China is a nation on the march. As it accelerates away from its preindustrial cocoon at a rate unmatched in human history, huge new cities with cutting-edge architecture continue to spring up. But look closer and you’ll see China’s splendidly diverse geographic, ethnic, culinary and social make-up is not lost. Here are some of our favourite things to do in China, to give you a taste of why you should visit this country.
Today, hangars have been built over the excavated site so that the ranks of soldiers – designed never to be seen, but now one of the most popular tourist attractions in China – can be viewed in situ. The army is probably the highlight of any trip to Xi’an.
Discover the best of China with this fascinating tailor-made trip along the Silk Road. Starting in Beijing, experience the Forbidden City, the Yellow River, the Great Wall of China, Heavenly Lake, the Terracotta Army of Warriors and much more, all with this unique, detailed trip.
Tsim Sha Tsui, dodging container ships and coastal vessels along the way. The sight of Central’s skyscrapers, framed by the hills and looming up as the ferry makes its seven-minute crossing of busy Victoria Harbour, is one of the most thrilling images of Hong Kong, especially when the buildings are lit up after dark.
Hong Kong is a vibrant and appealing city, with its waterside location and towering skyscrapers, it offers the visitor modernity and tradition, the exotic and efficient. This tailor-made trip to Hong Kong Highlights is perfect for a family break, there’s plenty to keep everyone entertained from Central to the New Territories and beyond.
For more accommodation options read our guide to the best areas to stay in Hong Kong
By the banks of the Yellow River 16km west of Zhongwei, Shapotou is a tourist resort whose main pleasure is in the contrast between the leafy, shady banks of the river, and the harsh desert that lies just beyond. The resort is a pleasant enough place, with various activities on hand – ferry rides, ziplines over the river, sand-sledding and camel rides.
Find more information about the Yellow River in our guide to ten highlights along China's Yellow River.
The powerful Yangtze River surges between two huge mountains, with the 3000-metre-deep river canyon providing a continuous flank of wobbly ‘V’ shapes down the middle. With dramatic scenery, welcoming homestays and roaming wildlife, this makes for one of the best things to do in China.
Culturally rich and ethnically diverse, Yunnan is one of China’s most fascinating regions. On this tailor-made trip to Incredible Yunnan you will explore this scenic southwestern province, great to travel to year round, from the capital Kunming to the well-preserved ancient city of Jianshui, famous for its old walls.
Up close, marvel at the intricate details of the structure, which has seen Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism practised here since its construction in the fifth century. Those who are feeling brave should tackle the ten-metre hanging plank bridge which connects the northern and southern sections of the temple.
Built in the seventh century, it stands 1km east of the Potala Palace, in the centre of the only remaining Tibetan enclave in the city, the Barkhor area, a maze of cobbled alleyways between Beijing Dong Lu and Jinzhu Dong Lu.
Whatever the establishment, just sit down to have a waiter come over and ask you what sort of tea you’d like. Most are served in the three-piece Sichuanese gaiwancha, a squat, handleless cup with lid and saucer. Refills are unlimited – either the waiter will give you a top-up on passing your table, or you’ll be left with a flask of boiling water.
The best option is the four-day/three-night foreign tourist cruises that leave daily from the wharves in Chongqing and have English-speaking staff and guides. The second, slightly cheaper, option is the Chinese tourist cruises, though they are usually a lot rowdier than the former.
Both of these cruises can be easily booked through your accommodation in Chongqing, or if you speak Chinese at one of the many booking offices opposite the wharves on Chong Bin Lu.
China is a vast and varied land, seemingly full to the brim of mega cities, dramatic limestone mountains and endless countryside. This tailor-made trip to Cultural China takes in the best the country has to offer, visiting the historic cities of Beijing, Xian and Shanghai, before cruising down the Yangtze River.
Each minority has its own spoken language, cuisine, distinctive form of dress for women, festivals and belief system. With enough time you should be able to flesh out the superficial image of these groups laid on for the tourist industry.
Explore the beauty of the Yunnan region with our guide beyond the Jade Dragon mountain: stunning pictures of Yunnan.
Then comes Everest itself, though – given the surprising urbanity of the base camp “village” here – the mountain’s rugged splendour is perhaps best appreciated from afar.
From tombs and monasteries to world-famous squares and walls, this tailor-made trip to China and Tibet takes in both for an unforgettable journey. Explore Beijing and all its spectacular attractions and take in the stunning natural surroundings around Chengdu and on into Tibet.
Work started on the caves in 366 AD, and continued up until the fourteenth century. The earliest artwork shows considerable artistic influence from Central Asia, India and Persia, though you can see how these foreign styles waned over time as the iconography slowly adapted to Chinese aesthetics.
The complex is split into two main areas: the temple proper to the east, and the easy-to-miss, but equally large, old Imperial College to the west.
As a symbol of national pride, the wall’s restored sections are now besieged daily by rampaging hordes of tourists, while its image adorns all manner of products, from wine to cigarettes. Yet even the most over-visited section at Badaling is still easily one of China’s most spectacular attractions.
