The world’s fourth-largest country and home to a culture with 4000 years of history, it’s not surprising that China’s landmarks are impressive. From Imperial palaces and grand temples to a long list of stunning natural wonders, these awe-inspiring China landmarks are precious treasures.
The country’s rapid modernisation also means that futuristic monuments that defy traditional engineering principles keep popping up everywhere every year. But that only makes those historical and natural landmarks in China, such as the Yangtze River, the Grand Buddha of Leshan and the Great Wall of China, even more valuable.
With 55 UNESCO World Heritage sites in China and too many amazing places to visit in China to count, here are the most famous landmarks in China to tick off your bucket list.
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- 20 Incredible China Landmarks
- Historic Landmarks in China
- Natural Landmarks in China
- Contemporary China Landmarks
20 Incredible China Landmarks
Historic Landmarks in China
1- Terracotta Warriors
In 201 BC, Emperor Qin Shi Huang built a mausoleum with thousands of life-sized clay soldiers, horses and chariots to guard him in life after death.
Qin Shi Huang was the first emperor to unify China.
Discovered by a farmer in 1974, the army of the Terracotta Warriors is one of the famous archaeological finds of the century.
Discoveries continue to be unearthed around the site at the foot of Lishan Mountain, so even if you have been before a return visit is an interesting thing to do in Xian.
The discovery of European DNA has led experts to a surprising conclusion that the Ancient Greeks might have helped with the construction of the Terracotta Army 1500 years before Marco Polo visited China.
Marco Polo was believed to be the first European to explore China. According to his famous travellers’ quote, he said: “I did not write half of what I saw, for I knew I would not be believed.”
The Qinshihuang Mausoleum is 35 km northeast of Xi’an in Shaanxi Province.
2- Great Wall of China
If you haven’t been to the Great Wall of China, then it’s worth ticking off your bucket list.
The historical landmark in China was a project of Ming Dynasty Emperor Shih Huang Ti, who thought that it would defend China from Mongolian invaders.
It was a failed project and 200,000 workers who lost their lives working on the construction of the Great Wall.
The workers who died are buried beneath the structure.
Today, this Chinese landmark is one of the most well-known in the world and can be seen from outer space.
Winter is a thrilling time to visit the Great Wall of China and the best time to go to avoid the crush of tourists.
You won’t have to fight your way through the crowds as you walk the narrow ramparts.
You can enjoy the leisurely walk along the ramparts alone with no crowds but if you do go in winter, make sure to dress warmly.
There’s a cable car system where you can hitch a ride up the hill.
The Great Wall of China stretches from Jiayuguan in West China to Shanhaiguan and the Bohai Sea but the sections of the wall near Beijing are the most stunning.
3- Forbidden City
Step back into a grand era of Emperors and concubines by wandering through courtyards, pavilions and halls.
Most of them have beguiling names like Hall of Supreme Harmony and Palace of Earthly Tranquillity.
The Forbidden City, which was home to Ming Dynasty Emperors from 1421, is the size of a small suburb.
The name comes from the fact that no one could enter or leave the palace without the emperor’s permission.
The 72 ha Imperial Palace is packed with outstanding examples of Chinese architecture and has almost 1000 halls and rooms.
The Forbidden City is at 4 Jingshan Front St, Dongcheng Qu, Beijing Shi, China.
4- Temple of Heaven
Another famous landmark in China belonging to the Ming Dynasty, the Temple of Heaven, was where the Emperors communicated with the Gods to bring prosperity to the region.
Located in lovely gardens, the main attractions at the Temple of Heaven are the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, which was where the Emperors prayed and the Imperial Vault of Heaven.
Temple of Heaven is at 1 Tiantan E Rd, Dongcheng Qu, China.
5- Potala Palace
Potala Palace has been the winter palace of successive Dalai Lamas since the 7th century up until 1959 when the 14th and current Dalai Lama was forced to flee Tibet.
The Chinese Government proclaimed Tibet to be the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) The imposing 13-story 1000-room Potala Palace was turned into a museum.
Over the centuries, Tibet has had a history of assimilation and separation from China.
There are conflicting historical accounts of this relationship from the Chinese Government and Tibet’s Government-in-exile’s perspectives.
This landmark is the world’s highest ancient palace (3,767 m), housing thousands of shrines and statues.
Potala Palace is at 35 Beijing Middle Rd, Chengguan Qu, Lasa Shi, Xizang Zizhiqu, China.
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6- Leshan Giant Buddha
Anyone who sees it will agree that the Grand Buddha of Leshan is one of China’s most impressive landmarks.
What’s mind-boggling is the 71 m high Buddha, the largest Buddha in the world, was carved out of a cliff face between 713 and 803.
According to legend, the chief carver was a Chinese monk who believed that the statue would calm the torrid river.
Steep stairs lead from the platform at the foot of the Buddha statue, right to the top, with fascinating etchings in the walls along the climb.
The Leshan Buddha sits at the confluence of two rivers – the Min River and Dadu River in Sichuan province near Leshan.
