Top 10 Places to Visit in China
China is the third largest country in the world in terms of area. In terms of population, it’s right at the top of the list. This is a vast country, but it is also a nation rich in tourism. The vast plains, mountainous regions with snow-capped peaks, steep gorges, virgin forests and deserts all make for stunning destinations, while its huge cities offer an intriguing culture.
China also has 56 minority groups whose traditional customs, clothing and architecture attract travellers from all over the world. With a history of more than 4,000 years, the country has a heritage of great value, including the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.
Top 10 Places to Visit in China
China is a country full of treasures. Whether it’s the beauty of its landscapes, the incredible historical and cultural wealth, or recognisable China landmarks, your time here will certainly leave you with an unforgettable memory.
Below are a list of the things to do in China you simply must make time for if you’re planning a visit to this magnificent country.
1. Great Wall of China
All China tours include the Great Wall and clearly no traveller can visit the country without seeing it. A feat of architecture and construction, it is more than 6,000 kilometres long, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and easily visited from a base in Beijing.
The Wall is divided into several visit sections:
- Badaling is the most popular section, bustling with other tourists eager to tick the monument off their lists.
- Mutianyu is a quiet section of the Great Wall of China where the surrounding scenery is beautiful.
- Juyongguan is located 50 kilometres away from Beijing so these areas are less busy and you will discover landscapes that are different from the photos we are used to seeing.
- Jiankou, also located close to Beijing, is the wildest part of the great wall. This really is one for the most adventurous as the passages are more difficult to navigate on what is more of a hike than a casual walk.
- Jinshanling is a little further from Beijing – at about 120km – and is a section of the wall which is a little bit more deserted by other tourists but still amazingly beautiful.
- Simatai, renovated and re-opened in 2016, is a section that remains authentic (the work was intended to secure the section rather than rebuild).
If you go to China, Beijing, not just the capital but the political, economic and cultural centre of the country, is an essential stop.
It houses the sites and symbols of imperial China – The Forbidden city, The Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven – but it is also a place where you can lose yourself in a hutong, the interlaced alleys around the city, or as a base from which to hike along the Great Wall.
Beijing is also a city of the future with its surrealistic skyscrapers, the National Theatre and of course the site of the Olympic Games with the famous Cube of Water, the National Swimming Centre and Bird’s Nest stadium.
3. The Forbidden City
The Forbidden City, one of the most important palaces in the world, is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Formerly the residence of the emperor during the Ming and Qing dynasties, it is now a must-visit within Beijing. To visit the Forbidden City in its entirety, count on saving an whole day to marvel at its splendour.
4. The Summer Palace
This is yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site within Beijing. China has 50 registered sites, placing it second on the list of countries with the most – just after Italy and its 51 sites.
But to return to the Summer Palace, there is – in addition to the palace itself – a huge park built around Lake Kunming. With these landscaped gardens, temples, pavilions, halls and bridges, this is the perfect place to spend a quiet afternoon in Beijing.
5. The rice terraces of Longji and Jinkeng
About two-hours drive from Guilin are the rice terraces of Longji and Jinkeng, also known as Longsheng rice fields, named after the district in which they are located.
Rice paddies stretch over 800m of elevation difference, between 300 and 1,100m above sea level, and it is possible to hike in the fields between the villages of Ping’An and Dazhai. Count on having around five hours of walking time if you decide to do this – and make sure to take your time and enjoy the beautiful landscapes all around.
The Yuanyang rice paddies are some of the most beautiful in the world and a visit to the rice terraces is an activity that is not to be missed during a trip to China.
6. The Terracotta Army in Xi’an
The terracotta army represents the army of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China and creator of the Qin Dynasty and it was intended to protect the emperor in the afterlife. If you are looking for something to visit in China, this is certainly one of the first attractions you will want to see.
In addition to the famous terracotta soldiers, archaeologists have found more than 40,000 bronze weapons, such as axes and arches on the site, all in a remarkable state of preservation. The site that was studied represents only 1% of the tomb’s surface. In fact, it is estimated that 700,000 workers worked for nearly 30 years to build the mausoleum.
The rest of the city of Xi’an is also an impressive place. A former imperial capital, it is now a bustling metropolis that still has a special atmosphere in its old town. Here, don’t miss the Great Mosque, which you will reach after being lost in the narrow and winding streets of the Muslim district. Built in the 7th century, then restored under the following dynasties, it has a very particular architectural style mixing Chinese and Islamic styles.
7. Mount Huang (The Yellow Mountain)
Mount Huang – or the Yellow Mountain – is one of the five sacred mountains of China.
It is in the Anhui Province and is easily accessible from Hangzhou, Shanghai or other major Chinese cities. Here you will find beautiful panoramas and thousands of steps for a hike that makes you work for the pay-off – but when you reach the top you’ll find it.
8. Shanghai and the Bund
Shanghai is literally on the sea and was only a small fishing port in the early 19th century.
It’s come a long way since then, and in a way, by making Shanghai one of the ports open to westerners in the past, the town grew into what it is today.
Today, the urban atmosphere in Shanghai is unique. The district of Pudong and its recognisable buildings are an obvious draw.
Or there is the Bund, an area along the waterfront where you will find a more German style of architecture and a walk along the Huangpu Jiang River. It is the major tourist attraction of the city and offers a panoramic view of the business district including the Shanghai Tower (the second highest in the world in 2017) and the Pearl of the Orient, on the other side of the river.
The Bund offers tourists a great place to sample the gravitas of the city, as resplendent in early morning sunrise as it is when the lights of the towers in the business district are reflected in the water of the river.
Guangzhou fascinates and intrigues tourists. It is a gateway to South China and both a beautifully situated port on the edge of the Pearl River Delta and a rebellious city, proud of its success in modern China.
But it is first and foremost a commercial city and the image of Chinese commerce: unbridled, uninhibited and firmly anchored in a long history.
As an ‘open city’, Guangzhou hosts many cult sites such as the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, the temple of the Chen family ancestors, the Huaisheng mosque alongside the many Buddhist temples, not to mention the Taoist temple of the Five Immortals.
The beautiful Yuexiu Park features the statue of the Five Rams, founders of the city and a monument dedicated to Sun Yat Sen, child of Guangdong and founder of the Republic of China. Finally, do not leave Guangzhou without visiting the island of Shamian, a 19th-century colonial town. The old international concession, although restored, has kept its charm of the time.
10. Hong Kong
A trip to Hong Kong should definitely be part of your China itinerary.
Climb by funicular railway and walk around Victoria Peak, the highest point of the city. Also enjoy walking in the Central and Wan Shai neighbourhoods. Cross the bay by ferry to Kowloon, shop in the Temple Street Market and Jade Market, visit the Marine Museum, Hong Kong History Museum and Wong Tai Sin Temple.
If this is your first time in China, it is worth organising an escorted tour including the best sightseeing that fits your desires and one that includes travel and logistical planning from flights to accommodation.