Zhongshan District (中山区 zhōngshān qū), at the eastern edge of the city, encompasses both the main business and commercial centre of Dalian and many of the most scenic parts of the southern coastline. As a result visitors to the city tend to spend most of their time here, a fact reflected in the wide range of hotels and restaurants found in the district. The downside of this popularity is that hotels, restaurants and shops tend to be more expensive than in other parts of the city. That being said for those who can afford it, or take advantage of the few lower budget options available, Zhongshan District makes for an excellent base for exploring Dalian.
Map of central Zhongshan District
Central Zhongshan District is very well served when it comes to transport connections, with both the central train station and passanger ferry terminal lying within its borders. For those arriving by plane, the airport express shuttle and public buses #701 and #702 all stop at the central train station.
Map of Zhongshan District
Most of the attractions in central Zhongshan District lie within comfortable walking distance of each other. Alternatively tram #203 takes in much of the central area, and travelling past pretty parks and colonial houses in a 1930s tram car is one of Dalian's more unique attractions. Further afield the Tiger Beach area can be reached via the #2 bus, departing from next to the Zhongshan Hotel in Qingniwaqiao, or the #30 bus which departs from Zhongshan Square while to get to Donghai Beach take the #59 bus from Sanba Square.
Zhongshan Square (中山广场 zhōngshān guǎngchǎng). This square in the heart of the city's financial district is surrounded by some of the best examples of colonial-era architecture in Dalian. Though the square was first laid out by the Russians most of the buildings around the square were built between 1910 and 1920 by the Japanese. The square itself serves as a social hub, with locals gathering during the evening to play hacky-sack or watch football games on the big screen above the Dalian Hotel. On Sundays there's also an English corner from 1pm-7pm which can be a good place for new arrivals to get help and advice from locals eager to practice their English.
Labour Park (劳动公园 láodòng gōngyuán). 6:30am - 6:30pm. Labour Park, to the south of the Qingniwa shoping area, is the largest park in Dalin. The park contains a number of attractions, including a small aviary area, a few man made lakes and an amusement park (which, like the one in Xinghai Square, is overpriced and fairly uninteresting). Off season the park is free and can be a pleasant place to take a stroll, but it's probably not worth paying to get in during the holiday periods. 10-15 RMB during holidays, free the rest of the time..
Tiger Beach (虎滩乐园 hǔtān lèyuán). To the south of the city centre this tourist area is somewhat misnamed, as there really isn't any beach to speak of. What there is are a number of tourist attractions, the most prominent of which is the slightly pricey Polar Aquarium (9:00am - 4:30pm, 90 RMB). Though popular with Chinese tourists the area, though pretty, is unlikely to hold the attention of more jaded overseas tourists for long and is perhaps best seen as a starting point for journeys along Binhai Road.
Donghai Beach/Haizhiyun Square (海之韵广场 hǎizhīyùn guǎngchǎng). Like Tiger Beach, Donghai Beach is not so much a beach as a cluster of tourist sights (there is a stretch of what could be called a beach but it's shingle rather than sand). The sights here are somewhat more interesting than at Tiger Beach, with some nice modern art sculptures and mock fossils along Binhai Road a little way up from the beach (this stretch of road also includes a strange section of sloping road where cars appear to roll up the hill, most taxi drivers will be happy to demonstrate the phenomenon to tourists even if not asked). Again like Tiger Beach Donghai Beach is a convenient place to start journeys along Binhai Road.
