Best cities to visit in China?
Whoa! That’s a tough question to answer.
Even for people like us who travel the length and breadth of this vast, diverse, and exciting country to create China tours with beautiful travel memories.
So, how do we narrow the list of best cities to visit in China when there are so many exciting destinations you can choose?
Between bustling Beijing, exciting Shanghai, and everything in between, you may feel a tad perplexed about how to filter your selection. It can be especially challenging if you’re planning your first trip to China. There are just so many diverse regions, each with unique natural, cultural, and historical attractions that unless you’re prepared to do lots of research, you could find yourself confused - or worse still, on a holiday that is nothing like your expectations.
We totally understand.
To answer your question about the best cities to visit in China, we’ve decided to keep things simple.
Fortunately, we can do that by relying on the experience and wisdom of our travel consultants. We’ve also drawn from the insights and first hand knowledge of our trusty local travel guides. And we’re big fans of the feedback we receive from our lovely customers who share their reviews and feedback while traveling with us.
Of course, deciding the best places to visit in China is subjective, but this updated list reflects decades of experience freely shared by our team who remain as ever, intrepid adventurers, even in these times of restricted travel.
So, grab your pen and notebook and get ready to create your own ultimate list of the best cities to visit in China.
Visit Beijing: it’s one of the best cities to visit in China
No China destination list would be complete without including the country’s modern capital Beijing.
A unique mix of history, culture, and China’s contemporary advancement, Beijing is a fascinating place. The city’s sheer size alone - measured in its expanding population of over 21 million people, and the endless view of cloud-topping highrise apartments - is enough to make the head spin of any China tour traveler.
While some may be satisfied with a single day tour, this simply does not do this immense city and surrounds justice.
Beijing offers so much. Its history alone - much of it fraught with tragedy and intrigue and spanning millennia - is captured in iconic structures like the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, and the Temple of Heaven. For the uninitiated, the intelligence, diligence, and typical iron will exhibited by previous generations of empirical rule, can be a challenge to comprehend.
Modern Beijing is an altogether different experience. Competing easily with its Western contemporaries, new Beijing is bright lights, high end hotels and fancy restaurants, and a bustling centre of commerce and politics. Balanced with heritage areas, such as the hutongs (Beijing’s most expensive real estate), a multi-day tour or even a Beijing layover can satisfy diverse interests of those hungry for culture, history, and what’s happening now.
And of course Beijing offers close proximity to multiple spots along the Great Wall of China - a marvel of human endurance, engineering, and willpower. Whether you spend just an hour - or walk kilometres along the wall itself - it is a marvel to behold and will make for special China tour travel memories.
|Beijing at a glimpse
Temple of Heaven
|● Eat authentic Peking Duck.
● Take in a performance at the National Centre for Performing Arts.
● Wander through the hutong.
● Overnight at a siheyuan and experience life as a traditional Beijinger.
|3 - 5 days
Shanghai: luxury, life and lots of fun
Shanghai is a fabulous and fun city that continues to reflect the legacy of its international heritage.
With a rich combination of Chinese, French, and English colonial influence - and a long turbulent history to boot - Shanghai once the Paris of the East, is now more an example of Chinese commercial advancement.
A couple of days in Shanghai will allow you to enjoy a walk along the Bund. At once both iconic and prestigious, it is a well-preserved example of historical Shanghai glamour. You can walk Nanjing Road too, the busiest shopping precinct in China.
A change in tempo is possible with a visit to peaceful Yuyuan Garden, where you can marvel at the stunning gardens. Stroll around the nearby Chenghuangmiao bazaars and make a worthwhile detour to visit the fascinating Shikumen Museum in New Spot (XinTianDi) for a true taste of old world Shanghai.
More recent history is available by wandering the quieter streets of Dongping Road or Sinan Road in the Former French Concession. It’s here you will find the essence of classic Shanghai and understand why this city continues to appeal to international travelers from all over the world.
|Shanghai at a glimpse
Former French Concession
|● Be amazed by the talent, strength and ingenuity of the performers in the ERA Intersection of Time at Shanghai Circus World.
