Perhaps due to its lack of obvious tourist attractions that other cities have in abundance, Dalian is not a place that features heavily on most people’s visits to China. If you’d like to experience an authentically Chinese seaside town, not too far from Beijing, Dalian is the place to come to.
In the often sunny and bright winter you can take a long frosty walk on the beach in the morning, and in the afternoon go snowboarding without having to leave Dalian. In the summer (or anytime of year) you can walk the long boardwalk with sweeping views of the mountains and out to the ocean beyond the outer lying islands, then take a dip at one of the many beaches. And if you’ve found this website because you are researching and considering a move here, the pace of life is much slower than some of the larger cities, which also has its advantages.
Consider that Dalian was only founded in the late 1800s, so even though it is a relatively new city, there are many fine examples of historic architecture based on grand European styles popular at the time. It is important to note that Dalian was in relatively recent times, under both Japanese and Russian rule, and many of these buildings were built during these periods. So in many ways, Dalian feels very different to other Chinese cities.
Zhongshan Square 中山广场 is one of the more obvious places where one can see such architecture, built largely by the Russians, who apparently intended to make a Paris of the East. Looking up at these grand pieces of architecture, it is easy to feel like you’ve arrived somewhere in Europe. Even the recycling bins are more organised in this square.
As Dalian has both Russian and Japanese history, this is reflected in the architecture that you see around the city, although this is getting less and less evident, as the love for everything shiny and new means that more and more new buildings replace the historic ones. This is with exception to Zhongshan Square and other specific areas of the city, which thankfully keep their historic feel. You will get a sense of this historical and slightly European feel in the leafy residential streets around Yierjiu Street subway station, an area that I’m a big fan of, partly due to it being the home of perhaps Dalian’s only craft beer brew pub.
Then there are areas where you can see historic houses boarded up, awaiting demolition with the encroaching modern shopping centre looming next door. Just south of Olympic Square 奥林匹克广场 is a place where you really get a sense of this. Go there soon, if you want to see – by the looks of things it won’t be around for much longer. Dalian, it must be said, is very much a city in flux.
So if you happen to find yourself in Dalian, from cool craft beer bars, to viewpoints over the blue ocean, here is my list.
If you enjoy good beer, good music, good views, and generally just good things, you should enjoy.
I’ll be adding more soon, so keep checking back.
Take a hike and a dip in the blue ocean
Whilst it’s not Koh Pha Ngan, you’ll quickly appreciate that Dalian has some great beaches, that when you contrast with the concrete jungle that is many cities, Dalian’s coastline is stunning. Living here, it is easy to take it for granted, but when visiting from a land-locked city, it really does inspire. So if you are in the city, for whatever duration, do make sure you get out and explore the long coastline. You don’t need a private car to do so. Much of it is accessible by a combination of foot and public transport.
If you get yourself to Xinghai Square 星海广场 walk east (if you don’t have a compass to hand, that’s left as you look at the ocean) following the winding Binhai Road, along one of Asia’s longest boardwalks. You may like to call in at the surreal Greek style villa which is a YHA hostel, where after scaling the precariously steep steps down the cliff, you should be able to have a drink if their bar is open. If not you can continue along the coast before rejoining the road via a car park further along the pebbly beach.
Yinshatan Beach 银沙滩
If you come here on a weekday, you’ll feel like you’re Stateside, as the car park is always full of yellow US style school buses. That little fact aside, go beyond the car park, and you’ll be rewarded with a charming beach and the first one to reach from this part of the city that has an unobstructed view of the ocean, as it is outside of the long Xinghaiwan bridge 星海湾大桥 that spans much of the bay south of the city, and rather blocks the view from Xinghai Square 星海广场.
That is the charm of this beach, one gets a sense of being outside of the urban area, without having to travel very far. Sure, most people who go there congregate just next to the car park, but I’d recommend walking east along the beach, you should see a bunch of fishermen, fixing their boats, untangling their nets, looking at the day’s catch, playing cards etc. They have some store rooms built into the cliffs which I like the ingenuity of. If you carry on walking, you should find a secluded spot to relax and look out to sea, away from the crowds found in other parts of Dalian.
Getting there: Take bus number 49 from Xinghai Square which in itself is a scenic journey, along the Binhai Road, a winding coastal road with spectacular ocean views. Get off at the last stop then walk east, crossing under where the bridge meets land. You’ll get to the beach after about 5 minutes.
