China has a great deal of wonderful tour destinations and unforgettable attractions. With its vast territory and a long history, it seems impossible to travel to most of the interesting places and reach to famous attractions within one trip. In fact, each region of China has its own identity, so experiencing Chinese culture, exploring its treasures and viewing its natural wonders require considerable travel. We have listed for you the top 10 must-see attractions in China focusing on typical highlights to make your exploration easily.
You may find out our version are slightly different with the others published on website or guide books. Based on our decades of professional experience on tour operation, we handpicked the updated tour data of recent years. Hope our choices will be helpful to your exciting China trip. Surely you can also summarize what you think of the top attractions when your footsteps have covered the most part of China. Just as everyone has his own Hamlet, we expect your feedback to share your views of the must-see attractions in China.
The Great Wall is a series of stone and earth fortifications built and rebuilt between the 5th century BC and the 16th century to protect the northern borders of the Chinese Empire from the nomadic peoples of the northern steppe. With a history of more than 2500 years, it is the greatest human feat in History. The Great Wall is comprised of various defensive buildings including rampart, watch tower, oasis town, fortress, commanding station and Balefire stages. At regular intervals there is an arched door giving access to the top of the wall. The walls feature regular lookout holes, window embrasures and castellated crenels. Beacon towers for passing on military information also appear at fixed intervals. All of these emphasize the important role of the Great Wall in military defense.
The Great Wall stretches for more than 6000 kilometers, twisting and turning along the ridges of mountains, traversing 16 provinces, cities and autonomous regions where it meets the sea at the east coast of Shanhaiguan Pass, and disappears into the desert out of Jiayuguan Pass on the Silk Road. Most of the wall has been demolished over the centuries. Much of it lies in ruined, earthen strips that are barely distinguishable from the hills and valleys out of which it was formed. The most integral and magnificent segment of the Great Wall that we see today dates back to the Ming Great Wall with more than 500 years. Most of best-preserved sections are near Beijing at Badaling, Juyongguan Pass, Huanghua and Mutianyu, located 80 kilometers north of the city, Simatai and Jinshanling, situated 150 kilometers northeast of Beijing.
The Great wall is also the storage of brilliant literature and art works in ancient China. A variety of artistic forms regarding Great Wall has come to existence continuously and spread far and wide. They include ancient poems, poetic essays, folk literature and dramas. The Great Wall has served as a symbol of the spirit of Chinese nation, precisely as what the saying goes, "He who has never been to the Great Wall is not a true man". UNESCO listed the Great Wall as one of the sites of the World Heritage in the year 1987.
The terracotta army, buried in 210 BC with the first emperor of the Qin dynasty, is a breathtaking underground palace in the world. Standing silently over their emperor for more than 2000 years, the terracotta warriors are one of the most extraordinary archaeological discoveries ever made. The warriors offer some of the greatest insights we have today into the world of ancient China. The Underground Army entered the list of World Cultural Heritage Sites in 1987, and is cited as the 'Eighth Wonder of the World’.
Museum of the Terracotta Warriors and Horses was discovered accidentally in 1974 when a local farmer dug a well. Each of the life-size soldiers has their own facial features, hair-style, and dressed in the uniform appropriate to their ranks, they were dispatched to protect Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor. Three vaults containing warriors are open for visiting. Other vaults are still being excavated. Warriors lay toppled as if they fell in combat. Shattered and headless statues give the eerie sense of viewing the carnage of an ancient battlefield. Though a daunting task, archaeologies continue to piece together the broken remains of those warriors who lost their battle against time. The State Council authorized the building of a museum on the site in 1975 for the protection of the discovery. Now there are 8,000 life-like terracotta warriors, 100 or so bronze chariots and 30,000 weapons have been unearthed and displayed in the museum.
Xian has been the capital of 12 dynasties with the ancient relics from the majesty of the Terracotta Warriors to the restored City Wall of Ming Dynasty and Big Wild Goose Pagoda of Tang Dynasty. Xian is also a museum city dotted with the historic relics of past dynasties. Shaanxi History Museum is the largest comprehensive one with traditional Tang Dynasty architectural style. Forest of Stele Museum is known worldwide for collections of inscribed stone monuments engraved for more than 2000 years. In the centre of the town, Great Mosque with its Muslim living quarter, Drum Tower and Bell Tower are the witness of this ancient capital.
