15 Best Places to Visit in China
When it comes to size, China can certainly compete with some of the biggest names in the world. This country is vast and enthralling in every direction from the dusty deserts that make up Central Asia, to the tropical beaches that nestle close to the Pacific Ocean. Stretching from north to south, China sits between the rolling Mongolian Steppe and the jungle covered peaks of Southeast Asia.
It is the 4th largest country in the world in terms of area, as well as being the most populous, and some of the greatest cities on earth can be found in the People’s Republic of China. Just some of the highlights of this breathtaking country include the throbbing food courts of old Shanghai and the sleepless streets of the capital city, Beijing. When it comes to history, China is certainly no slouch, with a range of UNESCO World Heritage sites and cultural icons like the tombs of Xi’an, the winding pathways of the Great Wall, and the enchanting hill villages of rural Yunnan.
Lets explore the best places to visit in China:
Source: flickr Shanghai
Shanghai is a city that sprawls and seethes with the energy of more than 24 million people and is one of the world’s largest cities.
It gradually increased in importance as a city throughout the dynastic ages of the Song and Ming, but it was under the Qing that it boomed to become the most important trading port on the Yangtze River Delta.
In the present day Shanghai is much the same and the shimmering skyscrapers on the Bund are testament to the city’s trading power.
You will still find traces of the old however in the numerous historic buildings and the leafy canals of the French Concession.
Source: flickr Forbidden City, Beijing
Beijing is the capital of China and a typical big city that never sleeps.
With a population of over 21 million, it is slightly smaller than Shanghai, although it is also the political center of the country and home of iconic spots like Tiananmen Square.
One of the big draws here is the fascinating Forbidden City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties lived, and you will find opulent ceramics, artwork, fountains and thrones here.
The National Museum of China is also located in Beijing and is one of the most acclaimed art institutions in the country.
3. Hong Kong
Source: flickr Hong Kong
Hong Kong locals may not like being listed alongside cities on the mainland, which tells you everything you need to know about how different this Special Administrative Region of China is from the People’s Republic.
The region has political and economic autonomy from China (for the most part) and is a global powerhouse of finance and trading.
Some of the highlights here taking a rattling tram to the top of majestic Victoria Peak, visiting the bustling markets of Kowloon, and exploring the themes parks on Lantau Island.
Source: flickr Guilin
Guilin is a great place to come for anyone looking for adventure amidst soaring karst mountains that look like something from another planet.
Guilin is known for its gingko-dotted parklands located around Pagoda Hill as well as its winding historic streets that straddle the majestic Li River.
If you venture out into the surrounding Guangxi Province then you will find craggy sacred peaks, caves, grottoes, and mist covered mountains.
Source: flickr Chengdu Panda Research Base
The town of Chengdu is now famous on the traveler trail for one reason only, its resident pandas.
The Chengdu Panda Research Base is the place to come if you want to get up close to these amazing bears, and the base is a research facility rather than a zoo so know that you are contributing to the upkeep and breeding programs of the pandas if you come here.
As well as the elegant and graceful pandas, you can also enjoy other parts of Chengdu such as People’s Park which is famous for its street performers.
Other areas of interest include Jinli Ancient Street which is well known for its architecture from the Qing Dynasty, as well as the Kuanzhaixiangzi District which has a range of amazing ancient teahouses that are not to be missed.
Source: flickr Guangzhou
The city of Guangzhou presents the typical modern image of neon-lit China and in recent years this town has exploded in every direction.
Skyscrapers dot the horizon and you will find shimmering buildings jostling for space in the downtown area of the city that also sits of the Pearl River.
The architecture here is some of the most eclectic in China and you will find Qing edifices at the Xiguan Residence as well as many examples of old Canton buildings.
This is mixed with Anglo-style houses in places like Shamian Island which invoke images of rural England.
As if that wasn’t enough, Guangzhou is covered in museums like the Mausoleum of King Zhao Mo which is full of artifacts that date back 2,100 years.
Source: flickr Macau
Macau is a place of bright lights, glitz, glamour, and gambling, and millions of visitors flock here from mainland China every year.
The main draw is the click of poker chips and the sprawling gaming halls, and you can visit some of the biggest names in the casino business like the MGM Grand and the Venetian.
Macau is not just about gambling however, so if you want to see a different side of it then you can visit some of the legacies of its colonial past under the Portuguese.
Some of these include its famous fort, churches, and Baroque homes.
If you want to get away from the more crowded parts of the island, then head to the seaside areas of Coloane or Taipa.