Climb up to the TV Tower. Dalian TV Tower, located on top of a hill south of Labour Park, is a tourist attraction in its own right, with a restaurant at the top and impressive views of Dalian. Better than the tower, however, is the walk up via a little known side path, which offers both peaceful greenery in the centre of the city and spectacular views. To get to the side road either walk down the east side of Labour Park or take buses 2 or 5 from Qingniwa and get off at the Traditional Chinese Medicine hospital stop (中医院 zhōngyī yuàn) and walk back towards the park. The road up to the tower is actually a tiny side road underneath a flyover just south of an old red bricked school next to Labour Park. Though somewhat difficult to find the road is relatively simple to follow, the only junction is about a third of the way up, next to an artifical lake and the Dalian Circus Academy (the lake makes for a nice place to take a break). Keep going straight ahead at the junction then simply follow the road to the peak. The walk should take between half an hour to an hour. Getting back down involves either walking back the same way or taking the cable car or slide down to Labour Park.(the cable car costs 10 RMB while the slide costs 15 RMB).
Take a boat trip out to Bangchui Island. Located just off the coast from Bangchuidao beach Bagchui Island (棒棰岛 bàngchuídǎo) is a small, uninhabited islet and a nice place to spend a relaxing few hours exploring or nature watching. You can get to the island by using the tourist ferries that leave from Xinghai Square and Tiger Beach. A simple round trip costs 40 RMB but paying an extra 20 RMB gives the option of getting off the boat and exploring for as long as you want while the boat waits.
Listen to a concert at the People's Cultural Club. The People's Cultural Club, off Zhongshan Square, was built in 1951 and today serves as the main concert hall of the city. A wide variety of orchestral, operatic and ballet performances are held, performed by local and touring companies. Ticket prices are usually around 30-70 RMB, though tickets for performances by major touring companies can cost as much as 400 RMB.
See a performance of traditional Chinese opera. For those interested in more localised musical performances Dalian offers a couple of options. The Peking Opera House, a former Japanese Shinto temple located between Labour Park and the Foreign Languages University, offers regular performances of Peking Opera. Ticket prices range from 30 RMB to 80 RMB. For those interested in catching the kinds of opera more associated with north-eastern China there's a theatre just behind the Ramada Hotel, Victory Square, which specialises in local opera forms.
The Friendship Centre (友谊商店 yǒuyì shāngdiàn), 8 Renmin Lu. 9:30am-9pm. Located on the upscale Renmin Lu the Friendship Centre is the most expensive department store in Dalian. A lot of the goods on sale here can be found elsewhere for less, but if you're looking for really exclusive products, both imported and domestically produced, this is the place to go. There's also a number of other high-end shops and shopping areas spread along the rest of the street.
Qingniwa shopping area This area, between Victory Square and Labour Park, is host to a number of moderately expensive department stores, supermarkets and shopping centres. Designer clothing can be found in abundance here.
Tianjin Street (天津街 tiānjīn jiē). As with Qingniwa this pedestrianised street, running from Victory Square to near Zhongshan Square, has a number of department stores, supermarkets and shopping centres but unlike Qingniwa Tianjin Jie also offers a large number of stalls, selling goods ranging from underwear to swords, that operate along the length of the road.
Victory square shopping centre. Hidden underneath Victory Square (胜利广场 shènglì guǎngchǎng) this huge mall contains a large food court, tearooms, a video arcade and a bowling alley in addition to a massive number of small stalls selling a wide variety of goods. This can be a good place to come to get decent bargains, however it's incredibly confusingly laid out and maps are nowhere to be seen while the few signs there are are in Chinese. Allow plenty of time when visiting here as simply finding a way out can take far longer than expected.
Century City food court Shopping centre food courts are a good place to grab a quick, cheap and hassle free lunch in Dalian. The best is on the top floor of the Century City centre on Qingniwa Jie, with individual sections offering specialities from all the main Chinese regions as well as Japanese and Korean dishes. Especially recommended is the mālàtàng (麻辣烫), a kind of soup served in a wide dish with various ingredients cooked inside the soup. The name literally means "hot, spicy and mouth numbing" but don't be put off by the name, the variety served here isn't overpowering. Those wanting spice can add as much chilli sauce (served in a side bowl along with sesame sauce) as they wish. As with most mālàtàng places to order you simply select the ingredients you wish to have (the ingredients are placed on skewers in easy reach) and hand them over to be cooked. 4-12 RMB for a 2 person bowl of malatang depending on ingredients (1-2 RMB per skewer).
