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From impressive landscapes ranging from lush forests and temple-topped mountains to urban cities and picturesque fishing villages, it is no secret that China is blessed with diversity, natural wonders, and a long, rich history. It is no wonder that there is a myriad of things to see and do for visitors on any China tour.
Whether you wish to admire the murals at the Mogao Caves, climb atop the Xian City Wall and take in the scenery or revel in peacefulness at the Classical Gardens of Suzhou, there is no shortage of seriously awesome attractions in China. To make the most out of your stay in this lovely country, we’ve handpicked these 20 best things to do in China.
Stunning architecture, religious shrines and traditional cuisine showcase the extensive cultural exchange between merchants who, long ago, made voyages via the ancient trading route — the Silk Road. The Silk Road has multiple routes that a traveler can choose to visit (the most famous route includes Xian, Jiayuguan, Dunhuang, Turpan, Urumqi and Kashgar); each route of the Silk Road is dotted with magnificent scenery including snow-capped mountaintops, surreal lakes and mysterious stretches of desert. The incredible effort that went into sharing valuable commodities and groundbreaking inventions symbolizes humanity’s connection throughout history.
- When to go: Spring (April – June) is the best time to travel along the Silk Road in China due to favorable weather conditions. Avoid summer (July – August) and winter (December – February) due to extreme temperatures.
- Good to know: Pack any first aid supplies and medications you need before your journey begins as there are no services available on some of the long, desolate stretches of terrain.
Lhasa is the epicenter of Tibetan culture and home to numerous Tibetan Buddhism cultural attractions. This breathtaking capital in the Tibet Autonomous Region is set at an altitude of over 3,600 meters and houses the sacred Potala Palace — the most revered site in Tibetan culture. The nearby Jokhang Temple is another holy site in Lhasa providing tranquility, with dedicated pilgrims praying along its walls while hiking to sanctuaries like the Ganden Monastery and Drepung Monastery provides a unique glimpse into the life of Tibetan monks. You can even take part in the religious traditions yourself by joining the Barkhor kora, the most cherished pilgrimage route in Lhasa.
- When to go: Spring (March – May) and autumn (September – October) are the perfect seasons to visit Lhasa, Tibet due to mild temperatures and clear skies, as well as, to view the gorgeous scenery surrounding the city.
- Good to know: The extreme altitude and sunny skies of Lhasa leave you exposed to UV radiation, so it is crucial to bring sunglasses, lip balm, sunblock and a hat.
This life-changing and often sacred journey is the ultimate test of endurance. Joining the devout pilgrims to experience the Mount Kailash kora opens your eyes to their resilient faith and commitment. Three days are required to complete the hike around the holy mountain and you will be trekking at altitudes of roughly 5,000 meters. The most strenuous challenge during the trek is crossing the 5,613-meter Drolma La Pass. In total, the circular route spans 52 kilometers and is bound to be the most fulfilling adventure on any tour to China.
- When to go: The best times to go on this holy trek are early summer (May – June) for warmer temperatures and autumn (September – October) for dry weather conditions.
- Good to know: Avoid trekking during any sacred festivals in the region due to overcrowding and a limited number of accommodations, porters and transport animals.
Although there are brutal winter temperatures in the province of Heilongjiang, the region also hosts the world’s biggest ice and snow sculpture festival. More than 10 million visitors each year visit Harbin to witness enormous ice sculptures towering nearly 50-meters-high. The winter festival has a magical atmosphere when these life-size sculptures are illuminated, brightening the night sky. Three distinct locations, Zhaolin Park, Ice and Snow World and Sun Island Scenic Area, each offer something unique to the festival. Daytime festival-goers can gaze at the magnificent ice sculptures at Sun Island. Once nightfall arrives, Zhaolin Park and Ice and Snow World put on a dazzling show of illuminated sculptures and lanterns.
- When to go: The annual festival takes place during the harsh winter months (December – February).
- Good to know: Purchase a pair of shoe spikes to avoid slipping and falling in the frigid snow while walking around the festival.
