In a nutshell
The coastal city of Ningbo abounds in not only cultural history, but nature too. It’s the ideal destination for those who would like to explore the “real” China, away from all the normal tourist trappings. Smaller than the big tourist cities of Shanghai and Beijing, it brings you closer to China in the most profound ways.
Why go to Ningbo?
Choose Ningbo because it’s large enough to allow a foreign traveller to be comfortable. This means the tourist attractions are well developed, and you’ll often find English-speaking tourism operators.
With it’s modern, trendy vibe blending in with it’s ancient cultural roots it’s a unique city to explore. If you’re into nature, Ningbo is endowed with beautiful lakes, rivers and tall green mountains. Visit the Wu Long Ponds to see stunning ponds and rivers in the countryside, beneath massive mountain peaks. In similar surroundings, you’ll find the Nanxi Hot Springs- take a day off and come here to unwind in the unspoilt mountainside.
For the beach lovers, there are a large number of islands just off the coast. Here you can enjoy all the things associated with the beach- water sports, sun tanning, and snorkelling. Yushan island is one of the most popular ones.
Ningbo is also a shopping hub! From massive glossy shopping malls, right down to street vendors (try out your bargaining skills) Ningbo has it all. Go to Tianyi Square for a unique mixture of both. You’ll also come across some of Ningbo’s tastiest street food (try out a steamed bun).
When should I go to Ningbo?
There is a big difference in temperature across the seasons. Summer is hot and humid, so if you can’t stand the heat go in spring (March-May). This is also the time when the countryside is at it’s most beautiful. Autumn is also a good time.
Where should I stay in Ningbo?
Ningbo’s downtown area is called Haishu. This is where the majority of the action is, so if you’re in the city for shopping or to see the cultural attractions then this is your place.
There is a wide range of accommodations available, but the most common type is three-four star hotels that are usually affordable with good services. There are backpackers and youth hostels spread throughout the city, usually offering free WIFI and shared rooms. Moving up the scale, we liked the choices in the mid-range of hotels. They’re not only affordable, but also offer fantastic services like airport pickup, on site currency exchange and world class spas. You’ll often have a choice of either a Chinese or western breakfast.
In the high end range, the hotels rival the best in the world. The Park Hyatt is on Dongqian Lake, so it’s a nice peaceful setting. Their facilities are world class too, and their dining options are stunning.
What and where do I eat in Ningbo?
Ningbo has plenty great places to eat, and some of the best places are small corner restaurants away from the glitzy, expensive shopping malls. Tourists from across China travel here to sample the fresh, tasty seafood the city has become renowned for.
There are a host of eateries around the harbour area- this is the best place to pick up some seafood. The options range from fish (try the famous yellow croaker), lobster, oysters, and squid (often sold on a stick by street vendors). If you’re eating at one of the smaller corner restaurants, prices are generally very affordable. You’ll pay around 10 RMB for a bowl of noodles.
They also have great street food options. We love the outdoor barbeque stands, but avoid these if you’re vegetarian because there is A LOT of meat. Street vendors sell things like squid on a stick, steamed buns, and other barbequed treats. They’re also very cheap- don’t try haggle them though.
There are also many luxury restaurants to choose from with renowned chefs producing top dishes. Be aware that you’ll have to pay, though.
How do I get around Ningbo?
Getting around in Ningbo is a breeze. For the quickest option you need to get on the subway. Right now there are two lines in service. Line 1 links Gaoqiao West and Xiapu. Line 2 begins at Lishe Airport, runs past Ningbo Railway Station and the Drum Tower. The subway is fast and convenient, and tickets are very cheap- you’ll only need a few coins.
Taxis can be found on every street corner (there are more than 4000 in the city). The prices begin at 11 RMB, and an extra 2.4 RMB is charged per kilometre. If you’re travelling far and at night, things get more expensive. Remember that traffic can be quite congested, so make allowance for time if you travel on the road.
There are multiple bus lines that are not only cheap, but very convenient because they run past all major attractions in the city.
The city also has bicycles to rent from most parking areas around the city. They’re cheap and environmentally friendly.
How do I get in and out of Ningbo?
Lishe international airport takes flights from Hong Kong, Seoul, and loads of Chinese cities. There are convenient shuttle busses linking the airport to the downtown area- the first one starts at 7:20 am, and the last one is at 6:20 pm. Check in usually starts an hour and a half before your flight departs.
From Beijing a flight will take 2 hours 25 minutes, and will cost 178 RMB. From Hong Kong is even shorter at 2 hours and 15 minutes, with tickets from 639 RMB.
Often a better option than flying, trains are fast and convenient (avoid check-ins and baggage collection). Be aware that although your travel time may be a little longer on a train, it’s worth it. Train stations are always centrally located (airports are on the outskirts) so you’ll also save on travel time in this way.
Ningbo Railway Station is located in the city’s downtown area, and hundreds of trains leave to and from Ningbo every day. A train from Shanghai to Ningbo will cost 144 RMB, and take less than two hours. From Beijing to Ningbo takes just under 7 hours and costs 595 RMB.
China has a well-developed long distance bus network, and they’re convenient and safe as well as cheaper than trains or planes. Ningbo has five different long-haul bus stations.
Ningbo Passenger Transportation Centre has busses that begin to leave from 6 am every day. The links will take you all across China, within Zhejiang province and to every province in China.
South Station is convenient because it’s near the railway station to make a connection. It will also take you to cities in and out of the province.
Busses are cheap. You’ll pay from 20 RMB- 300 RMB for a very long trip.
The Ningbo port accepts big cruise ships daily.
Safety in Ningbo
Crime is virtually non-existent, but keep your eyes open anyway. Taxi drivers can drive recklessly so we recommend Didi, which is China’s Uber. Typhoons do occur rarely, so if it’s an issue avoid typhoon season.