Wondering what are the best places to visit in China?
Sarah Zhou from Elysian Tours in China writes a guest column featuring tips and advice on first time travel to China. It’s an extremely relevant topic we’ve been looking extensively into, so we decided to bring in a knowledgeable traveler to share her advice for the best things to do in China!
China has been a hot destination in recent years. The diversity and vast territory of China make many travelers wonder about where to start the exploration of the country. I have worked out the most popular places to visit for a wonderful China vacation which might inspire you to start planning your trip today.
Be a True Man by Climbing Up the Great Wall of China
As an old Chinese saying goes, one could not be a true man if he or she fails to climb up the Great Wall. Inscribed as a princely man-made world wonder paralleling to the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China is the longest and largest military defensive system in the world spanning across lofty mountain ridges for over 5,500 miles.
Beijing would be the place for you to take in the most typical and best-preserved sections of the wall, such as Badaling, Mutianyu, and Jinshanling. Nowadays, to be a true man is much easier as you are offered superb means of transportation to ascend the Great Wall. Cable car and chairlift make this amazing architectural miracle accessible for exploration followed just by a little bit of hiking. For most travelers, Mutianyu Great Wall is the preferred section to view as it is less hectic and well preserved.
Peek at Ancient Royal Families’ Court Life at the Forbidden City
A visit to the Forbidden City is one of the top things to do in China for everyone. Located at the heart of Beijing, the Forbidden City served as a home to emperors of two dynasties for over 500 years till the fall of the feudal court in 1912. The UNESCO-listed Forbidden City is a sheer and magnificent ancient wooden palace complex with more than 1,000 chambers and rooms.
Surrounded by high scarlet citadel walls, Forbidden City was inaccessible for commoners in ancient times, but now it receives millions of tourists each year. With an experienced guide, the brilliant treasures and relics on display together with exquisite architecture could open a window into the mysterious court life and customs of the rulers closed to the world for hundreds of years.
Have a Face-to-Face Talk with 2000-Year-Old Soldiers of Terracotta Army
It would be a great pity if you plan a China trip without seeing the awe-inspiring Terracotta Army. The discovery of the underground troops was fortuitous for it was found when two peasants were drilling a well in 1974. That brought one of the world’s greatest archaeological finds to the public.
The Terracotta Army houses up to 8,000 life-sized clay warriors and several hundred chariots & horses that were buried underground with the first emperor Qin Shi Huang for more than two millennia. When you come face-to-face with those soldiers, you will find that each face, hairstyle, and armors are carved like no other.
The Terracotta Army are guardians of the mysterious mausoleum of the Qin Shi Huang that remains yet to be excavated. All the silent soldiers seem to tell you something about the emperor, for instance, how Shi Huang Emperor firmly expected to sit still on the throne in his afterlife.
Take a Li River Cruise to Absorb the Charms of Karst Guilin and Yangshuo
As the soul of Guilin, Li River is famed as one of the World’s Top Ten Watery Wonders. There is no better way for you to take in the natural beauty of Li River than taking a delightful cruise. The 83-kilometer-long waterway from Guilin to Yangshuo is the most scenic section of the river that is blessed with breathtaking karst landscape.
Take a boat along the riverside and enjoy picturesque green peaks, steep cliffs, farm fields and peaceful villages with bamboo groves. Besides, you could be a bit more adventurous and take a bamboo raft on Li River to enjoy the idyllic scenery and country life in complete tranquility.
Meet Chinese Living Fossil Giant Pandas in Chengdu
You cannot miss having a date with giant pandas when touring China in 2019. Chengdu, the hometown of giant pandas, houses the best sites for you to meet with these Chinese national star mammals. In Chengdu Panda Breeding Base, you could encounter the largest panda groups at different ages. For fanatical panda lovers, Dujiangyan and Wolong are also fantastic places where you could have up-close interactions with those adorable creatures by working as a volunteer panda keeper.
By the way, note that in the morning around 8:30-10:30 is the best time to see giant pandas when they are most active to enjoy their bamboo breakfast.
