As China is the third-largest country in the world, you’re unlikely to find many places to visit in China where the streets are empty of either cars or people. The other thing you won’t see is families with lots of children, as China’s one-child policy is strikingly evident where the occasional toddler is usually surrounded by a group of os besotted adults.
China is an enigma, with ancient history and tomorrow’s news all wrapped in one mysterious parcel. As shrouded in mystery the country may be, it certainly is accessible provided you have patience and a good guide.
Being the fourth largest country in the world, there’s an incredible array of famous landmarks in China. To help you plan your trip to China, we’ve asked Hannah Golton, an English teacher in Chengdu and blogger at Hannah’s Happy Adventures for the best places to visit in China.
- Best time to visit China
- Places to visit in China
- 1- The Great Wall of China
- 2- Huangshan (Anhui)
- 3- Yangtze River
- 4- The Bund (Shanghai )
- 5- Tongli Ancient Water Town (Suzhou)
- 6- Rainbow mountains (Zhangye Danxia National Park)
- 7- West Lake (Hangzhou)
- 8- Pandas (Chengdu)
- 9- Fanjingshan (Guizhou)
- 10- Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang
- 11- Hongya Cave, Chongqing
- 12- Jianmen Pass
- 13- Kangding
- 14- Wulong Karst
- 15- Yangshuo, Guilin
- More Places To Visit in China
Best time to visit China
The climate in China varies dramatically depending on where you are.
It can be near freezing in the far north and sticky in tropical Hainan, an island on China’s southern-most tip.
Spring (April to June) is a good time to visit most places in China when the weather is mild but keep in mind this is the wet season in southern China.
Winter is the low season and a good time to visit China you’re on a budget. When snow falls on the Great Wall of China, the scenery looks like a page from a picture book.
Autumn (September and October) is a beautiful time to visit China to see autumn leaves in the countryside.
Summer (July and August) is the busiest time for tourism and the most popular places to visit in China are usually very crowded.
Avoid travelling to China during the Chinese Spring Festival, as many shops and some tourist attractions are closed, tickets are often sold out and it can be difficult to make bookings during this time.
Other busy times of the year are during the year are National Holiday (1 October) and Labor Day (1 May).
Places to visit in China
By Hannah Golton
China is relatively untouched by foreign tourists.
While domestic tourism is very popular amongst the Chinese, most foreigners skip China when on their travels through Asia.
I’m here to tell you why that is one of the biggest mistakes you could make.
During the last year, I have travelled extensively throughout China.
I honestly have been amazed by the sights that I’ve seen. From snow and ice festivals to tropical desert islands, China has it all.
This article shares with you my top 15 places to visit in China.
1- The Great Wall of China
The Great Wall is, without doubt, the most famous attraction in China.
The wall demonstrates stunning engineering and is the perfect day trip from Beijing.
I recommend visiting the Mutianyu Great Wall as there is no public transport to this part of the wall, it tends to be quieter.
There is a cable car up to and down from the wall, as well as the option of a slideway down the mountain.
Leave Beijing around 6:30 am by car, and you will get the wall to yourself – for the first 30 minutes anyway!
The easiest way to visit Mutianyu is by hiring a car and driver for the day, which your hotel should be able to arrange.
I would expect to pay around 1000 RMB for the day.
The Great Wall of China takes around half a day to visit, thereby allowing you to stop at the Ming Tombs on your way back to Beijing.
2- Huangshan (Anhui)
Huangshan or Yellow Mountains is my number one place to visit in China. For more information, check out this guide.
Located in the province of Anhui, west of Shanghai, this mountain range is absolutely stunning.
For the best experience, I recommend at least two days on the mountain, which will allow you to see both sunrise and sunset.
Unfortunately, when I visited we had heavy rain so did not see either… but I’ve heard it’s beautiful.
If you’re short on time, it’s possible to visit the main sights in one day with the help of numerous cable cars.
The more time you spend in China, the more you realise the Chinese hate to walk!
