There are many places to visit in China, a huge country in extension, besides being the most populated in the world. In the last decades, China has been advancing economically and in other fields at a dizzying speed, although even with this it still preserves its millenary culture, which has been transmitted since ancient times.
The contrasts between modernity and tradition, its landscapes that seem to be from another planet, its ancient villages, futuristic cities, great monuments and buildings, and all this combined with a rich cuisine, make China one of the most dreamed-of destinations for all travelers.
Based on our trip to China in 25 days and the trip to Tibet, in which we spent 3 days in Shanghai, we have made a list, according to our criteria, of what we believe are the 10 places to visit in China that are essential. Let’s start!
Beijing is a city that cannot be ignored with its more than 20 million inhabitants, full of contrasts where you can see narrow streets or Hutongs with traditional houses next to large avenues and modern skyscrapers.
Although there are hundreds of things to do in the city, visiting the Forbidden City, the Temple of the Lamas, the Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square or the Temple of Heaven, besides trying the delicious Dim Sum or the Peking duck, are just some of the best things to do in Beijing.
We recommend that you spend at least 3 or 4 days in the city, because in addition to the many visits, the long queues at its most famous attractions and the trips will take some of your time.
One of the good tips for traveling to China is to ask the hotel to write down in Chinese the addresses of the places you are going to visit, since this, if you have to ask, can save you a lot of time and misunderstandings.
2. The Great Wall
The Great Wall of China, almost 9,000 kilometers long, built from the 5th century BC onwards to protect the northern border from attacks by nomadic tribes and which has been rebuilt over centuries, is one of the great wonders of the world.
There are several sections that can be visited more or less easily, among which are some as incredible as the one that meets the Shanhaiguan Sea or in the desert, in the province of Gansu, although the most famous are those near Beijing.
The most popular area near Beijing is Badaling, located one hour and a half away, which although it is the most accessible, also the worst option for us since it is usually saturated with tourists.
The Mutianyu section, 2 hours from Beijing, tends to have fewer tourists than Badaling and as it is in a more mountainous area, it can be explored more peacefully. Its disadvantage is that it has been completely restored, both the walls and the towers, and although it retains its original style, for us this detracts from its charm.
In our visit to the Great Wall of China, we chose to do the trekking between Jinshanling and Simatai. This mountainous area, located about 4 hours from Beijing, is perfect to see areas of the wall without restoration, where you can also enjoy the Great Wall of China almost alone, since both the difficulty of trekking and the location, make not many people go.
During the 8 km route along the wall, which usually takes about 4 hours, you will cross several towers with magnificent views, which we are sure will become part of this incredible journey.
Without a doubt, the Great Wall of China is one of the most essential places to visit in China and in the world for any traveler.
3. Zhangjiajie National Park
There is a spectacular place in China that inspired James Cameron to create the Pandora’s universe in which his movie Avatar is set. This place is the Zhangjiajie National Park, one of the most incredible places to visit in China and although it is not easy to reach, it is well worth the effort. To get to Zhangjiajie, we took the train in Chengdu to Chongqing and from there a flight to the city of Zhangjiajie.
The Zhangjiajie National Park or Avatar Park stands out for the mountainous formations in the shape of columns, some of which are over 1000 meters, which have been formed over time by erosion. It is also impressive by the vegetation that grows at the top of the pillars in the form of trees and shrubs, which give it a landscape of another planet.
To climb to the top and enjoy its viewpoints, you have several options: lift, cable car or walking. We recommend that if you are not very fit, you choose to go up by cable car or lift and walk down.
We also advise you to visit it as soon as possible, since unfortunately, the authorities are turning it into a theme park with even a McDonalds, to the detriment of preserving nature in its original state.
4. The Terracotta Warriors of Xi’an
In 1974 some farmers digging a well near Xi’an city discovered by chance the Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum. This great emperor of China had himself buried with an army of over 8000 life-size terracotta figures in a war formation, each with different features in its face and body position.
During all this time more figures have been discovered and restored, although there is still much of the emperor’s army and mausoleum buried.
Today, the Terracotta Warriors of Xi’an are considered the Eighth Wonder of the World and are visited by millions of tourists every year.
We recommend that if you want to see it with fewer people, take the bus first thing in the morning to get there at 8:30 am, the opening time.