Source: flickr Yulong River valley
Covered in the needle-like spires of karst peaks, the city of Yangshuo is truly breathtaking.
This city is located in the southern part of Guangxi Province and the Li River drifts lazily through the Yangi-Xingping Scenic Area.
As such, you can expect bulbous mountains and sculpted mountain ranges that are the perfect place to go trekking and climbing, especially in the Yulong River Valley.
In the city of Yangshuo proper, you can also take traditional martial arts or Chinese cooking classes to fully immerse yourself in the local culture.
Source: flickr terracotta army, Xi’An
Xi’an is one of the four great capitals of old China and this is where centuries of history come together.
It is of course the home of the mighty terracotta army which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is made up of thousands of figures of horsemen and soldiers which were buried with the Emperor Qin Shi Huang to protect him in the afterlife.
As well as the terracotta army, Xi’an is also known for having the longest city walls in the world which sprawls for 13 kilometers in length, as well as mosques and Taoist temples that tell of the multiculturalism that came from this being a spot on the famed Silk Road.
Source: flickr Jiuzhaigou
The valley of scenic Jiuzhaigou sparkles and shimmers with hues of turquoise blue and green thanks to its mountain lakes that have made this part of Sichuan famous.
For anyone interested in hiking or climbing, this is an excellent spot to visit, particularly if you venture to places like the Pearl Shoal Waterfall and the glassy Long Lake.
Other draws in the area include the Zharu Buddhist Monastery as well as the craggy peaks of Nuorilang.
Source: flickr West Lake, Hangzhou
Sitting at the mouth of the Yangtze River Delta is the city of Hangzhou which has long been known as an important terminus for trade.
The city has grown over the years and is now a booming metropolis of 10 million people.
If you are visiting the city, the big draws here are the historical treasures and cultural relics such as West Lake, the Broken Bridge, the Qing Dynasty Mid-Lake Pavilion, and the pagodas of the Lesser Yingzhou Isle.
Source: flickr Mosque, Kashgar
Kashgar is one place in the deep west of China that doesn’t feel Chinese at all.
Having fallen to the Kushan Empire you will find bulbous Mughal-style mosques here and the atmosphere if more reminiscent of an Afghan town than anything else.
Source: flickr Yuantong Temple, Kunming
Kunming sits 2,000 meters above sea level and is a place of soaring peaks that is also known as the ‘City of Eternal Spring’. The altitude here means that it is cooler than other spots in Yunnan and you can enjoy cultural relics such as Yuantong Temple which dates back 1,200 years.
Other top spots include the Daguan Pavilion and the Stone Forest Reserve which takes the form of a series of spiky mountains.
Source: flickr Hainan
Hainan sometimes feels more like Southeast Asia than China and is located in the south of the country jutting out into the South China Sea.
Here you will find lush jungles, coconut palms, and pine forests, as well as some of the prettiest beaches in China.
One of the best of these is Sanya Beach as well as the secluded coves of Monkey Island which has a wealth of resident simians as the name suggests.
Source: flickr Harbin
Harbin is covered in snowy cobblestoned streets and onion-dome shaped mosques, meaning that it hardly seems Chinese at all.
Much of this is down to the Russian influence here as many Russian nationals flocked here in 1917. You will be able to visit the Russian Quarter of the city as well as enjoy some potent vodka and view Siberian tigers on the nearby nature reserves.
If you like skiing, then make sure not to miss Deer Flats for a chance to hit the slopes.
15 Best Cities to Visit in China
The most populous nation in the world, China´s vast territory encompasses diverse peoples and places; all with their own unique cultures, customs and ways of life. As such, its cities beautifully highlight this rich cultural diversity and one could spend a lifetime exploring all the sights they have to offer.
With lovely temples, palaces and gardens on display, the best cities in China have a plethora of attractions for you to delight in and that´s without even mentioning two of its greatest tourist draws – the Great Wall of China and the Terracotta Army!
Map of cities in China
© OpenStreetMap © MapTiler © Touropia
15. Chengde [SEE MAP]
© Xi Zhang / Dreamstime
With pagodas, palaces, lakes and more, this former summer home of the early emperors of the Qing Dynasty is still a lovely place to spend some time. Of particular interest is the amazing Eight Outer Temples complex which is spectacular and a must-see in Chengde. The Mountain Resort here is simply divine and the incredible architecture on show is mesmerising and the dreamy well-manicured gardens only add to the beauty of the scene.
