China is one of those places that is so HUGE and varied that planning exactly what you want to see during your trip is a must. Being the 4th largest country in the world, it is no surprise that you can find a wide array of unreal natural landscapes, iconic tourist attractions, cultural highlights, and an endless list of things to see and do. Although China is a lot more popular for its cultural attractions, it also features a variety of adventurous activities and landscapes that are bound to get you inspired and excited. To help you make the most out of your trip to China, here’s our list of the best places to visit in China.
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Naturally, no list of places to visit in China would be complete without featuring Beijing, the capital city and one of the most populous cities in the world. Rich in history and culture, a visit to this city is a must! Despite the ever-growing amount of crowds, while in Beijing, a trip to see the Forbidden City, the Great Wall of China, the Summer Palace as well as the Temple of Heaven are just a few of the highlights that this city can offer.
The Great Wall of China
In all honesty, I could spend hours talking about the Great Wall of China which goes to show how fascinating this iconic landmark truly is. Not only does this wall span out across several provinces in Northern China, you can also explore and see some parts of it from downtown Beijing (although we don’t recommend it due to the crazy crowds!) Instead, you can make your way to the many sections of the Great Wall which are less crowded like Mutianyu Great Wall, Jinshanling Great Wall, as well as the Gubeikou Great Wall. While walking along, photographing, and hiking this impressive landmark is the most common thing to do, you can also do some pretty cool things like racing down on a Toboggan ride or even spend the night camping on the Great Wall (by a nearby watchtower at least). How’s that for awesome?
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
Located west of the Hunan Province, this national forest park was made popular due to the movie Avatar. The Hallelujah Mountains in the movie used the Zhangjiajie mountains and trees as their real-life inspiration featuring these out of this world pillars which is home to dense forests and karst caves. This place is truly magical and is a sight to see, especially when you see the tips of these limestone karsts protruding out of the clouds. While in the area, you can also explore the Tianzi Mountain Area, Huangshizhai Scenic Area as well as the famous Tianmen Mountain which is home to a series of vertical cliffs, a glass skywalk, and insanely beautiful views. While the place has heaps of sky bridges, viewpoints, and cable cars, there are also a few trekking trails that are worth exploring.
Huanglong National Scenic Reserve
Loosely called as “Fairy Land on Earth”, this place is a sight to see and is one of the best places to visit in China. With light blue water cascading down over a series of pools stretching out as far as your eyes can see, this place is pretty unreal. During the summer months, expect to see the surrounding area full of exotic trees and flowers that are in full bloom. During the winter months, you can see snow-capped mountains gleaming in the background. The icing on the cake? The Huanglong National Scenic Reserve is home to exotic species like the Sichuan golden snub-nosed monkey and giant pandas.
Known as China’s biggest and the world’s most populous city, Shanghai has a one of a kind electric urban vibe. The busy streets, the modern skyline, the lights, and the insane amount of people. Aside from having a wide array of cultural highlights this big modern metropolitan city is also a great place to enjoy some local Chinese cuisine given their number of famous food streets. A few well-known ones are Huanghe Road as well as Qibao Old Food Street. Apart from that, a visit to its iconic buildings like The Pearl and the other buildings along The Bund, Shanghai’s waterfront area is a must.
Zhangye Danxia Landform
When I first saw a photo of these incredible rainbow mountains, my jaw literally dropped. As if I don’t gape at mountains enough, these rainbow mountains in Zhangye look like someone took a paintbrush and went on a painting spree. Formed through years of sedimentation, erosion, and a mix of extreme weather conditions, the result is a dramatic rock landscape separated by stripey colors and discoloration giving it a rainbow colored feel.
Yangshuo is one of those places in China that is perfect to explore due to the incredible amount of wildlife and nature. While the main town of Yangshuo has now become more and more touristy, as soon as you head out, you can explore serene rivers using traditional bamboo rafts, water caves full of mud pools and an impressive display of stalactites and stalagmites. Regardless if you’re trekking, cycling, rock climbing, caving, or merely just relaxing and taking it these stellar views, there is something to do in Yangshuo for everyone. Instead of staying in the main town which is now full of bars, neon lights, and a myriad of hotels, and vendors, we recommend staying in the hotels and guesthouses located on the outskirts of the main town where you can wake up surrounded by tranquility and nature.
Huashan’s Plank Trail
Adventures like this are one of the main reasons why China is high up on the countries that we recommend intrepid adventurers to visit. Imagine scaling a death-defying plank walk while you put your faith in ropes and hooks with every step. Having been dubbed as the World’s Deadliest Trail, this one is for all the adventure seekers out there. The Plank Road In The Sky is a 40-minute walk taking you from one peak of the mountain to the next and is a good test of courage, especially for those that are afraid of heights. Apart from this terrifying trail, the mountains of Huashan are pretty stunning with its jagged peaks covered in pine and various shrubs.
Again, a visit to China would hardly be complete without paying respects to the impressive Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an. After being discovered in 1974, this impressive collection featuring a full-blown Terracotta army features thousands of life-sized soldiers, horses, and war ammunition. Spread across four different pits, although the entire attraction is very touristy, it is worth going to.
Chengdu is a popular city and is a popular stop in everyone’s China Itinerary due to the fact that this is a place where you can interact with China’s iconic beloved Giant Pandas. While there are a variety of other things to do, the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Base is the main cultural stop. This sanctuary allows visitors to interact with the pandas and has an incredible wealth of information on these furry animals. Mating season is during March to May so if you visit during Autumn or Winter, you may very likely chance upon some baby pandas in the nursery. Also time your visits during the morning as the pandas are most active during the daytime.
Another must not visit place in China is the Yúnnán Province which is home to the famous YunYang Rice Terraces and Tiger Leaping Gorge. As this is the most southwest province of China, it neighbors other countries like Vietnam, Laos, and Burma. While there are many other popular attractions, the two mentioned above are the most popular and are worth visiting due to the spectacular landscapes.
In order to visit Tibet, you can only do so from either Nepal or China and must be done with a travel agency due to the strict restrictions. It is important to do things in advance as it can take as long as 14 days to four weeks to get your permits approved. Aside from the Tibet Travel Permit, some destinations in Tibet also require an Alien Travel Permit so doing your research or contacting a company who knows about these ins and outs is crucial.
However, between the simple way of life, the stunning views of the Himalayas, and the incredible Buddhist culture that surrounds this place, a visit to Tibet is a must if you ever have the chance. While most adventurous travelers head here to experience the grandeur of Mt. Everest which is referred to by Tibetans as Qomolangma, other sites such as the Potala Palace in Lhasa is also worth traveling for.
How to Travel Around China
While visiting all these places in China can be done on your own accord, if you are tight on time or really interested in going off-the-beaten-path, we recommend checking out the guys over at The China Guide who provide private tours, group travel, and a whole lot of epic trips and activities that you won’t see in the usual travel agencies in China. These guys make it a point to tailor your tours to what you want to see as well as make suggestions on how best to avoid the crowds. Because you’re awesome, use the contact form below and get an exclusive special china tour discount.
Clearly I could go on about the many other places to visit in China but for now, I will leave you with this. Part of the allure of China is that there are so many hidden gems to discover, especially in the less populous parts. How about you? Have you been to China? Which parts are your favorite?
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