7- Longmen Grottos
The size and scale of the Buddhist carvings in the historic Longmen Grottoes is a mind-boggling collection of Chinese art produced during the Northern Wei and Tang Dynasties (316-907)
This World Heritage-listed attraction south of Luoyang has 110,000 Buddhist statues (some are 17m high) carved by hand, 60 stupas and 2800 stele inscriptions.
These treasures are housed in 2,345 caves tucked in a cliff that stretches for one km.
The Longmen Grottoes are at 13 Long Men Zhong Jie, Luolong Qu, Luoyang Shi, Henan Sheng, China.
8- Saint Sophia Cathedral
Harbin, the capital of China’s northernmost province of Heilongjiang, is famous for freezing winters, ice sculptures and Russian architecture.
Saint Sophia Cathedral was constructed in 1907 and rebuilt in 1912 out of brick and timber.
Harbin was a Russian colony for workers who constructed and maintained the China Eastern Railway.
When compared to traditional Chinese buildings, such as temples and pagodas, its beautiful Byzantine architecture makes it an eyecatching landmark in China.
St Sophia Cathedral is at 88 Toulong St, Daoli Qu, Haerbin Shi, Heilongjiang Sheng, China.
9- St Paul’s Ruins
At 115.3 km², Macau is a small city with a big future.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), this Special Administrative Region of China (SAR) is likely to become the richest place in the world by 2020.
Of all the places to visit in Macau, St Paul’s Ruins is the most famous.
Macau was leased to Portugal in 1557 to be used as a trading port and became a colony of Portugal in 1887
Completed in 1640, Mater Dei or The Church of St Paul was a landmark in China that symbolised the Roman Catholic Church’s success in Asia.
This Macau Landmark was known as “The Vatican of the Far East”.
The Ruins of St Paul’s is in the Historic Centre of Macao and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
10- Fujian Toulou
From the sky, the 46 buildings built between the 15th and 20th centuries in southwest Fujian are intriguing landmarks in China.
Framed by picturesque rice fields and tea plantations, the Fujian Tulou are earthen houses that are several storeys high.
These circular residences face an inner open courtyard and can house up to 800 people.
The reason for the design is for the security of the tribe, as they have tall mud walls, tiled roofs, and one entrance and the only windows are on higher floors.
Living in a Fujian Tulou was a way to keep the extended family together.
Natural Landmarks in China
11- Mount Everest
At 29,028 feet (8,848 metres), Mount Everest is the highest mountain in the world and a landmark of China and Nepal.
Everest Base Camp is on the Nepal side and attracts around 35,000 adventurers who attempt to climb the mountain each year.
Straddling Tibet and Nepal, they say the best view of Mount Everest is from the Shigatse Prefecture in Tibet.
In Tibet, you can see Everest 8km from Everest Base Camp at Rongbuk Monastery, which is the highest monastery in the world.
Mount Everest in Tingri County in the Xigaze area of Tibet.
12- Tiger Leaping Gorge
Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan is a wonder of nature where the Jinsha River (a tributary of the Yangtze River) gushes or perhaps you could say it roars like a tiger.
Tiger Leaping Gorge is a 16km and is one of the world’s deepest gorges.
According to one Chinese legend, the gorge was named after a tiger that jumped over the river while fleeing from a hunter.
If you’ve ever been there, you’ll realise it would be impossible for an ordinary tiger to jump over the river.
The distance from one side of the river bank to the other is about 25m and would require an animal with magical abilities.
A Tiger Leaping Gorge hike starts with an easy walk down into the gorge several flights of stairs.
Climbing down into the gorge is a cinch as there are steps leading to a timber platform deep in the canyon.
The scenery is breathtaking, and the river swirls like a giant washing machine, frothing and spraying water onto the visitors on the platform.
13- Tianmen Mountain
Named for its lofty height, Tianmen Mountain (or Heaven’s Gate Mountain) is 1,519 m (4,983 feet) high.
Visitors can ride the Tianmen Mountain Cableway to the top for spectacular views and hike the paths are cut into the cliff face.
There’s also the Tianmen cave and a Tang Dynasty temple.
The jaw-dropping feature is the Tianmen Mountain Glass Skywalk, which is a glass walkway that hugs the side of the mountain.
Tianmen Mountain is in Tianmen Mountain National Park, Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province, China.
14- Huang Long Pools
In the southern Minshan mountains, 150 km from Chengdu in Sichuan province, is the Huanglong Scenic Reserve.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site for its lovely scenery and diversity of ecosystems, the region is famous for its karst formations such as waterfalls, travertine pools and limestone shoals.
One of the most well-known Chinese landmarks is the Yellow Dragon Gully, which is a 3.6 km travertine gully that has layers of calcium carbonate patterns, making it look like a golden dragon.
The ponds and waterfalls stretch from Benbo temple to the Guest Welcome Pond and depending on the season. These natural pools change colour to yellow, green, blue or brown.
