Tranquil, idyllic and slightly inebriated. Home of the internationally famous beer, you may expect to find streets packed with drunkards, but will find cheery granddads and taxi drivers, instead.
Anyone who has lived in China will be quick to think of beer when the city of Qingdao (Tsingtao) is mentioned. But is the city just about the beer? Absolutely not.
Set in the midst of China’s eastern Shandong Province, Qingdao has had a fascinating history with human settlement in the area stretching back 6,000 years. Despite its vast Chinese history, there were two other strong influences, thanks to German and Japanese occupation. As a taxi driver put it to me on my final day: “The Germans contributed lots and lots to the city, the Japanese gave us nothing.”
I wondered if this was just the type of general comment you hear from Chinese when discussing all things Japan. Still, the superb, European-styled architecture of the old town reminded me that perhaps our chatty cabbie was on to something.
Accordingly, the city is famous for its seafood, and we more than once sat down to large
plates of steamed mussels, shrimp, whelks, cockles and crabs, which were all washed down
with you know what.
If dipping into the European part of Qingdao’s history is your bag, then staying in the Old Town in Shinan District is an absolute must. We stayed at the Kaiyue Hostel in the area: roomy, pleasant and housed in a 100-year-old church.
Dorms were priced as little as 50 RMB per night, but if you value privacy, double rooms are also available for 150-250 RMB. The place has a relaxed vibe, with a bar and a pool table. If you do stay here, I highly recommend you to eat at JINNS café, which is downstairs, inside the same building. When you fancy a convenient bite, they’ve got a
great mix of Chinese and Western dishes, including a decent steak.
The Old Town is ideal for walking tourists—the Railway Station, a selection of old churches (both Catholic and Protestant), the former German Governor’s Office, which until recently housed the Qingdao government, and Zhanqiao Pier (host of the pagoda stamped onto every Tsingdao bottle) are all nearby.
My British travel companion raved how the old town “felt like Europe” and was an escape from China. I was content to soak in the contradictions of old and new, particularly loving the local feel of the place, which can often be lacking in large cities.
As a coastal city, wind was constantly blowing salty air off the shore, as seagulls struggled to battle the gusts. Accordingly, the city is famous for its seafood, and we more than once sat down to large plates of steamed mussels, shrimp, whelks, cockles and crabs, which were all washed down with you know what. Ask for some wasabi on the side, if you fancy a little extra kick.
We were fortunate to witness an extreme rarity in Qingdao: snow. On our second day, we woke up to find the entire city lightly dusted in sparkling powder. Kids were running around in colorful clothes and against the white background, the whole place looked like a painting.
You don’t necessarily have to do much in Qingdao to have a good time. We opted to take a stroll through Laoshe Park. There, we found old granddads gathering to play poker, chess, and occasionally toying with gigantic spinning tops. Not the kind you played with as a kid, but a larger type that needs to be lashed with giant whips to start the spinning. The cracks of their whips echoed through the park as we walked silently.
On Anhui Road, there was a huge queue of people lined up to buy sizable bags of bread from a tiny, hole-in-the-wall bakery: buns, cakes and rolls were sold still warm. Fresh and delicious, half a dozen set us back only 12 kuai.
Other than the Old Town, visiting the Tsingtao Beer Museum is a must. People always say the Tsingtao beer always tastes better in Tsingtao, and it’s true. On the way there, yet another friendly taxi driver took the time to tell me how they only use local Laoshan spring water to make the beer here. Perhaps this explains the enhanced flavor.
It’s also essential that you try some of the raw beer at the museum. It’s unlike anything you’re likely to find on supermarket shelves. The last stop of the beer museum thrusts you into a German-style beer hall, where plates stacked with hot sausages and, yes, more fresh beer are on tap.Animal lovers may appreciate the half-decent aquarium in the city and Qingdao Underwater World, which house seals, otters, jellyfish, turtles and other ocean creatures. Both are worth a visit, especially if you have kids in tow.
Qingdao offers a relaxed, local vibe, breezy sea air, seafood and of course, infinite liters of its famous beer. The city has a saying: nobody drinks beer like Qingdao people. Take that as a challenge.