20 Smart Cities in China

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When visiting cities in China, don’t be surprised if your taxi has no driver. Not so long ago, f you imagined a city where traffic is managed by artificial intelligence, with autonomous vehicles driving the streets and pedestrians accessing public infrastructure using a handheld device, all this would have seemed like a futuristic science-fiction scene in a movie. However, in China, these ground-breaking ideas are close to becoming a reality due to China’s smart city and infrastructure initiatives.

The nation’s smart city policy initiatives back in 2011 have allowed it to adopt new and upcoming technologies like blockchain, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and 5G into urban infrastructure and apply these to various aspects of urban life. Most visitors are surprised at China’s progress in making cities smart. China has started implementing smart city solutions in over 900 smart city projects in various provinces.

In Beijing and Shanghai, you will find an extensive network of smart traffic lights adjusted based on real-time traffic, electronic toll systems and AI-powered ride-hailing services are clear examples of the advantages of becoming a smart city. Hangzhou’s AI-powered City Brain urban management platform, Shenzhen’s IoT and big data analytics-based smart waste management, Guangzhou’s integrated smart platform to access government services, Beijing’s smart healthcare services that use telemedicine and remote smart monitoring devices make travelling through China a different experience compared to the past.

One thing you will find interesting is China’s top-down approach towards urban development driven by the central government. This has efficiently rallied industries and resources to contribute to the national goal of developing smart cities. China’s domestic technology giants like Alibaba, Tencent, Didi Chuxing, Baidu, Huawei and others are key players in the push to modernise city infrastructures. You will surely come across these names while using any public infrastructure in China, where most government services use the technology provided by these companies making the services more efficient and citizen friendly.

Cities in China

Best Tours

20 Smart Cities In China To Explore

1- Shenzhen

Shenzhen Private Flexible Day Tour with Guide and Driver Service
Shenzhen is one of the most populated cities in China.

China’s third most populous city, Shenzhen, has the kind of smart city innovations you’d expect of China’s Silicon Valley.

Home to booming tech and software development and giants like Huawei and Tencent, Shenzhen has effectively used AI and big data technologies to implement smart city projects.

The city’s smart electric buses and metro transportation system have real-time schedules and traffic conditions to help both locals and visitors navigate the city easily.

Hospitals can access residents’ medical records through cloud data to diagnose and treat ailments quickly.

Visit Huaqiang Electronic World, a multi-storey electronics market where you can shop for the latest electronics at wholesale rates.

Shenzhen’s popular beaches, like Dameisha and Xiaomeisha, have smart lifeguard towers equipped with surveillance cameras and AI-powered image recognition to help ensure better beach safety.

You can also access real-time weather updates and beach conditions through mobile apps.

Various attractions like Window of the World, Dafen Oil Painting Village, and Shenzhen Bay Park offer interactive displays with augmented reality, integrated mobile apps to access virtual tours, Wi-Fi hotspots and even mobile charging stations.

Recommended tours:

2- Shanghai

3 Day Private Golden Triangle Tour: Shanghai, Beijing and Xi'an from Shenzhen
Shanghai is one of the major cities in China and has a European flavour.

Shanghai is one of the world’s 50 smartest cities mainly because of its fantastic citizen services platform.

Shanghai’s smart city projects leverage technology to find unique ways to improve and provide services to citizens, the most popular of which is the Citizen Cloud online public service platform.

The Citizen Cloud platform is a centralised hub that provides thousands of different services in sectors ranging from marriages and births to tourism, education, culture and assistance for elderly citizens.

The City Brain smart city project is AI-powered and uses big data analytics, AI algorithms and cloud computing to optimise various aspects of city management.

To combat traffic congestion due to its large population, Shanghai has built a traffic information framework available to every resident that details road traffic in various areas to public parking availability in different regions.

When you are in Shanghai, keep an eye out for the thousands of LCD screens and solar electronic station signs across the city, where you can check accurate arrival times of public transport.

Recommended tours:

3- Beijing

Beijing Hutong Food and Beer Tour by Tuk Tuk
One of the best cities in China for both modern and ancient attractions is Beijing.

Beijing, China’s capital, leads the list of cities in China in innovative tourism-related apps and services.

An extensive subway network and roads reduce traffic congestion due to smart traffic management while smart signs near popular attractions provide details about the attraction, routes and online payment services.

Smart tourist apps are loaded with interactive maps, guided tours and personalised recommendations, allowing you to plan your trip easily.

