Where to go in China
It goes without saying that China is a very big country and the traveller is spoilt for choice with regard to destinations to visit. However, there are some standout popular places to visit on China tours that can easily fill a couple of weeks of travel including Beijing, Xian, Chengdu, Yangshuo and Shanghai.
If you are lucky enough to have a bit longer there are many other superb options that don’t receive nearly as many visitors but are just as worthwhile. These include Pingyao, Huangshan, Hangzhou and Lhasa in fantastic and remote Tibet! For a thorough tour through the best China has to offer we recommend having a look at our China Destination Guide.
CHINA’S MOST POPULAR DESTINATIONS
BEIJING 北京 - China's top attraction
Arguably China’s premiere destination is it’s capital city, Beijing. With it’s unique mix of ancient and modern, you’re never too far from a unique piece of imperial history or the latest cutting edge restaurant. Thankfully the mass construction that has occurred here over the last two decades hasn’t been at the expense of the wealth of historical sites on offer. In short, Beijing has the history, cuisine, culture and cutting edge that has made this one of the 21st centuries must see cities.
XIAN 西安 - Home of the Terra Cotta Army
Once known as Chang An, Xian was the capital of Tang Dynasty China and before that the resting place of the great Yellow Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. It was his mighty Terra Cotta Army that would join him on his journey to the afterlife that still has millions flocking to this city over 2000 years later. This was also the beginning and end of the Silk Road, evident in it’s Muslim quarter today, making it perhaps the greatest city on earth during it’s heyday.
CHENGDU 成都 - Best place to see the Pandas
Chengdu, the capital of mountainous Sichuan Province, is the place to see that iconic symbol of China, the Giant Panda, in the flesh. Friendly people, excellent food and plenty of impressive countryside surrounding it make Chengdu a great place to come and visit as well as to use as a base to see the rest of what this province has to offer. From the Giant Buddha at nearby Leshan to Emeishan, one of China’s four sacred Buddhist mountains, Chengdu is your starting point in Sichuan.
YANGSHUO 阳朔县 - Some of China's best scenery
Not so long ago this sleepy fishing village near Guilin used to be the secret of a few backpackers. Nowadays it has become a major tourist destination without destroying the charm that first attracted those looking for some peace in China. The scenery is some of the most stunning in the country with huge limestone karst mountains surrounding the beautiful Li River. Whether you are looking to trek, climb, sail or just sit down and watch the world go by, Yangshuo has something for everyone.
HONG KONG 香港 - Spectacular skyline
Hong Kong is where East meets West and creates something unique. There’s something familiar but also exotic in this most dramatically located of cites. Travellers keep pouring in from all over the world to enjoy the shopping, nightlife and world class cuisine but also the tranquil fishing villages and temples of the outlying islands. Add to this one of the world’s most impressive skylines and this makes the perfect start or finish point to a China tour.
YANGTZE RIVER 江长 - Cruise the Three Gorges
The Yangtze is Asia’s longest river and the third longest in the world. A cruise along part of it offers the spectacular Three Gorges whose sheer height seems little effected by the rising waters of the dam of the same name. The dam itself seems almost as monumental and passing through it’s great locks has become an unforgettable part of any Yangtze river cruise. There are several stops along the river route to visit historical sights all in all making this one of China’s premiere attractions.
LIJIANG 丽江市 - Old Town - spectacular setting
This UNESCO World Heritage recognised city is a stunning mix of cobbled streets and tiled roofs with the imposing thirteen peaked Jade Dragon Snow Mountain looming in the background. Lijiang has become a more and more popular tourist destination over the last decade but it’s still possible to find some peace and quiet in either the back streets of the old town, in one of the less crowded villages nearby or out in this stunning countryside.
SHANGHAI 上海 - The best of modern China
Mainland China’s financial capital and perhaps the best example of the breakneck speed of change and development that has occurred in China over the last couple of decades. While it doesn’t have a wealth of historical sites, it has an energy and dynamism that give you a feeling for what New China is all about. With the European Bund of a century ago facing the brand new Pudong skyscrapers there can be no doubt where this city is heading.