14. Dali [SEE MAP]
© Outcast85 / Dreamstime
A popular place to visit, the city of Dali´s Old Town is lovely to wander around and, framed by the beautiful Cangshan Mountains the main landmarks are the lovely city gates that mark each end of it.
With splendid scenery and pristine nature surrounding Dali, many people take to the mountains to hike along their winding paths and trails, reveling in the peaceful ambiance and fresh air. A great walk to do is wonderfully called the Cloud Traveller´s Path and takes you up to 2500 metres high.
13. Kashgar [SEE MAP]
© Missdolphin / Dreamstime
Situated on the old Silk Road, Kashgar is remarkably closer to Damascus than it is to Beijing! Located in the most western part of China, visitors to the city need to cross a vast desert to get here and its remote setting is in part what makes it so interesting to visit. Kashgar remains an important trading post to this very day and consequently it has a fascinating mix of cultures and peoples who have moved here over the centuries.
The Old Town with its Uyghur architecture and lively bazaars are particularly great to visit and, with so many different cuisines available; it´s time to treat your stomach! Predominantly Muslim, the lovely Id Kah Mosque is a visible reminder of an identity that is increasingly under threat as more and more Han Chinese migrate to the city.
Before leaving, make sure to visit the Sunday market – here huge numbers of people from around Central Asia come to trade in the city and consequently there is a lively and bustling atmosphere about the place.
12. Nanjing [SEE MAP]
© Xi Zhang / Dreamstime
With its laidback vibe, clean streets and leafy avenues, Nanjing is possibly better to live in than to visit and many visitors simply pass through on their way between Beijing and Shanghai. Situated on the famous Yangtze River, Nanjing was once the capital of China and, although it is often overlooked; there are a number of nice places to stop by.
A great way to see many of its sights in one go is to take to the Qin Huai River and float past the mesmerising Confucius Temple and the huge Gate of China among others. With loads of tombs and mausoleums to visit in Nanjing and the surrounding area, many visitors spend most of their time exploring these impressive sites.
11. Harbin [SEE MAP]
© Giuseppe Sparta / Dreamstime
Famed for the incredible Ice Festival that takes places in the city each year, Harbin´s location in the far north of China means that it can get very cold. Due to its proximity to Russia, there is a lot of Russian influence in terms of culture and architecture and this makes Harbin a unique place to visit in China with the St. Sophia Cathedral being a particular highlight.
Lasting over two months from December to February, you definitely want to make your trip here during the Ice Festival as it is a spectacular extravaganza with everything carved out of ice and lights illuminating them beautifully.
10. Suzhou [SEE MAP]
© 王 兴飞 / Dreamstime
Located in eastern China, Suzhou´s close proximity to Shanghai means that it is a popular day trip destination. Famed for its lovely gardens and traditional buildings that hug the waterside of the canals, locals and foreigners alike flock to Suzhou as it is the most famous water town in China. Its picturesque canals are delightful to wander along as small footbridges cross the water and paper lanterns hang from the buildings.
Although it has modernised drastically in recent decades, the city has retained pockets of its charming features that harken back to days gone by. The Humble Administrator’s Garden is a particularly peaceful place to stop by. At one time the capital of the Wu Kingdom, Suzhou was once one of the largest cities in the world. Since the days of the Silk Road, the city has attracted traders and craftsmen to its streets due to its fabled silk production and location in the Yangtze River Delta.
9. Kunming [SEE MAP]
© Outcast85 / Dreamstime
Located in the south of the country, ´The City of Eternal Spring´ as it is known is a great place from which to set off and explore the delights of the beautiful Yunnan Province. In Kunming itself the spectacular Yuantong Temple dates back to the eight century and is definitely worth a visit for the impressive stone carvings that can be found scattered around its premises. Tanhua Temple is becoming increasingly popular due to the lovely scenery it offers up.
8. Hangzhou [SEE MAP]
Very popular with tourists, Hangzhou is known for its stunning natural beauty with the idyllic West Lake being the very best of what is on offer with the Broken Bridge being the romantic highlight. Taking a boat trip on its tranquil waters is heavenly and you can stop off at various islands which each have their own individual features.
A number of temples and pagodas are scattered around the area and, with the water glimmering behind them; there are a plethora of beautiful views to be found. One of the most famous sites in the country, Lingyin Temple is a must-see in this breathtaking city.