During the Winter Olympic Games in 2022, many games used IoT devices and real-time data analytics to ensure accurate weather forecasts and changing weather conditions to enhance visitor comfort.

Beijing is a cashless city, so you can use your smartphone as a wallet to pay for public utility services like public transport.

Recommended tours:

4- Hangzhou

West Lake .Freshwater Lake In Hangzhou, China
Hangzhou is another of the populous cities in China to explore for history, food and culture.

The headquarters of the e-commerce giant Alibaba, Hangzhou has rolled out smart city initiatives that impact the daily lives of its residents.

Alibaba’s City Brain is a smart city project that uses AI to process vast amounts of data, from traffic cameras and sensors to analyse traffic patterns and optimise traffic signals in real-time.

At Hangzhou’s historic Grand Canal, you can enjoy a canal cruise without the crowds as the system uses smart waterway management to reduce traffic congestion.

The West Lake area has location-based services that make exploring the lake’s various scenic spots, historical sites and cultural landmarks easier.

Many tourist areas have smart street lighting with energy-efficient LED fixtures that make the streets beautiful at night, contribute to energy conservation, and reduce carbon emissions.

Recommended tours:

5- Guangzhou

Gulong Gorge Skywalk Glass Bridge and Waterfall View Private Tour
One of the fastest-growing cities in China, Guangzhou, also has natural attractions to explore nearby.

China’s startup hub is close to Hong Kong and has a skyscraper-filled downtown that is a contrast to its historical sites, like the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall and Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall.

This modern city is framed by the Pearl River and Baiyun Mountain range.

The city was one of the earliest adopters of smart technology and supercomputer-powered AI-based services in tourism, transport and weather forecasting.

The city has many electric vehicles and convenient real-time updates about traffic conditions.

The government’s push towards building more than 4,000 public charging stations for vehicles and the facility to identify the locations of the charging points makes it convenient to rent an electric vehicle in the city.

Recommended tours:

6- Chengdu

Chengdu Evening Food Tour by Tuk Tuk
One of the foodie cities in China is Chengdu.

Chengdu is a relaxed city that you must visit if you love those adorable pandas.

Close to popular attractions like Leshan Giant Buddha and Mount Emei, the city’s smart city initiatives have positively impacted its tourism attractions, allowing visitors to experience a hassle-free visit.

You can get real-time information about traffic around major tourist areas, use smart tourist kiosks at hotspots and take virtual tours of historical sites using smart city apps and tools.

Chengdu’s “Pay with your face” technology uses facial recognition on your smartphone to avail services and even purchase goods.

Keep your smartphone ready when you go shopping or want to use a public service like a bus.

Recommended tours:

7- Chongqing

Yangtze River Cruise from Chongqing to Yichang Downstream in 4 Days 3 Nights
Chongqing is one of the larger cities in China and the place to spend time after cruising the Yangtze River.

Chongqing or the Mountain City has a modern skyline that contrasts the mighty Yangtze River and Dazu Rock Carvings.

The city is known for its rich history and diverse culinary scene and has transformed into a smart city with a well-connected rail transit system and driverless taxis.

The city also has a Smart Operation and Management Centre with terminals installed throughout the city providing live data monitored constantly for crime, traffic and public services.

The city is also famous for manufacturing industrial robots.

Recommended tours:

8- Nanjing

Nanjing, one of China’s four ancient capitals, has many heritage sites such as the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum, Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum and the ancient city walls.

You’ll also find modern attractions like the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall and the bustling Confucius Temple shopping district.

The city uses smart technologies to preserve, maintain and promote its heritage sites through regular data collection, weather updates around the sites, and even augmented reality tours for visitors.

The city’s traffic infrastructure uses sensors and radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips to generate data on travel behaviour of individuals, fare prices, road conditions and area accessibility.

Recommended tours:

9- Wuhan

Although Wuhan has been in the media for not so savoury reasons in the past few years, the city is actually a centre of technology and education in China.

The city’s central location in the heart of China makes it one of the largest hubs in China for travelling by land, air and water

Using big data, the city has built 71 application systems across various areas like medical care, education, community services, and traffic management, making it easier for authorities to manage the city and convenient for residents to access public services.

If you are visiting the 1800-year-old Yellow Crane Tower or the Hubei Provincial Museum, you can access detailed information about the artefacts, use smartphones or VR headsets to view historic scenes or events related to the tower.