Take an Epic Pilgrimage to Lhasa Tibet
Perched on the world’s rooftop, Tibet is the most mysterious and long isolated region of China that appeals to millions of visitors every year. A visit to the magnificent Potala Palace where you could venture into the iconic seat of Dalai Lama is a must. Three of the greatest monasteries including Drepung, Sera and Jokhang will let you have an in-depth understanding of Tibetan Buddhism.
You will get deeply impressed by the interesting monks debating and pious pilgrims who prostrate all the way down to the temples. Meanwhile, Tibet is endowed with unrivaled natural spectacles that may steal every adventurer’s heart. You could launch a pilgrimage to the sacred Yamdrok Lake and Mt. Kailash or discover the awe of Mt. Everest by hiking to the Base Camp.
Discover the Mother River of China – Yangtze
If you want to slow down your travel pace and need time to digest what you have seen already, then a Yangtze cruise comes perfectly for you. You get a chance to immerse yourself in total relaxation and leisure just on board. A 3-day downstream voyage from Chongqing to Yichang is highly recommended, as the scenery along the three gorges goes more and more beguiling until the cruise reaches the big dam.
Lovely short onshore excursions are offered for you to breathe in the historic interest and pastoral country life of rural China, while colorful cultural activities are scheduled on board to enrich your leisure time, like learning Tai Chi and Mahjong. Amazing facilities and western buffet meals would guarantee you a comfortable and enjoyable exploration of Yangtze.
Maybe China doesn’t sound like the place for you?…Asia is filled with amazing countries high and low, surely a country exists in this region of the world for everyone!
Capture China Future Prospects from Shanghai Bund and High-Rises
Shanghai is the richest and most developed mega city where you can see the modern face of China. Crammed with both European colonial relics and futuristic skyscrapers, Shanghai's magic lets you dig into Chinese culture in more familiar surroundings. If you have to do one thing in Shanghai, then take a leisurely walk along the Bund. A one-mile stroll at waterfront area is a great way to have a glimpse of the glamorous architecture complex in Gothic, Baroque and Art Deco styles across the Huangpu River.
The glistening rabble of skyscrapers jut into the clouds, so why not get on top of one! Consider climbing Shanghai World Financial Center to have the most spectacular vista of Shanghai skyline and the panorama of Shanghai urban cityscape. Though Shanghai Tower is the highest skyscraper, SWFC has better views over the Bund.
Getting to Shanghai affordably can be a walk in the park if you know how to book a flight!
Wonder at the Avatar Floating Peaks in Zhangjiajie
With the esteemed fame of being China’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Zhangjiajie is one of the most outstanding geological and forest parks in the world. Comparing to other travel destinations in China, Zhangjiajie is a bit hard to access but still super appealing to tourist crowds. The astonishing natural beauty of the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park comes from the huge sandstone peaks and pinnacles jutting into the sky, with lovely evergreen shrubs clinging to its top.
The park unfolds like a true wonderland of mythical Pandora veiled in the mist, which has inspired the otherworldly floating peaks of the movie Avatar. The park is large and diverse and caters to photographers, hiking zealots, and adventure lovers. Two days is a perfect amount of time to explore this place of awe and thrill.
Discover West Lake and Meijiawu Tea Plantation in Hangzhou
Take a day trip to Hangzhou if you stay in Shanghai as they are at a distance of one-hour high-speed train ride only. Reputed as the Heaven on Earth City, Hangzhou is a fine travel destination largely famous for the enchanting West Lake and the livable atmosphere in the greenery city. The picturesque West Lake offers breathtaking vistas, a boat trip on the lake is one of the best things to take your fancy in Hangzhou!
The natural landscape of the city is less dramatic, but the far-reaching history of tea plantation adds undefeated charms to Hangzhou. For some insights into Hangzhou’s Longjing Tea, go to Meijiawu Tea Plantation for an in-depth hands-on experience like tea picking, tea tasting, and ceremony.