● Dine at a Shanghai style restaurant and Indulge in the exciting flavors of Shanghai cuisine.
● Take a walking tour through the Tianzifang precinct with its boutique art, fashion, and dining options.
|3 - 5 days
Relax in Xian: one of China’s ancient capitals
Xian is to Beijing what LA is to New York: A (more relaxed) world away.
Arrive in Xian and there’s more of China’s hustle and busy-ness, but without the seriousness that accompanies Beijing.
In fact, Xian is fun. It’s a bright, lively city, made all the more beautiful by red lantern lined streets that sparkle at night. It’s a city that doesn’t seem to sleep.
A must-see inclusion in your Xian city exploration is a visit to the Xian City Wall, perhaps the best preserved of all China’s city walls; no small feat given there are many of these throughout the country. Marking the original outline of this ancient capital, the Xian City Wall provides refreshing vistas out across the city, in many ways giving a bird’s eye view not available from the cloistered comfort of hotel rooms. Consider bringing some youthful adventure to your holiday and cycle the full distance around the wall, stopping at each of the four corners along the way.
Other Xian must see highlights for a short stay visit are the Great Mosque and Muslim Quarter. The Great Mosque is a contemplative and peaceful location with beautiful gardens. Its prominent location in Xian reflects the significance of the local Islamic population, both historically and today. Enjoy their local culinary influence by making a trip (or two) down Muslim Street for fabulous and famous local street food.
Finally, be prepared for the incredible when you venture outside Xian’s city centre to visit the world-renowned Terracotta Army. If you make it only once to this breathtaking display of construction and organization, be sure to savor it. The warriors, their horses, and the history behind them are truly remarkable and yet another testament to the endurance and vision of China’s empirical leaders, definitely making it on the list of best places to visit in China.
|Xian at a glimpse
Xian City Wall
Big Wild Goose Pagoda
|● Bike ride along the City Wall for Xian’s best views of the original city.
● Sample street food in the Muslim Quarter.
● Explore Shu Yuan Men (the Calligraphy Market) for an unique experience of Chinese culture.
● Come alive to the tragedy and triumph of Chinese drama watching the Tang Dynasty Music and Dance Show.
● Scale Mount Hua for a hiking adventure that compares with the world’s best.
|3 - 4 days
Chengdu: create travel memories with pandas
There’s no doubt if Chengdu is on your list, then a visit to see giant pandas - China’s national treasure - is a non-negotiable.
Available for viewing at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding or the Dujiangyan Panda Base, it’s essential to book ahead, so check in with a local travel consultant who can help make the ideal arrangements.
In addition to gorgeous pandas, you’ll find Chengdu offers visitors plenty to be excited about.
For a start, Sichuan food is a true culinary adventure. Consider at least one authentic hot pot meal while in Chengdu. Not only is a hot pot truly fun, it is delicious too, and a great way to share a meal with fellow travelers and dine like a local.
Unsure about your dining options? Talk to your local guide. They offer the best insider knowledge of where to eat in every destination.
Tea culture permeates the more relaxed Chengdu lifestyle and while here, it’s the perfect time to take advantage of just how good Chinese tea is. Take a walk down iconic Jinli Street and watch tea merchants at work. You can even sample a cup or two and treat yourself to a take home tin and tea set as a special travel memento. Tea is everywhere in China and Chengdu is no exception.
|Chengdu at a glimpse
|Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
Leshan Giant Buddha
|● Spend the day as a volunteer panda keeper at Dujiangyan Panda Base.
● Order a spicy Sichuan hot pot and discover what hot really means.
● Get caught up in the drama of Sichuan opera and bian lian, the face changing art that has captivated audiences for centuries.
● Hang out with locals by visiting the People’s Park or wandering through Wangjianglou Park. Join locals practicing Taiji or square dancing or try your luck playing cards or mahjong at one of the teahouses.
● Gain insight to another world in the Tibetan Quarter where the streets are lined with tiny stores crammed full of traditional Tibetan Buddhist garments, Buddhas, and prayer flags.