Fenghuang, a city frozen in time, is another of the places to visit in China and for us, the most beautiful city in the country, where the old part of the city preserves quite well its original aspect from the times of the Ming and Qing dynasties.
We recommend getting lost in the historical centre, strolling aimlessly through alleys and old buildings, climbing up parts of the walls and towers with magnificent views, crossing bridges and above all, walking along the beautiful area of the Tuo Jiang River where you will see the picturesque wooden houses that stand on the bank and seem to hang over the river.
6. Hong Kong
When we arrived in Hong Kong after a long route through China we were surprised to see that this city had nothing to do with the other cities we visited in the country.
This former British colony, which enjoys a great autonomy within China, is quite westernized and usual to see how huge futuristic skyscrapers are mixed with temples and areas where the Chinese tradition is maintained, something that makes it a unique and essential city to visit in China.
There are many things to do in Hong Kong, such as watching the incredible skyline while walking along the Avenue of Stars, going up to the Victoria Peak lookout point at sunset, looking for a bargain in one of its street markets, going to Macau to try your luck in one of its casinos, taking the cable car to see the Great Buddha or trying the delicious Cantonese cuisine in one of its many restaurants.
7. Great Buddha of Leshan
About two hours by bus from Chengdu is one of the monuments that have impressed us most in our travels around the world, the Great Buddha of Leshan. World Heritage Site, with its 71 meters high, this stone statue of Buddha is the tallest in the world and was built in the eighth century on a cliff by the river.
For us, the Great Buddha of Leshan was the icing on the cake of a complex full of temples, statues carved in the rock and gardens, which sometimes is not visited in its entirety and which we have to say, is just as incredible as the Great Buddha.
Of course, the Buddha area is full of local tourists and there are usually long queues to get there, so we recommend visiting early and leave the rest of the monuments for later.
Another good option is to take a boat ride on the river with magnificent views of the Great Buddha of Leshan.
Pingyao, is a traditional city that falls in love at first sight besides being considered one of the most beautiful cities to see in China.
This ancient medieval city, a World Heritage Site, is well preserved with its medieval buildings of the Ming and Qing Dynasties and is surrounded by a six-kilometer wall that surrounds Pingyao, with a square shape and has become one of the most famous places in the city. It is also notable for its multi-storey towers located in the middle of the main streets, such as Nan Dajie.
We arrive at Pingyao by night train from Datong, another place worth visiting, especially to see the impressive Hanging Monastery and the Yungang Caves.
Arriving at Yangshuo after cruising down the Li River from Guilin is one of the moments you will remember from your trip to China.
Located in the region of Guilin, famous for its incredible landscapes of rounded hills, Yangshuo is another city to visit in China.
The beauty of the city is its surroundings, where renting a bike will allow you to get away from the city and see the real rural China while stopping every few meters to see its mountain formations. Another way to fall in love with Yangshuo is by taking a bamboo raft ride on the Yulong River, where you will enjoy the scenery without the boat traffic of the Li River.
On our trip to Tibet we spent three days in Shanghai before taking the Cloud Train to Lasa.
During these days we were able to discover a city with a modern and a traditional part, separated by the enormous Huangpu River, which maintains a frenetic activity at all hours of the day and is one of the economic engines of current China, besides having one of the most important ports in the world.
Walking around the Bund by day and by night to see one of the most beautiful skylines in the world is one of the best things to do in Shanghai. But there are many others, like going up to the viewpoints of its incredible skyscrapers, visiting the beautiful garden and market of Yuyuan, visiting its temples, having a last drink in one of its modern bars with a view, relaxing in its parks, or trying Chinese cuisine in one of its many restaurants.
Also in Shanghai, you can enjoy the incredible ERA acrobatic show, Shanghai Circus World one of the most incredible shows in the world.
To move around the country you can use the plane, although the transports like the train and the buses are really comfortable, although it is also necessary to bear in mind that sometimes the barrier of the language can cause some misunderstanding. However, we are sure that this will not prevent you from moving easily through China.
Although determining a single time as the best time to travel to China is impossible due to the large size of the country, we could say that spring and autumn would be the best times, when its pleasant temperatures will allow you to better enjoy its great wonders.
If you’d like to help us expand the list of 10 must-see places to visit in China, add yours in the comments.