The Huang Long Pools are in Huanglong Scenic Reserve, Sichuan province.
15- Mount Taishan
For centuries, the locals believed that Tai Shan (or Mount Tai) was a mystic mountain home to the spirits that had power over the cycle of nature.
That’s why Mount Tai was where the people of the Han and Tang dynasties worshipped heaven and earth through two ceremonies: offerings to heaven (feng) and offerings to earth (chan).
The Stairway to Heaven at Mount Tai leads to temples and pavilions.
Mount Tai international Mountaineering Festival is held in September
Mount Taishan is to the north of Tai’an, in Shandong Province, China.
16- Reed Flute Cave
One of the oldest landmarks in China, Reed Flute Cave is 180 million years old.
The stunning cave in Guilin is a natural limestone cave named after the reeds, which are used to make flutes, growing nearby.
Besides stalagmites and stalactites, Reed Flute Cave has 8th-century poems from the Tang Dynasty inked into the walls of the cave.
It’s a romantic spot, and the colourful lighting in the cave makes it look magical.
Reed Flute Cave is at 1 Ludi Rd, Xiufeng Qu, Guilin Shi, Guangxi Zhuangzuzizhiqu, China.
Contemporary China Landmarks
17- Tianzi Dragon
Snaking its way across Tianzi Mountain is a 35 million yuan (US5 million) project that opened on 1 January 2019.
Dragons are icons of Chinese culture as they bring luck to all those who are worthy, and the dragon symbolises power.
Visitors can walk along the dragon’s body to Tianzi Mountain to a viewing area for a fabulous view of the 128m waterfall.
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park has a stunning landscape of sandstone pinnacles and towering monoliths seen in the movie Avatar.
Tianzi Mountain is in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Hunan Province, China.
18- Macau China Bridge
Stretching 55km (34 miles) over the Pearl River Delta, the bridge connects Hong Kong to Macau and Zhuhai on China’s mainland.
It cuts the trip between Zhuhai and Hong Kong down from four hours to 30 minutes.
Built with 400,000 tonnes of steel (60 times the Eiffel Tower), the bridge cost about US$20B and is earthquake and typhoon proof.
19- Three Gorges Dam
Three Gorges Dam is the world’s biggest hydropower project, harnessing the power of the Yangtze River.
A Yangtze River cruise is a relaxing way to see the dam, and the gorges and to learn more about the project.
The project caused havoc by disrupting ecosystems and displacing millions of people because entire villages were submerged.
20- Beijing Olympic Park
The Birds Nest (National Stadium) building in Beijing Olympic Park is the National Stadium that was constructed for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
The National Stadium is at 1 National Stadium S Rd, Chaoyang Qu, China.
21- Oriental Pearl TV Tower
A landmark of modern China, the 468m high Oriental Pearl TV Tower gives Shanghai’s skyline its “Blade Runner” appeal.
Built in 1991, it’s the world’s sixth-highest tower, so seeing the city from its viewing platform is a great way to get a bird’s-eye view.
At 470 /1,535, it’s not the tallest building in Shanghai but it certainly stands out in the skyline.
Shanghai Tower (632m /2,073ft) is the second tallest building in the world and the Shanghai World Financial Centre (492m /1,614ft) is the tallest building with a hole!
Stroll the historic Bund, which has 52 blocks of contemporary Shanghai on one side of the Huangpu River and the city’s colonial past on the other.
A leisurely cruise up the river is a relaxing way to take in the skyline.
Even if you don’t want to buy a rabbit, dog, turtle, squirrel or cricket, Shanghai’s Flower, Bird and Insect Market is an interesting stop.
There’s plenty to see in Fangbang Road, where vendors sell everything from chestnuts and fruit to vibrators and drills from footpath stalls.
Oriental Pearl TV Tower is at 1 Century Ave, Lu Jia Zui, Pudong Xinqu, Shanghai Shi, China.
22- CCTV Headquarters
A 234m (768 ft), the 51-storey skyscraper is the headquarters of China Media Group, China’s main broadcasting operation.
CCTV HEadquarters is at 32 E 3rd Ring Rd Middle, Guo Mao, Chaoyang Qu, China.
23- Guangdong Opera House
Designed by Zaha Haded and opened in 2010, the Guangzhou Opera House is a building that brings Guangdong’s capital well and truly into the 21st century.
Guangzhou Opera House is at Yiyuan S Rd, Ke Cun, Haizhu Qu, Guangzhou Shi, Guangdong Sheng, China
24- Galaxy Soho
Another Zaha Hadid creation, Galaxy SOHO is a beehive-like complex in Beijing that was completed in 2014.
Galaxy Soho is at the corner of Chaoyangmen Bridge in the Second Ring Road of Beijing.
25- Harbin Opera House
In this city in northern China, the Harbin Opera House looks like a spaceship has landed.
Harbin Opera House is at 228 Diduan St, Daoli Qu, Haerbin Shi, Heilongjiang Sheng, China.
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