Whether you want to go hiking in the forest, see the world’s largest skyscrapers, explore thousands of years of history, or meet endangered animals, China has the ability to accommodate almost any type of holiday. Below is a guide to ten of the most popular travel destinations in China with information on how best to get there.
1. Great Wall Of China
- Travel Destination: Beijing
- Why visit: Visiting one of the wonders of the world.
No list of places to visit in China could be complete without including one of the wonders of the world, The Great Wall of China in Beijing. Although the wall extends all over North China, most sections are best accessed from Beijing. Travelers are advised to research the different sections of the wall before deciding which part to visit. Below is a guide to the most popular sections of the wall to visit:
- Jinshanling – Jinshanling may only be half restored, but it makes the perfect spot for tourists who like to take a walk on the adventurous side. Popular with hikers, this section of the wall is for more experienced walkers. Distance From Beijing Center: 2 hours 30 minutes.
- Badaling – Arguably the most famous section of the wall, Badaling is very popular with Chinese tourists. While admittedly, the wall can become overcrowded at times, it also happens to be the easiest section to access and most convenient for visitors with limited time. Distance From Beijing Center: 1 hour 40 minutes.
- Mutianyu – For visitors wishing to avoid the crowds of Chinese tourists, Mutianyu is known as the most beautiful section of the entire wall. It may be further away than Badaling, but for an additional 20 minutes of travel time, tourists can enjoy a vastly superior experience. Distance Beijing Center: 2 hours.
Getting There: There are countless options for tour groups being sold in the city, but most of these tours involve multiple stops offs at tourist shops and museums, where the tour guide is trying to make a commission. After a long day of walking on the wall, you owe it to yourself to book a private car so you can relax upon your return to the city.
2. Victoria Harbour
- Travel Destination: Hong Kong
- Why visit: The number one view of the world’s most stunning skyline.
Hong Kong is often voted as having the most stunning skyline in the world and when it comes to enjoying that view there is really no place you would rather be than at The Peak overlooking Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong. From The Peak’s viewing platform, tourists can see out over Hong Kong Island, across the harbor to Kowloon and beyond into the New Territories.
As well as offering the highest view of the city, The Peak is also home to Madame Tussauds and a number of restaurants including pizza restaurant Wildfire+, Japanese cuisine in Fujiyama Mama, and local Cantonese fare with Lu Feng. Admission tickets for The Peak can be purchased on arrival:
- Adults – HKD50
- Children – HKD25
- Seniors (65 and above) – HKD25
Getting There: The most popular way to reach The Peak is by using the tram service, which is located in the Central district. While the tram has become an iconic part of the attraction, it is also usually overcrowded with long queues for the ride.
If you wish to avoid the queues, it is recommended to book a private car to take you directly up to The Peak, where you can soak in the stunning views of Victoria Harbour.
3. Terracotta Army
- Travel Destination: Xi’an
- Why visit: Witnessing the most important archaeological discovery of the 20th
Since their discovery by local farmers in 1974, the Terracotta Army has fascinated architects and attracted tourists from all over the world to visit the excavation site in Xi’an. The warriors form part of the funerary project of the first Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, and are over 2,200 years old. Recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, the Terracotta Army truly is an unmissable attraction for those planning to spend their holidays in China.
The excavation site is officially called the Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum Site Museum, to which admission costs RMB150 from March to November and RMB120 between December and February.
Getting There: The Terracotta Army is a 45 minutes drive from Xi’an city center. While the army can be reached by the 306 bus leaving from Xi’an Railway Station, the driver does not speak English and tourists are heavily advised to be vigilant against fake tourist buses. The most painless way to travel is by hiring a private car while also booking an English speaking tour guide for when you arrive.
4. The Bund
- Travel Destination: Shanghai
- Why visit: A historic walk by the Huangpu River
While skyscrapers shoot up on one side of Huangpu’s River, on the other side the historic buildings of The Bund remain as iconic symbols of Shanghai’s rich history and culture. A strict height restriction has preserved the architecture of the past hundred years with buildings from the Renaissance of the Peace Hotel to the Neo-Classicism of Customs House.
While exploring The Bun in Shanghai, visitors may wish to enjoy a meal at one of the many fine dining restaurants and luxury bars, which offer unbeatable views of the Huangpu River:
- Wei Jing Ge –The luxurious Waldorf Astoria hotel is home to Wei Jing Ge restaurant, where fine dining is mixed with Cantonese and Shanghainese cuisine.
- Jean Georges –Treat yourself to the finest French cuisine has to offer at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Michelin star restaurant.