Mutianyu is somewhat less crowded, distant Simatai much less so, and far more beautiful; you’ll get more out of these sections by walking away from the arrivals area. To see the wall in its crumbly glory, head out to Jinshanling, Jiankou or Huanghua, as yet largely untouched by development.
During the harsh winters, the five-kilometre-wide lake freezes over, and dense forests cover the cragged mountains, making for truly spectacular scenery. The lake runs along the China-North Korean border – but, of course, straying onto the other side is strictly forbidden.
It should be lovely, surrounded as it is by green fields and pine forests, the town’s winding cobbled lanes forming a centuries-old maze, flanked by clean streams, weeping willows and rustic stone bridges. It is, however, China’s biggest tourist black spot, in many ways little more than a cultural theme park, and the template against which all “old towns” in China are being remodelled.
The central halls, impressive for demonstrating the sheer scale of imperial pomp, may be the most magnificent buildings. For many visitors, it’s the side rooms, with their displays of the more intimate accoutrements, that bring home the realities of court life for its inhabitants.
On this tailor-made trip to Beijing and The Great Wall of China you will stay in Beijing, with its awe-inspiring Forbidden City. Then you will venture through the majestic Great Wall lands of Changping and Simatai, and marvel in the vibrancy of the water town of Gubei, a magnificent collage of Great Wall, mountains, lakes and ancient villages.
While the arduous two-week kora circuit of the mountain conducted by the faithful is not for everyone, there are also some less demanding hikes – still with spectacular views. The highest mountain of the range, at 6740m, is Kawagarbo at the head of the valley, whose glacier-streaked slopes and peak you’ll see dramatically emerging from the clouds if you’re lucky.
A peaceful boat trip is the best way to take in the hazy-green scenery, and part of the route includes the small market town of Xingping, the spot that is featured on the 20 RMB note.
Previously the two communities just merged together with the main road running through them uninterrupted, though these days there are some bollards and a security guard posted to check tickets. With the monastery and town so interlinked, opening hours and ticket requirements are largely notional, though you will definitely need to pay to join one of the twice-daily guided tours.
Named after an old Anglo-Indian term, “bunding” (the embanking of a muddy foreshore), the Bund’s official name is Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu but it’s better known among locals as Wai Tan (literally “Outside Beach”). By whatever name, this was old Shanghai’s commercial heart. Here you'll find the river on one side, and the offices of the leading banks and trading houses on the other.
Then, clamber down the steep, zig-zag path to the Buddha’s feet and lean back until it hurts to stare up at the colossal, figure for an evocative, unforgettable image of China.
In winter, the land is doused in brilliant-white snow. It’s also home to the milky-blue Pools of Immortals: bright turquoise bathing pools that seem to come straight out of a fairy tale. Equally impressive are the numerous waterfalls that drop like curtains over the rocky outcrops.
The high, crooked mountains feature streaks of forests, and are joined by swirls of mist at the very top. Whether you choose one of the easier walks or a more demanding route, tackling Huang Shan can take anything from two hours to three days, depending on how much you want to explore.
Performers incorporate humour, storytelling, hand puppetry and more in a seemingly effortless fashion; and the show usually ends with an extraordinary, hair-raising fire-breathing display.
With its vibrant culture, rich heritage and diverse nature, China is one of the exotic destinations for travel. If you are on the lookout for just such travel destinations, read our guide to the most exotic places to travel in the world.
The style that you’re most likely to see – it’s practised in the open all over the country – is the internal tai ji quan. The body is held in a state of minimal tension to create the art’s characteristic “soft” appearance. Its emphasis on slow movements and increasing qi flow means it is excellent for health, and it’s a popular workout for the elderly.
The palace buildings, many connected by a suitably majestic gallery, are built on and around Wanshou Shan (Longevity Hill), north of the lake and west of the main gate. Many of these edifices are intimately linked with Empress Dowager Cixi – anecdotes about whom are the stock output of the numerous tour guides – but in order to enjoy the site, you need to know very little of its history.
Several hostels and travel agencies offer the chance to be a “volunteer keeper” for the day – basically a worthy-sounding way of paying to hand-feed a few of the inhabitants. Try to get here early, as the pandas slump into a stupor around 10 am after munching their way through piles of bamboo.
Sichuan is home to a rich and vibrant culture, stunning scenery and wildlife, and delicious cuisine. Spend time with Chengdu's giant pandas, trek around Mount Qingcheng, stand in awe of the world’s largest Buddha at Leshan, and much more, all with this exciting tailor-made Sichuan Family Adventure.
Gardens, above all, are what Suzhou is all about. Some were founded during the Song dynasty, a thousand years ago, and in their Ming and Qing heyday, it is said that the city had two hundred of them. Some half-dozen major gardens have now been restored, as well as a number of smaller ones, mostly in enclosed areas behind high compound walls.
If you prefer to plan and book your trip to China without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.
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