The ultimate bucket list of best places to visit in China would be as unwieldy as a Chinese New Year dragon if it wasn’t for the input and help from our ever reliable team of travel consultants and guides.
Even while international travel remains on hold, we sense the travel dreams for many of our customers are bubbling away. And with so much time to plan and scheme, why not? In fact, now is the perfect time to design a tour that includes the best places to visit.
After all, how many times have you found yourself on a tour and wondered why you’ve been taken to a certain destination or highlight? Even if it’s only been once, we figure it’s one time too many – so we’ve come up with this list: Best places to visit in China.
It’s been designed with the savvy western traveler in mind.
You won’t find sights and highlights that leave you wanting more. No, instead, you’ll have the ultimate list of best places to visit in China, allowing you to travel virtually right now in preparation for the real thing when borders reopen.
Ready? Let’s go!
Beijing is a must-visit destination on any first time tour to China and with this city of power, politics, and ceremony comes a ‘best of’ selection of iconic China highlights.
#1 The Great Wall
It’s virtually impossible to separate China from its most well-known landmark, the Great Wall. Stretching more than 20,000 kilometres west of the mountain ridges north of Beijing, travelers can access this UNESCO World Heritage listed highlight from many locations. Our preference is for the Mutianyu section of the wall because it is less frequented than other sites close to Beijing (it’s an easy 90 minute drive away). The Mutianyu section of the wall is unique for its military watchtowers, which provide travellers with incredible views across the mountains outside Beijing, just as it did for soldiers and sentinels in centuries past.
As wonderful as Mutianyu is, there is more to the Great Wall and we love introducing other sections to our customers. If adventure is your thing, then consider a hiking tour. Maybe you’re a photographer and looking for the ultimate in lasting travel memories. Then consider visiting the Jinshanling and Simatai sections with its steep ridges and endless views. Regardless of what you’re looking for, we can create exactly what you’re looking for.
#2 Forbidden City
Standing as a remarkable example of design, engineering, and planning, the Forbidden City is truly ‘something else’. Located at the heart of Beijing, this centuries old imperial palace from the Ming and Qing dynasties is an amazing demonstration of Chinese royal architecture. Without doubt, it is the best place for gaining an insight to imperial culture and the glorious court life of feudal society in China. It now serves as home to the Beijing Palace Museum, where a collection of over one million pieces of precious relics is housed.
#3 Temple of Heaven
Covering an area four times the size of the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven was a royal site used by emperors to worship heaven in the hope that it would bring a good harvest and prosperity for the country. You will marvel at the deep thought, design, and symbolism which are a feature of the whole area that makes up the Temple of Heaven. Balance and symmetry reign supreme here, leaving you in no doubt as to the brilliance of those behind its construction. Enjoy the surrounding parklands, where you’ll discover other buildings and age-old cypress trees. A stand-out highlight here is the rebuilt Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, which was built using the ancient – but highly sophisticated – method of mortise and tenon joints in which no nails are used. First erected in 1420, a fire that razed it to the ground in 1889 meant reconstruction was necessary.
#4 Summer Palace
More imperial grandeur is to be found at The Summer Palace, located about 15 kilometres northwest of Beijing’s city centre. The Summer Palace has a well-earned reputation as the largest and best-preserved imperial garden in China, and is rightly listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. First built in 1153, the palace garden was the summer retreat for emperors, concubines and, most notably, the Empress Dowager Cixi, who ruled China for some 47 years. After extensive restoration and reconstruction, the garden, palaces, temples, corridors and exquisite exhibits can be seen reflecting their former glory against the backdrop of an incredible man-made lake.
There’s no doubt China’s history is characterized by the rise and fall of many dynasties and that warriors take pride of place in the country’s rich history. When you visit Xi’an, you’ll come face to face with the famous Terracotta Army; a reflection of a unique vision held by Emperor Qin for his protection in the afterlife. Xi’an exudes ‘personality’ and you’ll see why when you travel to the city’s heart and scale its beautifully restored City Wall, which offers vistas of a place that has been the historical launchpad for China’s Silk Road.
#1 Terracotta Army
It seems everything in ancient China was done on a grand scale, and the Terracotta Army is no exception. Discovered in 1974 by a humble local farmer near the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor – Qin Shi Huang – the Terracotta Army is an amazing collection of life size terracotta figures, horses, and chariots, which are believed to be part of Emperor Qin’s attempt to protect himself in the afterlife. Incredibly, there is still more to be excavated at the site and restorations are ongoing within the onsite ‘hospital’ for damaged soldiers and horses.
#2 Xi’an City Wall
Explore Xi’an’s City Wall, believed to be China’s largest and best-preserved; no mean feat given the number of ancient city walls. Enclosing China’s former capital city, and almost 14 kilometres long, tap into your inner child and enjoy riding the full circuit on a bike (there are tandems available!) or simply explore on foot, taking time to peek out through the wall as guards did in the past and gain a bird’s eye view of this lively, colorful city. Marvel at city gates that can be found on each side of the wall. Four of these are the main gates (north, south, east, and west). Each is beautifully decorated, especially the south gate, while the gates’ design as complex and robust fortifications, meant attackers would find it difficult to break through. As with many attractions in China, the Xi’an City Wall is a testament to the ingenuity, foresight, and creativity of its leaders and engineers.