- The Jazz Bar – Some of the world’s most famous and most powerful people have spent an evening at the legendary Jazz Bar at the Peace Hotel. Stop in for a late night cap and catch one of the city’s best house bands.
Getting There: Although The Bund is located at the heart of the city, visitors unfamiliar with the area may still wish to hire an English speaking tour guide to explain the history behind the buildings.
5. Summer Palace
- Travel Destination: Beijing
- Why visit: A scenic day out at exploring the imperial gardens.
While tourists crowd into the Forbidden City in the center of Beijing, further out of the city there is the more peaceful Summer Palace. The 290 acre imperial garden is the largest of its kind in all of China, mainly consisting of the tranquil Kunming Lake, overlooked by Longevity Hill.
Tower Of Buddhist Incense – From atop Longevity Hill, the Tower of Buddhist Incense is the highest point in the Summer Palace and offers breathtaking views of Kunming Lake.
- Marble Boat – Out on Kunming Lake, visitors will find The Marble Boat, a 36 meter long stone boat built on the water. The attraction is, in fact, a replica of the original wooden boat that burned down during the Second Opium War and the attraction is steeped in intriguing history.
- 17 Arch Bridge –The 17 Arch Bridge is the only way to cross Kunming Lake to Nanhu Island, but the 150 meter bridge is also one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Summer Palace.
The park is open from 06:30 to 20:30 while entry is RMB50 during peak season and RMB40 during the low season.
Getting There: The Summer Palace can be reached from subway by taking either Line 4, and getting off at Beigongmen, or by taking Line 16 and getting off at Xiyuan. While it is convenient and has English signs, the Beijing subway is dangerously overcrowded at certain points of the day. The bus is also an option but is not as well signposted in English and also suffers from overcrowding. To avoid a potentially stressful transport experience, it is advised to book a private car so that you can arrive at the Summer Palace safely.
6. Chengdu Panda Center
- Travel Destination: Chengdu
- Why visit: Seeing China’s most beloved animal.
Although giant pandas can be found in zoos in cities all across China, nothing compares to witnessing China’s most beloved animal in their natural habitat in Chengdu. There are only 2,000 pandas in the world, 70% of which are in the Chengdu area, and there are two main places located near the city where visitors can see these national treasures in person.
- Wolong National Natural Reserve – The Wolong National Natural Reserve covers about 200,000 hectares and is home to over 4,000 difference species, including more than 150 giant pandas. The endangered animal is free to roam so visitors have every chance of coming across a panda as they explore the reserve. There is also the opportunity to take pictures with the baby pandas and it is even possible to adopt and name a panda at the cost of a donation (Distance From Chengdu Center: 135km).
- Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding – The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is just 15 kilometers outside of the city center and is perhaps the most famous of the three locations. The research center has been created to imitate the natural habitat and visitors are able to walk around to see the pandas as they eat, play, and sleep. It is highly recommended to visit the center early in the morning as once the pandas eat they usually sleep for most of the day. (Distance From Chengdu Center: 15km).
Getting There: Both locations are situated outside of the city center, with the Wolong National Natural Reserve over 135km away. Tour coaches run to both places, but with plenty of tourist traps and scams in operation, it is strongly recommended to book a private car in advance, along with an English speaking tour guide for when you arrive.
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7. Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
- Travel Destination: Zhangjiajie
- Why visit: Breathtaking scenery that inspired the movie Avatar.
With the release of the box office smash hit Avatar in 2009, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park experienced a massive surge in tourism, as fans of the movie flocked to the mountain forests to see some of the stunning backdrops of which the movie was based on.
The UNESCO World Heritage site is truly one of the most unique natural environments in not only China but the world. Depending on what time of the year you visit, tourists can expect quite different experiences, so it is important to time a trip carefully:
- March to June – The rains associated with the spring time can make some of the routes somewhat treacherous, but this is also the time when the mountains will be covered in fog, which gives them an otherworldly yet beautiful appearance.
- July to August – Unsurprisingly, the hottest period to explore the National Forest Park is during the summer holidays, but visitors will find some respite from the heat under the shade of the forest and high above in the mountains.
- September to October – Arguably the ideal time to visit Zhangjiajie is between September and October, when the weather is neither too humid nor too chilly, allowing for a comfortable tour of the forest park.
- November to February – During the winter months, access to some of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park will be restricted due to the adverse weather conditions, and the park is closed altogether for annual maintenance in February for one week. Those visitors who are willing to brave the conditions, however, may be rewarded with an opportunity to see the park at its most beautiful with the snowy mountain scenery.
Entrance fee to enter the park is RMB248, with the ticket being valid for three days. A week-long ticket is available at RMB298.
