China at a Glance
Population: 1.4 billion
Capital City: Beijing (approximately 22 million)
Currency: Chinese Yuan Renminbi (CNY)
Time Zone: UTC+8
International Dialing Code: +86
Passport and visa
Passports should be valid for six months from the date of entry into China.
Most nationalities require a visa to visit China obtained from their local Chinese embassy. Single, double and multiple entry visas are available. 3 months is the maximum duration of stay on a single entry visa, while multiple entries can be made for 2 months at a time.
There is a visa exemption rule for travellers visiting for less than 24 hours in transit and 51 nationalities are also visa exempt for up to 72 hours of transit time. There is also a special visa exemption for travellers visiting Hainan province. Please note that if you are travelling to China with a group you will usually be issued a group visa that has its own rules.
For a full list of visa exemptions and further information, please check here.
Phones & Internet service
Telephone connections are widely available. You may need to register with your mobile supplier for international roaming services and to check the associated costs. Also, SIM cards are widely available to purchase. There are two primary service options, China Mobile and China Telecom. You will be required to show ID or your passport in order to purchase SIM cards.
Internet access is available in major hotels and airports, however, fees may be charged for access to the internet in hotel rooms.
People, Cities & Culture
For over 5,000 years, China has maintained its reputation as one of the most innovative and ambitious cultures in the world. Since the days when the Silk Road stretched over multiple deserts and through the highest mountains in Asia, China has been a commercial hub where trade and culture flourished. This massive trade route created intercontinental ties that established China as one of the world's most historically influential empires. After a brief - by Chinese standards- period of stagnation, China has enjoyed a meteoric rise to global economic prominence, and is now widely considered to be one of the most dynamic, powerful and vibrant nations in the world. Despite the rise of modernity in China, its long and illustrious history is still on full display, with incredible historical landmarks such as the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City and the Terracotta Warriors being just a few of the many historical marvels to be found throughout the country.
While China is rich in historical heritage, it's also home to some of the largest and most metropolitan cities in the world. As more and more of China's immense population migrates from the countryside to urban areas, its cities have grown to epic proportions. With the ever-rising strength of China's economy, towering skyscrapers, thriving financial districts and ultra-chic pockets of nightlife have popped up throughout the country. Despite its massive population and ever-growing list of mega cities, China is also characterised by vast and varied landscapes of astounding natural beauty including including immense gorges, vast plateaus, majestic holy mountains, rice paddy terraces, towering karsts formations and multi-coloured lakes.
Confucianism has has a profound influence on the Chinese way of life and culture. Even during the transition from developing country to fully-developed economic powerhouse, the true heart of China still remains deeply rooted in traditional beliefs, values and traditions that have gone unchanged for centuries. Even in the biggest and most metropolitan cities, one never needs to look very far to find fascinating examples of this.
Despite the near-ubiquitous influence of Confucianism on Chinese culture, an often understated aspect of China's allure as a travel destination is the incredible ethnic and cultural diversity of its people. Far from being homogenous, there are 54 officially recognised ethnic groups in China, each with their own distinct languages and cultures.
Travelling within China's major cities is relatively easy, but as many Chinese locals do not typically speak English, language barriers are more pronounced here than other parts of Asia. Most large cities have efficient subway systems, which can get you across the city relatively cheaply. Ticket dispensing kiosks have English settings and are quick and easy to use; stops are announced in both English and Chinese.
Taxis are also a good way to get around, but have your hotel's card, with the name and address in Chinese, handy, as taxi drivers often do not typically speak or read English. Taxis are generally comfortable and convenient forms of transportation, though, and are also fairly inexpensive -just be sure to check that the meter is turned on during your journey.
If time allows, walking is a great way to get around in China's metropolitan cities. The slower pace will allow you to peek into small alleyways and local haunts for glimpses into the daily lives of locals. To get the most out of these lesser-explored areas, Buffalo Tours offers walking tours in Beijing and Shanghai to explore some of these local neighbourhoods. Be sure to watch out for pickpockets, and keep an eye out for traffic when crossing roads.
When to visit China
A gargantuan nation bordered by fourteen countries, China’s weather and geography are extremely varied. Yet, being located in the Northern hemisphere, its seasons are timed similarly with Western Europe and North America. The best time to visit China is autumn or spring, when there’s less rainfall and more pleasant temperatures in most regions.
In northern China, home to Beijing and the ancient city of Xi’an, has more extreme variation in temperature. Summers can be as high as 40°C and winters can go down to -15°C. Rain is fairly continuous throughout the year, and sand storms can occur in the middle of April, when strong winds blow from Mongolia into the plain.
Central China, home to Chengdu, is characterised by winters are milder and summers are dryer than further south, making it a more pleasant place to visit year round. A bit further north in Sichuan province, Jiuzhaigou National Park, has similar climate. Due to its high latitude, however, temperatures are generally cooler.
South Western China boasts the karst filled Guilin and has a sub-tropical climate. It is humid year-round, hot in the summer and cool in the winter. Monsoon season lasts from May until September, with increased rainfall.