From cable cars up mountains to the escalators and lifts in temples, you’ll have no issue getting around.
If you do choose to hike up from the bottom, you’ll notice the locals doing the hike in slippers and high heels.
Even more embarrassing… we were overtaken by a grandma in high-heeled boots when we hiked up!
3- Yangtze River
Now this suggestion will be aimed at those with a larger travel budget.
If you can afford it, I definitely recommend doing a Yangtze River cruise as the scenery is simply stunning.
The cruise takes you from Chongqing to Yichang or vice versa in four or five days.
You will cruise through the Three Gorges and visit the Three Gorges Dam.
Your cruise will include an excursion to either the Lesser Three Gorges or the Shennv Stream.
The water is a beautiful green colour and the mountains stand tall on either side.
The cruise ships are ‘5 star’, but this is China’s ‘5-star’, which is more like 4-star by western standards.
On the cruise ships, most cabins have balconies and some have swimming pools.
If you can afford it, I’d recommend upgrading your dining to the VIP dining room.
This will prevent you from having to enter the 600-person main dining room!
4- The Bund (Shanghai )
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.
There are many skyscrapers in Shanghai, most are nestled next to the Bund, and several skyscrapers worth visiting for the view over Shanghai.
I chose to visit the Shanghai Tower as it’s the second tallest building in the world.
The view from the top is simply stunning… making the surrounding skyscrapers appear tiny.
However, I had to queue for close to two hours and as the queue winds through many different rooms, it’s impossible to estimate the queue length.
Following visiting the tower, take a walk along the Bund, the most famous attraction in Shanghai.
I thought it was going to be underwhelming and just another urban area, however, I was wrong and found the skyline is absolutely breath-taking.
Walk north along the river until you leave the crowds behind you, this is where you will find the best view.
In Shanghai, the Metro is a fast, efficient and cheap way to travel and the Maglev train from Pudong International Airport takes only eight minutes to travel 30 kilometres and links with the Metro.
Where to stay in Shanghai
- 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 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.
5- Tongli Ancient Water Town (Suzhou)
Tongli Ancient Water Town is located in Suzhou, the ‘Venice of the Orient’.
The streets in Tongli are lined with canals and temples.
Take a 30-minute taxi to Tongli Ancient Water Town from Suzhou city centre but I recommend starting very early, especially on weekends to avoid the crowds (entrance costs 100 RMB).
Suzhou is less visited by foreigners than other Chinese cities.
During our visit to Tongli Water Town, I was followed by a professional photographer and several locals so ibe prepared to be treated like a celebrity.
6- Rainbow mountains (Zhangye Danxia National Park)
Zhangye Danxia National Park is often missed by foreign tourists visiting China but if you can make time in your itinerary to head up north for a week, you won’t be disappointed.
These rainbow mountains are simply beautiful and the scenic area has a network of sightseeing buses that will take you to different spots.
Be sure to arrive in the park late afternoon and stay until sunset.
This is the best time of day to view the colours of the mountain, especially if it has rained.
If you have more time, there is a lot to visit in the surrounding area including Pingshan, China’s version of the Grand Canyon, and Jiayuguan Fort, the end of the Great Wall of China.
7- West Lake (Hangzhou)
West Lake in Hangzhou is one of the best places to visit in China. The huge lake has many different islands and temples to explore.
Make sure you take the boat to the middle island where you can see the ‘three pools mirroring the moon’.
Furthermore, the Leifeng pagoda offers excellent views of the lake and Hangzhou’s skyline.
You can easily spend a whole day exploring the different parts of the lake.
West Lake is very popular with Chinese tourists, so I’d recommend not visiting during the Chinese national holidays, especially in October and Chinese New Year (February).
I visited during Chinese New Year and it was like being in a crowd at a concert feeling like squashed sardines walking around the lake.
8- Pandas (Chengdu)
Chinese people are very proud of their national animal, the panda and after visiting them in a number of places, I can now see why.
Pandas are the cutest and funniest animals to watch.