Getting There: Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is naturally a somewhat remote area and so is not conveniently connected by public transport. Visitors will arrive in at Zhangjiajie Railway Station and from there it is a 50-minute car ride to Wulingyuan town next to the forest park. As Zhangjiajie is very much a tourist city, it is suggested to avoid suspicious local taxis and advertised tour coaches, and instead book in advance a private car with English speaking tour guide.
- Travel Destination: Suzhou
- Why visit: Explore old China in the Venice of the East.
As skyscrapers shoot up and metropolises continue to sprawl, some tourists long to see how China used to be. There are a number of water towns that have remained intact, but none are as renowned as Zhouzhuang or as beautiful as this Venice of the East.
Located 30 km southeast of Suzhou, the water town is renowned for its narrow canals and stone bridges. Tourists are recommended to visit the iconic twin bridges of Shuang Qiao, the immaculately preserved Shen House, and to make sure to try the Wansan Pork dish, which is named after one of Suzhou’s most famous sons, Shen Wansan.
Entrance to the water town costs RMB100, while there is also an organized boat ride down the famous canal, which costs RMB40 per head or RMB100 for a boat that can hold up to six people.
Getting There: With Suzhou 30km away and Shanghai 60km, Zhouzhuang is easily accessed by car. It is straightforward and convenient to arrange a private car to pick you up from either Suzhou or Shanghai to take you directly to Zhouzhuang.
9. Longsheng Rice Terraces
- Travel Destination: Guilin
- Why visit: The most beautiful rice terraces in all of China.
China is blessed with a number of beautiful rice terraces, but perhaps the most stunning of all is the Longsheng Rice Terraces located just 60km away from Guilin in Guangxi province. The terraced rice fields start at the riverside and winds up the mountain to nearly 800 meters high, which gives the coiled appearance that has led it to be dubbed the ‘Dragon’s Backbone’. The Longsheng Rice Terraces can be categorized into three areas:
- Jinkeng Red Yao – The most popular area with tourists and photographers and for good reason, thanks mainly to the West Hill Music viewing point, which offers the highest view of the Longsheng Rice Terraces.
- Ping’an Zhuang – Ping’an Zhuang is the most developed area of the Longsheng Rice Terraces. After a day of hiking and photography, tourists can rest at the many restaurants, cafes, bars and hotels.
- Longji Old Village – In contrast to the popular Jinkeng Red Yao and the developed Ping’an Zhuang rice terraces, Longji Old Village offers visitors a look at the quainter side of the Longsheng Rice Terraces. This historical village is compromised of old stilt-style buildings, the oldest of which dates back more than 150 years to the Qing Dynasty.
Getting There: The Longsheng Rice Terraces are, by its nature, difficult to reach via public transport. By far the most convenient way to plan a trip is to book a private car, with the option of an English speaking tour guide to show you around the rice terraces.
10. West Lake
- Travel Destination: Hangzhou
- Why visit: Relax while exploring one of China’s most iconic lakes.
When people think of Hangzhou, they picture the tranquil West Lake, one of the most peaceful travel destination in all of China. The picturesque setting has been inspiring poets and painters for centuries and was recently made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition. West Lake is full of points of interest and stunning views, but visitors are recommended to prioritize the following spots:
- Three Pools Mirroring The Moon – Of all the sights in West Lake, Three Pools Mirroring The Moon is arguably the most iconic. During a full moon, a light is lit inside of the three small pagodas out on the lake, casting a reflection on the water, which led to the name.
- Su Causeway – Enjoyed best during the spring, the Su Causeway comes to life when the weeping willows and peach blossoms are in full bloom.
- Lotus In The Breeze At Crooked Courtyard – To truly enjoy Lotus In The Breeze At Crooked Courtyard, tourists are advised to time their visit with the summer months, when there are hundreds of different lotus blooming on the western shore of the lake.
Getting There: By subway, visitors can take Line 1 to Longxiangqiao and from there walk west until they reach the Lakeside Park. For those unfamiliar with Hangzhou or on a schedule, it may be very convenient to get to Hangzhou from Shanghai by a private car.
Whichever holiday you choose to book, it is recommended to book a private car with an English speaking tour guide. While tour coaches herd tourists around while keeping to an inflexible schedule and public transport restricts when visitors must come and go, a private car gives you the freedom to do the activities you wish to do and to come and go when you please.
In addition, many of the translations at some of these attractions are far from perfect and the speaking level of local tour guides varies wildly. By booking an English speaking tour guide in advance, they can help explain the history and culture while also answering any follow-up questions you may have. They also can help to warn travelers of scams when in tourist traps, and in fact, most con artists will steer clear of those travelers who are accompanied by an English speaking tour guide.