7. Guilin [SEE MAP]
© Oleksandr Brylov / Dreamstime
The otherworldly scenery that is found in Giulin and its surroundings makes this an awe-inspiring place to visit. Relaxing on a boat drifting down the Li River is a magical experience as the spectacular karst features of the landscape pass by on either side of you. Shrouded in mist, they look mysterious and if you venture into the heart of breathtaking Yangshuo, you will find caves and grottoes hidden amidst the undergrowth. An incredibly beautiful city, many visitors to Guilin head to the Moon and Sun Pagoda for the lovely view it offers over the area.
6. Guangzhou [SEE MAP]
© Song Yang / Dreamstime
Dating back over two thousand years, Guangzhou´s location on the Maritime Silk Road means that it has ancient historical sites and, due to the diverse influences of traders on the city; an eclectic range of architectural styles. As the third largest city in China, Guangzhou is a hectic and chaotic place to visit and its vast size can threaten to be overwhelming.
Hidden amongst the endless concrete jungle however are some of the oldest temples in the country such as the Liurong Temple as well as the lovely 627 AD Huaisheng Mosque. A melting pot of cultures, Guangzhou is a frenetic yet interesting place to catch a glimpse into cosmopolitan China. Taking a boat trip on the river at night past the sparkling skyscrapers will live long in the memory and, with the most restaurants per capita; your stomach will also savour your trip to Guangzhou!
5. Lhasa [SEE MAP]
The capital of Tibet, Lhasa is a mesmerising city to visit and it is situated in a beautiful and mountainous environment in the Himalayas. The Potala Palace is the primary site of interest and the incredible building looks absolutely amazing. Jokhang Palace is also memorable to visit and it is home to Tibet´s most prized possession – an ancient and delightful statue of the Buddha. Very different from the rest of China; head here for an insight into the rich Tibetan culture.
4. Xi’an [SEE MAP]
With a plethora of historical sites littered around the city, it certainly is tough to see everything in Xi´an. The Army of Terracotta Warriors and Horses however is an absolute must and they really are spellbinding to behold. In addition to this you should also look to visit the city´s ancient city walls which protected Xi´an and enabled it to turn into the ruling seat of the Ming Dynasty. In fact, seventy-three emperors ended up ruling from here for over a thousand years and Xi´an was the capital of thirteen dynasties in total.
What we now know as Chinese civilization spread forth from this influential city and although rampant modernization has changed the face of Xi´an you can still find numerous sites that testify to its former glory.
3. Shanghai [SEE MAP]
As the largest city in China, Shanghai is a thriving place with a wealth of things to see and do. Lying on the banks of Huangpu River, the towering skyscrapers make for a spectacular sight and somewhat surprisingly; there are loads of Art Deco buildings to be found among them. Most tourists head straight to the Bund which is located alongside the riverbank and has an eclectic mix of colonial-era buildings.
Often called ´the museum of buildings´, the Bund is a relic to the foreign imperial powers that once ruled the city. Due to Shanghai´s rapid growth over the last century, the city is an eclectic mix of different architectural styles and as a commercial center it is great for shopping in. For a glimpse of old Shanghai, head to the Old Town and the lovely walled Yuyuan Gardens.
2. Hong Kong [SEE MAP]
© Valentin Armianu / Dreamstime
This city of skyscrapers lies on Victoria Bay and behind it, a beautiful backdrop of forest-coated mountains only adds to the magnificence of the scenery. The nearby Victoria Peak is a great vantage point from which to behold the glistening Hong Kong in all its glory. Another fantastic way to take in the panorama is to take to the water and look up at the high-rises stretching towards the heavens before you.
Cosmopolitan Hong Kong is a mishmash of cultures and peoples and that is in part what makes it so worth visiting. That and the lively markets – a shopper’s paradise! Nearby Lantau Island is a great destination for nature lovers looking to get out of the city.
1. Beijing [SEE MAP]
© Zhaojiankang / Dreamstime
With over twenty million people residing in the nation’s capital, Beijing is a bustling and expansive city with a plethora of attractions for visitors to delight in. As a first stop, many head to the huge Tiananmen Square which is bordered by so many fine buildings such as the Forbidden City which once housed the imperial court. With over a hundred museums dotted about the city as well as a number of palaces, temples and archaeological sites interspersed among the encroaching modern buildings; there certainly is a lot to see.
Make sure to take to the streets and try as much delicious food as possible! From Beijing, it is just under an hour to visit some of the nicest parts of the Great Wall of China. Twisting and weaving its way over the hills and mountains of the countryside; it really is an incredible feat of engineering.
