For centuries, Tianjin was an important northern port city — the main gateway to Beijing, about 120 kilometers away. By 1900, it was a shipping hub and popular colonial playground, and it was home to the Chinese emperor Puyi in the 1920s and 1930s. But in the middle of the 20th century, when the Communist Party came to power, the city became an afterthought, overshadowed by the country’s nearby capital.
Today, Tianjin—China’s third largest city with a population of more than 10 million, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica—is a classic Chinese boomtown. Dozens of international companies have their China headquarters here, and while the city retains a gritty edge, signs of growth are everywhere.
Let’s be honest: You’re not going to find the same nightlife options here as in Beijing or Shanghai. After all, Tianjin is still finding its place in the new China. But it’s having a lot of fun in the process. A wander through the colonial concessions is the best way to start a night in Tianjin. The city spent the early 20th century under foreign influence, and in the 1.3-square-kilometer European Concession called Wudadao (“Five Big Avenues”) just south of the city center, more than 2,000 villas remain. Some have been restored into bars, restaurants and shops.