Fujiazhuang Beach 付家庄
If you come here during summer season, yes it may be a little busy, but outside of this, you can have the place almost to yourself. Like Yinshatan Beach, it is outside of the bridge area, therefore has an unobstructed ocean view out to the Bohai Sea.
There’s a reason why it can get busy. It’s a picturesque sweeping beach with golden sands and blue waters, and occasionally some interesting surf, with a backdrop of a few outer lying islands. You can watch the fisherman land their boats here, seeing what will be heading to the markets that evening. You will likely share the beach with swimmers who tend to be of retirement age – for some reason not many young people in Dalian go in the sea, seaweed collectors, and occasionally young groups who tend to be very overdressed for the beach. It also attracts a fair number of couples in their wedding gear who come here to have professional photos taken.
There are some convenience shops across the road, a good place to stock up on a beer or two to enjoy on the beach whilst people watching or looking out to the blue ocean.
Getting there: As above, take bus number 49 from Xinghai Square getting off at the last stop. Walk in the direction of Yinshantan Beach, but carry on going, walking over a slight hill, and eventually you’ll come across the beach, which has a park area separating it from the main road.
Walking Binhai Road 滨海路
As mentioned, you can walk from Xinghai Square along the boardwalk and to the above beaches. But it doesn’t end there, and if you’re a bit more adventurous, you’ll be rewarded with peaceful winding roads, dramatic mountain views, and stunning vistas of the rugged coastline. You’ll forget you’re still in a city, and for all purposes you’re not really. If you head to the east end of Fujiazhuang Beach, up the wooden stairs then over the headland, you’ll find another beach, probably busy with couples in their wedding clothes and photographers wheeling flashy suitcases over the rock-pools. From here, head up the steep hill, then turn right rejoining the coastal road, and the boardwalk.
I’d recommend you continue along this road all the way to Laohutan Ocean Park 老虎滩海洋公园. This will take you along a few very scenic stretches including an interesting suspension bridge. It’s a long walk, probably around 10 kilometres, but well worth it. From Laohutan, there are a number of buses going back into the city.
Snowboarding and skiing in Dalian
Hit the pistes
Dalian is the only city I’ve been in that has a ski resort actually within the city. The city is large enough, and with enough hills incorporated into it, to allow this. Dalian Happy Snow World 欢乐滑雪世界 is what you’re looking for. Sure, it’s not an Alpine ski resort, but for a city-based operation, it’s pretty good. There are three slopes, a beginner with a magic carpet (this is where you’ll find most people), an intermediate (probably a blue run), and an advanced (probably a red run), both with two person chair lifts. There’s also a snowpark for those wanting to lay down some gnarley shapes, or pull some rad’ moves.
You can rent all your equipment here. On arrival you pay 140 yuan (about US$20), plus a 200 yuan deposit this gets you three hours on the slopes. If you want to spend more than three hours, you just pay an extra 30 yuan (so a total of 170 yuan). Fee also included boot and ski/snowboard hire. If you’d like to rent anything else, you can do so, and the money will be deducted from your deposit (for example, helmet, about 30 yuan). Prices are 2017/2018 season. I’m not sure if Wechat/card payments are possible, so I’d recommend you take cash.
If you are hungry, there’s a restaurant and snack bar which I haven’t used, but it looks OK, and reasonably priced, serving some basic Chinese and Western fare.
Go there on a weekday and as happened to me, you may have the whole advanced piste pretty much to yourself. It was a bitterly cold day, with winds blowing down from Siberia, windchill making it around -20c, so they weren’t many others willing or silly enough to brave the slopes on that particular day.
Getting there: Taxi from the city centre will cost you around 25 yuan, and taxi drivers should know how to get there. You could also take the subway to Hongjin Road, and it’s about a 15 minute walk from there.
Dalian’s craft beers
Hoppy East Coast inspired IPAs and British inspired ales with Chinese flavours
Just as in London, and New York, in China there is a taste for craft beer amongst the younger more discerning drinkers look for a brew with a bit more depth of flavour. Dalian being a smaller city, does not have as many places as Beijing or Shanghai, but there are thankfully a couple of bars worthy of a mention, where you can gladly skip the weak 2% beer favoured by many restaurants here.
Tiny Great Taproom 精酿啤酒屋
Tiny Great Taproom is exactly that. A small place, a little difficult to find on a short stroll from Renmin Square subway station, but well worth the endeavour.