● Chow down with a vegetarian feast at the Wenshu Monastery, home to some of the most impressive examples of calligraphy, painting, and artwork, as well as some truly remarkable examples of historical significance - the parietal-bone relics of Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, and Master Xuanzang, the monk and scholar who contributed to Chinese Buddhism.
|2 - 3 days
Guilin rests against a backdrop of some of China’s finest and most iconic natural landscapes and scenery. Think stunning karst stone mountains steeped in misty clouds, water buffalo grazing lazily along the Li River, sweet-smelling osmanthus trees, remarkable rice terraces and more.
Within Guilin itself, you will see a different kind of China to that of the country’s more modernized cities. With an almost rural feel to it, despite its population of nearly 5 million people, Guilin is renowned for the distinctive karst stone which features in the surrounding topography. You only need look closely at the 20 yuan note, which profiles the region poetically named Reflection of Yellow Cloth Shoal.
Guilin’s highlights can be experienced over one or two days, however, within close proximity, you’ll discover other sights worthy of a visit too.
Float upstream along the Li River and you’ll arrive at lovely Yangshuo. A town (by China’s standards) of just 300,000 people, Yangshuo provides the opportunity for a genuine experience of rural China. It is possible here to wander country lanes between farmer’s fields, and if arranged in advance, spend time with a local farmer.
The famous Longji rice fields located about 100 kilometers from Guilin are where incredible photo opportunities can be enjoyed. As fascinating as they are spectacular, it’s here you can enjoy the chance to absorb incredible views and admire the ingenuity and diligence of local rice farmers past and present.
Dong minority villages in Zhaoxing offer an insight to the diversity of China’s population. Visit them to discover the ancient Dong culture, architecture, and agricultural practices. You can even hike, making this a truly outdoor and nature-based experience. Guilin is easily accessible via plane and train - it’s certainly a desirable inclusion on our destination list.
|Guilin at a glimpse
|Reed Flute Cave
Elephant Trunk Hill
|● Take a relaxing half day cruise up the Li River to Yangshuo.
● Explore the Longji Rice Terraces and Dong minority villages in the region.
● Take a bamboo rafting adventure on the Yulong River.
● Bike ride around the Yangshuo countryside.
|2 - 3 days
The holy city of Lhasa is where many of Tibet’s most iconic and remarkable highlights are to be discovered. Wonders like the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Barkhor Circuit, and the community of people who continue to live the ancient Tibetan Buddhist traditions make this destination a ‘must do’ once-in-a-lifetime travel experience.
Positioned perfectly on Red Mountain in the centre of Lhasa Valley on the Tibet Plateau, Lhasa is a window to the spiritual beating heart of Tibet. Expect to be mesmerized by the sacred and holy, while at the same time delighted by the joy with which locals welcome travelers wanting to experience this special place.
Three or four days in Lhasa is ample time to walk in the footsteps of the Dalai Lama - past and present - and to discover the beauty and treasures in Norbulingka, Drepung Monastery, and the notable Sera Monastery. It truly is a place where you will feel wonder at the enduring nature of those who continue with practices and rituals that are centuries old.
And while you’re in the region, take advantage of the location and use Lhasa as your launch pad to see more in Tibet. Enjoy pristine, postcard-perfect landscapes encompassing breathtaking alpine views, endless horizons, and deep green valleys. Road travel between minority group villages offers the chance to see and experience local life in a way that cannot be enjoyed from the air. Along the way, savor the unique insights to be gained in authentic traditional Tibetan craftsmanship, materials, and skills. Among the sights to be seen are the local artisans and communities, the Meili Snow Mountains, Mount Kawagebo, Three Parallel Rivers, Napa Lake, picturesque snow-capped mountains, gorgeous glaciers – and what every discerning traveler seeks – an incomparable peace.
|Lhasa at a glimpse
|● Join with locals to practise “Kora” at the Barkhor Circuit.
● Drink sweet tea at a traditional Tibetan teahouse. Choose from Guangming Sweet Tea House, Shang Dong Sweet Tea House (located in a cave near Potala Palace!), or the serene surrounds of the Tsamkhung Nunnery Teahouse.