You’ll see them rolling around and playing, lying on their backs munching at bamboo and managing to climb some pretty tall and skinny trees.
I’ve also seen some (debatable) attempts at yoga poses!
Chengdu is the home of pandas and has three different panda centres.
If you’re short on time, I recommend visiting the research base on the edge of Chengdu as it takes only 30-minutes by taxi from the centre of Chengdu.
It’s essential to get there as early as possible (it opens at 7.30 am) as the pandas are at their most playful in the morning and you’ll also miss the crowds.
If you have slightly more time, you can visit Dujiangyan panda base where you can pay to volunteer and get up close and personal with the pandas.
This experience costs around 1000 RMB and the base is located one hour from Chengdu by car.
9- Fanjingshan (Guizhou)
This year, Fanjingshan made the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
This mountain is breathtaking and has an impressive temple perched at the top of the two peaks.
You can either take a cable car to the top or hike it.
The mountain is off the beaten track and to visit it you will need to travel via Guiyang.
I would then spend at least two nights close to the mountain as this will allow you to hike the mountain early in the morning to see the sunrise.
10- Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang
The mausoleum where Emperor Qin Shi Huang was laid to rest over 2,000 years ago is a sight to behold and visiting it is one of the top things to do in Xian.
Thousands of life-sized terra cotta warriors, archers and infantrymen were buried with him.
This Terracotta Army is famous worldwide and is the perfect stopping point when travelling between Beijing and Chengdu.
When visiting the warriors, you need to set aside half a day and you can get there by taxi or by bus from outside Xi’an railway station.
There are three exhibitions within the attraction and it’s a good idea to visit the main attraction first.
Each warrior has been pieced back together using a painstaking process and each warrior has a unique face.
Again, an early start is compulsory if you want to beat the crowds.
The Terracotta warriors had always been a bucket list attraction for me, however, if I’m honest I was slightly disappointed.
The statues did all look the same after a while, despite their individual faces.
Perhaps this is because I have seen so many amazing places in China now, nevertheless, I still believe it’s something you should see if you are in China.
11- Hongya Cave, Chongqing
A 75m (245 ft) stilt house with 11 storeys, Hongya Cave is a unique construction that you need to visit if you’re visiting Chongqing.
Along the banks of the river in Chongqing, the site is 2300 years old and was once a military fortress.
Now it houses hot pot restaurants, local trinkets, tour agencies and some fantastic bars.
The best view of Hongya cave is at night.
Head here for a hot pot meal at Laoyou restaurant on floor 10 then, after dinner, take in the view from the nearby bridge.
If you feel up to walking across, you’ll get an excellent view of the cave and the bridge.
12- Jianmen Pass
Jianmen Pass is very rarely visited anyone who isn’t a local and you’re unlikely to find it on many lists of places to visit in China.
However, if you have the time to visit here, you’ll see why it made my top 15.
Supposedly, an army of 1000 men defended this pass against 100,000 invading soldiers.
Start from the south gate, walking up through fortress then follow the signs for the bird and ape paths.
Once you reach the start of these paths it’s time to choose one!
For the ape path, you will wear a harness and clip yourself onto the side of the mountain and make your way up using stepping stones cut into the cliff.
The bird path requires no harness but at points, you are climbing up an almost vertical ladder.
At the top of both paths, there is a path cut into the cliff.
This is the most terrifying part of the paths as the 1000m drop beside you could not be more obvious.
We took the bird path, mainly because my boyfriend is terrified of heights.
Once you reach the top, hike up to the glass bridge.
Now you’ll need nerves of steel to step out onto this but it’s worth it for the views.
On your way down, take the zip line over the canyon but if you don’t fancy this, take the plank path down into the canyon and out via the south gate.
The easiest way to visit Jianmen pass is to stay in Guangyuan city, and then take a taxi or local bus there, alternatively, it’s possible as a day trip from Chengdu.
Set in the Tibetan autonomous region of Sichuan, a visit to this city will allow you to immerse yourself in Tibetan life.
