15 Best Places to Visit in China

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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When it comes to size, China can certainly compete with some of the biggest names in the world. This country is vast and enthralling in every direction from the dusty deserts that make up Central Asia, to the tropical beaches that nestle close to the Pacific Ocean. Stretching from north to south, China sits between the rolling Mongolian Steppe and the jungle covered peaks of Southeast Asia.

It is the 4th largest country in the world in terms of area, as well as being the most populous, and some of the greatest cities on earth can be found in the People’s Republic of China. Just some of the highlights of this breathtaking country include the throbbing food courts of old Shanghai and the sleepless streets of the capital city, Beijing. When it comes to history, China is certainly no slouch, with a range of UNESCO World Heritage sites and cultural icons like the tombs of Xi’an, the winding pathways of the Great Wall, and the enchanting hill villages of rural Yunnan.

Lets explore the best places to visit in China:

1. Shanghai

ShanghaiSource: flickr

Shanghai is a city that sprawls and seethes with the energy of more than 24 million people and is one of the world’s largest cities.

It gradually increased in importance as a city throughout the dynastic ages of the Song and Ming, but it was under the Qing that it boomed to become the most important trading port on the Yangtze River Delta.

In the present day Shanghai is much the same and the shimmering skyscrapers on the Bund are testament to the city’s trading power.

You will still find traces of the old however in the numerous historic buildings and the leafy canals of the French Concession.

2. Beijing

Forbidden City, BeijingSource: flickr
Forbidden City, Beijing

Beijing is the capital of China and a typical big city that never sleeps.

With a population of over 21 million, it is slightly smaller than Shanghai, although it is also the political center of the country and home of iconic spots like Tiananmen Square.

One of the big draws here is the fascinating Forbidden City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties lived, and you will find opulent ceramics, artwork, fountains and thrones here.

The National Museum of China is also located in Beijing and is one of the most acclaimed art institutions in the country.

3. Hong Kong

Hong KongSource: flickr
Hong Kong

Hong Kong locals may not like being listed alongside cities on the mainland, which tells you everything you need to know about how different this Special Administrative Region of China is from the People’s Republic.

The region has political and economic autonomy from China (for the most part) and is a global powerhouse of finance and trading.

Some of the highlights here taking a rattling tram to the top of majestic Victoria Peak, visiting the bustling markets of Kowloon, and exploring the themes parks on Lantau Island.

4. Guilin

GuilinSource: flickr

Guilin is a great place to come for anyone looking for adventure amidst soaring karst mountains that look like something from another planet.

Guilin is known for its gingko-dotted parklands located around Pagoda Hill as well as its winding historic streets that straddle the majestic Li River.

If you venture out into the surrounding Guangxi Province then you will find craggy sacred peaks, caves, grottoes, and mist covered mountains.

5. Chengdu

Chengdu Panda Research BaseSource: flickr
Chengdu Panda Research Base

The town of Chengdu is now famous on the traveler trail for one reason only, its resident pandas.

The Chengdu Panda Research Base is the place to come if you want to get up close to these amazing bears, and the base is a research facility rather than a zoo so know that you are contributing to the upkeep and breeding programs of the pandas if you come here.

As well as the elegant and graceful pandas, you can also enjoy other parts of Chengdu such as People’s Park which is famous for its street performers.

Other areas of interest include Jinli Ancient Street which is well known for its architecture from the Qing Dynasty, as well as the Kuanzhaixiangzi District which has a range of amazing ancient teahouses that are not to be missed.

6. Guangzhou

GuangzhouSource: flickr

The city of Guangzhou presents the typical modern image of neon-lit China and in recent years this town has exploded in every direction.

Skyscrapers dot the horizon and you will find shimmering buildings jostling for space in the downtown area of the city that also sits of the Pearl River.

The architecture here is some of the most eclectic in China and you will find Qing edifices at the Xiguan Residence as well as many examples of old Canton buildings.

This is mixed with Anglo-style houses in places like Shamian Island which invoke images of rural England.

As if that wasn’t enough, Guangzhou is covered in museums like the Mausoleum of King Zhao Mo which is full of artifacts that date back 2,100 years.

7. Macau

MacauSource: flickr

Macau is a place of bright lights, glitz, glamour, and gambling, and millions of visitors flock here from mainland China every year.

The main draw is the click of poker chips and the sprawling gaming halls, and you can visit some of the biggest names in the casino business like the MGM Grand and the Venetian.