CHINA’S LESS VISITED BUT HIGHLY WORTHWHILE DESTINATIONS
HUANGSHAN 黄山 - Classic Chinese scenery
Huangshan has inspired many an ancient Chinese poet and painter over the centuries and if the weather is king to you, you will come away feeling that you have seen a very special part of China indeed. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Huangshan offers you the scenery seen in so many traditional Chinese scenes with the summits of peaks seemingly floating above a sea of cloud. Much of the mountain area is accessible by well marked paths painstakingly cut into the rock although some of these paths are not for those with a fear of heights and precipitous drops!
PINGYAO 平遥 - Ming Dynasty Walled City
Pingyao is the only Ming Dynasty city left in China that has a complete city wall and really letting you step back in time and see what that would have looked like. Far from being a “museum piece” there are still people living in the old city as they have for centuries. Once the centre for banking in China, this wealth has left plenty of Ming architecture and it’s a real hidden gem of China. Pingyao International Photography festival every September is a must for all budding photographers.
HANGZHOU 杭州 - Tranquil West Lake
Hangzhou has been at the centre of East Asian culture for centuries with poets, artists and writers being inspired by it’s stunning West Lake. The tranquil lake has countless gardens, pavilions and temples to explore by foot and by boat. All this can be found less than an hour from Shanghai thanks to the new ultra fast bullet train service meaning you can come and stay or visit it as a day trip now. The influence of the West Lake spread beyond China into Korea and Japan and after visiting it you’ll surely see why with the misty views and ancient pagodas sure to please.
ZHONGDIAN SHANGRI LA 中甸县 - Little Tibet in Yunnan
Zhongdian was renamed in 2001 to Shangri-la after the 1933 novel Lost Horizon’s mythical city in the clouds. Despite this cunning marketing ploy by the local government it is still not as tourist heavy as other parts of Yunnan. It is essentially a Tibetan town high up in the mountains and is blessed with a beautiful National Park, China’s first, as well as friendly locals and plenty of Yak. It’s position makes it easily visited from Lijiang and the climb into the mountains is spectacular.
EMEISHAN 峨嵋山 - Sacred mountain
One of China’s four sacred Buddhist mountains and now a UNESCO world heritage site Emeishan can be found 150km south of Chengdu. The 3,099m high mountain requires warm clothing all year round and is peppered with temples and, weather permitting, the views from the temples can be extraordinary. It is best visited in conjunction with a trip to the Giant Buddha at Leshan and is well worth a night on the mountain to catch the amazing sunrise.
LHASA 拉萨 - Tibet's spectacular capital
Capital city of the spiritual land of Tibet, Lhasa is a truly astonishing city that has to be seen to be believed. Once home to the now exiled Dalai Lama and his forerunners the history, architecture and the sheer contrast make the time, expense and high altitude of Lhasa well worth it. A place it seems everyone in the world has an opinion on, it’s certainly worth coming here and experiencing it firsthand before forming yours.
SUZHOU 苏州 - Classical Chinese Gardens
Suzhou is perhaps most famous for it’s place in history as the centre for Chinese silk production which in turn made this a very affluent city. It is probably the most famous of all the water towns that surround Shanghai and is full of exquisite classical Chinese gardens and beautiful canals. The new Suzhou’s apartment towers have been kept quite separate from the old town and it’s quite easy to forget where you are while slowly drifting along the canal in a place sometimes called “Venice of the East”.
HAINAN 海南 - Tropical beaches in Southern China
Often referred to as the “Hawaii of the East”, at least by the mainland Chinese Hainan Island’s tropical beaches and good weather all year round make this China’s only really good beach option. It’s rise from provincial backwater to top beach destination has been meteoric and it is now home to some of the best 5 star resorts in Asia. It’s not the cheapest of beach locations in Asia but certainly worth a thought.y.