The Forbidden City is the most magnificent spectacle, situated exactly in the heart of Beijing, was home to 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties from 1421 to 1924. Ringed by a 52m-wide moat, the Forbidden City is China’s Largest and best-preserved complex of ancient buildings, consists of 980 surviving buildings with almost 9000 rooms encompassed by red walls. The buildings of the Forbidden City fully embody the artistic features and style of ancient Chinese palace architecture, and can be called a masterpiece in architectural history. Besides its massive scale and historical significance, the Forbidden City strikes the imagination by its design. Its clear lines, perfect proportions, dramatic color scheme of red walls and wooden columns, white marble terraces and staircases, brilliant yellow tiles roofs and uplifted eaves, create one of the world’s most beautiful architectural complexes.
The 8-kilometer long central axis runs through the entire old Beijing city to Gate of Qianmen in the south, Bell and Drum Towers in the north. The throne symbolizing imperial power is positioned at the center of this central axis. The southern part is the outer court where the emperor exercised his supreme power over the nation. The northern part is the inner court where he lived with his royal family. Having been the imperial palace for some five centuries, the Forbidden City houses numerous rare treasures and curiosities. As the largest museum of cultural relics in China, it was listed by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site in 1987
Beijing looks like one giant grid with the Forbidden City at its centre. The famous attractions are spread on the chessboard. The magnificent Tiananmen Square, the tranquil retreat of the Summer Palace with its shimmering lakes, the Temple of Heaven where emperors prayed for good harvest, the Ming Tombs consisting of mausoleums of 13 Ming emperors, and the Great Wall should not be missed. At the same time, exploring Beijing’s alleys and streets has also become a pleasure. Hutong is the epitome of old Beijing. Beijing has more attractions than any other city in China.
Guilin is regarded as the most picturesque city in China. Li River is a major theme of Guilin scenery. From Guilin to Yangshuo, the river travels 83 kilometers with both shores decorated with numerous green hills popped up out of the ground, a poetic and picturesque environment in which one cannot but feel relaxed and refreshed. As an old saying goes, this is the best scenery under heaven unfolding with clear rivers, green bamboos, as well as craggy peaks and pillars of limestone which must have been the models for the traditional landscapes painted for centuries on silk scrolls.
Taking a cruise downstream to Yangshuo Town is the best way to enjoy the beautiful sights along the river banks. On the cruise, you can climb up on the observation deck to bathe in the scenery. It's like traveling in a wonderland, passing through changing views of towering peaks, dense forests, rice fields, fruit orchards and fishing villages. Fishermen are scooping the river bottom for shrimp with funnel-shaped nets. Children are wading and swimming in the sandy bend of the river. The air is always fresh and the water is always clear. Enormous groves of bamboo reached out from the banks, shooting out like green feathery petals. The strange hills and cliffs that rise directly from the river banks are named such as oxen, a lonely lady, an emperor’s crown, and a panel of natural embroidery. Every hill has a story.
In autumn, when the sweet osmanthus is in bloom, the fragrance of the blossoms pervades the air. The name Guilin, in fact, means "forest of sweet osmanthus". Two crystal clear rivers---Li River and Peach Blossom River meander through the city with parks, hills and caves dotted along the banks. Elephant Trunk Hill, Reed Flute Cave and Seven-Star Park are the typical spots to discover the real Guilin. With its rivers and surrounding towns, Guilin is not only a perfect place for living, but also an extraordinary, eco-friendly tour destination.
The Yangtze River is the longest river in China, coming through the mountains and the cities from the west to the east, finally blending into the East China Sea near Shanghai with a total length of more than 6300 km, ranking the third largest river in the world, Yangtze River has naturally been golden navigable waterway and has a colorful and exciting history. If you are willing to understand some about Yangtze River, It is better to take Yangtze cruise. You will enjoy the river winding through some of China’s most spectacular sceneries. You can cruise in relaxation, take in various sites and shore excursions along the way. From the deck of a cruise boat, the Yangtze reveals itself as a long picture scroll of stunning scenery.
The cruisers are sailing between upstream point Chongqing and downstream point of Yichang. The most impressive section of the river is Qutang Gorge, Wuxia Gorge and Xiling Gorge, collectively known as the Three Gorges. The splendors of Qutang Gorge, the elegance of Wu Gorge and the adventurousness of Xiling Gorge form the majestic picture of this world-renowned tour resort. Every peak and every part of the water can be the object of a painting or inspiration of a poem. The world-famous Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric power station, adds another tourist attraction to the beautiful landscape of the Three Gorges. If you choose to continue to Wuhan downstream, there will be more attractions to visit including Yue Yang Tower & Yellow Crane Tower. By cruising all the way to Shanghai, you will be able to do shore excursion to Nanjing and Yellow Mountain.
