China Travel Guide

China is a vast and diverse country that leaves nearly every visitors awe-struck at its sheer scale. Not only is the colossal nation home to over one billion people and 5000 years of continuous history, it also covers nearly 10 million square kilometers. Among China’s seemingly endless destinations are some of the world’s most incredible cities, landscapes and landmarks. TheGreat Wall, the Forbidden City and the Terracotta Army are just a few of China’s ancient treasures, and prime examples of its status as the world’s oldest continuous civilisation.

On the other hand, Beijing and Shanghai boast such futuristic modernity that there’s no denying the country’s breakneck sprint into the 21st Century. China’s natural wonders are not to be sniffed at either, with the bizarre sandstone pinnacles of Wulingyuan, the awe-inspiring karsts surrounding theLi River and the epic slopes of Mount Everest. It’s fair to say, China has it all.

Top Destinations in China

Beijing

China Travel Guide

As one of the most populous cities in the entire world, Beijing is a capital city that maintains a precarious balance of ancient tradition and modernity. As one of the six ancient cities of China, Beijing has its fair share of ancient relics and monuments that put it on the world travel map.

The city’s impressive sights and sounds don’t end at ancient history, though. It’s also home to a fascinating collection of narrow residential alleyway blocks, called Hutongs, that puts travellers up-close and personal with a quickly vanishing communal lifestyle in the city. These hutongs are the perfect example of China’s enormous cultural shift over the past century – and how it changed the way urban Chinese locals live.

On the contemporary side of the spectrum, Beijing boasts an array of impressive modern architecture. There are a host of unique buildings that were built for the 2008 Olympic Games, as well as record-breaking skyscrapers.

Must see:

If you’re in Beijing, a trip to the Great Wall of China is essential. This 3rd century structure is over 8,800km long and crosses over nine provinces and municipalities. The wall is not only a colossal feat of engineering, but a symbol of China recognised worldwide.

The Temple of Heaven is another unmissable sight for history buffs, having hosted China’s emperors for centuries. It covers a grand area of 2,700,000 square meters and the complex design is reflective of the relationship between earth and sky. The Forbidden City and the nearby Tiananmen Square are also sights to behold, boasting the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures and one of the largest city squares in the world.

For modern architecture enthusiasts, a visit to some of the Olympic Games stadiums are a must. TheNational Stadium earned the name the “Bird’s Nest” due to its unusual twig-like design and the National Aquatics Center, which is considered to be one of the most complex structures in the world. Beijing is also home to one of China’s most intriguing skyscrapers such as the CCTV Headquarters, which has a gravity-defying design.

How to get there:

By plane: 

As the capital of China, Beijing is connected to the rest of the world via three airports. Both international and domestic flights are likely to land at Beijing Capital International Airport, the main international airport in China which has connections to some 157 cities.

The Airport Express provides frequent services from Terminal 2 & 3 to the city centre and the journey only takes about 20 minutes. Other options to reach the city are taking a prior arranged Hotel Shuttle Bus, the Airport Shuttle Bus or a taxi.

Beijing Nanyuan Airport and Beijing Xijiao Airport can also be used to reach Beijing but are primarily used as military airbases.

Buy bus: 

Destinations across the country offer regular long-distance buses to Beijing, including Shanghai, Mongolia, Harbin and Xi’an. However, these journeys can be extremely long and bumpy, depending on where you travel from and which service you take.

By train:

Beijing is accessible from a number of domestic destinations with over 200 services to and from the city. Trains from the east go to Beijing Railway Station and trains for other directions go respectively toBeijing West Railway Station, Beijing South Railway Station and Beijing North Railway Station.

However, as China is such a large country, trains take considerably longer than planes. For example, a train journey from Shanghai to Beijing takes approximately 14 hours whereas by plane the journey is just over 2 hours.

Yangshuo

What it is:

Equal parts idyllic countryside town and wilderness escape, Yangshuo looks like it came right off of a postcard. Within the town itself, visitors are usually relieved to find that noise and air pollution are very low here, and that the clean streets make for a pleasant daytime stroll. But while a wander around the town centre is a nice way to spend a day or two, the main reason visitors head to Yangshuo is to embark on journeys further into its scenic outskirts.

Must see:

A perfect place to explore by bike, boat and foot, the Yangshuo countryside promises a perfect backdrop of massive karsts, caves, rivers and mountain temples. Some of the best places to take in the sites are theYangdi-Xingping scenic area or the Li River, best explored by traditional river boat. Make sure to have your camera ready along the way – this is a great place to see fishermen and rice farmers at work among the natural wonder.