17 Best Places to Visit in China
Vast and diverse, China is a giant of a travel destination. With more megacities than any other country in the world, as well as the country with the largest population, any visit to this Asian giant is a beguiling and engaging mix of charming traditional culture and modernity. With 53 diverse ethnic groups and more than 292 spoken languages, each destination in China is different from the last.
Visitors making their first trip to China usually stick to the larger cities. More experienced visitors to the Middle Kingdom will strike out in other directions, where traveling may be a bit more frustrating because of the language barrier, but most definitely doable for independent travelers. With so much on offer, the only problem is how to fit all the best places to visit in China into just one trip?
17. Kunming [SEE MAP]
ahenobarbus / Flickr
Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, is the economic, transportation and cultural center of southwest China. It is linked by rail from all of China’s major cities as well as with Vietnam; the rail link with Hanoi was established in 1901. Caravans to Southeast Asia, Tibet and India have passed through Kunming since the third century BC.
Kunming’s mild climate makes it a good place to visit any time of the year. It has cool, dry winters though summers can be hot and humid. Growing conditions are great for flowers, with more than 400 varieties grown here. The camellia is the city’s official flower. The city also is known for its lush green parks, such as Cuihu (Green Lake) Park with its waterways and winding paths. Younger travelers may enjoy a visit to Daguan Park because of its funfair and food stalls.
In addition to its own charms, Kunming serves as a base from which to explore the rainbow of ethnic minority in the area. The most well known nationalities are the Dai, Bai and Naxi. Another popular day trip is to the Yunnan Stone Forest that has been known as the “first wonder of the world” since the Ming Dynasty. Located 120 km (75 miles) from Kunming, the stone forest features awesome rock formations in various formations.
16. Macau [SEE MAP]
© Dolechen / Dreamstime
Located on the western side of the Pearl River Delta, Macau is a major gambling destination that is home to luxury resorts, glitzy casinos, and world-class entertainment. The city is set on the South China Sea, not far from Hong Kong and Shenzhen, and is known as the ‘Vegas of China’.
As the Portuguese ruled it for four centuries, Macau exhibits a fascinating mix of Chinese and Portuguese customs and cuisines. Interesting historic sights also abound, with churches, temples, and fortresses found among the colorful colonial-era buildings of Old Macau.
While the Macau Peninsula has lots of important landmarks and several fantastic museums on offer, most people come for its casinos. These are not only home to every type of slot machine and gambling game imaginable but lots of restaurants, bars and hotels. In addition, they sport large shopping complexes and their theaters put on lots of mesmerizing performances and music concerts.
15. Tiger Leaping Gorge [SEE MAP]
Mulligan Stu / Flickr
Cutting dramatically through the rugged landscapes of Yunnan Province, Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the deepest, most scenic, and spectacular river canyons on Earth. Located just to the north of Lijiang, the gorge follows the Jinsha River as it passes terraced farms, quiet villages, and snow-capped peaks.
Stretching around 16 kilometers, the gorge winds between Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Haba Snow Mountain, both towering to more than 5,000 meters. Together, the majestic mounts and Tiger Leaping Gorge make for some of China’s most arresting natural sights and scenery, with breathtaking views on offer.
Due to its natural beauty, hiking along the gorge’s narrow trail is increasingly popular; this takes you past roaring rapids, sparkling waterfalls, and rugged cliffs. In addition, you can stay in secluded villages and guesthouses to learn more about the Naxi people’s rich culture and history.
14. Leshan [SEE MAP]
© Baoyan Zeng / Dreamstime
Located in Sichuan Province in southwest China, Leshan lies at the spot where the Dadu, Min and Qingyi rivers meet. The city is home to the largest stone-carved Buddha in the world and known for its proximity to the Mount Emei Scenic Area’s lovely scenery and historical attractions.
Although often overlooked, Leshan has an abundance of restaurants, cafes, and accommodation options, and boasts a thriving culinary scene. Scattered around town are many interesting sights, such as the famous writer Guo Moruo’s Former Residence and the Oriental Buddha Park, home to thousands of amazing statues and carvings.
The main reason people visit, however, is for the Leshan Giant Buddha, which towers to a staggering 71-metres. Built during the Tang Dynasty, the stunning sandstone sculpture is hewn out of the solid cliff face and looks out over the Min and Dadu rivers. Lying nearby is Leshan’s other highlight, Mount Emei, home to 76 Buddhist monasteries and plenty of lovely natural scenery and wildlife.
