The 10 Best Places to Visit in China

China is vast. In fact, it’s off-the-scale massive, and its diversity is really second to none. Choosing this country as your next travel destination will provide you with an almost limitless scope for exploration. This article offers CLI’s recommended 10 best places to visit in China.

Young traveler standing in front of temple of heaven - in Beijing, China. Asia Travel

 

Why visit China?

Especially now, after decades of economic growth, the growing contrast between China’s ancient traditions and its new ultramodern cities is on full display, making this country more fascinating than ever.

There are many great reasons to visit China:

The Natural Wonders. The Middle Kingdom has many of the world’s most jaw-dropping natural landscapes. You can take your pick between the sublime sapphire lakes of Tibet, the grand deserts of Inner Mongolia, the breathtaking rock pillars of Zhangjiajie, the picturesque Yangtze gorges, or the stunning rice terraces of Longsheng.

Thanks to its varied geography, China is brimming with some of the most beautiful natural scenery on earth.

Mountain peaks covered in fog

China is home to some of the world’s most stunning natural landscapes.

The Delicious Food. The authentic cuisine that you will eat while in China will be unlike anything you have ever had. Chinese people love to eat and their traditional cuisine covers a large variety of ingredients.

In fact, cooking plays a central role both in society and the national psyche. When people meet in the street, a common greeting is “你吃了吗?” (“Nǐ chī le ma?” meaning “Have you eaten yet?”). All you need to access this world of unexpected surprises is a pair of chopsticks and an adventurous palate.

Traditional Chinese pastries on a plate

Journeying to China provides a one-in-a-life-time opportunity to try some of the most amazing foods on the planet.

The Fascinating Culture. Chinese culture exerts a profound influence on the philosophy, etiquette, and traditions of all of Asia. China’s language, architecture, music, literature, martial arts, philosophy, business etiquette, religion, and history all have global influence, while China’s traditions and holidays are also celebrated and practiced by people all around the world. However, the best way to experience all of this firsthand is undoubtedly by coming to China.

a traditional Chinese opera performer in costume

Chinese opera is just one facet of China’s fascinating culture that visitors can explore.

The 10 Best Places to Visit in China

Is it possible to limit a list of extraordinary places to visit in China to a mere 10? Not really. No matter whether you’re an urban traveler, a hiker, a climber, a backpacker, a foodie, or an avid museum-goer, China offers an almost limitless array of incredible experiences.

Choosing among all the fascinating destinations China has to offer is tough, but limited time and resources often make it necessary. Discover some of China’s most fascinating, adventure-filled, and unique destinations with our list of the 10 best places to visit in China.

1. Zhangjiajie 张家界

Zhangjiajie, which boasts more than 3,000 quartzite sandstone peaks, is home to some of China’s most surreal scenery. This spectacular alien landscape is best known for inspiring James Cameron’s Floating Mountains of Pandora.

In fact, one of the tallest pillars (~3500 ft. high) has been renamed “Avatar Hallelujah Mountain” by Wulingyuan District authorities.

a yellow cable car and the peaks of Zhangjiajie, one of the best places to visit in China

Many parts of the film Avatar were filmed on location in Zhangjiajie.

Whether you choose to go with an organized tour, raft along a river, hike to your heart’s content or take a hair-raising stroll along a scenic glass walkway, visiting this place will make you feel like you are in a sci-fi movie.

karst mountain peaks in Zhangjiajie

Zhangjiajie’s scenery is some of the most otherworldly in China.

Where? Zhangjiajie is about 200 miles northwest of Changsha, the capital city of Hunan Province and the region’s main traffic hub.

2. Jiuzhaigou 九寨沟

You may recognize the colorful alpine lakes of Jiuzhaigou from one of those eye-catching screensaver images on your computer. And no, the photos are not computer-generated.

The sparkling lakes of this national park are filled with water that changes color throughout the day and year. Its spectacular hues come from reflections of the surrounding landscape, as well as algae and calcified rocks at the bottom of the shallow lakes.

blue mountain water in Jiuzhaigou

Jiuzhaigou contains a host of beautiful lakes that change color with the seasons.

Reputed to be the most beautiful waterscape in the world, Jiuzhaigou boasts emerald lakes, layered waterfalls, colorful forests, and snow-capped mountains.

This remote region was inhabited by various Tibetan and Qiang peoples for centuries. In fact, seven of the nine surrounding Tibetan villages are still populated today.

mountains reflected on water in Jiuzhaigou, one of the best places to visit in China

Jiuzhigou’s colorful lakes are complemented by dense forests and stunning mountains.

Where? Jiuzhaigou is located 200 miles north of Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan, near the border with Gansu.

3. Lhasa 拉萨

The holy city of Lhasa is home to one of Tibet’s most recognizable historic structures, the magnificent Potala Palace. Now a nine-story museum, it was originally constructed as a fortress, a winter residence for the Dalai Lama, and a seat of government. Standing 12,139 feet above sea level, it’s the highest palace on the planet.

Beyond the spectacular prayer halls of the palace, you can also explore the medieval Jokhang Temple and the monastic cities of Drepung and Sera.

