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As one of China’s oldest cities, Nanjing proudly celebrates its culture through an annual calendar packed with events. History, art, food, music, and more are championed through a variety of festivals that attract national and international travelers alike. 

Nanjing’s festivals offer great opportunities for people to acquaint themselves with the city, its heritage, and its people. Here are the festivals worth planning a trip around for those heading to Nanjing or who have it penned down on their bucket list.

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Nanjing’s Qinhuai International Lantern Festival is one of the city’s most popular events. © Courtesy of Nanjing Culture and Tourism Bureau

See Nanjing illuminated at the Qinhuai International Lantern Festival

As Chinese New Year approaches, The Qinhuai International Lantern Festival, one of Nanjing’s showstopper events, starts assembling. A kaleidoscope of intricately detailed lanterns is installed in and around the city’s sacred Confucius Temple, perched on the Qinhuai River. 

From the end of January to mid-February every year, the areas circling the river are decorated with glowing installations, commonly featuring grandiose animals from the Chinese zodiac. 

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The Confucius Temple on the Qinhuai River is the center of Nanjing’s Qinhuai International Lantern Festival. © 4045 / Shutterstock

In Chinese culture, lanterns extend beyond just being decorative – they are symbolic. Each year, the Qinhuai International Lantern Festival is launched with a ‘lighting ceremony,’ a tradition that has taken place at countless lantern festivals around China – big and small alike – for thousands of years. According to some legends, the act of lighting lanterns is a callback to a wartime tradition. When Chinese armies returned to their villages and towns in triumph, communities would hang and light lanterns as a warm welcome home. Lantern festivals have continued to evolve over time, showing the best of China’s artistic and technological talents.

Be mesmerized at the China Nanjing International Plum Blossom Festival

Nanjing’s famous Zhongshan Mountain is painted in the pink, yellow, and white hues of plum blossoms each spring. It’s an almost hypnotizing sight that is undoubtedly best seen (and admired) in person. Around February and March every year, Nanjing celebrates plum blossom season with a special celebration.

About 35,000 plum trees make up plum blossom hill at Zhongshan Mountain. The garden is home to an exhibit of bonsai plum trees and what is believed to be China’s oldest plum tree (the “King of Plum Blossoms”), more than 400 years old. Plum blossom holds great significance in Chinese culture. The flower is associated with elegance, strength, and resilience, as it is able to endure even the harshest of winters.

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Zhongshan Mountain’s colorful Plum Blossom Hill is the setting for Nanjing’s Plum Blossom Festival. © Courtesy of Nanjing Culture and Tourism Bureau

A stage for traditional musicians, singers, and dancers is set up during the festival, adding to the atmosphere of the carnival.

Zhongshan Mountain also hosts historically significant sites such as Sun Yat-Sen’s Mausoleum and the Ming Xiaoling Tomb, offering plenty of activities to enjoy for at least one full day. Travelers may even spot a wedding or two being held among the blossoms during a springtime visit.

Discover new artists The Nanjing Forest Music Festival

The Nanjing Forest Music Festival is a relatively new event in Nanjing. Originally started in 2015, the festival brings local and international performers, ranging from world-renowned European symphony orchestras to leading Chinese rap artists, to Nanjing to showcase their talents.

It’s the perfect chance for travelers to acquaint themselves with some of the city’s best new-wave and classical artists. Visitors can enjoy an exciting night out and perhaps leave with a new favorite genre or artist to add to their playlists.

The festival has been held in different locations over the years, but its setting has always had two things in common – an open-air atmosphere and verdancy. Past festivals have been held at the Sun Yat-Sen Mausoleum Music Stage in the aforementioned Zhongshan Mountain Park. It usually takes place in September or October.

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gThe Golden Flower Festival takes place each year when Gaochun’s yellow rapeseed flowers bloom. © Courtesy of Nanjing Culture and Tourism Bureau

Leave the city behind at The Golden Flower Festival

Just over 100 kilometers from Nanjing’s central business district is Gaochun, which is classified as China’s first international Cittaslow slow town’. Cittaslow is an international network of towns and villages where communities, health, the environment, and heritage are prioritized by slowing the flow of life and traffic to a peaceful pace. The movement and network were founded in Chianti, Italy.

Gaochun and its villages are abundant in natural resources. It’s commonly called ‘Nanjing’s back garden,’ defined by bright yellow paddocks of yellow rapeseed flowers, a bamboo forest, and an abundance of red maple trees.

From March to May, Gaochun hosts the International Jinhua Tourism Festival. ‘Jinhua’ refers to rapeseed flowers. During spring, the flowers’ golden yellow hue takes over the landscape, which is why the festival is also known as the ‘Golden Flower Festival.’

As tourism, innovative development, and self-sufficiency increase in Gaochun, residents can rely on their locality more and need not travel to other towns and cities to work. Those interested in rural tourism, eating farm-to-table dishes, and enjoying the unique flower festival should put Gaochun on their to-do list.

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