Tianjin, China's third-largest urban area (after Shanghai and Beijing), will likely gain international attention after hosting some of the sports matches for the 2008 Olympic Games -- it's only an hour's train ride away from the official host city of Beijing.

Tianjin, a port city that sits on China's northern coast and has a population of more than 9 million people, is at the Grand Canal's northern outlet, on the Huang He River. Aside from having close proximity to the ocean and the river, it's also near lakes and mountains.

One of northern China's most significant financial centers, Tianjin is home to Nankai University and Tianjin University, so the city has an influential population of intellectuals and academics. Partially because of that, travelers here can see and experience an array of historical and cultural attractions including museums, temples and churches, street markets, a water park, the renowned Beijing Opera (despite its name, it's based here), and several notable monuments, including the iconic Tianjin Broadcasting TV Tower, the latter being the city's tallest building, the world's fourth-tallest building, and Asia's second-tallest building. Get on top of it for the best possible view of Tianjin; locals call it the "Heavenly Tower."

Known for its prolific culinary pedigree (an entire street is devoted to peddling and promoting the city's food), Tianjin is currently beefing up its other tourist draws with some 20 large projects in development, including a theme park, a resort area, a wildlife park (think pandas!), an aquarium, and a series of well-organized sightseeing city tours. Furthermore, the city is planning plenty of festivals and special events intended to attract even more travelers.

Within easy commuting distance are the Great Wall of China, Mount Panshan, and Fort Dagukou.