13. Suzhou [SEE MAP]
Long famed for its elegance, beauty, and culture, Suzhou lies just to the northeast of Shanghai, in Jiangsu Province. Set on the shores of Lake Tai and the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, the city is full of pretty canals and stone bridges; leading to its nickname, the ‘Venice of the East’.
Although in recent years, China’s rapid development has seen a myriad of modern buildings spring up, Suzhou still boasts age-old pagodas and scenic streetscapes. The city has four classical gardens, with the Lingering Gardens, with its four distinct sections, is considered a masterpiece garden in China. The gardens are delightful to stroll around and feature rocks, trees, pavilions, and lakes, all harmoniously put together. The Grand Canal, which connects Beijing and Hangzhou, runs through Suzhou, spawning a network of canals throughout the old city.
Founded over 2,500 years ago, Suzhou is a major center of Wu culture and was at one point the capital of the kingdom of the same name. As such, impressive historical sights can be found around town, while a number of excellent museums shine a light on its fascinating history and heritage.
12. Lijiang [SEE MAP]
© Lin Gang / Dreamstime
Nestled away in the northwest of Yunnan Province, Lijiang is a pleasant and picturesque place with a timeless look and feel. Once the capital of a small kingdom, the city boasts one of the best-preserved historic centers in China and is a popular tourist destination.
At the heart of Lijiang lies its magnificent Old Town, home to pretty canals, old stone bridges, and winding cobbled streets. Its myriad of beautiful wooden buildings exhibit elegant traditional architecture, with the expansive Mu Palace complex being a highlight. Hidden away among its narrow alleys are some charming tea shops and restaurants for you to try.
Besides its many historical sights, Lijiang is noted for being the main center of the Naxi people; their rich culture and heritage is on show wherever you go. At the cultural hall, for instance, you can enjoy a traditional music performance, while a number of interesting and informative museums can be found around town.
11. Wulingyuan [SEE MAP]
© Kiatyingangsulee / Dreamstime
Located just outside the small city of Zhangjiajie in northwest Hunan Province, Wulingyuan boasts some of the most impressive and spectacular landscapes in China. Part of the Wuling Mountain Range, the scenic area is particularly famous for the thousands of pillars and peaks that punctuate the park.
Often shrouded in mist, these karst formations look incredible, and many of them tower over two hundred meters high. Covered in sub-tropical rainforest, they rise above plunging ravines and deep gorges, with sparkling rivers, lakes, and waterfalls found here and there. In addition, the park is home to countless caves and Tianqiashengkong – one of the highest natural bridges on Earth.
Hiking around Wulingyuan’s awe-inspiring landscapes really is a treat, and many of its narrow trails pass along steep clifftops and death-defying drops. From its picturesque and at times perilous paths, you can enjoy exquisite panoramas of the park’s unique landscapes.
10. Dali [SEE MAP]
© Outcast85 / Dreamstime
Lying on the shores of the shimmering Erhai Lake with magnificent mountains rising all around it, Dali has long been a popular tourist destination. Located in Yunnan Province, the small city is mostly known for its scenic setting, rich cultural heritage and lovely old town.
Over the centuries, Dali was the capital of several kingdoms, so interesting and impressive historical and cultural landmarks can be found around town. Most of the beautiful buildings in the old town date to the Ming Dynasty, with its ancient city walls, Three Pagodas, and Chongsheng Temple counting among its main sights.
Many great museums are also scattered around, while the lake and nearby mountains offer a wealth of outdoor recreation activities. Hiking, horseback riding and rock climbing in the Cangshan Mountains are all very popular, while Erhai Lake’s shores are home to secluded and scenic villages and ancient towns and temples.
9. Jiuzhaigou [SEE MAP]
B_cool / Flickr
Jiuzhaigou Valley is a place that will appeal to travelers who enjoy the great outdoors and like their scenery pristine and uncluttered. A national park in Sichuan Province, it is home to several Tibetan villages, offering visitors a chance to see another lifestyle without having to brave the high altitudes of the Himalayan region. The region’s name means “nine Tibetan villages.”
The national park has been described as a fairyland because of its many waterfalls; snow-covered karst mountains, and its 108 blue, turquoise and green colored lakes that are so crystal clear one can see the bottoms. It is also the habitat of giant pandas, though the chances of seeing them are slim due to the park’s size and the number of tourists.
8. Hangzhou [SEE MAP]
Hangzhou is the capital city of the Zhejiang Province. Famed for its natural scenery, Hangzhou and its West Lake have been immortalized by countless poets and artists. In the 13th century Marco Polo described the city as the most beautiful and magnificent in the world.