Wandering through the whitewashed alleys of Lhasa’s old town, at the heart of the Tibetan quarter, is also well worth your time. There, you will discover many backstreet handicraft workshops, hidden temples and local teahouses.

a Tibetan monk prayer at a temple

Tibetan Buddhist culture is a vibrant part of everyday life in Lhasa.

Where? Lhasa is located in the Tibet Autonomous Region in southwestern China.

4. Chengdu 成都

If you feel like a visit to China would not be complete without seeing at least one panda, Chengdu should be at the top of your list. While the country’s top zoos boast many great specimens of these fascinating and adorable creatures, the best place to see them in close proximity and in their natural habitat is at the excellent Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Chengdu.

a panda eating bamboo

Chengdu is a haven for panda lovers.

Chengdu is also UNESCO’s first-ever City of Gastronomy and many travelers find that they come for the pandas but stay for the food. Chengdu’s delicious food is famous for its history, variety and liberal use of spicy chili peppers.

In addition to the food, the city’s relaxing teahouse culture, hip craft beer bar scene and Sichuan opera shows all combine to make this destination one of the best places to visit in China.

a bridge with lights at night in Chengdu, one of the best places to visit in China

One of the largest cities in Western China, Chengdu is a bustling, modern metropolis.

Where? Chengdu is the capital city of Sichuan Province.

5. Xi’an 西安

Xi’an, formerly known as Chang’An, is one of the oldest cities in China and one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals, along with Beijing, Nanjing and Luoyang. Since the 1980s, it has emerged as an important industrial, national security, space exploration and research and development hub.

a mix of ancient and modern buildings in Xi'an, China

In the ancient city of Xi’an, tradition and modernity are intertwined.

As you probably know, Xi’an also boasts one of China’s – and the world’s – most important archeological finds: the Terracotta Army, a life-sized army of thousands of sculpted warriors, chariots and horses built to stand guard over the tomb of China’s first emperor.

The level of detail depicted in this assembly of thousands of soldiers and horses is mind-blowing. Indeed, each warrior’s expression, hairstyle and armor is unique.

the Terracotta warriors in Xi'an, one of the best places to visit in China

No two members of Xi’an’s amazingly detailed Terracotta Army are the same.

Today, the Terracotta Army has become one of the symbols of China. The site’s level of popularity makes it hard to believe that it was discovered quite recently. In fact, it was only in 1974 that farmers stumbled upon this over 2,000 year-old site by accident while drilling a well.

Don’t leave Xi’an without eating lunch at the Muslim Quarter, a fascinating Muslim enclave inside the ancient city wall that can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907 CE).

a Chinese Muslim woman selling walnuts

Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter is a reminder of the city’s historical role as the starting point of the ancient Silk Road.

Where? Xi’an is the capital city of Shaanxi Province, in northwestern China.

6. Shanghai 上海

Shanghai is an ultra-modern metropolis which is also China’s most populous city. Apart from some of China's most amazing restaurants, it also features an enormous array of cultural and aesthetic gems.

the Shanghai skyline

The Lujiazui skyline is one of the most recognizable symbols of modern Shanghai.

Shanghai’s architecture represents a variety of influences, from Gothic to Renaissance styles, including a number of Art Deco buildings. The city’s architectural highlights range from the Yu Garden pagodas and the golden roofs of the Jing’An Buddhist Temple to the majestic Peace Hotel and old customs office with its iconic bell tower.

For a glimpse of Shanghai’s futuristic cityscape, take a stroll along Shanghai’s splendid riverside promenade, Zhongshan Lu, better known as the Bund (Wàitan). And for the best views of the Bund, visit the 468-meter Oriental Pearl Tower on the opposite bank of the Huangpu River.

the Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai, one of the best places to visit in China

Completed in 1995, the iconic Oriental Pearl Tower was once the tallest structure in China.

Where? Located on the southern estuary of the Yangtze River, Shanghai is easily accessible by train.

7. Beijing 北京

No list of the best places to visit in China would be complete without Beijing, the country’s political and cultural capital. Don’t miss the largest and most important building complex, the Forbidden City (also known as the Imperial Palace), located at the very heart of Beijing.

the Forbidden City in Beijing, one of the best places to visit in China

Beijing boasts some of China’s most impressive architectural marvels, including the imposing Forbidden City.

Other unmissable sites include the famous Tiananmen Square, the Lama Temple, and the Temple of Heaven, one of the country’s most important religious sites, which dates back to the 15th century. Don’t forget to explore the sumptuous parks of the Summer Palace, one of China’s most visited attractions.

the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, one of the best places to visit in China

No visit to Beijing is complete without a stop at the Temple of Heaven.

One of the best ways to really get under the skin of the capital is to get lost in its enchanting ancient alleyways, known as the hutongs. According to many Beijingers, the hutongs are the heart and soul of the city. Make sure to stop for some jiaozi (dumplings) at one of the many popular hole-in-the-wall dumpling places while you are there.

During your visit, arrange for a day trip to one of the many sections of the Great Wall. Try to pick one of the less crowded ones like Mutianyu, Jinshangling or Gubeikou.

the sun rising over the Great Wall

Beijing is a great starting place for those hoping to visit the Great Wall.