Over the bridge noodles. Over the bridge noodles (过桥米线 guòqiáo mǐxiàn) are a dish native to Yunnan province in south-west China where raw ingredients (typically a variety of meats, vegetables and quail eggs) are dropped along with rice noodles into a large bowl of boiling hot chicken stock at the table. A thin layer of oil on the top of the soup allows the ingredients to cook inside the soup (the name derives from a legend that a scholar's wife found that any food she took to her husband on the other side of a large bridge went cold before she reached him, so she invented a way of keeping it hot). A dish from south-west China may seem a strange thing to seek out in north-east China, but guòqiáo mǐxiàn are incredibly popular in Dalian with restaurants all over town. Probably the best is located on a side road off the eastern edge of Labour Park, near the Peking Opera House. To find the restaurant head east along the road parallel to and south of the street the opera house is on until you find a small restaurant with a couple of seats out the front. A telltale sign you've found the right place (apart from large bowls of noodles everywhere) is a board running along the right hand wall which acts as the restaurant's loyalty scheme; regular customers have tally marks next to their name and after 5 visits the next bowl is free. The various combinations of ingredients are listed on the wall. It's probably a good idea to avoid the restaurant between 1 and 2pm on weekdays during term time as it quickly gets inundated with kids from nearby schools. 6-10 RMB for a 2 person bowl of noodles.
Qing Dynasty Dumplings restaurant, 5 Wuwu Lu. Dumplings (饺子 jiǎozi) are a common staple in this part of China, and the Qing Dynasty restaurant (大清花饺子 dà qīng huā jiǎozi) on Wuwu Lu between Harbour Square and Sanba Square (part of a Shenyang-based chain) does them better than most. A wide variety of different kinds of jiǎozi are offered, both in terms of cooking style and filling, as well as other dishes in a Qing dynasty themed environment, and though the menu lacks English it does have pictures making ordering easier for the Mandarinally-challenged. The sample plate, offering four different foods from the various parts of China (from mutton skewers from the north-west to lemon chicken from the south-east), is particularly worth trying. 25-50 RMB per person.
Zhongshan Hotel Dim Sum restaurant. For those after food very late at night the best option in the centre of town is the 24 hour dim sum restaurant on the fifth floor of the Zhongshan Hotel on Jiefang Lu next to the Century City shopping centre. The usual dim sum dishes are on offer (shrimp dumplings, spring rolls, fried squid and so on). To order simply pick the items you want from the display cases as you enter. 6-20 RMB per item.
Dōng Dōu Tíng, various locations, most central at 65 Jiefang Jie. Dalian's proximity to Korea and significant Korean overseas student population means there's a large number of Korean restaurants, both of the northern and southern variety, in the city. Amongst the best South Korean restaurants are the Dōng Dōu Tíng (东都亭) chain who specialise in Korean barbecue. Raw meat, seafood, vegetables and so on (most liberally marinated in spices) are purchased and then cooked in open pits in the middle of the table. The prawns here are excellent and well worth paying a little extra for. 20-45 RMB per person.
Tian Tian seafood restaurants, main branch 10 Renmin Lu, +86 411 8280 1118. 9am-9pm Of all the many seafood restaurants in Dalian the Tian Tian chain (天天渔港 tiāntiān yúgǎng) have the best reputation, and so the highest prices. Pretty much anything under the sun (and under the sea) is available, for a price. A meal for 2 can be anywhere from 80 to 400 RMB.
Le Cafe Igosso, 45 Nanshan Lu, +86 411 8265 6453. 11am-2am, 11am-10pm on Sundays. Dalian's premier Western restaurant, Igosso offers a decent range of Italian dishes in a cozy, romantic, bistro-like environment. Check out the seasonal specials and daily deserts for variety. The wine list offers pretty much the only chance to get a decent bottle of Chianti in Dalian. Main courses 40-120 RMB.