Smart monitoring systems are also in place to ensure the structural integrity and safety of historic monuments across the city.

The expansive East Lake is another popular tourist spot where IoT sensors monitor water in real-time to ensure clean and safe water.

Recommended tour: Private day tour to Wuhan Yellow Crane Tower Donghu lake Yangtze River Bridge

10- Xi’an

Mini Group Xian Day Tour to Terracotta Army, City Wall, Pagoda and Muslim Bazaar
Xi’an is one of the royal cities in China for history.

Xi’an, known as the starting (or ending) point of the Silk Road.

Famous for its historical landmarks like the Terracotta Army, City Wall, and the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, this ancient city has also embraced many smart city initiatives that make life easier for visitors and residents.

For example, Xi’an has a one-stop civil service programme for residents where 70 percent of services can be processed through a single office efficiently.

The city also has a services app for residents and tourists where as a visitor, you can access a variety of tourism-related services like information about places, bookings, travel guides and more.

Xi’an also has an intelligent traffic management system working to improve traffic flow and reduce journey times, especially in the roads around the ancient buildings that are prone to congestion.

Recommended tours:

For more things to do in China read:

11- Suzhou

Exclusive Suzhou Classic Tour Full Day Exploration
Suzhou may not be one of the largest cities in China but it still has a population of around 8 million!

Suzhou is close to Shanghai and is well known for its beautiful canals, classical gardens and intricate silk products.

Attractions include the Humble Administrator’s Garden, Suzhou Museum, and Tiger Hill.

The city has upgraded its public services and safety by using IoT and smart technologies in providing a safe and comfortable environment for tourists.

Getting around the city has become easy by using smart buses and reliable metro lines.

You can plan your trip by using mobile applications that have comprehensive information about Suzhou’s tourist sites, local cuisine and cultural events.

Recommended tour: Exclusive Suzhou Classic Tour – Full-Day Exploration

12- Tianjin

Tianjin is close to Beijing, both in location and in terms of smart city development.

The city’s taxi system contains an impressive number of driverless taxis which use advanced AI and real-time traffic data to transport you around.

The Tianjin Smart Tourist app developed as a part of the smart city initiative, uses AI to provide personalised recommendations, navigation assistance and real-time translations.

Visitors can get updates about popular attractions and recommendations for where to eat.

One highlight is using AR and VR technologies for immersive historical experiences in the Ancient Culture Street, using augmented reality while riding the Tianjin Eye to identify landmarks below and taking a self-guided tour in museums across the city.

Like Nanjing, Tianjin collaborated with Singapore to build an environmentally friendly and resource-efficient city, featuring wind-powered streetlights, rainwater recycling and electric buses.

Recommended tour: Tianjin Shore Private City Highlights Day Tour

13- Qingdao

Private Qingdao Historic architectural day tour with Tsingdao beer during Lunch
How many cities are in China? There are over 700!

Qingdao is a beautiful coastal city with lovely seaside scenery, German-influenced architecture and it’s the best place to drink Tsingtao beer.

The city has made it easy for tourists to access details about attractions, local transportation, accommodation, dining and entertainment through mobile apps and augmented reality.

You will be pleasantly surprised at the personalised and comfortable experience while staying in a smart hotel in Qingdao, where many devices and services are customised to suit your requirements.

You will find Wi-Fi in many places that help you stay connected.

Recommended tour: Private Qingdao Historic architectural day tour (with Tsingdao beer during lunch)

14- Changsha

This ancient city of Changsha dates back to 3000 years ago and is an important cultural and educational centre.

The city is home to Yuelu Academy, one of the oldest educational institutions in the world, and the delicious and spicy Hunan cuisine.

Changsha is also a hub for technology and innovation, and has used AI, Big Data and IoT to transform various aspects of the city from public transportation and public services to tourism and environmental management.

If you are visiting the Tianxin Pavilion, take a virtual tour of the city for a unique experience.

Explore the Taiping Street’s historic buildings and shops using digital guides.

On Huangxing Road Commercial Street, you can get real-time information about store offers and crowd sizes.

Recommended tour: Changsha Private Guiding and Interpreting Service

15- Dalian

Flexible Dalian City Highlights Private Day Tour with Lunch
Dalian is one of the lesser-known cities in China to visit.

Just across the sea from North Korea, Dalian is a seaport with a pleasant climate, Russian and Japanese-influenced architecture and fantastic seafood.