Along the route, you will enjoy some land excursions to Fengdu as the City of Ghosts, Shibaozhai known for its wooden pagoda, White King Town of ancient Shu Kingdom, Shennong Stream for a boat floating and Three Gorges Dam. You will see historical sites associated with China's rich store of enchanting myths and legends. There are also some interesting local customs. For instance, the Taqi in Fengjie, the dragon boat race in Zigui, the baskets carried on the back in Badong, the peculiar marriage and funeral ceremony of Tu Minority.
The Bund is along the western bank of the Huangpu River, facing Pudong crossing the river. Traditionally, the Bund begins at Yan'an Road (formerly Edward VII Avenue) in the south and ends at Waibaidu Bridge (formerly Garden Bridge) in the north crossing Suzhou Creek. The Bund usually refers to the buildings and wharves on this section of the road, as well as some adjacent areas. Building heights are restricted in the area where makes Shanghai particularly attractive are the many different styles of architecture and design throughout the city. The Bund is unanimously honored as a “world architectural fair”.
Along the west side of the Bund, there are over 20 distinct specimens of colonial architecture including all kinds of tall buildings like the gothic style, the baroque style and the roman style, as well as the classical and the renaissance style, the combination of Chinese and western style. The monumental European architecture here is what interests you most. It is more out of place in shanghai than ever before. This is indeed a fine place to stroll taking in the views of skyscrapers across the Huangpu River and the old architecture of Shanghai across the street.
The best way to take the pulse of Shanghai is to make a long circuit trip. Begin from the greatest shopping street Nanjing Road, walk a few miles to the Bund, the edge of the Huangpu River, then stroll in the Old Town Quarter with splendid Yu Garden and traditional teahouse, visit to the new Shanghai Museum and swing through the Old French Concession area. Pudong New Area with skyscrapers and towers rising on the east side of the Huangpu River can not be ignored anymore. Despite the city’s incredible development, the Bund’s stately skyline still defines Shanghai, setting it apart from any other city in China.
The magnificent Potala Palace, was first built in the 7th Century and rebuilt by the 5th Dalai Lama in the in the 17th Century. Since then this palace had become the residence of successive Dalai Lamas in wintertime, as well as the power center of the Tibetan regime. This world-famous architectural wonder is typical in Tibetan style, famous for its layout, construction, craftwork, painting, sculpture, decoration, and religious art, and it is the noted representative of Tibetan architectures melted perfectly the temple and palace. UNESCO listed Potala Palace as one of the World Heritages in the year 1994.
The Potala Palace is composed of the White Place, the living quarters, and the central religious Red Palace. The White Palaces is the residence of Dalai Lamas and the place for handling political affairs. Many chapels and former apartments give an insight to what life must have been like centuries ago in this theocratic sanctuary. The palace has treasured a great amount of treasures and rare cultural relics particularly in the western part of the Red Palace including the Patra-leaf from India, the Imperial edicts, golden seals and titles of nobility from Qing emperors to the Dalai Lamas.
With Potala Palace as its cardinal landmark, Lhasa is the heart of Buddhist land hidden away among the Himalayas. You will find religion blended into every aspect of life. With many holy sites, Lhasa is an important place of pilgrimage for people from all over Tibet who stream into the city from far-flung villages. The ancient Jokhang Temple, the great monasteries of Sera, Drepung and Ganden are the most holy places for pilgrims. As the summer residence of Dalai Lamas, Norbu Lingka is well known for its large compound of buildings and extensive gardens. The bustling Barkhor is the best place to view Lhasa and its diversity of culture.
When Shanghai was a sleepy village, Suzhou, just a few miles to the west, was a busy mercantile center with its nickname of Capital of Silk. The city is renowned for its beautiful stone bridges, traditional waterside architecture, as well as meticulously designed classical gardens. The focus of the city’s beauty is its magnificent collection of private classic gardens. These Small, exquisite jewels of landscaping art are the finest surviving examples of the tradition. Streams, waterfalls, pools, pavilions, bridges, grotesque rocks and small labyrinths of walls and screens provide the central design elements in a style that came to be emulated across China.
The classical Chinese gardens designed with the combination of rocks, water, trees and pavilions reflect the Chinese appreciation of balance and harmony, and fuse landscape painting and literary composition to create an art of its own in which nature is shaped but not tamed. The gardens are ingeniously designed to maximize the feeling of a large space in confined quarters, perform the essential order of nature in all shifting of vitality and vista. They are more like miniature parks than gardens in the western sense.