Spanning about 6,379 kilometers long, the Yangtze River is China’s mightiest river and the third-longest in the world. A voyage down this incredible waterway will open your eyes to China’s past and present. Sail by ancient towns like Jinzhou, Lizhuang and Dachang to spot traditional architecture and archaeological sites with an illustrious history of well over 1,000 years. On the other hand, the Yangtze also contains some of China’s most impressive feats of modern technology; the Three Gorges Dam is one such project, becoming the world’s largest hydroelectric power station. In between these miraculous feats of human creation, the river boasts a plethora of gorgeous natural scenery. Rugged mountains, lush vegetation, sharp cliffs and steep gorges are among the beautiful landscapes you’ll witness on your tour to China.
- When to go: Spring (April – May) and autumn (September – October) are the most comfortable times of the year to sail the Yangtze River due to mild temperatures.
- Good to know: The weather along the river can be unpredictable, so it is important to bring a rain jacket and a sweater to avoid catching a cold on your cruise.
- Entrance fees: Depending on the section of the Great Wall visited, prices range anywhere from USD 6 – USD 10*
With an average height of 6 – 8 meters and stretching for over 6,000 kilometers, the Great Wall of China is without a doubt one of the most famous tourist attractions in China. Built in the 7th century BC, this magnificent and ancient fortification system is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are various sections of the Great Wall you can visit, each differing from the other. The most famous ones being Balding, Mutianyu, Jinshanling, Simatai, Juyongguan, Huangyaguan and Shanghai Pass.
- When to visit: The views of and from the Great Wall are magnificent in every season. However, the fall season (September – November) is probably the best weather-wise and for walking and hiking, whereas the spring (March – May) sees fewer crowds. The cold winter months (December – February) are best avoided as they can get really, really cold.
- Insider tip: The most popular sections of the Great Wall are the closest to Beijing (Badaling, Mutianyu and Juyongguan). They are easily reachable by public transport but they are normally overcrowded. If you want to enjoy an alternative experience, there are several amazing sections known as "Wild Great Wall" (unrestored sections) not so far from Beijing such as Huanghua Cheng, Gubeikou, Simatai and Jinshanling. — by Sergi from Sapore di Cina
- Entrance fees: March – November USD 23; December – February USD 18*
Surrounded by marvel and mystical theories, the famous Terracotta Army is a form of funerary art that was built and then buried to protect the first emperor of China, Qin Shihuang, in his afterlife. The mausoleum site has been converted into a huge museum complex and contains more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots, 520 horses, 150 cavalry horses and other non-military figures. This famous tourist attraction in China really is a site to behold so it is no wonder that it is visited by curious travelers from all over the world.
- Good to know: The museum requires proof of identification upon entry, so carry your passport when visiting.
- Insider tip: Get to the Terracotta Warriors as early as possible in the morning. This way you’ll avoid the traffic and get more than enough time to cover the attractions once inside. Also, hire a tour guide. They’ll help you navigate once inside and provide you with all the facts. — by Devesh from Drone and DSLR
- Entrance fees: November – March USD 6; April – October USD 9*
If you’re looking to be awestruck by Chinese architecture, you needn’t go any further than the Forbidden City (aka the Purple Forbidden City or the Palace Museum). As its name implies, local Chinese citizens were once denied entry to this imperial palace, although now it is the biggest palace complex in the world (with 980 buildings spread over 0.73 square kilometres) and a UNESCO World Heritage Site that attracts about 8 million visitors annually from all over the globe.
- Good to know: The busiest hours are 10:00 am – 1:00 pm, and weekends are much busier than weekdays. So try to come either in the morning at opening time or in the afternoon during the week to avoid crowds. Also, you need to show your passport when purchasing a ticket to the Forbidden City.
- Insider tip: To capture the best photos while you're inside the Forbidden City, come prepared to climb! Around 75% of the 3.4-kilometer-wall can be climbed; it is a great way to escape the crowds and take unique photographs and selfies! – by Richard Wolskel from Go4 Travel
- Entrance fees: Prices vary depending on whether you choose to explore the river by raft, which starts from USD 7 or on a cruise, which start from USD 65*.