The city has adopted digital technologies for online payments, digital identity verification, e-governance services and more to provide quicker, more streamlined services when visiting public facilities or accessing city services.

When travelling to Dalian, the city’s smart tourism platform provides personalised travel recommendations for you and can be used to find attractions, get real-time updates on popular sites and book tickets online making sightseeing in Dalian a much more convenient and personalised experience.

Recommended tour: Flexible Dalian City Highlights Private Day Tour with Lunch

16- Zhengzhou

One of the earliest settlements in China, Zhengzhou is an ancient city with impressive historic ruins and sites, beautiful views of the Yellow River and its surroundings and the famous Shaolin Temple.

The city’s drive towards becoming a smart city has seen smart traffic management systems and public services along with smart hotels that provide personalised services.

The city has a smart tourist platform where you can find latest information about traffic and weather at the place you are visiting, along with augmented reality and digital guides at locations like the Zhengzhou Shang City Ruins, Zhengzhou Aquarium and Henan Museum.

If you are visiting the Yellow River Scenic Area, check out the best viewing spots, weather updates and flora and fauna in the area through tourist apps.

Recommended tour: Zhengzhou Private Tour to Shaolin Temple including Kungfu Lesson and Activities

17- Ningbo

Ningbo Cityscape By Night
Ningbo is another of the cities in China to tick off your to-visit list.

Ningbo is one of China’s oldest cities and famous for its traditional temples, including the Tianfeng Pagoda and Baoguo Temple, and for the Tianyi Pavilion, which houses the oldest private library in Asia.

If you want to visit a Chinese city with a lot of history, close to lakes and mountains like Dongqian Lake, Moon Lake Park, and Xuedou Mountain, and has a number of amenities by being a smart city, you won’t be disappointed with Ningbo.

Ningbo has a smart tourism system which you can use to tap into information about local attractions, historical sites and activities.

You can use the city’s smart apps to get information about city services, tourism, transportation, and emergency services and stay connected with free public Wi-Fi available in many public spaces.

18- Jinan

If you want to visit a natural spring, Jinan should be on your list of cities in China to visit.

Enjoy many of the city’s natural springs like Baotu Spring, the Black Tiger Spring and the Five Dragon Pool.

Many of the city’s natural springs have real-time monitoring of the water quality and temperature of the springs which you can check online.

If you like getting out and about in nature, visit landscaped islands on Daming Lake, Thousand Buddha Mountain.

High speed internet access through free Wi-Fi throughout the city is quite a boon if you don’t have a mobile data connection.

Recommended tour: Private Half-day Walking Tour to Springs and Alleys in Jinan

19- Fuzhou

The coastal city of Fuzhou is a great place to spend a weekend, enjoy the local hot springs and taste delicious Min cuisine.

The integrated smart tourism platform developed by the city is a great help if you want to check out information on tourist attractions, accommodations, local cuisine and transport options.

If you are visiting tourism places like Three Lanes and Seven Alleys and Fuzhou National Forest Park, Drum Mountain, you can access digital maps, interactive information displays and augmented reality guides.

The beautiful West Lake Park has lovely old shrines and walking paths, where IoT technologies are used to maintain the park’s environment, and digital information boards provide insights into the park’s history and flora and fauna.

20- Guiyang

A surprising entry into our list of smart cities in China is the lesser-known city of Guiyang.

The south-western Chinese city has unspoilt landscapes, historical sites and is home to many ethnic groups, each with their unique cultures, traditions and cuisines.

The city is popular on the technology front as it hosts the international Big Data Expo, and has a number of smart city initiatives that help locals and tourists to enjoy the city’s sights.

Just outside the city is the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST Telescope) for discovering and tracking stars.

At Qianling Park, Guiyang Forest Park, Huaxi National Wetland Park, you can use interactive digital guides and AR experiences to make your trip more engaging.

Recommended tour: Private Guiyang Day Tour including Qingyan Ancient Town and Qianling Park

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Vamsee Chandra lives in Hyderabad in India and is a financial markets trader by profession. An engineer with an MBA, he is a free-spirited traveller at heart. He has visited 17 countries on three different continents (Asia, Europe and North America) and has a personal target of visiting 50 countries before he retires. His favourite city is Paris, for its amazing museums and people. His favourite building is Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the tallest building in the world, and his favourite countryside is the Bavarian region in Germany, where the Neuschwanstein Castle is located.