Hangzhou’s most famous sight, West Lake is a large lake separated by causeways and lined with ancient buildings and gardens designed for relaxation and spirituality. Visitors will find pagodas, temples, walking paths, sitting areas, tea farms and a museum along its shores and sometimes jutting over the water. Tea is an important part of the West Lake experience. Dragon Well tea produced there is one of the most famous teas in China.
While West Lake arguably offers the best that Hangzhou has to offer in terms of Chinese architecture, gardening and landscapes, Xixi National Wetland Park features a traditional temple and several homes, as well as a being a good representation of local wildlife and its habitat. The Botanical Garden and zoo provide typical city entertainment, but in a distinctly Chinese setting.
7. Yangshuo [SEE MAP]
Yangshuo in south China was once a magnet for backpackers because of its cheap prices and laid-back atmosphere, but today it draws all sorts of travelers to enjoy its scenic beauty.
Yangshuo makes a good base to take day trips throughout the area. A favorite activity is to take a boat between Yangshuo and Guilin for a leisurely trip on the Li River, known for its beautiful scenery and karst mountains that have been made famous by photographers and painters all over the world. Many travelers choose to rent bicycles for the trip back, since the route is relatively flat and gives them the opportunity to view farmers toiling in their fields.
Yangshuo’s other famous sites include Moon Hill, so called because a huge hole in the hill resembles a moon; Assembling Dragon Cave, named after the dragon-shaped peaks that surround it, and taking a class in Chinese from one of Yangshuo’s many language schools.
6. Lhasa [SEE MAP]
Lhasa is one of the most important cities in Tibet and one of the highest elevated in the world at 3,500 meters (11,500 feet). Lhasa, in spite of its absorption into greater China, has retained much of its culture. During the 7th century, Tibet was unified under Songtsen Gampo, who built a palace on Mount Mapori. Over time, Lhasa went in and out of being the capital of Tibet, but it has always remained an important spiritual center.
Lhasa is very important to Tibetan history and is located meaningfully in a Himalayan Mountain valley. The city is home to the Potala Palace, which was the former home of the Dalai Lama. It was constructed on the Red Hill more than 360 years ago. It is composed of two parts, the White Palace, where the Dalai Lama lived, and the Red Palace, where religious study and practice took place.
Another palace in Lhasa is Norbulingka, built in 1755. It was the Dalai Lama’s summer palace before his exile. Most noteworthy are the palace’s gardens, which stretch nearly 90 acres with the sprawling palace. Other tourist opportunities include visiting Jokhang Market or Chokpori, one of the four sacred mountains of Tibet. To shop traditional wares and souvenirs, go to Barkhor Street.
Lhasa is also still clearly a city under occupation, with armed soldiers standing for the lookout on street corners and rooftops, and constant patrols throughout the city. Non-Chinese nationals are required to obtain a special permit to visit Tibet (Tibet Entry Permit) and hire a tour guide every day they stay in Tibet. This is strictly enforced but details change from time to time.
5. Xi’an [SEE MAP]
Xi’an is roughly as old as Beijing and serves as the capital city of the Shaanxi Province in northwest China. The history of Xi’an is one of its biggest draws. It was the start of the once indispensable Silk Road that made commerce between many countries in Eurasia possible.
It was the imperial seat for no fewer than eleven dynasties, before the unification of China between 1000 BC and 1000 AD making it one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China. Today, it is a cultural and technological center, being home to the Xi’an Aerospace Science and Technology Industrial Base.
Its most famous attractions is the rather recently discovered Terracotta Army, the protectors of the tomb of the first emperor of China. The site of the ancient Daming Palace includes some original structures and some reconstructions that were only opened to the public in recent years.
Xi’an also boast 14th century city walls that are more than 12 km (8 miles) long. They are not only a part of the city history, but traveling in Xi’an sometimes requires going under, on or around them. Other interesting structures in the city include the Roman Catholic St. Francis Cathedral of Xi’an, the Ming Dynasty Bell and Drum Towers built in the 14th century, and the Islamic Great Mosque. Those who want a more Eastern experience can watch a traditional Chinese opera at the Shaanxi Grand Opera House.
4. Shanghai [SEE MAP]
Located on the East China Sea and the mouth of the Yangtze River, Shanghai is the largest city and most developed city in China. Nearly a third of China’s exports come from the area and it attracts almost a quarter of all the country’s foreign investment, more than any single developing country.
