There are few countries in the world with a culture as distinct as China. A country of contrasts, China offers thriving Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, but also extremely rural and underdeveloped areas in the western part of the country. This is a country stuck between the developed and developing world. Rapid change has attracted curious people from around the globe, so it’s a great time to dip your toes into this amazing culture and explore the country. Each day creates a new China. While I dislike the pollution of many of the big cities, the countryside and food are incredible. This travel guide to China can help you get the most from you visit!
Top 5 Things to See and Do in China
1. Visit Hong Kong
2. Explore Shanghai
3. Wander Beijing
4. The Great Wall of China
5. See Xi’An
Other Things to See and Do
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1. Tian’anmen Square
You’ve no doubt seen it in films and on TV, but it is hard to get an idea of the sheer size of this square until you’re standing square in the middle of it. There’s plenty to see here including the Tiananmen Tower, the Great Hall of the People, the People’s Heroes Monument, the National Museum and Mao Zedong’s mausoleum. While you are allowed to take photos in the square itself, you cannot use your camera in the mausoleum.
2. Gorge on food
China is a food lover’s paradise. Eating here will certainly put your take-away back home into perspective. In such a huge country, it’s no surprise that different areas have different culinary delights. It’s entirely possible to enjoy the four styles of Chinese cooking (Cantonese, Beijing, Shanghai and Szechuan) while on your trip.
3. Cruise the Li River
For a true sense of natural beauty, head on a cruise down the Li River. This place has been listed as one of the top ten “watery wonders” by National Geographic. The river is 272 miles long and has dozens of places to explore along the way, such as Zhujiang Pier, Yangdi, and Guilin.
4. Visit the Forbidden City
This famous attraction in Beijing was the imperial palace from the time of the Ming Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty. Now the Palace Museum holds artifacts from both dynasties and is a great place to learn about China’s history.
5. Travel (part of) the Silk Road
With a history of over 2,000 years old, this is a must-see for visitors. There are many locations to check out along the road, as it originally spanned from Chang’an to Rome and Italy. Its total length was over 2400 miles, half of which was within Chinese territory.
6. Explore Tibet
Also known as “the Roof of the World”, this area is perfect for adventurous travelers that are looking for unique attraction. Explore the snow mountains, exotic customs, and Buddhism. Tibet has had tumultuous past, so during your visit it’s wise not to bring up the Dali Lama. You’ll need to a special permit to visit the region.
7. Potala Palace
If you’re in Tibet, this is a must. Now a museum, this Tibetan palace was home to the Dalai Lamas up until 1959. The many halls, temples, and courtyards have been constructed from wood and stone. It’s an interesting and historic building to see and gives you a sense of just how important the Dalai Lamas are to Tibetan culture.
8. Take in the Karst mountains
Illustrated on the back of the 20 yuan banknote, these mountains are a stunning sight to see in person. They’re huge! You can take a boat trip down the Li river, and enjoy the breathtaking views of the mountains. You can also rent a bicycle to explore the quieter backroads and take in the picturesque landscape. Prices begin around 20 CNY for a half day.
9. The Mogao Grottos of Dunhuang
Also known as the Thousand Buddha Caves, these grottos are home to the largest, best-preserved, and richest Buddhist art in the world—the first cave was carved here in 366 AD.
10. Take a walking tour
All of the major cities offer various types of walking tours, many of which are free and last a few hours. If you want learn about the history of China’s major cities, this is a great way to start!