How to get there:

By plane:

The nearest airport to Yangshuo is Guilin Liangjiang International Airport which is about 1.5 hours away by shuttle bus. Shuttle buses operate to Yangshuo every 1.5-2.5 hours between 9:30 and 22:30.

By bus:

A number of services operate to Yangshuo, terminating at the South Bus Station and the North Bus Station. Popular routes are from Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Xingping.

By train:

Yangshuo Railway Station is about 14 miles away from downtown Yangshuo and can be reached fromGuangzhou, Guilin, Guiyang, Liuzhou and Nanning.

By boat:

There are number of cruises that travel to Yangshuo but the most popular is definitely Guilin to Yangshuo. Boat trips are recommended to be booked in advance through your travel provider.

Chengdu

Thanks to its agricultural wealth and fertile plains, Chengdu is often called the “Land of Milk and Honey”, and is located on the edge of the Red Basin in Sichuan Province. The city here is uncommonly laid back and relaxed, and is considered one of the most livable mega-cities in China – probably because of its fantastic use of green space. Within the city, the People’s Park and Tianfu Square top the list of places to see. But while Chengdu is a lovely urban centre to explore, the real reason most head to Chengdu is to meet and see the iconic giant pandas.

Must see: 

At the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding and Research Center, giant pandas are cared for within an environment not so different from the wild – but are protected from poaching that could otherwise risk the survival of their species. Visitors here have an opportunity to get up-close and personal with the animals, and even get to learn about how pandas are cared for in China.

Beyond meeting furry friends, Mount Qingcheng is also a famous Taoist mountain where visitors can enjoy verdant evergreen forests and a famously peaceful atmosphere. Another must see spot is JinliStreet, a shopping area lined with traditional architecture and famously known as the ‘First Street of the Shu Kingdom’.

How to get there:

By plane:

The only airport in the city is Shuangliu International Airport, located about 10 miles from the centre. The airport operates flights to about 70 domestic cities and 20 international cities, including London, Paris and Los Angeles.

Buy bus:

The city has a handful of long-distance bus stations, with the most popular being Xinnanmen Bus Station, also known as Chengdu Tourism Bus Centre. The station is less than two miles for the city centre and operates a number of journeys from many popular tourist destinations. For example, Chengdu can be reached from Mount Emei, the Southern Bamboo Sea, Bifeng Gorge (Panda Protection and Research Center) and Leshan Giant Buddha.

By train:

Chengdu has a number of convenient passenger train stations, Chengdu Railway Station, North RailwayStation, East Railway Station, and South Railway Station. These stations operate services from almost all of our ‘top 10’ destinations, including Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, Kunming, Emeishan and Guilin.

Guilin

Not far upstream on the Li River is Guilin, another of China’s most scenic cities. Just like Yangshuo, Guilin is a hub of beautiful mountain scenery and a whole host of outdoor travel activities. Though less idyllic than Yangshuo within the city centre, Guilin is in close proximity to some of China’s most beautiful natural wonders. The city is famous for its towering, greenery-covered karsts that surround scenic rivers and caves. Although primarily known for its natural wonders, Guilin also boasts 2000 years of history and has been the political centre of Guangxi for many years.

Must see:

The most popular activity in Guilin is unsurprisingly taking a lazy boat ride down the Li River, enjoying the stunning surrounding scenery.

A visit to the Reed Flute Cave is a must, this spectacular cave is filled with ancient stalactites and stalagmites which are lit up with an array of brightly coloured lights. Travellers should also float by Elephant Trunk Hill, an unusual rock formation which has become symbolic of Guilin.

Boat trips are the best way to explore these areas, and are easily paired with journeys through neighboringYangshuo and Longsheng.

How to get there:

By plane:

Guilin Liangjiang International Airport accommodates a number of flights from major cities in China, including Beijing, Hong Kong, Kunming, Shanghai, Xian and Chengdu. The airport is also accessible from many international destinations, such as Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. A regular shuttle bus runs from the airport to city centre, which is about 27 kilometres away.

By bus:

Buses into Guilin are generally from close-proximity destinations, such as Yangshou and Longsheng. To reach Guilin from destinations at a further distance, planes and trains are a better option.

By train:

Guilin has two train stations, Guilin Railway Station, which is just south of the city, and North Railway Station, which is in a less convenient area in the northern suburbs. There are a number of routes into Guilin, including from Beijing, Chengdu, Kunming, Shanghai, Xi’an and Yangshuo. Many of the departure points offer both sleeper trains and day time trains.