● Observe Tibetan monks physical debating style at Sera Monastery
● Enjoy Lhasa by night at the Langma Hall where traditional Tibetan opera is performed.
|4 - 6 days
Located in China’s northwestern Gansu Province, Dunhuang is renowned for its location in an oasis where you’ll find the incredible natural wonders of the Crescent Spring and Echoing Sands Dune. Once an important stop for camel caravans traveling the Silk Road, it isn’t hard to see how Dunhuang became home to rich historical relics and religious arts.
Dunhuang is also where you’ll discover the amazing Mogao Caves. A labyrinth of over 700 caves, 2,000 painted statues, and 40,000 square meters of mural paintings, the Mogao Caves will leave you wondering at the diligence of those involved in its creation over centuries.
The landscape in and around Dunhuang carries enormous appeal too, not least because of Yadan National Geological Park, itself a geologic phenomena created by erosion of the soft earth caused by rain and wind. The spectacular rock formations provide a contrast to the man-made Great Wall of the Han Dynasty and Yumenguan Pass, both of which are now considerably less of a deterrent having been eroded into the surrounding dunes over time.
If travel time is on your side, and you love adventure, make the four hour road trip to Jiayuguan. Another once vital destination on the famous China Silk Road route, Jiayuguan is in the Gobi Desert, and considered the official starting point of remote China.
Dunhuang characterizes the blend of western and eastern culture synonymous with China’s Silk Road, making it a worthy inclusion on the list of best cities to visit.
|Dunhuang at a glimpse
|Mogao Caves (Grottoes)
Echoing Sands Dune
|● Take a step back in time and travel like a Silk Road trader when you ride a camel at sunrise or sunset
● Enjoy a night under the stars with overnight camping in the desert
● Connect with local artists and craftsmen and women with an authentic Dunhuang art experience. Learn the traditional art of mural and sculpture painting.
|2 - 4 days
Fascinating sights, remarkable history, and fabulous local food, Hong Kong is everything a savvy traveler looks for in destination China. Vibrant and cosmopolitan, it’s the ideal city to breeze through on a 72 hour layover, or if you have more time, locate yourself for an HK adventure.
If you’ve never even visited, or only ever skimmed through, Hong Kong is a city like no other. At the intersection of east and west, it is a gateway to bucket list highlights, fabulous food, and yes, even shopping that is matched in few other places around the world. With skylines that top out above the clouds, a tropical vibe, and an edgy and modern approach to life, Hong Kong stands out as a destination with stunning views, gardens and skylines that inspire traditional and modern architecture, and an aliveness that, is unique among China’s capitals.
Expect to find a bustling pace that reflects its international significance as a commercial hub. No question, Hong Kong is definitely exciting and alive. From Victoria Peak to Repulse Bay, the traditional Tai O fishing village to bustling Stanley Market, Hong Kong invites you to discover both its traditions and big city glamour. Beyond Hong Kong, there is fascinating Macau, a collection of islands with a rich history that juxtaposes traditional Buddhism and Portugese Catholic and commercial influences. Travel between Hong Kong and Macau via a high speed catamaran or journey across the Hong Kong – Zhuhai – Macau Bridge (HZMB), which as a bridge of some 55 kilometers, is a feat of infrastructure genius.
If it’s your first time to China, capitalize on Hong Kong’s convenient location relative to other key destinations like Macau, Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai. Simply top or tail any China tour with Hong Kong - you absolutely won’t regret it!
|Hong Kong at a glimpse
“Big Buddha”Po Lin monastery
|● Ride the Peak Tram to Victoria Peak for stunning panoramic views of Hong Kong Island.
● Enjoy dim sum at one of Hong Kong’s famous tea rooms. Choose from the Lin Heung Tea Room established in 1889, Luk Yu Teahouse or Lung King Heen.
● Barter your way through Hong Kong’s iconic street markets. Visit Cat Street; Temple Street Night Market for antique and vintage wares; the Ladies’ Market; and Stanley Market for anything from clothing to souvenirs.
● Hop on an iconic Star Ferry for views from Victoria Harbour of Hong Kong’s fabulous skyline.