Immerse into Suzhou Water Towns and Classic Gardens
There is no reason to skip Suzhou if you fancy traditional Chinese architecture and watery wonders. Suzhou is a gorgeous destination only half an hour by train from Shanghai, where you could dive deep into Chinese culture and history. As a home for over 60 classic gardens, Suzhou houses a number of UNESCO-listed architectural stunners including Humble Administrator's Garden, Lingering Garden, and Master of Nets Garden.
In addition, there are plenty of picturesque water towns such as Tongli, Zhouzhuang, and Wuzhen, where you could see crisscrossing waterways, bridges and old merchants’ mansions lined on narrow cobbled streets. No matter which water town you visit, the best way to absorb their charms is by a seafaring gondola.
Learn Chinese Kung Fu at Shaolin Temple
In China, you get a chance to check out of the classic scenes appearing in Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee’s acrobatic fighting films. Shaolin Temple has been widely regarded as the birthplace of Chinas most extraordinary Kung Fu, where many masters reside to teach traditional martial arts to worldwide Kung Fu lovers.
There is a terrific Kung Fu show in the temple, which shows you the authentic martial spirits of China in person. As a Kung fu fan, you will also enjoy a chance to even learn some simple moves for self-defense.
Catch the Heartbeat of Hong Kong Day and Night
Hong Kong is a vibrant international metropolis where the east meets the west. It is well worth a few days to explore this dynamic city, and you will be spoiled by what Hong Kong has to offer. Hong Kong is arguably a shopping paradise ranging from high-end shopping malls at the Central to street vendors for cheap stuff at Mong Kok. Best panorama of Hong Kong’s mind-boggling skyline could be captured from the top of the Victoria Peak, the highest hill in Hong Kong. A dreamy cable car could elevate you up to the Big Buddha for an amazing sweeping look.
Hong Kong will blow your mind with everything from its crazy nightlife and club fun at Lan Kwai Fong to street food experience at Temple Street, and a relaxing cruise over the Victoria Harbour. You could also set out on a day excursion to Macau from Hong Kong by high-speed catamaran to take in the Spanish influenced city and renowned gambling culture.
Visit Untouched Minority Tribes in Guizhou
It is fairly rewarding to see some of the predominantly rural regions of China. Guizhou is one of the most culturally diverse provinces in the country. It is nearly unknown to people outside China, so a tour to Guizhou is viewed as an off-the-beaten-track experience. Half of the locals are minority groups, such as Miao, Dong, Yi, and Yao, who maintain a traditional lifestyle in remote villages.
You might come across Miao women wearing their colorful attires, seniors playing Lusheng (a musical instrument made of reed tubes), farmers plowing their swirling rice terraces using water buffalos, and Dong girls singing a grand chorus by the drum tower as well as craftsmen making paper in ancient techniques. The discoveries of Guizhou could be fortuitous but absolutely promising.
Explore the Nature and Diverse Minorities in Yunnan
Yunnan is a captivating travel destination that I cannot recommend enough, as there are so many things to do for travelers of every kind. Blessed with varied landscapes, Yunnan is absolutely a paradise for photographers as it offers spectacles like Yuanyang Rice Terrace, Dongchuan Red Land, and bizarre Stone Forest.
The well-preserved ancient towns in Dali and Lijiang also let you step back in time to trace old buildings, traditions, and craftsmanship, and soak up the laid-back and leisure lifestyle of locals. A deeper discovery of Shuhe, Baisha, and Xizhou allows you to experience colorful minority cultures of Naxi, Bai, and Yi people from their festivals, traditional attires, residences and even a morning market. With untouched nature and brilliant views, Yunnan is also a paradise for hiking.
For first time travelers to China, the above destinations are highly recommended. If you have a longer vacation, cover as much as you can. If your vacation is within a limited time, consider Beijing, Xi'an, Shanghai, Guilin, Yangtze River Cruise, Chengdu and Zhangjiajie for your exploration. The amazing Southwest China of Yunnan and Guizhou takes a longer time to cover, each needs a week to fully explore their brilliant nature and diverse minority culture.