1 - Chaotianmen Gate
Chongqing is a giant of a city – estimates of its population range from 26 million to 32 million and yet, until recently, the only reason visitors from outside China might have flown here was if they had booked a Three Gorges Cruise, which start from the city.
If your time is limited, it’s a good idea to get a car for the day (RMB800-1,000/£78-£97 per day) and a licensed tour guide (another RMB200/£19 per day within the city zone). A good place to orientate yourself is Chaotianmen Gate, which lies at the confluence of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers on the south-easterly tip of the Chongqing Peninsula (referred to by many who live there as “the island”). Traditional Chinese kites are flown here, and you’ll be encouraged to try your hand and then buy one, or you could simply watch the waters of the two rivers meet.
The speciality dish of the city – the hot pot – usually has two stocks in one pot separated by a wavy line, a yin and yang. One is spicy and clear, the other not so, and this is said to echo the rivers as they meet at this point, the Yangtze being cloudy, the Jialing being clearer.
2 - Chongqing Planning Hall
Heading into a nearby exhibition centre to see plans for the city may seem a very uninteresting idea, but rest assured it isn’t. The centre lays out the municipal government’s vision for 2020, with a 900 sqm model mapping out not only the city but the other towns in the municipality – and if you think Chongqing is big now, just wait until you see what is planned. The model shows the varied geography of Chongqing municipality – the city has been here for thousands of years and, not surprisingly, it’s never been popular for bicycles, being too hilly.
The main industries are motorcycle and car manufacturing, and computers – one third of the world’s notebook PCs are made here, though these factories don’t appear on the model. The yellow taxis of Chongqing – Suzuki, Ford Focus and Japanese Mazda – are all made here too, and you’ll see them along the tree-lined streets. Look out for Banyan trees, too – they still line some of the older roads, and to the locals symbolise strong life.
Open Tues-Sun 9am-3.30pm, entry is RMB5 (£0.50), tours in English 10am and 3pm, RMB300 (£29). Visit cqghzlg.gov.cn
3 - Huguang Guild Hall
There isn’t much that’s obviously old in Chongqing, but the nearby Huguang Guild Hall certainly ranks. Chongqing was built on waves of immigration, and the Guild Hall was the centre of that immigrant life during the Qing dynasty, 250 years ago.
English guides are available, though you could easily spend a day wandering on your own through the beautifully restored guild houses and their collections of furniture, art and jewellery. A guide will be helpful for deciphering the rich symbolism of the carvings on every part of the buildings – cranes, for instance, which represent long life (as do turtles and peaches, which you will also see). The buildings are made of wood – mahogany, Cyprus and elm brought by immigrants from their native Hubei province. Note the constipated dragon carved on the roof, who takes in good fortune but doesn’t give it up.
Open 9am-6pm (last ticket sales at 5.30pm), entry is RMB30 (£2.90). 1 Bajiaoyuan, Changbin Road; tel +86 023 6393 0287; cqhghg.com
4 - Ciqikou Town
Another piece of history, and the one most visited by tourists, is the Ciqikou Town on the banks of the Jialing river in Shapingba District, which is a 30-minute drive from downtown. Here you will find craft and souvenir shops selling traditional paintings, Chinese brush handwriting and Sichuan embroidery, as well as tea houses and eateries.
The ancient town takes its name from its ceramics, ciqi, which were traditionally sold at the town pier. Now it has been restored for tourists, but behind the shops there is still an authentic community. If you are feeling brave, try the clear noodles in chilli sauce (chuan bei liang fen), or a bag of super-spicy fried peanuts (Jiaoyan Huasheng).
5 - Stilwell Museum
The Stilwell Museum on the north side of the Chongqing Peninsula is a popular stop, and with exhibitions about Roosevelt and the Flying Tigers, it’s a must for Americans. Dedicated to American General Stilwell, who fought side-by side with China against fascist powers during the Second World War, the house contains faded photographs and giant maps of China and India, and posters from the Burma “Theatre” campaign.
The Flying Tigers was the name given to the First American Volunteer Group, a squadron of fighter pilots who had the noses of their planes painted to resemble sharks, and who fought against the Japanese defending Chinese forces. Not surprisingly, they caught the popular imagination and have been the focus of several films, including Flying Tigers, starring John Wayne.
Open 9am-5pm, entry is RMB5 (£0.50). 63 Jialingxin Road; tel +86 023 6360 9515; baike.baidu.com
6 - Wai Po Qiao
Chongqing has four nicknames. Foggy city and Furnace city come from its winter and summer climates. Mountain city comes from its terrain – and it is also known as City of the Artists, because of the traditional painting and sculptures originating from here. Still, if you ask most Chinese about the place, they’ll tell you it’s best known for its spicy food and spicy girls. Assuming the latter is off the menu, head for a restaurant offering hot pot. Try Wai Po Qiao Hot Pot, where all you can eat costs RMB68 (£6.50).
Open 10am-10pm. 68 Zourong Road; tel +86 23 6383 5988.