8.30am-4.30pm; ¥50). Though the museum itself is pretty tame, the ticket includes three glasses of beer, and the bar here will let you buy more.
Ensconced on the southern tip of the Shandong Peninsula along the Yellow Sea, this city of 2.5 million is the largest trading port in northern China. Yet, despite such an urban bulk it behaves in the confident manner of a tourist resort. Its rare mesh of mountains and sea combine with a fairytale beachfront setting of Bavarian architecture to conjure strange expectations of women in bikinis and men in lederhosen snacking on hot apple strudel with chopsticks. Regardless of how impossibly odd, the bottom line is that it cohesively works: Qingdao averages more than 15 million tourists a year attracted to its beautiful weather, interesting historical architecture and, needless to say, beer. Major four- and five-star hotel chains are the norm rather than the exception. The 16 day International Beer Festival enjoys worldwide attention. In 2008 Qingdao served as the host for the Summer Olympic sailing competitions.
Qingdao's first splash of fame occurred in 600 BCE when the Chinese scholar Lao-Tzu outlined a philosophy soon known as Taoism in the nearby Laoshan Mountains . The area instantly became a great source of religious mystique, attracting scholars and monks plus their benefactors who built countless temples and pavilions on the mountain's steep, forested slopes.
In addition to is spiritual importance, in 1897 Qingdao became a politically important city as well when Germany moved in and claimed it as a concession area. Buildings were razed and replaced with Bavarian architecture, giving Qingdao the look of a ski village in the Black Forest. Despite local loathing, these buildings would eventually ripen into the backbone of Qingdao's booming tourist market and a source of metropolitan pride.
In 1919 at the close of World War I, Japan moved into Qingdao, only to be evicted in 1922. In 1938, they returned, but finally received the boot once and for all in 1945 following defeat in World War II.
Qingdao would not springboard into its current "giant" status until 1984 when it was named by the Chinese government as one of 14 coastal cities to be declared open to foreign investors. It has since vaulted into the same international rank normally only enjoyed by Beijing and Shanghai.
The city is currently divided into seven urban districts:
Shinan Better known as downtown, this district sparkles as Qingdao's glamourous city center. All of the major hotels including the Qingdao Dongfang Hotel , the Hai Tian Hotel , the Crowne Plaza , and the five star Shangri-La Hotel freckle this area. Just about every major urban attraction glows within its boundaries as well. The Zhanqiao Pier , Little Qingdao Isle , and the famous Badaguan Scenic Area are just a few of its tourist magnets. Plus all of Qingdao's major beaches, including Beach Number One , can be found here as well. This is the district you need to know if arriving as a tourist.
Shibei Directly north of downtown along Jiaozhou Bay, this district is better known for industry. It contains most of Qingdao's major shipping piers.
Sifang Located north of Shibei, it too is low on tourist options. Industry reigns.
Licang Located farther up the peninsula, north of Sifang, it is home to the area's Peach Blossom Tourism Spot. It, obviously, caters to huge crowds during the spring blossom season. The Zhengzhuang Industrial Park can also be found here.
Chengyang Qingdao's most northern district is best known for its electronic, machinery, and chemical engineering industries.
Huangdao An island, located to the southwest of Qingdao, is also known for its industrial might. The Huangdao Wharf, one of the area's largest, is legendary for accommodating 200,000-ton oil tankers.
Laoshan Situated to the southeast of downtown, this area harbors the magical Laoshan Mountains . Hiking trails are many, leading to the world famous Mount Taishan and towering Jufeng Peak . Lodging can be found at the coastal Golden Beach Hotel .
Unlike many other Chinese cities whose idea of culinary diversity entails either Cantonese or Cantonese, Qingdao explodes with regional and international deliciousness. By virtue of its seafront location, seafood rightfully dominates the menus, ranging in cooking styles from spicy Sichuan to sweet and heavy Shanghai. Shandong cuisine, known as Lu cai is known for light flavors, soups and seafood. There are also plenty of foreign fare options including Italian, German, Japanese and Korean. Prices are flexible enough to accommodate all budgets.
No other restaurant in town bolsters Qingdao's lofty reputation as the "cradle of Shandong cuisine" more than the cleverly named Qingdao Seafood Restaurant . In true Shandong fashion, the dishes come laden with garlic and soy sauce. Crab, shrimp, conch, scallops and sea cucumbers are just a few of the marine offerings that diners can expect to find listed on its menu. The views from its seaside location are especially sought out by couples in search of a romantic setting. The Dongfang Hotel's Yuexi Dining Hall also scores high for authentic Shandong cuisine. The seafood is just-plucked-out-of-the-Yellow-Sea fresh. In addition, as a true sign of the restaurant's quality, it boasts a massive local clientele. The Crowne Plaza Hotel's Etsong Palace also enjoys a high standing for its Shandong dishes. All of its chefs are Hong Kong trained and work culinary magic on the menu's long list of seafood offerings, which include tilapia, rock cod, shrimp and clams. Emphasis is on fine dining so expect higher than normal prices.
If you are in the mood for something with a spicier flair try to snare a table at the Blue Wave Gulf Restaurant . All of the seafood is flopping fresh, which is not surprising considering that if it were any closer to the Taiping Gulf its façade would be lined with barnacles. The seaside views are outstanding, making it extremely popular with tourists returning from a day at the nearby Zhanshan Temple . The Qilu Chinese Restaurant also is worthy of a visit. Its location inside the Qingdao Ocean Hotel does not afford seaside views, but is compensated with superb cuisine.