Where? Beijing is located in the north of China, surrounded by Hebei Province and Tianjin in the southeast.

8. Huangshan 黄山

Huangshan, or the Yellow Mountain, is one of China’s most popular scenic destinations. In fact, it’s said that once you’ve ascended the peaks of Huangshan, you’ll never want to climb another mountain.

If the mist-wreathed granite peaks, bamboo forests, and twisted pines look familiar, it’s because the beauty of Huangshan has been immortalized in countless Chinese scroll paintings and movies. Fun fact, parts of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” were filmed here.

a pine tree in Huangshan, one of the best places to visit in China

Climbing the Yellow Mountain can make you feel like you’re walking through an ancient Chinese scroll painting.

Once known as the Black Mountains, a Tang Dynasty emperor renamed them in honor of the Yellow Emperor Huangdi. According to legend, the Yellow Emperor rode off from the peaks to heaven on the back of a dragon.

the view from the top of a mountain in Huangshan

The views from the top of the Yellow Mountain are breathtaking.

Where? Huangshan is a mountain range in Eastern China’s Anhui Province.

9. Suzhou 苏州

Suzhou has historically been known as a center of high culture and elegance. This “Venice of the East” has produced generations of writers, artists, scholars, and politicians. It’s famous for its meticulously landscaped gardens and its crisscrossing waterways.

a pond in a traditional Chinese garden in Suzhou

Suzhou is famous for the many traditional Chinese gardens scattered about the city.

The Classical Gardens of Suzhou, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, should rank highly on your China travel itinerary. Some of the most famous garden complexes include the Humble Administrator’s Garden, the Master of Nets Garden, the Lingering Garden and the Blue Wave Pavilion.

a round door in a traditional Chinese garden in Suzhou, one of the best places to visit in China

The elegant classical Chinese gardens of Suzhou were mostly built by wealthy scholars.

Additionally, Suzhou’s Old Town is ideal for exploring on foot, by bike, or on a lazy gondola ride. Here, steep-sided bridges arch over 21 miles of thousand-year-old canals and narrow cobblestone streets meander through rows of ancient houses with whitewashed walls and black roofs.

Suzhou is definitely one of the best places to visit in China, especially if you're a Chinese history buff.

a canal in Suzhou, one of the best places to visit in China

Suzhou’s many canals earned the city its nickname: the “Venice of the East.”

Where? The city of Suzhou is located in southeastern Jiangsu Province, about 62 miles northwest of Shanghai.

10. Guilin 桂林

For hundreds of years, Guilin’s scenic hills and rivers have attracted poets and artists and have been the subject of countless fairy tales and legends. It’s hard to exaggerate the beauty of Guilin, neighboring Yangshuo and the entire Li River area.

This region of limestone karst hills and mountains, formed over 200 million years ago when the area was under the sea, has a dreamy, hypnotic quality.

Guilin with karst mountains rising in the background

The beautiful city of Guilin is surrounded by countless picturesque karst mountains.

Here you can explore serene rivers on traditional bamboo rafts, visit water caves that feature an impressive array of stalactites and stalagmites, trek through the breathtaking rice terraces of Longsheng, rock climb on some of the world’s most famous mountains, or simply relax and take in the stellar views.

Guilin has something to offer for everyone, as it boasts some of the world’s most sublime landscapes. The destination is so special that we've even developed a comprehensive Guilin Travel Guide for your browsing pleasure.

traditional Chinses rice terraces

Guilin is located in Guangxi, home to many members of China’s ethnic minority groups.

Don’t miss visiting Guilin’s “Two Rivers and Four Lakes” area. It’s especially attractive at night, when the lakes are lit up with colorful lights.

While in Guilin, you also definitely don’t want to miss chowing down on a bowl of mifen, a delicious local dish made of rice noodles and spicy and sour toppings.

the Sun and Moon Pagodas in downtown Guilin, China

The towering Sun and Moon Pagodas are important landmarks in downtown Guilin.

Where? Guilin is a prefecture-level city in the northeast of China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. It is situated on the west bank of the Li River and borders Hunan to the north.

So, what are you waiting for?

China, amazing and mysterious, should be on everyone’s travel list. The myriad unique and diverse experiences that await travelers to the Middle Kingdom will make this one of the most unforgettable trips of your life. Pack your bags and hit the road today!

Already been to most of the places on this list? Check out some of our other articles on less-visited China destinations like Hainan, Harbin or Shenyang for more great travel ideas!

Best Places to Visit in China: Vocabulary

HànzìPīnyīnDefinition
旅游lǚxíngtravel
旅游景点lǚyóu jǐngdiǎnattraction; scenic spot
中国ZhōngguóChina
张家界ZhāngjiājièZhangjiajie
九寨沟JiǔzhàigōuJiuzhaigou
拉萨LāsàLhasa
成都ChéngdūChengdu
西安Xī'ānXi'an
上海ShànghǎiShanghai
北京BěijīngBeijing
黄山HuángshānHuangshan; the Yellow Mountain
苏州SūzhōuSuzhou
桂林GuìlínGuilin

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