Qingdao China is a not so tiny seaside city of over 9 million inhabitants on the east coast of China’s Shandong province. Although this is a large population for a city by many country’s standards, Qingdao is only an average city by Chinese standards. It can be seen therefore in around 3 days maximum, and unless the weather is very good, or you are a Tsingtao beer fan of monumental proportions, you are unlikely to need more than 5 days. Although Qingdao has many unique charms it doesn’t often feature on many international visitors itineraries. Below we list 10 reasons to visit Qingdao whilst you’re in China. If we convince you to add Qingdao to your China itinerary be sure to read to the end of the list for information on Qingdao hotels as well as getting there and away.
10 Reasons to Visit Qingdao China
1. Beer Street Qingdao China
I don’t think we mentioned it yet, but this list is actually by order of our own personal preferences! So our number one reason why we think you should visit Qingdao is it’s Beer Street! Probably not a shocker given that our blog started based on our mutual love of beer! Qingdao’s Beer Street (Dengzhou Lu – and no that doesn’t literally translate to beer street) has often led to Qingdao being touted as “Chinese Vegas”. But this street does not feature gambling (at least not that we found). It does as you may have guessed feature beer. Copious amounts of beer! As you walk down this neon light lit, cobblestoned street that faces the Tsingtao brewery, good-natured restaurant touts approach you with menus and their ultimate selling point: “we have tsingtao beer”. It’s a strange ultimate selling point as every restaurant on the street on the two blocks on either side of the brewery sell tsingtao beer, delivered by the keg-full fresh from the brewery daily. They also all sell seafood that you can choose alive from myriad tanks. Buskers are allowed entry to the restaurants to serenade tables in small groups of guitar players or by saxophone. We tried five of these establishments (NB all are alfresco and equipped for inclement weather) and the main difference seemed to be based solely on atmosphere at different times of the day/ night and the amount of english on the menu/ spoken by staff. The least english is spoken seemingly in the establishments furthest from the brewery, we had to choose our dinner from an entirely chinese menu using google translate camera feature (read more about this here) and despite many food fails we had a whale of a time conversing with a few local punters who did speak some english unlike the staff. Beer street is open daily from 11am to midnight, if you visit Qingdao it’s a nightly must! Bonus: you can get your keg poured beer from streetside “bottle-shops” served in plastic bags with a straw whilst you wander this street deciding where to eat.
2. Qingdao TV Tower
Possibly a strange pick for the pole position of second best reason to visit Qingdao, but we’ll back it up we swear! We loved our visit to Qingdao TV Tower for its total embodiment of B-gradeness. The TV tower in Qingdao stands 232 metres tall, not any sort of earth shattering record by any means, although it is atop a 116 metre hill that you can opt to walk up/down on either side of your visit. It costs 100 kuai (slang for bucks in China) which is nearly $20 aud, which is kind of expensive in Qingdao. However once we made our way through all four levels including two indoor viewing decks, an outdoor viewing deck, a cafe (sadly not rotating but with excellent hangover curing fresh watermelon juice) plus a bonus deck that actually doesn’t show the view (I won’t ruin that weird surprise for you), we came away feeling we had got our monies worth. There is very little information to be found on the TV Tower within its walls, ie the when or the why of its being built, but guessing at these facts whilst wandering through disparate displays of star wars figurines, life-size Hulk statues and strange mind-training puzzle games is all part of its charm. The entry cost also covered a free photo shoot near the exit in front of two different backdrops: one a newsroom and the other the tower itself. The prints seemed to cost an extra 20 kuai total for both in the small size but as a bonus came laminated… beautifully B-grade! The view is excellent though and helps to put into perspective how Qingdao can be a big little city boarded by sea and mountain all around.
3. Qingdao is the Home of Tsingtao Beer and it’s Brewery!
You probably already know of Tsingtao beer as the most widely exported beer of China, but if you’ve never visited China you may not know that Tsingtao is in fact pronounced like “Qingdao” (to anglicise that for you it sounds approximately like saying “ching-dow”). There is no great or romantic story behind this but simply a difference over time in romanised/anglicised translations of Chinese language into English characters. Qingdao the city is now written in the current form of this translation system: pinyin (for more on pinyin click here). So the beer is named for the city of Qingdao, the home indeed of Tsingtao, but did you also know that this beer came about from German settlement in China origins? The Qingdao Brewery tour is through the original 1903 German architectural style buildings, plus a number of more modern buildings, where the beer was, and still is, made today. This tour included of course a free sample of the raw beer. There were also a few ticket upgrade options to try a few of their other brews, a list that now includes an IPA as well as a stout! The price was 60 kuai at the basic end but we paid 80 kuai per person for a total of 5 samples each, under $20 aud – score! We loved the tour because it’s in an actual working brewery still, where so many others like the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin and the Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, are now just themepark-esque museums. On the Tsingtao tour you could see actual bottling and packaging taking place right under the glass walkway you were stood on. Although it did still have some thoroughly enjoyable theme-park elements such as the “drunk room” and gift-shops. Best of all the Tsingtao Brewery is located on Beer Street (see entry number 1) so when you do pop out at the other side approx an hour or so later, you are well situated to continue sampling Tsingtao in a buzzing alfresco setting.