Authentic Cantonese dishes can be experienced at the Peacock Restaurant . By virtue of its location inside the regal five star Grand Regency diners can expect an elegant setting. The menu is ever changing but usually contains such noted Cantonese dishes as shark's fin and Bird's Nest. The Shangri-La Hotel's Shang Palace also delights diners with five star service in a five star setting. Or try the Gloria Inn or Jiangnan Gourmet Court. Its regal interior of deep red tablecloths lends the room a stately setting that is not reflected in the price. Eel, crab and Mandarin fish are some of its more popular menu items.
If the tongue languishes with culinary ambivalence, the White Spray Seafood Restaurant offers everything from Sichuan seafood to Beijing duck. Its seaside views and close proximity to the Badaguan Scenic Area makes it very popular with day travelers. Or for truly exceptional views ride an elevator to the Rolling Restaurant TV Tower . It scrapes the sky at 230 meters inside Qingdao's Sightseeing Tower . The varying menu offers everything from shrimp and scallops to mutton and beef.
Murano's , inside the Crowne Plaza Hotel towers as Qingdao's first authentic Italian restaurant. Pizza and pasta rule the menu. The Dongfang Hotel's Forum Restaurant goes one "western" step further by not only serving Italian fare but also Texas-bred prime cuts of beef. For pizza and barbecue ribs in a lively setting wander out to the Surf Plaza's New Orleans's Music Restaurant . Besides dining, it also offers live music and dancing.
Korean nationals make up a large ex-pat community in Qingdao, thus, the Korean dining options are many and great. The appropriately named Korean Restaurant offers an impressive menu full of impressive Korean dishes ranging from hot pots and cold noodles to kimchi and fish cakes. Likewise, the Shimbashi Restaurant wows the taste buds with impossibly delectable Japanese dishes highlighted by blowfish, the kitchen's specialty.
Despite Qingdao's long list of sites and attractions, crafting a tour itinerary is simple as long as you divide it into three categories: waterfront, downtown and mountains. Waterfront and downtown are clustered with museums, landmark buildings and water-lapping piers and beaches—perfect for those who prefer a passive, easy-on-the-legs plan. The mountains offer hiking trails that afford the kind of views normally only enjoyed by bearded National Geographic photographers. Many of the hikes are rewarded with ancient temples and pagodas.
Zhongshan Road serves as a good starting point for it is centrally located, leads to the waterfront, and because its maw of people, stores and restaurants makes the city's quieter colonial areas appear that much more charming and quaint. Wander directly south until land yields to water and you see the Zhanqiao Pier . Hailed by locals as Qindao's city symbol, it juts out into the bay affording visitors great views of the coast. The octagonal Huilan Pavilion sits on the pier's tip. After dodging the gauntlet of vendors that prey on the pier, follow the bay's coastline east to the Navy Museum . A rusting destroyer and a decommissioned submarine makes it easy to spot. Visitors can wander through the halls of both vessels, but for "security" reasons cameras are not allowed. Continue east and wander on to the unimaginably scenic Little Qingdao Isle . A narrow stretch of earth connects it with the mainland. Despite its small size, it enjoys well-earned poetic status. Narrow paths shaded with peach and cherry trees and tiny cafes lend it a magical appearance, especially during spring when the trees are in colorful bloom. It is worthy of at least seven snapshots.
Temporarily abandon the coast and wander directly north inland from Zhanqiao Pier for a few blocks on Jiangsu Street to the Protestant Church . Erected in 1908 by German builders, this stone house of prayer serves as a regal reminder of Qingdao's colonial years. Return to the coast and continue hugging the shore east until you wander into Lu Xun Park . Named after writer Lu Xun, the father of modern Chinese literature, who lived and taught in Qingdao, its scenic paths adorned with Chinese art mesh nicely with the abutting coast. Within the park looms the obliquely named Marine Products Museum . Do not be fooled by the charming Chinglish, it houses Qingdao's aquarium.
From here cap the day off in grand visual style by venturing north into the famous Badaguan Scenic Area . Qingdao's colonial past comes alive as more than 200 remarkably preserved European-style villas grace the streets, creating a Bavarian illusion. Thick rows of gingko, peach, pine and crab apple trees add to its beauty, especially during spring's blooming period. Finish your walk at Monnemer Eck's German Bar and Restaurant for Qingdao's best German dinner selections.
The Laoshan Mountains , located about 20 miles southeast of downtown, contain miles of hiking trails that wind past many scenic and historic spots including Mount Taishan, the birthplace of Taoism. Deemed as one of China's Five Holiest Mountains, its summit can be reached by either hiking or via a tram. If your legs are willing, bag Jufeng Peak as well. Towering at 1133 meters (3717 feet), it enjoys legendary status for its impossibly brilliant sunsets. While visiting the peaks be sure to visit Taiqing Palace located near the Yellow Sea along the Laoshan Mountains' southern end. Built more than 1,000 years ago, it features a remarkable 140 rooms divided among three major halls. A thick surrounding forest full of exotic rare plants makes it very camera friendly.