The Ming and Qing dynasties from the 14th to the 20th century were its prime periods of garden building, there were more than 200 private family gardens at one time. A dozen are still in good condition today including the top four classical gardens in China: the Master of Nets Garden, the Lion Grove, the Humble Administrator's Garden and the Lingering Garden. The classical garden makes the city an international reputation, and have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognizing them as major repositories of cultural achievement.
Listed as UNESCO's World Cultural Heritage in 1999, Lijiang located in the remote northwest sector of Yunnan Province where it touches Tibet, well noted for its natural scenery, fresh air and green vegetation. For centuries, Lijiang served as the capital for the mountain Kingdom of the Naxi, an indigenous people whose origin is a mystery, whose language and way of life are unique, whose rulers are women rather than men. The local Naxi people have developed their own "Dong Ba Culture". Classical Naxi music is regarded as the "living musical fossil" due to its long history. Splendid landscapes, the exotic ways of the Naxi ethnic group and the precious Dongba Culture make up the unique city of Lijiang.
Standing at Square Street, in the center of the Dayan Town, you will be deeply impressed by the charming town and the locals' quiet life, much like the meandering streams that wind through the town. There are a number of places of historical interest and natural scenic spots awaiting your exploration. Mu's Mansion, once the palace of the supreme ruler Chieftain Mu of the area, is the best place for visitors to enjoy the splendid architectural heritage of ancient Lijiang. Black Dragon Pool is a wonderful place combining natural beauty and historical sites harmoniously. The best place to see the full extent of the Old Town is Lion Mountain Park which is just 250 meters from Square Street. Its Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is the nearest Snow Mountains close to the living place in the world.
Old Lijiang is also surrounded by irresistible wonders. Many travelers spend their times in the villages that earlier visitors named as Shangri-la and push ever farther into the remoter villages, mountains and river valleys in search of the real Shangri-la. Several kilometers to the north of Lijiang, you can see the architectural complex of Residential Houses of Baisha Town with some beautiful frescoes. In ancient times, Baisha was the power center of the area and the embryonic form of the subsequent Lijiang. The Old Town of Shuhe is another ancient town in the area, which is just four kilometers to the northwest of Lijiang. The largest stone arch bridge, Green Dragon Bridge is the symbol here. Both of these towns can be reached from Lijiang Dayan Town by foot or bicycle.
The best chance to see a giant panda in the near wild is during a morning tour of the Giant Pandas Base located in northern suburb and 10kms from the city centre of Chengdu, founded in 1987, which has elements of a veterinary lab, a park, a panda habitat and a zoo. The stated purpose of the breeding center is to increase the captive population of pandas in order to reintroduce some to the wild. Verdant bamboo, bright flowers, fresh air, a natural hill scene and a beautiful artificial view are merged ingeniously at the base. Although the pandas are caged at times in breeding houses at the research base, they are also let out to roam across 80 acres of steep hills, forests and bamboo groves.
Visitors start their exploration from the baby garden where you can see panda cubs with a few months only. Then stop at the sub-adult garden where the adolescent pandas between the ages of one and five years. Visitors follow along on slate walkways, separated by deep moats from giant pandas to observe full-grown giant pandas in the adult area. You may see not only giant pandas but also red pandas, black-necked cranes, and white storks. Keep an eye out for red pandas stretched out on a branch or with their legs dangling from the treetops. There is an additional fee for taking photos with grown pandas sitting together or holding a baby panda. Your best chance of seeing pandas is at feeding time, 8:30 to 10am. We recommend visitors arrive in the morning during their breakfast. Outside these hours it's likely the pandas will be indulging in their favorite pastime, sleeping!
Chengdu, the home town of Panda, is still crisscrossed by winding streets of century-old shops and outdoor teahouses. Don't miss the opportunity to stroll at Jinli Street, a busy trading street with a history stretching back to two thousand years ago of Qin Dynasty, Wide and Narrow Alleys, traced back to five hundred years ago of Qing Dynasty, and to seat in a bamboo armchair at teahouses on streets. This is the real life of Chengdu, famous for leisure and enjoyment. As the capital of the Three Kingdom era, Chengdu remains lots of historical sites to explore, Du Fu’s Cottage to commemorate the famous Tang poet Du Fu. Wuhou Temple houses the memorial hall of greatest strategist Zhugeliang. Further more, Great Buddha of Leshan, 160kms south of Chengdu, is one of the few wonders to survive from the Tang Dynasty. Mt. Emei, 150kms southwest of Chengdu, inscribed on the list of the World Natural and Cultural Heritages by UNESCO in 1996.