Macau is not just about gambling however, so if you want to see a different side of it then you can visit some of the legacies of its colonial past under the Portuguese.

Some of these include its famous fort, churches, and Baroque homes.

If you want to get away from the more crowded parts of the island, then head to the seaside areas of Coloane or Taipa.

8. Yangshuo

Yulong River valleySource: flickr
Yulong River valley

Covered in the needle-like spires of karst peaks, the city of Yangshuo is truly breathtaking.

This city is located in the southern part of Guangxi Province and the Li River drifts lazily through the Yangi-Xingping Scenic Area.

As such, you can expect bulbous mountains and sculpted mountain ranges that are the perfect place to go trekking and climbing, especially in the Yulong River Valley.

In the city of Yangshuo proper, you can also take traditional martial arts or Chinese cooking classes to fully immerse yourself in the local culture.

9. Xi’an

terracotta army, Xi'AnSource: flickr
terracotta army, Xi’An

Xi’an is one of the four great capitals of old China and this is where centuries of history come together.

It is of course the home of the mighty terracotta army which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is made up of thousands of figures of horsemen and soldiers which were buried with the Emperor Qin Shi Huang to protect him in the afterlife.

As well as the terracotta army, Xi’an is also known for having the longest city walls in the world which sprawls for 13 kilometers in length, as well as mosques and Taoist temples that tell of the multiculturalism that came from this being a spot on the famed Silk Road.

10. Jiuzhaigou

JiuzhaigouSource: flickr

The valley of scenic Jiuzhaigou sparkles and shimmers with hues of turquoise blue and green thanks to its mountain lakes that have made this part of Sichuan famous.

For anyone interested in hiking or climbing, this is an excellent spot to visit, particularly if you venture to places like the Pearl Shoal Waterfall and the glassy Long Lake.

Other draws in the area include the Zharu Buddhist Monastery as well as the craggy peaks of Nuorilang.

11. Hangzhou

West Lake, HangzhouSource: flickr
West Lake, Hangzhou

Sitting at the mouth of the Yangtze River Delta is the city of Hangzhou which has long been known as an important terminus for trade.

The city has grown over the years and is now a booming metropolis of 10 million people.

If you are visiting the city, the big draws here are the historical treasures and cultural relics such as West Lake, the Broken Bridge, the Qing Dynasty Mid-Lake Pavilion, and the pagodas of the Lesser Yingzhou Isle.

12. Kashgar

Mosque, KashgarSource: flickr
Mosque, Kashgar

Kashgar is one place in the deep west of China that doesn’t feel Chinese at all.

Having fallen to the Kushan Empire you will find bulbous Mughal-style mosques here and the atmosphere if more reminiscent of an Afghan town than anything else.

13. Kunming

Yuantong Temple, KunmingSource: flickr
Yuantong Temple, Kunming

Kunming sits 2,000 meters above sea level and is a place of soaring peaks that is also known as the ‘City of Eternal Spring’. The altitude here means that it is cooler than other spots in Yunnan and you can enjoy cultural relics such as Yuantong Temple which dates back 1,200 years.

Other top spots include the Daguan Pavilion and the Stone Forest Reserve which takes the form of a series of spiky mountains.

14. Hainan

HainanSource: flickr

Hainan sometimes feels more like Southeast Asia than China and is located in the south of the country jutting out into the South China Sea.

Here you will find lush jungles, coconut palms, and pine forests, as well as some of the prettiest beaches in China.

One of the best of these is Sanya Beach as well as the secluded coves of Monkey Island which has a wealth of resident simians as the name suggests.

15. Harbin

HarbinSource: flickr

Harbin is covered in snowy cobblestoned streets and onion-dome shaped mosques, meaning that it hardly seems Chinese at all.

Much of this is down to the Russian influence here as many Russian nationals flocked here in 1917. You will be able to visit the Russian Quarter of the city as well as enjoy some potent vodka and view Siberian tigers on the nearby nature reserves.

If you like skiing, then make sure not to miss Deer Flats for a chance to hit the slopes.

15 Best Places to Visit in China:

  • Shanghai
  • Beijing
  • Hong Kong
  • Guilin
  • Chengdu
  • Guangzhou
  • Macau
  • Yangshuo
  • Xi'an
  • Jiuzhaigou
  • Hangzhou
  • Kashgar
  • Kunming
  • Hainan
  • Harbin