What shouldn’t you miss if this is your first trip to China? China has an infinite number of tourist attractions ranging from historic towns to leisure locations, amazing destinations from the deserts of northwest to the snowy peaks of Tibet, from the beaches of Hainan to the most modern metropolis of the east coast, imperial architecture coexisting with modern skyscrapers. And let’s not forget the extreme culinary variety and endless shopping possibilities. Traveling is also reasonably cheap, considering that China is still a developing country and large part of the mainland is quite poor.
This article doesn’t want to be an exhaustive list of what you can see in China. It’s just a brief introduction to the most popular destinations and I wrote it according to my preferences. What are the best places to visit in China? Let’s find out!
10 – Victoria Harbour (Hong Kong 香港 )
Hong Kong has one of the most famous skylines in the world and is one of my favorite and most photographed cities ever. I’ve been to Hong Kong dozens of times and I never get tired of it: the variety or the locations and the unique western-asian mix is absolutely sublime. The Victoria Harbour is magnificent especially at night and the amount of interesting locations to visit is virtually unlimited. I mean, The Lonely Planet has dedicated a 1000 pages guide book to Hong Kong !
Travel Tip: in Kowloon instead of taking the metro to Central, take the “Star Ferry” for only $ 2 and you’ll be on the other side in just 10 minutes ready to explore the Hong Kong Island. It’s more fun and the experience is unforgettable! Don’t forget to come back on the peninsula before 8 in the evening to enjoy the show of lights projected on the skyscrapers of the bay.
9 – Jiuzhaigou National Park 九寨沟
Literally the “Valley of Nine Fortified Villages” , it’s one of the most visited places of Sichuan province (southwest China). Declared World Heritage Site by Unesco the Jiuzhaigou park offers infinite possibilities for photography (yeah!) and hiking (the highest peak is about 4500 m !). The site is not very easy to reach being 300km far from Chengdu, the province capital, but it’s totally worth the visit. Seven of the nine ancient villages are still populated and are very interesting because of their colourful houses.
8 – Pingyao 平遥
This is what I expected to see in China when I arrived in 2013. I realised instead that a scenery like the one in the photo above is extremely rare to see nowadays and only few ancient towns have survived the Communist revolution. Pingyao, like other small towns, is a tiny jewel. It’s want I want to see when I travel across China. It’s what I’d like China to protect from the modernization that is tearing down old buildings to make room for modern american style skyscrapers almost everywhere.
7 – Guilin and Yangshuo (桂林 和 阳朔)
I absolutely love these two towns connected by the Li River. The best thing you can do is to book a cruise on the river and enjoy the karst peaks (often surrounded by the mist). Yangshuo in particular is awesome if you love the night life and the West Street (西街 Xijie) is one of the most incredible bustling streets I’ve ever seen in my life. Bars, pubs, restaurants and shops pop up everywhere and most people can even speak English there (wow!).
6 – Zhangjiajie National Park ( 张家界)
One of the numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites in China, Zhanjiajie is now famous worldwide for the “Avatar” movie that was shot among its peaks. The Location is is a very popular tourist destination and can be extremely crowded during the Chinese national holidays.
5 – Pudong district (Shanghai 上海)
We’re getting close to the top! Who doesn’t know Shanghai, right? The city became the primary financial hub of Asia in the 30′ to decline in the following decades and finally get back to a prominent role in the 90′. The Bund with his historical buildings is situated in front of the new Pudong district with its impressive skyscrapers. Shanghai is not a mere New York copy (as many Chinese cities are) but has its own personality and charisma. Beautiful tea houses, gardens and temples are hidden between the bustling roads of the French Concession and other fashionable shopping areas of the city.
4 – Potala Palace (Lhasa,Tibet. 拉萨,西藏)
I haven’t been there yet but I hope to visit it one day. It’s one of my dreams, there’s so much to see and so much to do. The Potala Palace in Lhasa is just the starting point: lakes, peaks, temples and monasteries are simply everywhere. And don’t forget the Everest camp base which is not too hard to reach. Tibet can be very expensive and as a foreigner you need a special permission to get there but the sceneries and the magic of the place will repay you for sure.
3 – Terracotta Army (Xi’An 西安)
As reported by Wikipedia, the “Terracotta Army held more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses” all buried with the first Emperor of China in 200 BC. This impressive collection is not the only attraction in Xi’an! There’s much more to see such as the huge city wall, the Bell and the Drum Towers, and a high number of temples and pagodas. Xi’an is well connect to the rest of the country and very enjoyable to visit by bike.
2 – The Great Wall 长城
You haven’t been to China if you haven’t climbed the Great Wall. The Great Wall (长城 changcheng in Chinese) is the longest wall in the World. It’s surely one of the New Seven Wonders and spans for over 6000 km (!!!). I’ve been to the closest section in Beijing (Mutianyu) but there are numerous sites open to the public all across northern China.
1 – The Forbidden City 故宫博物馆
It had to be the number one. I’m not afraid to say that the Forbidden City is the most incredible place I’ve ever seen in my life. Counting more than 8000 rooms and surrounded by a majestic rectangular wall, the Forbidden City is a beautiful maze of rooms, bridges, pavilions, courts, gates, amazingly painted roofs and columns. Sometimes I read respected bloggers saying that the visit just requires an entire morning and I burst out laughing. Trust me, allow an entire day from 9am to 5pm for the visit and still it won’t be enough to see half of it. Definitely the best place to visit in China!