The pastoral area through which Li River courses shows that even in a rapidly urbanizing country like China you can find natural, picturesque places that provide inspiration to photographers, artists and writers alike. The famed beauty of the area is such that it has attracted people like Bill Gates, George Bush and Bill Clinton. Take a cruise, ride a bamboo raft or go hiking on the shores to experience the fantastic limestone scenery and to catch a glimpse of typical village life. This eye-pleasing tourist attraction in China not only attracts millions of travelers every year but is also one of the top things to do in China.
- When to visit: The most pleasant weather for visiting the river usually occurs in spring (March – May). Surprisingly, some might say Li River is best explored via boat on a misty day which only lends to the atmosphere.
- Entrance fees: March – November USD 34; December – February USD 23*.
Located in the eastern part of the country in the Anhui Province, Huangshan (which directly translates to “Yellow Mountain”) is a popular and scenic mountainous area that attracts both tourists and locals. From steep cliffs and imposing peaks to pine trees and hot springs, this UNESCO World Heritage Site offers breathtaking natural scenery and the sunset views from the this mountain is one of the best things to see in China. There are also dozens of hiking trails worth exploring here.
- Good to know: Cable cars are available to ride in (for a fee) but note that they don’t run to the top of the mountains.
- Entrance fees: Entrance fees range from around USD 3 in low season (November – March) to USD 9* in peak season (April – October).
With its impeccably designed gardens, lakes and landscapes, a visit to the Summer Palace is definitely one of the top things to do in China. First constructed in the 12th century and located just a short drive from Beijing, this palace used to serve as a getaway destination for China’s imperial families. Today, visitors can visit the highlights of the palace including the Great Theatre, Hall of Happiness, and the gardens and courtyards of Le Shou Tang Hall.
- Good to know: Visit the Summer Palace early in the morning to avoid the afternoon crowd. The Palace opens at 6:30 am from April to October and at 7:00 am from November to March.
- Insider tip: The Summer Palace is more of a pleasure garden than a palace. It covers around 3 square kilometres of gardens, lakes and pavilions, and takes time to properly explore. If time permits, it’s a great place to spend a lazy summer's day. There are tea houses and eateries within the grounds, but you might want to bring your own snacks. — by Theodora from Escape Artistes
- Entrance fee: Regular tickets for boat tours cost around USD 6*.
Well-known for its beautiful scenery, Hangzhou’s West Lake is a large lake separated into 5 sections and surrounded by green hills and cultural relics. Whether you wish to take photographs of old bridges, hop aboard one of the many tour boats or watch a spectacular fountain show in the evening, there is no shortage of fun activities on West Lake. There is also a nice cycling track that goes around the lake. Bikes are available for rent.
- Good to know: The best time to visit the lake is in springtime when the peach trees near the lake are in full bloom.
- Entrance fees: April – October USD 27 (ticket sales end at 4:30 pm); November – March USD 18*. Note that ticket sales end at 4:00 pm.
Also known as the “Caves of a Thousand Buddhas”, the Mogao Caves boast around 600 caves containing over a thousand years of stunning Buddhist art, of which 30 are open to the public. In the early days, the caves were used as a place for meditation. Now, visitors can admire the rare murals, the sculptures of Buddha and the thousands of manuscripts written on the walls. Guided tours are mandatory and enforced in order to preserve the caves.
- Good to know: Travelers can use Dunhuang City as a base to explore the caves. Decent accommodation and dining are offered.
- Entrance fees: USD 13*.
With formations of weirdly shaped rocks that have been enhanced by kaleidoscopic lighting, Reed Flute Cave in Guilin is an entrancing exhibition of natural sculpture. The 240-meter-long cave is replete with stalactite and stalagmite limestone formations, each which has been given a poetic Chinese name. It has been a tourist attraction in China for 1200 years and has inked inscriptions on the walls dating back to 782 AD!
- Good to know: There is a steep climb to the entrance of the caves, but for a fee, visitors who don’t want to walk can take a small train. Wear long sleeved trousers and carry a jacket as the temperature inside the caves is cool all year.
The massive fortifications of Xian, or the Xian City Wall is one of the oldest and most well-preserved stone walls that the Chinese built to defend their cities from foreign invaders. The wall is located in the center of Xian City and boasts 4 different gates including East Changle Gate, West Anding Gate, South Yongning Gate and North Anyuan Gate. Walking or biking atop the 14-kilometer-long wall is definitely one of the best things to do in China.