Ademain, 8 Wuwu Lu. Dalian has plenty of Japanese restaurants due to the large number of Japanese businesses, and businessmen, in the city, almost all of them pricey (the only really cheap option is the sushi bar in the Olympic Square shopping complex which has an all you can eat, and all you can drink, deal after 6pm). One of the best is Ademain (阿都曼日本现代创作料理 ādōumàn rìběn xiàndài chuàngzuò liàolǐ) on Wuwu Lu, opposite and slightly south of the Qing Dynasty dumpling restaurant, which offers a wide range of dishes (from sushi to tepanyaki) for relatively reasonable prices (compared to other Japanese restaurants in the centre). 60-150 RMB per person.
Dave's Bar, +86 411 8282 2345. Formerly the expat bar in Dalian Dave's Bar (玛克威酒吧 mǎkèwēi jiǔba), just north of Zhongshan Square, has suffered a little under recent competition. It's still a popular bar, but has something of a seedy air nowadays. It's still worth a visit, though, if for no other reason than the fact that it offers the cheapest draught beer in Dalian at 10 RMB a pint.
Jazz bar. Probably the best bar on the Sanba bar street, Jazz bar features a live band (who fall somewhat short of true jazz but are entertaining nonetheless), a large central area spanned by balconeys and decked out in fake greenery, and draught German beer. 40-50 RMB for a pint of German beer.
Tin whistle/Hole in the wall. These two bars are virtually next door, on the Changjiang Lu bar stretch, so are listed together. The Tin Whistle is Dalian's main Irish bar, which means draught Guinness and Carlsberg, and live sporting events on the big screen. The Hole in the Wall (双子座酒吧 shuāngzǐzuò jiǔba), meanwhile, is a cosy, pub-like bar with a wider range of drinks than is found in most Dalian bars.
Paulaner Brauhaus, 92 Jiefang Lu, +86 411 8259 8888 . Recent years have seen a plethora of microbrewery bar/restaurants which brew their own beer on premises in Dalian, the best of which is the Paulaner Brauhaus inside the Kempinski Hotel (凯宾斯基饭店 kǎibīnsījī fàndiàn) near the north-east corner of Labour Park. Though technically a restaurant (the only German restaurant in Dalian) the beer, as close to the authentic Munich experience as you're likely to find in Dongbei, is worth the visit alone.
All's Well, various locations, main branch at 13 Wuyi Lu, +86 411 8464 1419. Though I-55 (in Xigang district) remains Dalian's premier coffee shop, the All's Well chain offers decent competition, with slightly cheaper coffee (including free refills of the coffee of the day) and all you can eat buffets at dinner time. The main branch also boasts excellent views over Labour Park. Perhaps the main attraction is the 15 RMB breakfast buffet, which runs until 11am and has pretty much everything a homesick westerner could wish for.
