China is a land of contrasts. China is the third largest country in the world and the climate varies dramatically. It can be near freezing in the far north and sticky in tropical Hainan, an island on China’s southern-most tip.
When snow falls on the Great Wall of China, the scenery looks like a page from a picture book. I’ve visited the Great Wall twice in the past, during peak tourist seasons, and have never thought of the attraction as a romantic spot. If you’re looking for places to visit in China read on.
The one thing you are unlikely to find in China is a street empty of either cars or people.
The other thing you won’t see is families with large numbers of children in tow.
China’s one-child policy is strikingly evident on city streets where only the occasional toddler can be seen, usually surrounded by a host of besotted adults.
China is ancient history and tomorrow’s news all in one scoop. As shrouded in mystery the country may be, it certainly is accessible provided you have patience and a good guide.
Places to visit in China
Although Beijing is rapidly becoming a 21st-century metropolis, the romance of old Beijing can still be found in the city’s historic hutongs, where old structures have been restored and renovated.
What to do in Beijing
The Great Wall of China snakes past tree branches laden with snow and disappears into a distant white wintery landscape.
Beijing’s attractions draw people from all over the world but few choose to visit in winter when the historic side of the city is at its most romantic.
The queue to enter the Mao Mausoleum, the final resting place of Mao Zedong, in Tiananmen Square is a place most Chinese would like to visit at least once in their life.
Just over the road, is the Chinese Imperial Palace, The Forbidden City.
A tour of the Forbidden City is a step back into a grand era of emperors and concubines.
Couples wander hand in hand through courtyards, pavilions and halls with 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.
This sounds harsh but the city covers 72 ha with outstanding examples of Chinese architecture.
Likewise, the fascinating Summer Palace was rebuilt in 1888 by the Dragon Lady Empress Cixi with money embezzled from the Chinese Navy.
There’s a romantic spot atop the hill nearby at Jingshan Park nearby, where you can view the rooftops of the 72ha imperial city and its 980 buildings.
For Olympics fans, a visit to Beijing would not be complete without sighting Olympic Park.
The Birds Nest (National Stadium) and Water Cube (National Aquatic Centre) buildings are as awe-inspiring as they look on television.
A favourite spot for a candle-lit dinner is the Temple Restaurant and Bar (or TRB), which is set in a 600-year-old Chinese temple that was converted into a factory during the communist reign.
These days, inside the temple, is an uber-contemporary European-style restaurant and bar with slick service and food that looks as beautiful as it tastes.
French chef Yannick Alléno’s S.T.A.Y is another romantic dining spot offering French bling and fine food.
The restaurant is located in Beijing’s five-star Shangri-La Hotel.
It has a glittering interior design and a unique Pastry Library, in the centre of the restaurant, where you can watch the chefs prepare mouth-watering French pastries and desserts.
China World Summit Wing
A room in the sky at China World Summit Wing is perfect for couples. The hotel occupies the 64th to the 80th floors of the China World Trade Centre and rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows with birds-eye views of the city. The hotel also has the city’s highest fine-dining restaurant, Grill 79, and the city’s highest bar, Atmosphere, which is on the 80th floor.
Sunrise Kempinski Hotel
60km north of Beijing’s city centre, located beside Yanqi Lake, Sunrise Kempinski Hotel has lovely views of Yan Mountain and the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. The hotel has 595 rooms and suites, 14 restaurants and bars, two spas, a private marina, the tranquil Yanqi Pagoda and manicured gardens.
Located in Beijing’s Chaoyang business and diplomatic district, near Beijing International Airport, this is a contemporary hotel with a cool designer glass-ceilinged swimming pool with a Jacuzzi. The sporting facilities are impressive and include the Jacuzzi, sauna room, steam room and squash court.
DoubleTree Hilton Beijing
Located between the city’s Central Office District and prestigious Financial District along the Southwest 2nd Ring Road, the hotel has easy access to many places of interests such as Tian’anmen Square, Xi Dan Shopping Center, the red-walled Forbidden City and Imperial Palace.
A two-hour flight from Beijing, I arrive in Manzhouli in Inner Mongolia where the temperature hovers around -26 degrees Celcius.
Although it’s freezing, I’m immediately charmed by the snow-covered Russian-style architecture and the vast white winter landscape that looks like a scene from a Tolstoy novel.
As the city is eight kilometres from the Russian border and a two-hour drive to Mongolia, Russian and Mongolian influences in the architecture, culture and cuisine are strong.
One of the most popular souvenirs is the Russian matryoshka nesting doll, which the colourful Matryoshka Square is named after.
The square’s main landmark is a 30-meter-tall matryoshka doll, painted with a Chinese, Russian and Mongolian woman on three sides.
It houses a restaurant and towers over the many life-size statues and painted dolls around it.
The other eye-catching building is a bright blue Russian-style structure with fairy-tale onion domes. And the snow-covered ground gives the square a magical aura.
The region around Manzhouli is almost a desert and there’s not a tree in sight. But surprisingly, most of the buildings in the city are majestic.
If you can handle the cold, the most romantic time to visit is in winter, especially during the Manzhouli Ice and Snow Festival, when couples can wander hand in hand among giant ice carvings of castles, cathedrals, animals and massive ice panels etched with landscapes.
Unlike Dubai, Manzhouli is relatively undiscovered.
There is one international luxury hotel in the city, Shangri-La Manzhouli, which has eye-catching winter views over the frozen Hulun Lake and the city.
It’s a warm luxurious haven to snuggle up in and you don’t need to leave the hotel to experience local culture and cuisine as there’s Salt and Bread Russian Restaurant and authentic Mongolian and Chinese cuisine is on the menu in Shang Palace.