● Get amongst it at Lan Kwai Fong, a restaurant and bar precinct that will provide the flavor of local Hong Kong life as an expat
|2 - 4 days
Hangzhou is the picturesque capital of the Zhejiang province, located on China’s east coast. Revered by locals for its classic Chinese scenery of wispy willows and green mist covered hills, Hangzhou is reminiscent of an exquisitely embroidered silk tapestry.
The city’s main highlights add to Hangzhou’s appeal, with beautiful West Lake, Feilai Peak, the Grand Canal, and Lingyin Temple included among them. Tea is a particular specialty in Hangzhou, and no visit would be complete without partaking in Chinese tea at Meijiawu Tea Village, a Longjing tea plantation where all aspects of Chinese tea culture can be learned, savored, and enjoyed.
And if you’re in the area, make tracks to Wuzhen Water Town. It’s here you’ll find history, charming scenery, and more of the relaxed pace and lifestyle found in Hangzhou. Easily reached by train and plane from Shanghai and Suzhou, Hangzhou offers western travelers a real experience of a China not found in its bigger and busier counterparts.
|Hangzhou at a glimpse
|● Enjoy a relaxing boat ride on stunning West Lake
● Visit an authentic tea plantation and sip on ‘dragon well’ tea
● Acquaint yourself with traditional Chinese medicine at Hu Qing Yu Tang, a museum dedicated to the history of this ancient practice
● Enjoy local culinary specialties, including Dong Po Pork, Beggar’s Chicken, and Crab Claypot
● View West Lake from land when you climb on a bike for a ride around the circumference
● Gain an insight to the local people and culture when you attend an evening performance of Enduring Memories of Hangzhou
|2 - 4 days
Famous for its exquisite silk, magical gardens, and canals, Suzhou has rightly earned the title of ‘Oriental Venice’. Why do we love Suzhou? Well, if quintessentially picturesque China is what you’re after, then Suzhou is a definite inclusion on your destination list. Find crisscrossing canals, stone bridges, enchanting classical gardens, and relaxed, easy lifestyle. And while Suzhou's reputation extends beyond its gardens, these are a highlight and not to be missed. Among the very best in China, discover the art of garden beauty at the Humble Administrator's Garden and Garden of the Master of Nets.
Suzhou is the birthplace of China’s silk trade and the enduring capital of silk, so your visit must include time at one of Suzhou’s silk museums or many gorgeous silk stores. Make time in your travels to learn about the exquisite art of Suzhou silk hand embroidery, renowned for the way needlework is completed on both sides of the fabric. Lovers of fine art will be hard-pressed to resist acquiring their own silken treasure.
Tongli Water Town lies within easy distance of Suzhou too. It’s here you’ll appreciate the delightfully preserved traditional buildings, private gardens, temples and dwellings. The town’s location, surrounded by five lakes, makes for charming water scenes and a tranquil atmosphere. Wander flagstone streets, or stop in at a simple teahouse for a truly relaxing experience that contrasts perfectly with the bustle that is found elsewhere in China.
Add Hangzhou or Shanghai to time spent in Suzhou and you’ll have the perfect combination for capitalizing on your time in this wonderful corner of China.
|Suzhou at a glimpse
|Humble Administrator’s Garden
Master of the Nets Garden
|● Float along in relaxed style with a boat trip on the Grand Canal
● Enjoy a walk along Shantang Street, one of the best examples of Suzhou’s commercial heritage.
● Learn about the rich history of silk embroidery (and maybe even try your hand) at the Suzhou Embroidery Research Institute.
● Enjoy a show with a difference when you attend the Kunqu Opera, performed by local artists in one of Suzhou’s many gardens
● Experience the city’s famous sweet and sour mandarin fish - presented ironically as a squirrel.
● Try your hand at Bonsai at Tiger Hill Wanjing Villa
|2 - 4 days
Whether you’re a savvy traveler or a first time visitor to China, doing your research is the best way to make the most of your vacation. Don’t leave the decision about the best cities to visit to chance. Get help from people who know - and truly care about your experience. Talk to the ChinaTours.com team. We’re travelers too, and we’re committed to helping you create beautiful travel memories that endure long after you’ve arrived home. We welcome online enquiries via direct contact, with responses delivered within 24 hours.