Haiyun International Youth Hostel (海韵国际青年旅舍 hǎiyùn guójì qīngnián lǚshě), 104 warship 667 Zhongshan District, +86 411 239 40 26. This hostel boasts the fairly unique distinction of being housed inside an old Chinese warship, moored at Tiger Beach. The whole hostel, from staff uniforms to rooms, is decked out in a nautical theme. Rooms vary from doubles to multi-person dorms. Part of Hostelling International, so YHA members get discounted accommodation. 20-100 RMB
Ramada (华美达饭店 huáměidá fàndiàn), 18 Victory Square, +86 411 8280 8888 . While most of the international chain hotels in Dalian fall well into the "splurge" category, the Ramada is fairly reasonably priced considering its convenient location (just next to the main train station) and facilities, which include a gym, swimming pool, free internet access in rooms and English speaking staff. 400-680 RMB
Regent (丽景大酒店 líjǐng dàjiǔdiàn), 12 Hutan Jie, +86 411 8289 2811. Located right next to Tiger Beach, the Dalian Regent Hotel offers great views and a convenient location for exploring the southern seafront of Dalian. Amenities are decent (Chinese and Japanese restaurants, French café, gym, sauna) if nothing spectacular. 270-880 RMB
Dalian Hotel (大连宾馆 dàlián bīnguǎn), 4 Zhongshan Square, +86 411 8263 3111. The Dalian Hotel is the place to stay for anyone interested in exploring the history of Dalian. Built in 1914 by the Japanese, though designed by a Frenchman, the hotel is pretty much the only place to stay in Dalian that's older than 15 years old and frequently plays host to visiting dignitaries when they're not staying at Bangchuidao (Bo Xilai usually stays here when he's back in town). Its age means its facilities (a small business centre and gym) can't compete with its more modern rivals but its character is unmatched. The Japanese restaurant in the hotel is one of the best in the city, though its prices reflect this fact. 400-640 RMB
Grand Hotel (博览大酒店 bólǎn dàjiǔdiàn), 1 Jiefang Jie, +86 411 8280 6161. Probably the pick of the mid-range hotels in the eastern half of the city centre, the Grand Hotel offers good sized rooms, decent facilities (sauna, gym, optional broadband internet access in rooms) and a decent variety of restaurants and bars in a very central location just off Zhongshan Square. In addition the hotel has drawn praise for its attentive and friendly staff. 300-645 RMB
Shangri-la (香格里拉大饭店 xiānggélǐlā dàfàndiàn), 66 Renmin Lu, +86 411 8252 5000 . The Shangri-la, part of the Hong-Kong based chain, has long been one of Dalian's premier luxury hotels. The "has long been" part means that the decor and faci1ities may not always be as up to date as its competitors, and the quality of service has received mixed reviews in the past, but generally the hotel offers everything you'd expect from a 5 star hotel. 880-1,900 RMB
Furama (富丽华大酒店 fùlíhuá dàjiǔdiàn), 60 Renmin Lu, +86 411 8263 0888 . Part of a Japanese chain, the Furama has been the Shangri-la's main competitor ever since it was first built (the fact that they are next door to each other may have something to do with this). Slightly more modern and slightly more sleek than the Shangri-la the Furama is correspondingly slightly more expensive. 1,125-2,500 RMB
Hotel Nikko (日航飯店 rìháng fàndiàn), 123 Changjiang Jie, +86 411 8252 9999 . A hotel that's been through almost as many name changes as Dalian itself, the Nikko was originally a Hilton before being taken over by Japan Airlines and renamed the Oriental Palace for a while then finally taking on its current moniker. An impressive building to look at the Nikko contains all the facilities that could be expected, with a particularly good western restaurant, and its post-takeover (slight) remodelling makes it amongst the most up-to-date of the 5 star options in Dalian. Its location, along the slightly seedy Changjiang Lu, might not be the ideal for those not interested in bar hopping, however. 885-1,285 RMB.
Swissötel (瑞士酒店 ruìshì jiǔdiàn), 21 Wuhui Lu, +86 411 8230 3388. Yet another hotel that's part of an international chain (no prizes for guessing where it's based) the Swissötel is housed in a sleek, modern tower at the southern tip of the Qingniwa shopping area and offers splendid views over Labour Park. The facilities are typically up to scratch, with the western buffet particularly noteworthy. On Sundays the hotel is also the location for the main expatriate community church service. 880-1,355 RMB
Harbour View Hotel (海景酒店 hǎijǐng jiǔdiàn) 2 Gangwan Jie, +86 411 8272 8888 . This Best Western-run hotel is a little older than its competitors, as is evidenced by its blue-glassed 80s chic tower, but still offers the usual facilities and the most convenient location for those arriving or departing from the harbour or interested in exploring the Sanba bar area. 885-1,390 RMB