What have you heard about Shijiazhuang (石家庄)? Nothing? Well, that’s because it’s popularly believed that there’s nothing to see there! In fact, although there are few attractions in the city centre itself, Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei Province, is surrounded by interesting places that are easy to visit!
Sound interesting? Read our 7 reasons why you should give Shijiazhuang a chance!
1. It’s near Beijing!
When you just want to get out of the city at the last minute, you don’t have time to waste looking up complicated train schedules and trying to find last-minute flight deals. You just want something simple, straightforward and cheap! Shijiazhuang is perfect for that! High-speed train tickets start from just 128RMB and the journey takes only 90 minutes. Or if you’re really penny pinching, hard seats on normal trains (between 3 and 3.5 hours) are just 43.5RMB!
And while perhaps the hard seat option isn’t for everyone, it certainly is an experience you should try at least once, if only for that old-school feeling and to see how everyone used to travel before we were spoiled with high speed services.
2. Cheap accommodation!
We’ve all had vacations (or regrettable work trips) where we have sacrificed a comfortable place to stay just to be able to go somewhere new or exotic, or even just to say we went somewhere.
Fortunately, due to its 2nd-tier city status and not-exactly-booming tourism business, Shijiazhuang has plenty of low cost, high comfort locations that you can stay at. For example, stay at the Holiday Inn Express on weekdays in November for just 314RMB a night with breakfast included!
And of course, that’s just a great mid-range option. There are plenty more choices at both ends of the budget. Check out Shijiazhuang on Booking.com for great options, many of which don’t need to be paid for till you arrive!
3. The walled town of Zhengding (正定)
Zhengding is just 25 minutes outside Shijiazhuang’s city centre. It’s easy to get to if you hop on bus 177 at Hebei Medical University stop just north of the stadium (河北医大) to Zhengding South Gate (正定南门) or take a cab, and it makes a wonderful day out. There are several temples and pagodas to explore, all within walking distance of each other.
A lot of the town within the walls is newly built, but the pagodas and many of the temple buildings are original. Longxing Temple (隆兴寺; also called Big Buddha Temple 大佛寺) is the biggest, featuring China’s largest copper Guanyin and well-preserved Ming Dynasty frescos. The town lights up at night and apart from Longxing (which closes at 5pm), all the temples open until 11pm, making it perfect for night photography!
4. The tranquil delight of Balin Temple
While not as busy as Beijing or Shanghai, Shijiazhuang does have its fair share of hustle and bustle. Fortunately, just outside the city is the perfect place to avoid the crowds.
Practicing Buddhists and mindfulness practitioners alike will find peaceful surroundings for worship and reflection at Bailin Temple (柏林禅寺), a working temple and centre for Buddhism in Hebei.
Apart from the beautiful pagoda, most of the buildings were rebuilt in the early 1990s and it’s pleasant and quiet. Bailin Temple is open 8am-4pm and is free to enter.
To get there, take a bus to Zhao County (赵县) from Nanjiao bus station (南焦客运站) in Shijiazhuang; the bus stops right outside the temple.
5. The Hebei Provincial Museum (河北博物馆)
Shijiazhuang’s biggest museum has wonderful collections, making it ideal for a visit on a cold or wet day. Many (but not all) exhibits have English captions. And it’s free, though your passport is required for entry.
If you speak Chinese, the tourist information office on the east side of the square in front of the museum can provide useful information about places to see in the area and how to get there!
6. Shijiazhuang is surrounded by nature!
While Shijiazhuang itself can be smoggy and grey, there are several nearby scenic areas to escape to! These include Guayunshan (挂云山), Fenglongshan (封龙山), Xiantaishan (仙台山), Qingliangshan (清凉山), Ziyunshan (紫云山) and Cangyanshan (苍岩山).
Xiantaishan is well-known for its autumn colours, making it ideal to visit in October or November. The scenic area, less than an hour away from the city, is best visited by car, with a shuttle bus from the car park to the scenic area itself. Alternatively, take a bus to Jingxing (井陉) from Xiwang bus station (西王客运站) in the city, and then change to the Xiantaishan shuttle bus.
The most famous scenic area is probably Cangyanshan, which, with its spectacular scenery, has been used as a filming location for numerous films and TV shows. Get there in under 2 hours from Xiwang bus station (西王客运站) in Shijiazhuang.
7. Everyone is so friendly!
When you live in a major city, it can quickly become the norm to expect people to be cold, cynical and uninterested in those around them. It’s one of the most unfortunate trends in modern living.
In Shijiazhuang however, even though the city is just a couple of hours south of the capital, people are very different to their big-city neighbors. In fact, the people in Shijiazhuang are some of the friendliest you’ll meet in China! On buses, in restaurants or simply walking down the street, people will strike up conversations, not just because you are a foreigner, but because they genuinely want to talk to you!
It can come as a surprise to people who are used to the head-down, two-word-only ways of a larger metropolis, but trust us when we say you’ll quickly get used to the easy-going and open attitudes of Shijiazhuang citizens.
These are just a few of the highlights of Shijiazhuang. We hope we’ve inspired you to consider the city for your next holiday! Perhaps you might even decide to stay longer than planned…