Its skyline is filling with skyscrapers while shiny shopping malls, luxurious hotels and prestigious arts centers are rising alongside. The city nights in Shanghai are representative of the Western view of China cities with bright neon signs, bustling streets and numerous businesses.
When it comes to getting around in Shanghai, this city has everything, including an extensive Metro system. The most popular place to go for a stroll is the Bund, Shanghai’s colonial riverfront along Huangpu River. While levies have significantly changed the Bund’s appearance, a number of architecturally significant buildings are adjacent to the strip and are still visible.
Visitors will see a few remnants of old China in Shanghai. However, the city is markedly modern with futuristic buildings like the Mercedes-Benz Arena and the Oriental Pearl Tower dotting the landscape. Visiting museums is the best way to get a look at the culture of the area and how it has changed over the years. Moreover, the museums tend to be in interesting buildings as well. These include the Shanghai Natural History Museum, the Shanghai Museum and the Rockbund Art Museum.
3. Great Wall of China [SEE MAP]
Severin.stalder / Wikipedia
One of the world’s greatest architectural and engineering triumphs, the Great Wall of China spans over 6,000 kilometers and is the country’s most famous sight. In total, it passes through 15 Chinese provinces. Its watchtowers, gates, and fortifications are strung from the Desert in the west to the Bohai Sea in the east.
Built over the centuries and millennia by various Chinese kingdoms, states, and empires, the wall meanders through treacherous terrain and past some spellbinding scenery. While its earliest segments were built back in the 7th century BC to protect people from raiders, many of its most famous parts date to the Ming Dynasty.
As it snakes across mountains, valleys, and hills, the Great Wall has plenty of stunning scenery for visitors to enjoy. While some parts are very well-restored, others lie in wild and remote regions and are in various states of disrepair. One of the most popular sections of the Great Wall to visit is Badaling, just outside of Beijing, while Jinshanling draws hikers due to its untouched nature and fabulous views.
2. Hong Kong [SEE MAP]
Located off China’s southeastern coast, Hong Kong is a glittering, world-class commercial center where Chinese culture, British colonial influences and modern day high-technology blend together. While it contains the world’s highest concentration of skyscrapers and one of the highest population densities, Hong Kong also offers plenty of green spaces, mountain views and beaches.
Some of the must-see attractions include the famous Victoria Harbour, which is a spectacular sight at night with all the dazzling skyscrapers and The Peak, Hong Kong Island’s highest hill which offers awe-inspiring views of the harbor. From amusement parks like Ocean Park and Disneyland Hong Kong to prestigious museums, fabulous shopping malls, bustling night markets, horse racing, beautiful beaches and rides on the world’s longest outdoor escalator, Hong Kong has something for everyone.
Eating in Hong Kong is an experience all itself with a wide variety of cuisines from international to local Cantonese. A popular food style is dim sum, which involves small portions of food traditionally presented in steamer baskets. Typical dim sum dishes include tasty dumplings with meat, rice noodles, steamed vegetables and soups all served with Chinese tea.
1. Beijing [SEE MAP]
Beijing is the current capital city and remains one of the most popular places to visit in China. Its history dates back more than 3,000 years and much of that history is still alive within its borders. Beijing literally means Northern Capital, a role it has played many times in China’s long history.
It first became notable in Chinese history after it was made the capital of the State of Yan under the name Yanjing. The Mongols seized the city in 1215 and from 1264 it served as the capital of a united China under Kublai Khan. After the fall of the Mongol-founded Yuan dynasty in 1368, the capital was initially moved to Nanjing but was moved back in 1403 and received its present name.
Beijing is home to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the National Museum of China, as well as the Old and New Summer Palaces. These and other attractions are perfect for observing Chinese gardens, ancient architecture and Chinese culture from a range of periods in the country’s history. There are numerous temples within and just outside of the city for those who want to witness Confucius, Taoist and Buddhist landmarks or perhaps have a spiritual experience. One of the most popular places to view the Great Wall of China is at Badaling, located about an hour by train or 1.5 hour by bus from Beijing.
Known for its flatness and regular construction, the city has only three hills and its concentric ring roads are actually rectangular, like the configuration of the Forbidden City. Beijing boasts an extensive public transportation network, which includes an extensive subway system.
There are bike trails, but travelers may find the pollution too oppressive for cycling. For more than 100 years, Wangfujing Commercial Street has been the best place to shop in Beijing. However, the Yashow and Silk Street Markets are also very popular.
Map of China
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