- Good to know: To see the entire wall and the surrounding areas, its best to rent a bike. Both tandem and single bikes are available for rent near the South Gate entry point and at various locations along the wall.
- Entrance fees: April, May and from July to October tickets cost USD 13; all other months USD 10*
Situated in the historic city of Suzhou, the Classical Gardens of Suzhou are the most famous gardens in the country and one of the best places to visit in China. From the spectacular Humble Administrator’s Garden and the lovely Garden of Lingering to a man-made hill, there is no shortage of beautiful spots in Suzhou. Visitors can go on a boat ride, explore the Garden of the Cang Lang Ting Pavilion and Master of the Nets Garden, or just sit under a grove of peach trees and enjoy the peace.
- Good to know: You’ll need at least 3 hours for this attraction as there are 10 gardens to explore.
A famous and popular waterfront area in Shanghai, the Bund is one of the most important architectural areas in China, studded with historic buildings that intermingle with modern skyscrapers. Strolling the Bund is the best thing to do in China and an absolute must, especially for those visiting Shanghai for the first time. People from all over come to admire the colonial European buildings and skyscrapers, enjoy views from the Oriental Pearl Tower, shop in the designer stores and relax in the nearby Garden of Happiness. There is a pedestrian zone and boardwalk where you will find many trendy shops, restaurants, art galleries and coffee shops.
- Good to know: Go on a night cruise along the Huangpu River to enjoy the most spectacular night-light views of the city.
- Insider tip: Shanghai is an expensive city so here's how to get a drink and a show on a budget! Grab yourself a drink from a local store instead of a fancy bar and head down to the Bund to take in the spectacle of the Shanghai skyline. Watch the buildings create a show of their own as they light up the night's sky and entertain viewers with various light displays. — by Megsy from Food Fun Travel
- Entrance fee: March – November: USD 37, December – February: USD 21*
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is by far one of China’s most beautiful forest parks and also the shooting location of the famed movie Avatar. Covering approximately 479 square kilometers of space, the park is home to several attractions including the Golden Whip Stream, where you can swim in the crystal-clear waters, and the natural platform of Yuanjiajie. The park is an ideal destination for long hikes.
- Good to know: Besides walking, you can use cableways, elevators, buses and mini trains to move around.
- Entrance Fee: USD 9*
Despite its long and somewhat complicated name, no visit to China is complete without checking out the fabulous Chengdu Panda Base and seeing these spectacular gentle giants up close. The base is a non-profit research and breeding facility for giant pandas and other rare animals including the red panda. One of the best things to do in China is to observe pandas as they eat, sleep and play. Besides admiring these cute creatures, visitors can check out numerous exhibits and displays.
- Good to know: The breeding center is open from 7:30 am – 6:00 pm throughout the year, but arrive as early as possible if you want to see any action, as pandas are most active in the morning hours (and often spend the rest of the day sleeping).
Standing a whopping 71-meters-high, Leshan Giant Buddha is the world’s largest Buddha sculpture and one of the most popular tourist attractions in China. Overlooking the river, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is carved into the side of a hill and attracts thousands of pilgrims every day. The easiest way to get to Leshan Giant Buddha is from the city of Chengdu on a fun ferry trip.
- Good to know: There are two options for travelers to see the Giant Buddha. Visit on foot, and walk down from the top of the sculpture via narrow and steep stairs, or you can view the giant statue from a boat on the river.
- Insider tip: If you are an independent traveller, taking a high-speed train to Leshan is much easier than other modes of transport and it only takes an hour to get there. There are two train stations that have trains going to Leshan; the Chengdu east train station has more choices than Chengdu south train station. — by Lily from Lily Sun China Tours
Exploring China is an experience unlike any other. From numerous religions and cultural sightseeing spots to natural wonders including lakes and mountain peaks, our itinerary of the best things to do in China takes you on an unforgettable travel adventure.
*Prices listed in the article are as of May 2019; they have been changed from RMB to USD and are approximations.
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