By boat:

Guiling has two well-equipped docks, Mopanshan Passenger Transport Dock and Zhujiang Dock which are ideal for travelling to Guilin from Yangshou. The former is about 27 kilometres from downtown Guilin and best reached by taxi, the latter is about 32 kilometres from the centre.

A cruise from Yangshou to Guilin will take approximately 4.5 hours.

Kunming

What it is:

Known locally as the “City of Eternal Spring”, Kunming is one of the only cities in all of China that enjoys beautiful weather and blooming flowers year-round. Kunming is also home to some of southwest China’s most pleasant walking streets and public squares, as well as 26 of Yunnan Province’s ethnic minority groups. Kunming city is the focal point of these ethnic cultures, and it’s not uncommon to see men and women in traditional dress roaming the city streets alongside domestic and international tourists.

Must see:

Central Kunming is a great place to see stunning architecture like the Golden Temple, the largest copper temple in China, and the Western Hills, where a number of landmarks are nestled within the landscape thought to look like a giant sleeping Buddha.

Kunming is also home to the incredible Stone Forest. This astounding natural wonder is one of Asia’s best examples of karst topography, with jagged stones jutting up from the grass in a grandiose collection of stone sculptures across 400 square kilometers.

How to get there:

By plane:

Changshui International Airport can be reached from domestic destinations such as Beijing, Chengdu,Guilin, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Xian, as well as international airports like Bangkok, Kuala Lumpurand Singapore.

Buy bus:

There are a number of bus stations in Kunming with the West Bus Station alone operating almost 1000 bus services. With such a vast choice, it is easy to find long-haul bus services from many places in China. Some of the most popular starting points are Beijing, Shanghai and Yunnan Province, but there are many more cities that offer direct buses to Kunming.

There are also some international bus services from Vientiane and Luang Prabang in Laos that stop at Kunming’s South Bus Station.

By train:

The main train station in the city is Kunming Railway Station which has regular services from Beijing,Chengdu, Guilin, Shanghai, Qujing and Xi’an.

There are also train services from Hanoi, Vietnam to Kunming’s North Railway Station but these services are less frequent and require organizing a visa in advance.

Both train stations are less than three miles from the city centre, only a short taxi ride away.

Leshan

What it is:

Leshan is yet another of China’s scenic cities, boasting idyllic views over the confluence of the Dadu and Min Rivers, as well as bounteous hills and mountains. There are a number of religious sculptures, pavilions and temples hidden within the scenery, and some of the mountains themselves even have sacred importance to Buddhists. Locals are known to be extremely proud of their ancient heritage intertwined with China’s history of Buddhism, and there are no end of tours, walks and discoveries to be made within Leshan’s distinct scenery.

Must see:

Leshan’s Giant Buddha shouldn’t be missed, as the largest carved stone Buddha in the world, taking over 90 years to make. The Giant Sleeping Buddha is another amazing sight but, unlike the Giant Buddha, is formed from natural mountains.

Mount Emei (also called E’meishan, since “shan” means mountain in Chinese) is an important centre for refuge and spirituality in China. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, this incredible mountain is both a natural wonder and the home to more than one hundred temples and monasteries. Some of the best monasteries include Wan-nian and Baoguo Temple, which is home to a massive bell that can be heard 16 kilometres away when rung!

E’meishan is most famous for its incredible hiking trails through the national park, and of course a journey to the Golden Summit, home to a multi-faced statue of Samantabhadra and incredible peak views. Make sure you’re prepared for a serious case of vertigo here, since the sea of clouds that often dominates the views here are sure to make your heart beat a bit faster.

How to get there:

By plane:

As there isn’t an airport in Leshan, those who wish to travel by plane should fly into Chengdu ShuangliuInternational Airport which is 150 kilometres from Leshan. From there, visitors can take a train or bus to the city.

Buy bus:

There are three bus stations in Leshan, the Central Bus Station, Leshan Port Sight-seeing Bus Stationand Lianyun Bus Station. Most buses stop at the Central Bus Station, including buses from Jiuzhaigou,Mianyang and Chengdu Shiyang Station. There are also buses from Chengdu New South Gate Bus Station to Leshan Port Sight-seeing Bus Station.

By train:

Chengdu-LeshanEmeishan Intercity High-Speed Train is a fast, reliable option to go directly fromChengdu Shuangliu International Airport to Leshan Railway Station. There are also a number of services to Leshan from Chengdu East Railway Station and Chengdu South Railway Station which stop at Leshan’s North Railway Station.