Eastern China has a sub-tropical climate; summer is rainy and hot, while winter is cold and overcast. Autumn is cool and Spring is warm, making them the most pleasant times to visit cities like Shanghai.
Please note: The weather can be unpredictable in Asia and we suggest you carry an umbrella or raincoat with you no matter which season you choose to travel.
Festivals and National Holidays
Chinese New Year, the most significant holiday of the year in China, is celebrated from lunar New Years Eve until the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first lunar month. It's usually at the end of January or beginning of February. Chinese New Year is an occasion for families to come together to clean their houses, give votive food and paper offerings to ancestors and celebrate by feasting on long noodles to ensure a long life. Red envelopes of lucky money are given to children, while lights, peach blossoms and red decorations adorn buildings. Parades with dancing lions and firecrackers fill the streets of most cities, while many people travel to their hometowns, leaving major cities quieter than usual. Consequently, this a good time to visit temples and major tourist spots, which are less crowded. Road traffic is generally sparse -which also means that taxis can be hard to come by. It’s a great time to explore local life in the some of China's hutongs, or traditional alleyway neighbourhoods. In places like Beijing, homes and shops in these areas are adorned with decorations and brimming with tasty festival dumplings. At night, cities are alight with red lanterns and fireworks, and there's a buzz of nightlife found in major cities like Shanghai or Beijing. For the most part, though, businesses grind to a halt during this time, so be sure to make all your travel arrangements in advance.
Quingming Festival, or Tomb Sweeping Day, is a popular holiday for ancestral worship celebrated around April 5th. Locals tidy the tombs of their ancestors, make offerings of food and light firecrackers as gestures of respect. The festival has ancient roots, beginning as a practice more than 2,500 years ago, when extravagant ceremonies were held by emperors to honour ancestors and seek blessings from them for prosperity and bountiful harvests.
Dragon Boat Festival, celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month, usually in June, is a vibrant festival predominantly celebrated in southern China. During this exciting holiday, dragon boats race across bodies of water, as teams pull their oars as quickly as they can to the rhythm of a beating drum. Zongzi, a treat of sticky rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves stuffed with meat or other fillings, is a common snack during this holiday, as well as Xionghuang wine, a traditional Chinese medicine used to ward off evil spirits.
Other important holidays include:
Top places to visit in China
Not only is Beijing immense, bustling and modern, the current political capital is entrenched in history. Home to the Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City, the Old Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square and a convenient access point to the Great Wall, the city is a must for any traveller. The maze of hutong alleys also provides a unique glance of pre-modern Chinese life, where many locals live simply and communally. Another cultural icon, Shaolin Kung Fu, can be seen at the Red Theatre for curious voyeurs of this ancient martial art.
Xi'an is the first capital of unified China, and considered by many to be the cradle Chinese civilisation as we know it today. The walled city served as the imperial capital of China for a period of time spanning nearly two thousand years, between 1046 BC to 909AD, and was home to 13 former dynasties. Xi'an was also the starting point of the infamous Silk Road, which connected China to the outside world and was vital artery for international trade. As such, Xi'an played a significant role in shaping not only China, but also the ancient world around it. Its importance, historically, cannot be understated. Together with Athens, Cairo and Rome, Xi'an is regarded as one of the four most historically siginficant ancient civilisation capitals in the world. This astounding historical heritage becomes abundantly clear to most visitors to the famous Terracotta Warriors of Xi'an who guard the ancient tomb of the first Qin Emperor. food in Xi’an is also well worth a taste, especially in the culturally diverse Muslim quarter. Here, visitors can explore markets and sample distinctive street grub as they walk around. With its combination of ancient history, unique culture and unique flavours, Xi'an is easily one of China's most iconic must-see destinations.
The “Land of Milk & Honey”, Chengdu is an area known for its abundance of resources, but has topped the to-do lists of travellers thanks to its endearing wildlife: the giant panda.Chengdu is also one of the oldest cities in China, with archaeological records dating back over 4,000 years. Its abundance of fascinating historical sites such as the Leshan Giant Buddha, makes it a compelling option for travellers interested discovering the unique cultural and historical heritage of China. Located in the heart of Sichuan Province, which is world-renowned for its unique and spicy flavours, Chengdu is also an amazing place to visit for foodies. So while many visitors may come for the pandas, it's the slow pace of life, deep history, and spicy flavours of its cuisine that make the city truly worthwhile.
Shanghai's legacy as an influential international trading hub contribute to the unique East-meets-West architecture that characterises its skyline. By as early as the 1920s, Shanghai earned a reputation as being one of the world's most prosperous cities, and was renowned for both its debauchery and its extravagance. After a brief lull following the Communist Revolution, a resurgance of China's economy has led to rapid development, making it the largest city in China and one of the most developed in the world. Despite the abundance gleaming skyscrapers and its futuristic appearance, Shanghai retains a uniquely authentic cultural vibe. With walks through the Bund and French Concession neighbourhoods, visitors can easily observe vibrant local life, while a cruise along the Huangpu River at night shows off a vast glittering cityscape containing some of the tallest buildings in the world. This stark contrast of old and new makes Shanghai one of China's most alluring travel destinations.
