With multiple high speed trains running daily between Shanghai and Nanjing, you can travel quickly and comfortably enough between the two cities to make Nanjing a reasonable day trip from Shanghai. With the fastest train taking a mere 1:39, you may spend more time getting to the train station and waiting for your train than on your actual train journey. Fare-wise, it is quite reasonable, with a perfectly pleasant second class ticket running 135 RMB and a splurge to first class priced at 229 RMB.
How to get around in Nanjing:
Taxis are pretty reasonably priced, with the meter starting at 9RMB, as opposed to 16 RMB in Shanghai, and they seem to be relatively easy to get. However, the metro is definitely an excellent choice as well. It is clean, quick and quite pleasant. Fares vary, but all of our trips ranged from either 2 RMB to 3 RMB, so they are definitely priced right. And of course walking is definitely an option as well, depending on the weather when you are visiting.
Sites to see:
During our visit to Nanjing, we visited three main sites: the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Museum, Zhongshan Mountain Park and the Zhang He Shipyard Park. Although a very sobering experience, the Nanjing Massacre Museum was definitely a worthwhile visit. Not only will you leave there with a clearer idea of the scope of the loss of life and atrocities committed, you also have the opportunity to learn about the people who risked their lives to help the people of Nanjing. I was surprised to read about the many westerners who chose to stay in Nanjing and try to protect its residents rather than flee the country. It was quite inspiring.
Zhongshan Scenic Area is surprisingly large and extremely nice. Nestled within the park are a number of interesting historic sites, but the Scenic Area is a great place to spend time even if you never view any of the sites. You can get a break from urban Chinese life by hiking for hours in a truly clean, green and lovely area. And even better, while admission to some of the historic sites costs money, the Scenic Area itself is free. If hiking isn't your thing, or you get tired of hiking in loveliness and want a change of pace, you have a number of excellent options to choose from. We only had time to experience two of them, but they were both very interesting. First, we visited the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Mausoleum. With a number of attractive buildings, interesting plaques and fitness challenging stairs, the Sun Yat Sen Mausoleum was a great place to take pictures and learn more about a person central to modern Chinese history. After visiting the Mausoleum and feeling super fit from all the stair climbing, we traipsed through the forest on very pleasant, well maintained paths over to the Ming Tombs. Again, everything was kept extremely clean, there was a great deal of traditional Chinese architecture set off by green trees and flowers, and many excellent photo opportunities presented themselves. I don't know that I learned very much about the Ming Tombs, but I had a thoroughly pleasant walk. Overall, it is a great place to visit. Due to time constraints, we only saw a few of the sites available in the Zhongshan Scenic Area, but if the ones we saw are a fair sampling, the others are likely to be great to visit as well.
Zhang He Treasure Ship Park
Finally, on our last day, we visited the Zhang He Treasure Ship Park. (here is a reference to Zhang He on Wikipedia). There was also a lengthy book published on the topic – see here:
This is a much less well known tourist location–the staff at the hotel hadn't heard of it, and our taxi driver had a hard time finding it, but it was quite nice. Admission was 30 RMB for our one adult and one student (so it was probably 20 RMB for the adult and 10 for the student), and I definitely found it worthwhile, despite the almost complete lack of English on any of the plaques. For your 20 RMB adult admission, you get to see a number of fragments of ancient things which probably had something to do with Zhang He's ship (but we left guessing due to the lack of English translation), you get to see an excellent reconstruction of Zhang He's ship (but only from the outside, sadly) and you get a very nice park to walk around. Overall, definitely a win, but not to the level of the Zhongshan Scenic Area.