By boat:

Leshan Port offers service to nearby cities, such as Chongqing, Luzhou and Yibin, and tourist sights, such as the Giant Buddha and Wuyou Temple.

Longsheng

What it is:

Longsheng is located in the Guangxi Region, along with Guilin and Yangshou. The county is considered one of China’s most scenic gems but bears little resemblance to the nearby mountains and rivers of Guilin and Yangshuo. Longsheng is most famous for the Lingji rice terraces, man-made terraces which have become very much part of the scenery. With a name that translates to “Dragon’s Backbone”, the county lives up to its name with dramatic, curling shapes cloaking the hills. Along with awe-inspiring landscape, Longsheng is home to approximately 10 ethnic minority groups, all of which live in different villages with various intriguing cultures and backgrounds.

Must see:

Split into two areas, the Lingji rice terraces are divided among the Ping’An terrace fields and theJinKeng terrace fields, each with their own villages and communities. Here you’ll not only find beautiful terraces, but you’ll also have the chance to meet some of China’s ethnic minority groups – including the Zhuang and Yao.

How to get there:

By plane:

There is no airport in Longsheng so visitors need to fly to Guilin Liangjiang International Airport and then take a bus to the county.

Buy bus:

Because of Longsheng’s remote location, there are not many direct buses to the area. The best way to reach Longsheng is to make your way to Guilin city centre. From here, there are frequent buses to Longsheng from the General Bus Station, operating from 06:50 to 19:00, every 30-40 minutes.

Shanghai

What it is:

Shanghai is most certainly a testament to China’s future as a country. The jagged Shanghai skyline, as witnessed from the banks of the Bund, is in itself a sight worth travelling for. The city, after all, is dotted with soaring skyscrapers that seem entirely distinct from the ancient architecture that China is best known for. This arresting urban sprawl is a perfect backdrop for the discovery of a thriving and modern China.

That said, Shanghai is certainly not devoid of ancient charm with many beautiful relics of Shanghai’s past life. Travelling from glittering downtown to the ancient heart of its traditional districts is the perfect way to explore the ever-evolving identity of China.

Must see:

To get a taste of Shanghai’s modern, business-oriented culture, pay a visit to Suzhou. This major economic city is one of most important commercial hubs of China and boasts an impressive waterside skyline against Yangtze River. Or, head to the Bund, a famed riverside walkway, to enjoy panoramic views of the city.

Visit Yuyuan Garden, otherwise known as the ‘Garden of Happiness’, to see architecture and flora laid out in classic Suzhou style. The beauty of the area is not only skin-deep, with its history dating back to the 16th Century.

For an alternative view of Shanghai, head to the outskirts to see Zhujiajiao Water Town. This unusual town is established across a network of rivers and 36 stone bridges. Here you’ll find many historical buildings, including a Qing dynasty post office and Kezhi Garden.

How to get there:

By plane:

Shanghai is home to two international airports, Pudong International Airport and Hongqiao International Airport. Together, the two airports accommodate approximately 1,000 flights from all over the world. And, both airports offer convenient airport shuttle buses which take approximately one hour to get into the city centre.

Buy bus:

Shanghai can be reached by almost anywhere in China by bus, with over 1,000 routes served by 40 long-distance bus stations.

By train:

A number of high-speed railways connect to Shanghai’s three main train stations, Shanghai Railway Station, South Railway Station and Hongqiao Railway Station. The city can be reached from major cities, such as Beijing, Nanjing and Hangzhou, as well as number of more remote destinations.

By boat:

Shanghai is home to China’s largest port where a number of cargo ships and passenger ships make stops. These ships travel from as far as Europe, the Americas and Australia, as well as many other destinations along the way. The trips are often a holiday in themselves as they can take weeks to reach Shanghai, depending on where you are travelling from. Organising one of these journeys is a little more difficult than other forms of transport as they may need to be booked in advance by a specialist travel agency, but they are definitely a unique, memorable and social way to reach China.

Three Gorges & Yangtze River

What it is:

Though China has its fair share of beautiful destinations, one of the most incredible places to witness natural China is on the Yangtze River. This mighty river is one of the two most significant in China (alongside the Yellow River in the north), and is famous not just for its natural beauty, but also for its important role in the history and culture of China. The Yangtze River also flows through the Three Gorges and the Three Gorges Dam, which in itself had a profound affect on the region’s ecology and people.

Must see:

As the longest river in Asia, a cruise down the Yangtze River is a perfect way to see China’s countryside at a leisurely pace. Plus, since it’s a great alternative to land or air travel, it’s also a fantastic way to travel through the country while still enjoying the sights.

