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Summer is here, and that means people all over China are heading out on family vacations. One of the most popular places in the country for a summer trip is Qingdao (青岛 – qīng dǎo). Located on the east coast in Shandong province, this city is famous for its beaches, seafood, and of course, Tsingtao beer. The most famous brand in China still uses the old Wade-Giles format for the romanization of Chinese characters, so don’t get confused – Tsingtao and Qingdao are one in the same. The name means “greenish-blue island,” which is interesting since it’s definitely a peninsula and not an island. Let’s see what you can do with a short summer visit to this famous Chinese city:
The most iconic symbol of the city is definitely the Zhan Qiao Pier (栈桥 – zhàn qiáo). If you’ve ever had a Tsingtao beer, you’ve seen it – the pier is the brand’s logo. In the warmer summer months, there are always huge crowds of people gathered here. People play in the sand, rent silly paddle boats, or take a cruise on a motorboat. There are also countless vendors selling all sorts of stuff, performance artists, and a ridiculous amount of beggars.
Looking to escape the crowds, we started walking along the coast away from the pier. Along the way, we enjoyed some lovely views and hilarious Chinglish signs. Despite the hazy skies, Qingdao is one of the cleanest, most livable cities in China.
The main draw for people visiting Qingdao is spending some quality time on the beach (海滩 – hǎi tān). Unfortunately, everyone else has the same idea. Walking up to a beach in Qingdao in the summertime, you’ll see exactly where the Chinese idiom “people mountain, people sea” (人山人海 – rén shān rén hǎi) comes from.
It’s tough to find a sliver of sand not already occupied by a group, so don’t come to a Qingdao beach expecting to kick back and relax. People like setting up tents here for the whole day, and other popular beach activities include burying your friends in the sand or floating in rented inner tubes.
There’s a Chinese version of muscle beach here, where dudes come to pump iron. Some prefer a more relaxing afternoon – you’ll see people sleeping in the sand everywhere you look.
A crowd of younger guys was gathered in a circle, so we moved in to see what was going on. There were guys taking turns doing backflips, some just standing and others off of a nearby balcony. Growing tired of the massive crowds, we decided to head out to see some of the city’s cultural landmarks.
Qingdao is home to a few beautiful churches that are worth a visit. The St. Michael’s Cathedral (圣弥爱尔大教堂 – shèng mí ài ěr dà jiào táng) was built by German missionaries in 1934, defaced and abandoned during the Cultural Revolution, and then repaired in the early 1980s.
The church is active, with thousands of people attending services there regularly. You’ll also quickly notice that it’s a very popular spot for wedding photos (婚纱照 – hūn shā zhào). On our visit, we saw at least six different couples snapping pictures.
There’s also a lovely Protestant church (基督教福音堂 – jī dū jiào fú yīn táng) that you can visit. This was also built by the Germans back in 1910, and it includes a bell tower that you can go up to by purchasing a ticket for a few yuan.
Another site worth checking out is the former German Governor’s Residence (提督府 – tí dū fǔ), also known simply as the Qingdao Guest House. Chairman Mao himself even lived and worked here for a brief period. These days, it’s open to guests as a museum and is nice to explore for an hour or two.
Of course, no visit to Qingdao would be complete without indulging in the city’s namesake. You can take a tour of the Tsingtao brewery, but it’s really not that great. A much better option is making sure to visit the city during the annual Qingdao International Beer Festival (青岛国际啤酒节 – qīng dǎo guó jì pí jiǔ jié). It usually takes place during the last two weeks of August, and it has grown over the years to become the largest in all of Asia.
Thankfully there’s more than just Tsingtao on tap here, as breweries from all over the world set up shop here to get in on the action. Famous brands such as Heineken and Miller have their own large tents in place, hoping to attract Chinese customers to try something different.
The beer festival is basically a massive carnival, as there are games and rides set up all over the place. Each big tent also has a stage, where different pop singers perform throughout the night. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Chinese festival without tons of food – from kebabs, to seafood, to the classic Chinese snack of chicken feet (鸡爪 – jī zhuǎ), you can find it here.
When we visited the beer festival, we didn’t exactly plan very well. Rather than go back to our hostel, we headed straight from the beach to the festival grounds, covered in salt water and sand, and with little cash on us. Much to our chagrin, there is no re-entry to the festival. Faced with the option of taking a taxi back to our place, showering, and then buying tickets again, we decided to get clever. There aren’t so many foreigners at the beer fest, so many groups of locals are eager to befriend you. Dancing through the tent, it was only a matter of time before a group of guys invited us to sit down with them. About 100 calls of “Gan bei!” (干杯 – gān bēi – lit. “dry glass”) later, we finally called it a night.
There are plenty of options for accommodation in Qingdao, from 5-star hotels all the way down to youth hostels. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Kaiyue Hostel, which has a full bar and restaurant on-site.
To find a wide selection of restaurants, head to Yunxiao Road. Known as Qingdao’s restaurant street, there are tons of options here. The city is famous for its seafood, with restaurants setting up tanks outside for you to pick and choose from. I wasn’t the biggest fan of seafood before moving to China, but after visiting places like Qingdao I absolutely love it.
With Tsingtao beer so prevalent in the city, even small hole-in-the-wall places have it on draft. Rather than fill up a glass for you, though, they pour the beer into a bag and poke a straw through it. Don’t leave Qingdao without having at least one!