The staff are friendly and seem to know their beer. Plays good guitar-band music. Interior is minimalist, and like any good taproom, focus is rightly on what comes out of the pumps. They have a nice selection of Chinese and imported brews. Not cheap, but quality never comes cheap, right? They also serve beer snacks, which I have not tried but will soon. It’s non-smoking, so for Dalian where there is no smoking ban, the air is refreshing. For those who need a fix, there’s a place to perch out the front where you can watch the old folk square-dancing the evening away.
Getting there: Take the subway to Renmin Square and it’s about a ten minute stroll northeast, just off Huanghe Road.
Devolution Brew Pub 换承精酿啤酒
Located in the old part of Dalian, just around the corner from a community of Japanese bars and restaurants. I really like this part of the city. It is an area that reveals some history through its architecture, and feels far from the boredom and monotony of the shiny new shopping centre complexes that are ten-a-penny throughout Dalian. This is Dalian’s Hackney, but don’t expect Hackney. Just expect a few good craft ales, and some expensive coffee.
Devolution brew and sell their own ales, ranging from a tasty and of course hoppy IPA, to some lighter brews. They also have a few guest ales, including Beijing’s Great Leap Honey Ma Gold, as of June 2018. Prices fluctuate, but are often reasonable, average of 35 rmb a pint. It is a smoking bar, so bear that in mind if you are sensitive. Decor is kind of urban American – graffiti on the walls, bar-style furniture, a TV and a dartboard. Music is pretty good these days. They do food, if you’re craving a burger – I love Chinese food, but trust me, they do a great burger. It’s an awesome place to sample some genuine Dalian craft beers, and on a summer’s day, feels nice with the doors open to the street elevated slightly above. As you glance down the road at the steam shooting out of the road, you’ll think you’re in Manhattan’s East Village.
Dalian’s live music
Thrashing guitars, folk, and everything in the middle
When it comes to live music, Dalian is no Beijing. So much so that this is one of the main reasons I miss living in Beijing – the Beijing live music scene is outstanding. I’ve been struggling in my endeavour to find good live music venues, and thankfully my search has not been without any good discoveries.
Hertz Livehouse 赫兹酒吧
A deceiving name, I know. If you’ve swung by to rent a car you’re most certainly in the wrong place. In any case who in their right mind would want to drive here?
A dingy, smokey, loud, live music bar with sticky floors, it ticks all the boxes of a good live music venue. It also has a reasonable selection of beers, including Punk IPA, although far from the cheapest option. But this is about the music, and what I like about this bar is that they have a good range of bands playing, with a variety of musical styles. So it’s worth searching for them on Wechat and following them, to find out who’s playing.
It’s usually about 80 yuan/ticket in advance, and 100 on the door, but that depends who’s on. I do wish they wouldn’t make everyone queue up outside until right before the bands come on, particularly annoying in the depths of winter. I don’t know why some live music bars do that here, frankly it would make more sense to let customers in so they can start putting money behind the bar.
If you come here on a day when no one is playing, they have some guitars lying around so you can have a beer and a strum, maybe a jam if there are others around. So as well as an excellent play to watch live bands in Dalian, it’s also a good place to come if you’re a guitar player without a guitar, and craving a strum – I know that feeling well.
Update: As of Oct 2018, the above premises have closed, but they have reopened in Heishijiao 黑石礁 (Black Rock Reef) area, as Hertz Space 赫兹空间.
It doesn’t have the same dive bar character that the old place had, but on the plus side, it is a nice space, the sound is great (I saw my friend’s band Penicillin 盘尼西林乐队 play there). It’s also convenient to get to.
Japanese Izakaya of Dalian
Crisp Japanese beers, sashimi, open kitchen, atmosphere by the bucket-load
The proximity to Japan, and perhaps a connection with the past means that Dalian has a sizeable Japanese community. So it stands to reason that there’s a huge selection of good Japanese eateries throughout the city. There are a number of areas where these are concentrated, including as mentioned on a street around the corner from Devolution Brew Pub.
For the unfamiliar, an Izakaya is an informal Japanese eatery, typically having an open kitchen which one may sit at, low seating, serving snack-type food that can be shared, and with a focus on alcohol. The Japanese word Izakaya is a combination of ‘stay’, and ‘alcohol room’. They are fun, atmospheric, and of course serve delicious food.
If you head to Minzhu Square 民主广场 on the northwest side, you’ll find a collection of Izakayas around a warren of small roads. I won’t recommend a particular one, as there’s a very good choice, but I will recommend you go there on an empty stomach.
Getting there: Minzhu Square is a short walk northeast of Zhongshan Square, where there’s a subway station and a variety of buses going through.