The Three Gorges Dam is also a mind-blowing sight, as the world’s largest power station and a true force to be reckoned with. The dam has a considerable affect on the ecology of China and has been a controversial topic worldwide.

How to get there:

By plane:

The Three Gorges is located in Yichang where there is one international airport, Sanxia Airport. Flights to here are available from Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, Hong Kong and Japan.

The airport is just over 15 miles from the city centre which can be reached by shuttle bus. From here, there are a number of local buses that go to the Three Gorges.

Buy bus:

There are three bus stations in the city, Dagongqiao Bus Station, Haitong Bus Station and Yichang Bus Station. The latter is the most popular with routes from Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Xi’an, as well as nearby cities.

By train:

Yichang can be reached daily by train from multiple destinations, including Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou,Kunming, Shanghai and Xian. Most trains stop at East Railway Station, just 10 miles from the city centre and a short public bus ride away from your hotel.

By boat:

With Xiling Gorge in an ideal location and the Yangtze River running through the middle of the city, a cruise ship is a common way to Yichang. The most popular route is from Chongqing, a 12-hour journey, but there are also cruises from Badong, Fengjie, Shanghai and Wanzhou.

Xi’an

What it is:

While other destinations in China might feel like they have ancient charm hidden in every nook and cranny, few places come close to the historically breathtaking city of Xi’an. Once called Chang’An, meaning “Eternal Peace”, Xi’an is considered one of the literal birthplaces of Chinese civilisation, since it’s located in the heart of the Yellow River Basin, which historians would call ground zero for ancient Chinese culture. Xi’an is also the eastern terminal of the ancient Silk Road and home to the incredible Terracotta Warriors (which date back to 210 BCE) so it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that Xi’an is one of the world’s most fascinating destinations for history buffs.

Must see:

Of course, the famous Terracotta Army is the most famous of all the sights in Xi’an. The collection of over 8,000 warriors, horses and chariots was buried with the first emperor of China in the 3rd Century, in an effort to protect the ruler in the afterlife. The colossal assembly is likely the largest funerary art in the world.

Xi’an is also home to a collection of beautifully preserved ancient architecture. Xi’an City Wall is one of the most impressive feats as one of the largest ancient military defensive systems in the world. The eight-mile wall is in surprisingly good shape, despite its age, it is the most complete surviving city wall in China.

The Bell Tower is another ancient monument that marks the centre of the ancient capital and Big Wild Goose Pagoda is arguably one of the most famous temples in China. Beyond built structures, Xi’an Wind and Percussion Ensemble is a must see sight for visitors to Xi’an. This UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage is just as fascinating as its tourist spots.

How to get there:

By plane: 

Xi’an is extremely accessible by many modes of transport as it is an essential junction between many regions in China. Xian Xianyang International Airport operates flights to over 100 cities, both international and domestic. There is also a shuttle bus to Xianyang City and a number of shuttle buses to downtown Xi’an.

Buy bus:

With over 1,740 miles of highway in the city and at least seven long-distance bus station, Xi’an is well connected to the rest of the country and can be reached from most major cities.

By train:

There are two railway stations in the city, Xian Railway Station and North Railway Station, the former of which is the largest railway hub in western China. There are regular trains from most major cities in China, including Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu. There are also a number of high-speed trains and bullet trains that stop in Xi’an.

Things to do in China

Discover Nature

Why: 

With a land size of 3.705 million square miles, it’s no surprise that China has vast and diverse scenery. There are layers of colourful rice paddies, immense jutting mountains and winding rivers. Some of these awe-inspiring landscapes are found miles from civilisation and others are vital elements of cities and towns.

Where: 

Perhaps one of the most beautiful examples of China’s natural scenery is Guilin where the famous Li River can be found nestled within awe-inspiring karst topography. Along the river are a number of famous and unusual rock formations, such as Elephant Trunk Hill and Reed Flute Cave. The region is also home to Yangshou, a town surrounded by dramatic jutting mountains, and the Dragon’s Back Bone, the most amazing rice terraces in China.

Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding and Research Centre in Chengdu is a dream come true for animal lovers. At this world-class conservation facility, visitors can see the furry friends foraging for honey and bamboo.

When:

Guilin and Chengdu are both best to visit during spring and autumn when temperatures are not as hot as the summer, and there are few downpours.

Insider Tip:

When visiting wildlife centres, do a little research before you visit. Not every institute that calls themselves ‘animal friendly’ are telling the truth. Check out their policies and read into reviews – this will give you a better idea of how the animals are treated.