Surrounded by a majestic landscape of towering limestone karsts, stunning lakes and peaceful meandering rivers, Guilin is the face of China's natural wonders. The charming town of Yangshuo is the perfect place to board a cruise along the Li River to take in sights of a magnificent countryside studded with dramatic mountains lined with verdant swaths of greenery. Nearby, Longshen features centuries-old rice terraces carved into the mountainside. At the Guilin's highest mountain at the Dragon’s Backbone some of China's most stunning panoramic views can be seen.
Top things to do in China
Walk the Great Wall
Hike up the ancient steps along the most iconic structure in the world. The Great Wall spans over 6,000 kilometres and demonstrates the incredible engineering and military might of this ancient Empire. The wall is actually a series of walls interconnected, and the Mutianyu section is just north of Beijing. Walk along the wall’s high ridges and explore its ancient watchtowers, dating back more than 2,000 years. Savour superb views of the countryside, and consider gliding down on a toboggan or seeing more by cable car.
See the Giant Pandas
Half a century ago, most experts from around the world believed that giant pandas were slated for extinction. Efforts to conserve the species through protectoin and breeding programs led nowhere and the population was in precipitous decline. However, the Panda Research Centre in Chengdu changed all of that with the construction of a world-class breeding and conservation facility. Located in a region where pandas can still be found in the wild, the centre has, since, achieved great success in nurturing and cultivating this cuddly species to a point where their future is no longer in serious threat. Now a top tourist destination for visitors keen to observe one of the world's most iconic species up-close and personal, Chengdu has become one of China's most visited tourism destinations.
Taste the Peking Duck of Beijing
China's capital city, Beijing, has no shortage of amazing food to keep the hunger of even the most discerning of foodies at bay. The most iconic flavour of the city, though, is the world-famous Peking duck. Marinated with molasses, blanched and slow-roasted over a fire for hours, the duck’s crispy brown skin creates a signature taste that can only be found in Beijing. Eaten the local way, it's typically served with hoisin sauce, green onions and small Beijing's Peking duck is an experience like no other.
See the Terracotta Warriors
In 1974 a local farmer discovered something that would soon shake the world of archaeology whilst tending to his land in the countryside near Qi'an. Careful excavation revealed the massive burial complex and mausoleum of Emperor Qin, considered by many to be the founder of modern China after his role in unifying all the warring states of his time. Within the sprawling complex are thousands of spectacularly well-preservd statues of warriors and cavalry made out of terracotta - his army for the afterlife. These life-sized figures, each with distinct facial features, exhibit a level of craftsmanship and detail that is astounding given their age -more than 2,000 years old! Ever since their discovery and excavation, the Terracotta Warriars of Qi'an and the Mausoleum of Emperor Qin have been one of China's most iconic destinations and a true marvel for history buffs.
Shop in Shanghai
The global financial centre of Shanghai has some of the best shopping in the world, with both high-end brands, bargains and everything in-between. Start off at the pedestrian-filled streets of Nanjing Road, the best place in China to stock up on luxury brands and check out the premium-quality offerings on display there. In Xiangyang market, stumble across dozens of flea markets underneath mega shopping malls. Between bouts of retail therapy, head to Yuyuan Garden for a dose of peaceful rejuvenation before browsing the artisanal items and souvenirs for sale at its outdoor bazaar.
Walk the Bund in Shanghai
At the turn of the century, the Bund was the prominent financial centre of East Asia. Historic buildings with French, English and Chinese architectural elements dot this pedestrian walkway. Stroll along the Bund and take in the views of Shanghai’s distinctive past. Just across the Huangpu River, the Bund is also a perfect place to see the towering ultra-modern skyscrapers dotting the horizon.
Walk along the majestic waters of Jiuzhaigou
On the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, the "Nine Village Valley" of Jiuzhaigou contains some of China's most epic natural scenery. Tucked away in the north of the spectacularly beautiful Sichuan province, it features a pristine nature reserve rich with cascading waterfalls, snow-capped mountain peaks and kaleidascopic multi-coloured lakes brimming with crystal-clear water. Previously one of China’s best-kept secrets, this vibrant national park welcomes more and more visitors each year - so it's worth exploring while it still remains off the beaten track.
Hike up Mount E’mei
Mount E’mei is one of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains of China, located in Sichuan Province. Hike up or ride a cable car to Wannian, a Buddhist temple midway up to the mountain to reach the highest peak, known as the Golden Summit, over 3,000 meters above sea level. Take in spectacular panoramic views that are considered by many to be among the finest in all of China. From the Golden Summit it’s an easy stroll down to the natural monkey reserve, abundant with Tibetan macaques. These curious creatures have a penchant for snatching your personal items when you aren't looking, so be careful while snapping photos!