In Kangding, you can take the cable car to the top of the nearby mountain, visit hot springs and enjoy some Tibetan food.
You can take multi-day treks around Mount Gongga, which is the 41st highest mountain in the world.
A bus from Chengdu takes about four hours and if you’re on a budget, I recommend staying at Zhilam Hostel, which is run by an American and the hostel will help you to organise trips.
14- Wulong Karst
The Wulong Karst scenic area is easily visited from Chongqing and consists of four main attractions.
- Three Natural Bridges.
- Longshuixia gap – This canyon is breath-taking and you walk past a 20m high waterfall.
- Furong Cave – a natural cave full to the brim of stalagmites and stalactites.
- Fairy mountain – the perfect place for an easy day hike.
You will need two full days to visit all of these attractions.
I recommend taking the train from Chongqing to Wulong early on day one and visiting the Longxuishia Gap and three natural bridges, before staying overnight at fairy mountain.
On day two, visit Furong cave followed by the high-speed train back to Chongqing the following evening.
15- Yangshuo, Guilin
Yangshuo is arguably the most beautiful place in China and the hills surrounding the Li River form the perfect backdrop for your photos.
Take a bamboo cruise down the river, visit the elephant hill or moon hill, take a gentle cycle ride through the countryside and hike through the beautiful rice terraces.
Another good reason to visit Yangshuo is you can stay in a hotel with a swimming pool for less than US$10 a night.
So head here for a bit of relaxation and recuperation and stunning scenery while travelling in China.
I hope you have enjoyed my list of the top 15 places to visit in China.
Overall, China offers so much to do as a traveller.
I can promise you that you will never regret choosing to add China to your next travel itinerary.
More Places To Visit in China
By Christina Pfeiffer
A two-hour flight from Beijing, Manzhouli in Inner Mongolia is a world away from China’s capital.
The temperature hovers around -26 degrees Celcius and although it’s freezing, you’ll be 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.
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 best time to visit is in winter, especially during the Manzhouli Ice and Snow Festival, when you will be amazed at the giant ice carvings of castles, cathedrals, animals and massive ice panels etched with landscapes.
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.
Where to stay in Guangzhou
- 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.
Cobblestone laneways, slanting rooflines 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.
Hainan Island is China’s version of Hawaii and is a tropical paradise along the South China Sea coastline.
This is a fast-growing hotspot with luxury resorts, hot springs, forests and temples.
With swaying palm trees, beaches and golf courses, Sanya is China’s southernmost tropical seaside resort city located on the same latitude as Hawaii.
Explore the temples, bell garden and statues at the Nanshan Cultural Tourism Zone, which is home to a 108m Kwan Yin statue with three sides – peace, wisdom and mercy.
If you’re visiting China from overseas there’s a good chance you will land in Beijing.
Although Beijing is rapidly becoming a 21st-century metropolis, the romance of old Beijing is still evident in the city’s historic hutongs, where old structures have been restored and renovated.
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.
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.
Where to stay in Beijing
- Shangri La China World Summit Wing – China World Summit Wing 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.
- Hilton, Beijing – 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.
China Travel Tips
- While travelling in China, you can avoid international data roaming charges by logging into free WiFi offered at many hotels and restaurants.
- Taxis are inexpensive and convenient but check with your hotel concierge for an estimate of the fare cost and carry a card with the address of your hotel and destination written in Chinese.
- Changing money in China is simple if you do it at your hotel while it’s more complicated, but possible, at local banks. Keep your currency exchange receipts to show when you change RMB back to the currency of your home county.
- When flying around China keep in mind that the restrictions that apply to liquids over 100ml on international flights also apply to domestic flights in China.
Hannah Golton is a 25-year-old English teacher, hiking enthusiast and sailing lover travelling the world. Following a diagnosis of bipolar disorder several years ago, travelling has become my happy place and has remained so ever since. I currently work and live in Chengdu, China. Follow my blog for travel itineraries, budget travel tips and how travelling with mental illness is possible.