Enjoy the view

Why: 

China has a number of high-altitude landmarks, not to mention plenty of fantastic views from the top. Both cityscapes, countryside and mountainous regions have lots to offer seen from great heights, and there are plenty of places to catch the view.

Where: 

The mountains, of course, are a great way to enjoy panoramic views of China. Mount E’mei, also known as E’meishan, is an important spiritual location in Leshan. Along with over 100 temples and monasteries, there are incredible hiking trails leading to the Golden Summit which offers great views from the peak.

For those who want a real challenge, it is even possible to climb Mount Everest from the China-side, the tallest mountain in the world! However, most choose to visit the mountain step off, Shigatse, or Everest Base Camp, which respectively have altitudes of 3,800 meters and 5,150 meters.

The Dragon’s Backbone is a less challenging climb which still offers incredible views over the famous Lingji rice terraces of Longsheng. And, although the Bund is not a high-altitude spot, it does offer great panoramic views of Shanghai.

When:

If you plan to take on Mount Everest, the best time to visit tends to be between May and October. But, beware, it will be cold! If you would like to visit some of the lower mountains and viewpoints, spring and autumn are warm and dry, with relatively cool mornings for hiking.

Insider Tip:

Depending on how high you plan to go, you may need some extra layers. Locals often offer a warm clothes rental service at the top of Mount E’mei, but it’s safe to bring something warm yourself, too.

Experience a Festival

Why: 

As a country that is home to one of the oldest civilizations in the world, China unsurprisingly boasts rich history. Many celebrations and traditions have survived over thousands of years through many generations, and include an array of ancient customs. Chinese festivals are certainly one of the most vibrant and memorable ways to indulge in local customs.

Where: 

Chinese New Year is not only one of the most important celebrations in China, but in many surrounding countries in Asia. The event is celebrated with elaborate parades, colourful firecrackers, decorative peach blossoms and lots of red! Arguably, Beijing holds the biggest celebrations but you can celebrate Chinese New Year in any of the major cities.

Qingming Festival, or tomb sweeping day, is a 2,500-year-old popular holiday for ancestral worship.Across the entire country, locals tidy the tombs of their ancestors, make food offerings and light firecrackers as symbols of respect for the deceased.

Dragon Boat Festival is a vibrant festival celebrated in southern China. This is an exciting holiday when dragon boats race across the water, as the teams pull their oars as quick as they can to the thump of a beating drum.

When:

Chinese New Year is celebrated around late January and early February, from the lunar New Years’ Eve until the Lantern festival on the 15th day of the first lunar month. Qingming Festival celebrated annually around April 5th and Dragon Boat Festival is usually celebrated in June.

Insider Tip:

As the festivals and celebrations in China follow the lunar calendar, the dates will fluctuate on the Gregorian (Western) calendar. Make sure to find out the correct date for the year that you’re visiting!

Also, be wary that public transport, and even taxis, are sparse due to many locals leaving the cities to stay in their hometowns.

Explore Ancient Architecture

Why

The building techniques developed thousands of years ago by the Chinese have played an essential part in the history of architecture globally. Many techniques, materials and styles that are still used around the world today are thanks to early discoveries in China. As well as being impressive feats of construction, much of the Chinese architecture is colourful, unique and beautiful.

Where: 

The Great Wall of China is perhaps the most famous symbol of the country, and rightly so, at an incredible 13,000 miles long and at over 2,000 years old. The structure can be visited in a number of destinations throughout China but perhaps the most popular is Beijing. Here, there are a number of popular spots to hike the wall, varying from completely restored to almost untouched.

The Forbidden City is another age-old treasure of Beijing that was vital during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The complex houses over 900 buildings and was home to many emperors. As well as beautiful traditional architecture, the area boasts an immense collection of ancient artifacts and artwork.

Xi’an City Wall is a lesser known structure in China but equally impressive. The 14th Century fortification was used as a military defense system in Xi’an during the Ming Dynasty. It is not only the best preserved ancient wall in China, it is also one of the largest ancient military defense system in the world.

When:

If you’d like to visit the ancient architecture in Beijing, the city has great weather during every season except winter. For those who would like to embark on an extensive exploration of The Great Wall of China, spring and autumn are ideal times for trekking with temperatures usually peaking at 20°C. If you will be casually ambling around the sights, summer is also an option with temperatures reaching about 30°C.

The weather in Xi’an is a little more diverse with winter hitting freezing temperatures and the summer heat often being interspersed with downpours. Spring and autumn are good times to visit the city as there is little rain and temperatures of up to 20°C.