4. The Wedding Photoshoot Destination Tourism Culture in Qingdao China
Man, that title was a mouthful! But it sums it up quite exactly: there is a culture of destination tourism in Qingdao that centres specifically on wedding photoshoots! Around many of the Qingdao scenic spots that will make later entries to our list, including the beaches, Badaguan Scenic Area and the nearby churches you can expect to spot a competition worthy amount of wedding photoshoots taking place! Thats right, get ready for the “spotto” game to end all “spotto” games! Heading away from the Badaguan Scenic Area towards the Laoshan Temple via the Taipingjiao 1st Road we spotted the chrysalises from which the beautiful butterfly brides emerge: a road entirely parked up with vans, stuffed full of costume changes and staff doing hair and makeup on the curbsides of this road! To be fair we visited Qingdao at a very busy time: the Mid-Autumn Festival national holiday week, so if this tops your list of attractions be sure to likewise choose a national holiday date during good weather (ie not winter). But we have heard from folks who have lived and visited in Qingdao that this phenomena is pretty much year-round and guaranteed at least near the two historic churches: St Michael’s Cathedral (catholic) and the Qingdao Christian Church (Protestant).
5. The beach(es) in Qingdao China
Qingdao is a seaside town and as such has a plentiful supply of beautiful beaches. Now as a Western Australian I can absolutely guarantee you that these are by no means the most beautiful beaches in the world, but I would rate them perfectly pleasant to spend a day at in the right weather. Sadly for us, visiting in the Mid-Autumn festival period, which is the start of October, it was a dash too cold to really make good use of these nice beaches, not that it seemed to deter everyone else. The beaches in Qingdao are, for the most part, yellow sand. There are a few beaches that are instead formed along rocky coastline, and these seem just as popular with visiting mainland Chinese tourists who you will spot engaging in a bit of amatuer fishing and crabbing and just generally taking a look at the tidal formed pools. The yellow sand beaches are well equipped for visitors, there are changing areas, toys like giant sea-bicycles for hire as well as shops selling toys/hats/drinks and food including fresh barbecued seafood. There is some debate amongst the posts I read and the people I consulted prior to our visit as to which of the Qingdao beaches is the nicest. But by our observation they were all much of a muchness: all appeared to be well-kempt and clean and spacious enough to accommodate the many tourists without feeling overcrowded. Perhaps this changes in the summertime when the Yellow Sea apparently warms up nicely and temperatures reach daily highs over 25C, this time incidentally, is when to visit for the Qingdao Annual Beer Festival: which runs from August 15-30 approx.
6. The Laoshan Famous Mountain in Qingdao China
I am not being glib when I say “the Laoshan Famous Mountain”. The Laoshan Mountain is marketed as such as it truly is famous in China. It is famed for being one of the birthplaces of Taoism. One of the biggest draw cards therefore is visiting the Taiqing Temple, the largest of the surviving taoist structures still located on the mountain ranges. The buildings in this structure date from the 16th-17th century however this place has been a site of worship since the 10th century. When you arrive at Laoshan Mountain (usually via a taxi or DiDi from Qingdao about an hour’s drive away – for more on DiDi see here) you may feel fairly confused by the impressively large visitors centre complex, as much of the information signposted is not in English. As we speak very little chinese and read absolutely none, we were indeed confused and took an educated guess on what to do next. We had wanted to visit the Taiqing Temple and thus out of two ticket desk options chose the right hand side as being the place signposted for visiting “Taiqing”. The lefthand side was for the Jufeng peak of the mountain ranges. The Jufeng ticket desk was less crowded and we imagine that it’s paths probably were too therefore. Jufeng also has a taoist temple and seems to be more dedicated to hiking the granite mountain formations. We regret that we didn’t return to do both sides! On the Taiqing side the temple structure was indeed impressive, especially the statue of Laozi to which you could only get up close by paying the extra 30 kuai entry fee to the temple grounds. The Taiqing ticket allowed general access to the paths only as well as return bus transfers to and from the park area. From the temple area we followed a path of many stairs up to the chair lift area. To take the chair lift to the peak is a further separate cost. We didn’t do this though as we visited during the national holiday and the line for this seemed to be about 2 hours. You can also hike the peak instead, 3 peaks in fact. The good news about the 80 kuai entry ticket to the Taiqing side is that it is valid for two days, so if you wish to return the following day to tackle more stairs by walking up to one or more of the peaks, you can. The Laoshan area also has another of Qingdao’s yellow sand beaches (Laoshan Beach), and the peaks of the mountains look out over the coast.