A two-hour road trip to the Ewenke Autonomous Banner (District) takes me through the ethereal landscape of the Hulunbuir grasslands, which is Genghis Khan territory, the warrior who united the Mongolian tribes.
We stop by the side of the snow-covered road and I gaze at open plains of blue-white snow and a smear of mauve in the pink sky.
Don’t miss the Manzhouli Ice and Snow Festival in Manzhouli from December to February, which has over 200 impressive ice carvings.
The Westin Pazhou
As cities go, Guangzhou may not be as sexy as Shanghai or as buzzy as Beijing but regular visitors to China will know that Guangzhou is the country’s rising star, with luxury hotels popping up everywhere.
Four Seasons, Guangzhou
The Four Seasons is located at the heart of the Huacheng Square of Guangzhou’s CBD. The hotel has 344 rooms and 42 suites and the largest rooms in Guangzhou, with floor-to-ceiling windows that offer views of the Pearl River Delta and city.
In the 1930s, Shanghai was the “Paris of the Orient” for its grand European architecture and cosmopolitan vibe.
In recent times, Shanghai’s rising city skyline, new precincts and hip bars have earned it the nickname “Berlin of the East”.
Visit the French Concession for a romantic stroll down memory lane.
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.
Another thing to do is to see the city from the viewing platform of the 468m high Oriental Pearl TV Tower.
Even if you don’t want to buy a rabbit, dog, turtle, squirrel or cricket, Shanghai’s Flower, Bird and Insect Market is a fascinating stop.
There’s plenty to outfit the rest of the house next door in Fangbang Road where vendors sell everything from chestnuts and fruit to vibrators and drills from footpath stalls.
The Langham, Xintiandi
When it comes to Chinese fine dining, Langham has built quite a reputation for itself. Located in Shanghai’s vibrant Xintiandi district, the 24-storey The Langham, Xintiandi has plenty of good food on offer at T’ang Court Chinese restaurant, Cachet and lifestyle bar XTD elevated.
Ritz-Carlton Portman Shanghai
Check into the Ritz-Carlton Portman Shanghai and you might possibly be warmly welcomed by the manager on duty, Evan Wang. Situated right in the heart of bustling Nanjing Road, the 610-room Portman Ritz-Carlton Shanghai is right there in the commercial, shopping and entertainment district of the city.
Puli Hotel and Spa, Shanghai
The PuLi Hotel and Spa is in the heart of Shanghai’s business, shopping, sightseeing and entertainment district.
Ritz Carlton Shanghai
Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong is right in the middle of Lujiazui, the Wall Street of China. The location offers much more shopping, dining and entertainment opportunities than Wall Street in New York.
The mausoleum where Emperor Qin Shi Huang was laid to rest over 2,000 years ago is a sight to behold.
Thousands of life-sized terra cotta warriors, archers and infantrymen were buried with him.
6- Hainan Island
China’s answer to Hawaii is a tranquil tropical palm-swaying paradise with 1500km of coastline on the South China Sea.
It’s a fast-growing hotspot with luxury resorts and pleasurable diversions such as hot springs, forests and temples.
Cobblestone laneways, slanting roof lines and thousand-year-old canals add to the intrigue of China’s Venice.
Lijiang was the capital of the Naxi kingdom, the largest of the 26 minority groups who live along the plains beneath the snow-covered mountains.
If you’re looking for a scenic destination in Fujian you’ll be interested to discover these Xiamen attractions.
Sanya on Hainan Island, my final destination, is China’s southernmost tropical seaside resort city perched on the same latitude as Hawaii. It’s home to palm trees, tropical fruit, coral reefs, long sandy beaches with thatched huts, several golf courses and the Miss World Finals.
Here the offerings include scuba diving on coral reefs, hot springs, golf and islands filled with monkeys.
The Nanshan Cultural Tourism Zone is fascinating to explore with its temples, bell garden, dragons and the Nanshan Kwan-yin, a 108m tall Goddess with three sides – peace, wisdom and mercy.
The vegetarian food available in the on-site restaurant is fashioned to look like everything from squid to meatballs and tastes the same.
Locals will tell you the vegetarian diet and climate of Sanya is responsible for the extraordinary number of centenarians who live in the local village.
While the contrast in weather between the three locations was extreme, the friendliness of the people remained constant along with the ever-present traffic.
10- The Three Gorges
For centuries, the Three Gorges region has inspired poets and painters.
A multi-day river cruise is great for couples offering scenic stretches with spectacular limestone ridges straight out of a classical Chinese painting.
China Travel Tips
- Winter is not only a romantic time to visit China but it’s also low season and a good time to keep expenditure low.
- While travelling in China, you can avoid international data roaming charges by logging into free WiFi offered at many hotels and restaurants.
Travelling around China
Taxis are inexpensive and convenient.
Check with your hotel concierge for an estimate of the fare cost and ask for the address of your hotel and destination written in Chinese.
In Shanghai, the Metro is a fast, efficient and cheap way to travel.
The new Maglev train from Pudong International Airport takes only eight minutes to travel 30 kilometres and links with the Metro.
Shopping in China
Shopping in China is not the bargain it was, however there is still plenty to excite.
Don’t miss the Pearl Market and Silk Market in Beijing and 580 Nan Jing West Road in Shanghai.
The markets underneath the Science and Technology Centre also are reputed to be good.
Changing money in China is simple if you do it at your hotel.
It’s more complicated, but possible, at local banks.
Keep your currency exchange receipts because you need to show them when you change RMB back to the currency of your home county at the end of your visit.
Airports in China
The restrictions that apply to liquids over 100ml on international flights also apply to domestic flights in China.
It’s safer to buy your duty free alcohol and perfume when you arrive back home.
Food and drink
Food from a huge range of cuisines is available in hotels and shopping centres but always drink bottled water.