Insider Tip:

Some of the ancient architecture in China draws extreme numbers of sight-seers, with The Great Wall of China drawing up to 70,000 visitors per day alone. To beat the crowds, catch the earliest possible tourist bus. Or, to avoid crawling crowds all-together, take a cable car at Badaling, Jinshanling, Mutianyu or Simatai, where you can also enjoy panoramic views of the iconic wall.

Hit the Parks

Why: 

Most people visiting China do not have parks on their list of sights to see – but they should! Public parksare one of the most fascinating places to see local culture in a country where public space is synonymous with national unity. Locals flock to these areas to join group exercise groups, dig into a meal or simply socialise, all of which is an entirely unique perspective of the country which shouldn’t be missed.

Where: 

In Shanghai’s Xiangyang Park, the people-watching is just as fascinating as the park itself. Certain Chinese chess matches are nothing short of a spectator sport with some serious sums of money hanging in the balance. Yuyuan Garden is another must-see park in the city, the 400-year-old park is home to beautiful scenery as well as age-old relics.

Chengdu is well-known for its great use of green space and the parks are one of the best places to soak up nature. One of the most popular parks is People’s Park, the first park built in the city and a sanctuary of priceless monuments as well as a number of entertaining – albeit confusing – open-air activities.

China’s National Parks are also a sight to behold. Wulingyuan National Park displays thin, towering rocks that give the impression of a giant stone forest and Jiuzhaigou National Park boasts vibrant mountain lakes and scenery.

When:

Spring and autumn are ideal times to visit China’s parks, especially in Shanghai and Chengdu. It is also, of course, a good idea to avoid stopping by the parks during the midday heat.

The ideal times to visit the National Parks depends on the activities you would like to do. October offers cool temperatures for trekking but late spring, early summer is best for water sports.

Insider Tip:

The earlier you visit the public parks, the better! The locals in China seem to rise before the sun and converge in parks to do all sorts of intriguing activities. It’s not unusual to find the grass covered with people by six-o-clock.

Hit the Shops

Why: 

We’re all familiar with the ‘made in China’ stamp that comes on many of our products at home. Though the country has a reputation for stellar brand name knock-offs, it’s also the birthplace of many imaginative inventions, premier technology and immense production of goods. And, there’s no way to experience the true extent of China’s merchandise like exploring the shops. A stroll down any shopping street or window shopping in any mall will confirm that China has anything and everything!

Where: 

Shanghai is famous for having some of the best shopping in the world, with both luxury brands and cheap bargains, and everything in-between. Nanjing Road is best for the former, selling plenty of designer products and high-end brands. Whereas, Xiangyang Market is perfect for the latter, made up of dozens of flea markets and thousands of cheap trinkets.

Across the rest country there are plenty of well-known hopping spots in many major cities. Beijing hasWangfujing Street, a great place to browse souvenir shops and department stores, and Chengdu hasChunxi Road, a diverse area filled with boutiques, malls and department stores.

When:

Although spring and autumn are generally the best times to visit China, shopping is also great duringsummer and winter. Escape the blistering heat in an air-conditioned mall, or hide from the rain while boutique hopping. Though Christmastime isn’t technically a national holiday in China, the season

Insider Tip:

Bargaining is part of the fun of shopping in China’s markets – a little bit of friendly haggling will not only get you a better price, but it will also spark communication between you and the locals. However, aggressive bargaining is not necessarily appreciated, and giving a little on your starting offer is expected from both sides of the negotiation.

Indulge in History

Why: 

China boasts one of the oldest civilizations in the world, dating back to 2700BC. The country’s rich history is filled with stories of powerful family dynasties, mystical folklore and ancient customs. Much of this intriguing past is reflected in the many ancient relics, monuments and architecture that can be found throughout the country.

Where: 

The Terracotta Army in Xi’an is a collection of over 8,000 man-made warriors, horses and chariots that was buried with the first emperor of China. Along with the overwhelming size of this colossal funerary art, the sculptures are thought to be made as early 246 BCE.

The Forbidden City and Great Wall in Beijing also hold great importance in history. The former boasts the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures, and the latter is over 2,000 years old, and can still be walked on today.

The Summer Palace, also in Beijing, is the largest imperial garden in China, as well as the most well-preserved. With construction beginning in 1750, the 740-acre plot incorporates beautiful natural landscape, such as lakes and hills, with some of the most exquisite architectural designs of the time.