7. A Long Walk in Qingdao China
If you love long walks/ morning jogs/ seaside views then you’ll love Qingdao’s over 40km of boardwalk along the coast of the Yellow Sea. I’ll say that again – over 40km of seafront boardwalk! It’s really well done too: it’s either cement or wooden slat paved paths of double width the whole way along. Being that it hugs the coast there are plenty of public toilet and refreshment kiosk options dotted along this path too. It’s also an excellent way to self-guided route yourself to some of the sites you’ll no doubt be wanting to see. Ie. you could start at the Zhan Bridge area, walk around past the Naval Museum to the Green Island, up past the Aquarium and the Number 1 Bathing Beach to the Badaguan Scenic Area in around 7 kilometres, taking your time to see the sites and take breaks in the restaurants/ on the beach as you go. Extend your walk still further and take in the Olympic Sailing Museum and further along the Yinhai International Yacht Club comes recommended as an excellent walking spot too from a Qingdao Expat site.
8. The Badaguan Scenic Area
I’ve mentioned this area in passing already as being a prime spot for wedding shoot photography observation! But it’s also worth a visit in its own right, particularly for those who are a fan of architecture or history. This area of six converging streets was once the rich German colonial neighbourhood and the streets are lined with mansions and differing imported tree species. Today it is a national park and you can queue to also see some of the notable mansions from the inside such as the Spanish Villa, Huashi Building and Princess Villa. We didn’t join any of the long queues to the inside of the mansions for which you have to pay to enter. The park itself we did not seem to have to pay to enter and there were plenty of nice gardens to take a seat in and enjoy fairground style treats sold all around by vendors including popcorn and fairy floss! (Cotton candy).
9. Green Island and Zhan Bridge Qingdao China
As mentioned at entry 7, the Zhan Bridge is an excellent starting point for exploring a number of Qingdao’s beachfront sites. The bridge itself is an 1800s built pier that stretches nearly 500m out to sea where a two-storey pavilion stands. The pavilion is very photogenic and features on the Tsingtao beer label. We did not walk the pier itself though having spotted it from the Green Island that faces it around the bay past the Naval Museum. What we spied were extreme crowds as the day of our visit coincided with the Mid-Autumn Festival national holiday week. The Green Island however is the attraction we wished we`d skipped. It`s a very small island completely paved and planted as a garden the whole way around. It only cost 10 kuai to enter but was something of a let down with its best selling point being the view back to shore of the pier, naval museum and nearby high rise buildings. Skip it if you don’t have time, or if there’s a lot of crowds on the day of your visit. There are a number of beach front restaurants in this area though mimicking beer street in their service of draft beer and fresh seafood if you’re needing a lunch break.
10. Qingdao is Cheap
Actually this was our number one reason for visiting Qingdao, having done some extensive and expensive North American (including Vancouver) and European (including Gibraltar) travel for the first six months of this year! Some of the many cheap things we found in Qingdao included taxis: which cost only 50 kuai for an hour’s ride (that’s about $10 aud!) and half the price of a taxi in Shanghai! And if you really want to save money there are bus and metro options too. Our dinners on beer street never cost more than 300 kuai for the two of us and usually amounted to 2-3 Litres of beer and six dishes to share (please don’t judge us!) As mentioned throughout the nine recommendations above no attraction cost more than 100 kuai entry to visit and some are free to enjoy over and again such as some of the nice walks. Qingdao is not the prettiest of towns, it doesn’t boast the best beaches in the world, but it’s unique, lively, cheap and enjoyable! It’s worth a stop in if you’ve got the time and it won’t break the budget to do so!
Hotels in Qingdao China
There are some very cheap options on booking.com for Qingdao. We tried a privately rented serviced apartment on the lower end of mid-range for a night and found it to be clean and quite comfortable for only 120 kuai a night! Due to some confusion with the national holiday though it turned out that this property had been double booked so with great reluctance (not!) we checked into the Sheraton Qingdao Licang Hotel which was only 550 kuai per night for 5 star luxury. The outer suburbs location of this hotel meant a 40 minute taxi or DiDi ride daily into the city centre but given the low taxi costs this did not break the bank either.
Qingdao China: Getting There and Away
We travelled domestically from Shanghai to get to Qingdao in China. There are multiple domestic routes to Qingdao from other major cities in mainland China. The nearest major city would be Beijing. As an indicator flights and first class train tickets to Qingdao from Shanghai were only 750 kuai each way and this was during the national holiday, the most expensive time of year. The flight from Shanghai to Qingdao is 1.5 hours, a high speed train takes 7 hours. The Qingdao airport is an international airport and it is 30km from the city centre so expect at least an hours drive to get to your accommodations. You can also travel to Qingdao by ferry from both Japan and South Korea.
We hope you enjoyed our almost ultimate guide to Qingdao, China. If you have any questions or can add anything we missed, we’d love to hear from you in the comments section below. Until next time, Gānbēi! (Cheers!) Erin and Ryan.