When:

As with much of China, spring and autumn are ideal times to visit Beijing and Xi’an. However, as many of China’s historical attractions are based indoors, such as ancient architecture and museums, summertrips are also a good time to learn about China’s history, while also escaping from the heat.

Insider Tip:

Take a local guide! Although there are often plaques that explain the background of these ancient monuments, a guide can give you an entirely different perspective of the sites with much more detail.

Sample Street Eats

Why: 

Most Chinese restaurants outside of China simply do not do justice to the sheer diversity of the country’s cuisine. It’s unsurprising that the world’s most populous country has a wide variety of food, ingredients and flavours. In fact, there at least eight different culinary styles and no end of unique dishes! Like much of Asia, the very best place to sample Chinese diverse flavours is at its street food joints.

Where: 

In Shanghai, head to Pudong to explore one of the last remaining night markets in the city. Dig into the famous fried dumplings or take your pick from one of the many other dishes on offer to truly experience dining like a local.

At Ghost Street in Beijing, explore another vibrant culinary haven and one of the capital’s most famous food districts. Sample classic Peking Duck or try an array of local desserts while learning about the history of the areas unusual name.

When:

Obviously, China’s cuisine can be enjoyed all year round! On a daily basis, the best time of day to find fresh food is to visit the wet markets early in the morning. Whereas, it’s best to sample street food in the evenings when the night markets are open.

Insider Tip:

When you have finished eating in restaurants, make sure to leave a little bit of food on your plate to show that your host gave you enough food. Also, do not leave tips in places that are less accustomed to tourists, many local establishments find tipping offensive.

Take a Cruise

Why: 

There are over 22,000 rivers in China, an immense number that not only provide links across the country but to many neighbouring countries, including Bangladesh, Russia and Vietnam. The most famous are the Yellow River – the third largest river in Asia – and the Yangtze, the third longest river in the world. With such extensive options of waterways, boat travel in China is an amazing alternative to see the country.

Where: 

The most heavily-travelled river in China is the Yangtze River. A popular route is from Chongqing to Yichang, a 12-hour journey passing through incredible countryside on the way.

The Three Gorges Dam is also located on the Yangtze River. This mind-blowing sight is the world’s largest power station which has had a considerable effect on the ecology of China.

Guilin is a truly magical place for a boat journey, although not on a cruise liner but just a simple rowing boat. The journey is a strong contender with the sights on the Yangtze River. Floating down the Li River, you will find yourself surrounded by towering karsts, vivid colours and rural scenery.

When:

Cruises are best during spring and autumn when the weather is relatively warm and there’s not much rain. During spring, Guilin is known to be covered in a mysterious and alluring layer of mist, whereas autumn brings with it vivid yellows and oranges.

Insider Tip:

If you are visiting a few places in Asia, see if you can travel by boat from your prior destination to China. Shanghai is home to China’s largest port where a number of cargo ships and passenger ships make stops. These ships travel from as far as Europe, the Americas and Australia, as well as many other destinations along the way.

Visit the Temples

Why: 

Although there are a number of religions practiced in China, Buddhism is by far the most popular with approximately 185 million followers. There are three different kinds of Buddhism in the country – Han, Tibetan and Southern – which are portrayed through diverse architecture, art and literature. One of the best ways to see these different forms of Buddhism is by visiting the temples, of which there are around 13,000, home to almost 180,000 monks!

Where:  

Wuhou Temple in Chengdu is the most famous temple of the Three Kingdoms and holds great importance within the political history of the era. Located at the end of Jinli Street, the ‘First Street of the Shu Kingdom’, it is also surrounded by traditional shops and wares.

The Temple of Heaven in Beijing is a unique piece of architecture in which 15th Century emperors used to perform ceremonies to ask the heavens for a good harvest. Along with a history of different occupants, both royal and military, the main circular building is made entirely of wood without using a single nail!

Big Wild Goose Pagoda was originally a five-story temple built during the Tang dynasty. After a handful of disasters, the temple had to be rebuilt and is now seven stories high at a height of 64 meters with panoramic views of Xi’an.

When:

As a general rule, most of China is comfortably explored during spring and autumn. This is certainly true of Beijing, Chengdu and Xi’an which are all warm and dry during these seasons. Beijing is also nice during summer, whereas Chengdu and Xi’an are rather rainy.

Insider Tip:

As religion and places of worship still play a huge part in Chinese culture, you must practice respectful behavior when visiting these attractions. Make sure you dress modestly, covering your shoulders and knees, and you may need to remove your shoes and hat, too.

A good time to visit Chinese temples is at dawn as you can often see the monks and nuns going about their daily business or returning from their first prayers of the day.