12 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in China

Jul 22, 2021

Dating as far back as the Bronze Age, China is a fascinating land of different regions, extreme climates, exotic animals, and equally varied landscape and architecture. From the extraordinary Forbidden City to the snow-capped peaks of Tibet, from bustling Chinese cities to remote and wild wilderness, from ancient windy desert towns to complex and elegant waterfronts, this list has it all.

Indeed, China is a country packed with countless sites of interest. From extraordinary historical monuments and significant cultural treasures to world-class natural beauty, ancient caves and underground rivers, the ways to enjoy this spectacular and endlessly fascinating country are endless. Be sure to explore China's highlights.

One of the best ways to see China's incredible sights is by planning a comprehensive itinerary that gives you enough time to cover all of China's highlights.

Our lists of the best cities and regions to visit are designed to help you plan a travel route that will allow you to see the most in the shortest time possible, whether you have one week or one month to spare.

Great Wall of China

Photo of Great Wall of China
Great Wall of China: en.wikipedia.org

The Great Wall of China is one of the most evocative images of the modern world and is now in fact one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world. While there is a huge array of other ancient sights in China, it is the Great Wall that people seek. The Gwo-Ling (Great Wall) stretches some 6,000 kilometers, from north to south, making it the world's longest man-made structure. This diverse and beautiful monument to war is as beautiful from afar as it is imposing when you are within its imposing confines. Beijing's Badaling is the most scenic stretch. A path leads along a jagged cliff edge above the azure Tsitsihar River before traversing steep and very narrow sections of wall, which require good balance. The two major sections are in the foothills, where a series of well-preserved forts guard the lower stretches of the wall. At one of the highest points the wall widens out considerably, with views to the north, east and south. More of a daunting frontier that a sight for tourists, the massive fortifications along the Haizikou section offer a window into the variety of architecture. A series of barriers enclose the Great Wall at the boundary between Inner Mongolia and Gansu Province. Forts along the wall are stationed at narrow passes along the northern end of the wall, which is often fording shallow valleys of the Yellow River. Notable towers include Zhagun and Juyongguan Forts.

Yangshuo

Photo of Yangshuo County
Yangshuo County: en.wikipedia.org

Yangshuo is a small town in Southern China. It is set in a lake, surrounded by pine and bamboo forests. This spot is one of China's most picturesque corners, with tall pines growing to the water's edge and long moss hanging down from them. People here enjoy a laid-back life in their wood-framed homes, and the locals can often be seen walking to town along the lakeshore. Yangshuo is famous for its colorful lakeside village culture, where boats, bicycle rickshaws, and an endless variety of art, clothes, and food are in plentiful supply. The buildings are old but well preserved, with brickwork so smoothly shaped it's like looking at a three-dimensional stone model. Yangshuo is best seen on the village's busy waterfront, where local fishing boats have been put up for sale. There are also other interesting sights, such as a large Buddha in a cave where large, red-capped monks gather. At night, beautiful lanterns strung up among the trees make the village a wonderful place to stay.

Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, Sichuan

Photo of Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding: en.wikipedia.org

Chengdu, in the Sichuan province of China, is one of the best places in the world to see giant pandas in the wild. Based in the Wolong Nature Reserve, this park, which covers some 1,400 square kilometers, is the only place in the world where pandas can be seen in their natural habitats. Like all animals in the park, pandas are well fed. Visitors can enter the reserve daily and see the pandas' natural habitat, which includes bamboo forests, grasslands, and rivers, while keeping a safe distance from the animals. The center also offers professional training for pandas, and visitors can observe pandas being bred.

Xi'an

Xi'an, or the new name, Shaanxi, is one of China's oldest and most important cities. Its history is rich, with traces of the Guojia, Zhou, Qin, and Han dynasties, and was the capital of China for several years until the 7th century. Xi'an, a world heritage site and one of the seven ancient capitals of China, is one of the largest and richest cities in Asia. The cultural heritage of the city was discovered in 1875, when the earth was moved to expose the area of a buried city. According to local legends, the city was abandoned in 632 AD because of a series of natural disasters, including a plague and an earthquake. In fact, a tomb and many brick structures were found, along with a burial of the 5th or 6th century, providing evidence of the area's great age. Many of the city's monuments were destroyed by war or encroachment over the centuries and are in varying states of restoration and preservation. It is one of the world's oldest cities, with archaeological evidence of settlement dating back to as early as 3000 BC, but is also famous for its many parks, squares, and gardens. Xi'an is one of the world's top 20 most visited cities. Among its major sights are the Drum and Bell Tower (Xiangcheng Lou), the former residence of the Tang emperor Xuan Zong, along with his palace and tomb; the city wall, once 13 kilometers (8 miles) long; the temples of Cheng Huang (Mingyue Miao), a large-scale park, and Yuhuatai Park (Yuhuatai Cheng); and the city's large minority populations.

Read more 👉  Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Xi'an

The Forbidden City

Photo of Forbidden City
Forbidden City: en.wikipedia.org

Formerly the imperial palace for the Ming and Qing dynasties, The Forbidden City (Xinhai Gong) has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although many of its buildings have been modernized and turned into hotels and restaurants, the majesty of this extensive complex can still be seen, such as in its grand entranceway (along with its vast dragon-barn facade) and its exceptional temple-courtyards (Tienghuang Miao). The palace, like the city of Beijing itself, is huge and visitors will need to use walking tours for seeing many of the interior structures. Other nearby sights include the Temple of Heaven and nearby Panjia Pass, the world's largest and highest paved passageway. In the south of Beijing, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the palace, is the Mausoleum of Ming founder, Yongle. Close to the ancient city, the idyllic forested park of Changping has a well-preserved Qing-dynasty village.

The Summer Palace, Beijing

Photo of Old Summer Palace
Old Summer Palace: en.wikipedia.org

Despite being a palace, the Summer Palace (Tusi) of Qianlong emperors is really a huge garden. An imperial hunting ground in the early 19th century, it was turned into a magnificent and unusual museum by Empress Cixi when she took power in the 1880s. While some of the original ponds, waterfalls, and pavilions remain, most of the buildings date from the Qianlong era, when Beijing was transformed into an international city, rivaling the European capitals. The palace lies on a hill to the southwest of the Forbidden City, a huge complex of palaces built for emperors and now housing the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The garden lies within the northeastern perimeter of the Forbidden City's present area. It was originally enclosed by a high wall that was breached only when the emperors wished to get out. Today, however, the wall is only an attractive line to walk behind. The beautiful buildings of the palace include a number of pavilions, including the Silver Pavilion (Yizong Pavilion), a small castle, and an artificial mountain, the Jade Altar, which served as an imperial temple. Behind the walled palace is a large complex of small buildings. There are regular tours of the park which start from the Gate of Ten Thousand Leagues, by the east gate of the Forbidden City.

Temple of Heaven

Photo of Temple of Heaven
Temple of Heaven: en.wikipedia.org

This astronomical and astrological observatory is located within the southwestern suburbs of Beijing, at the foot of the tomb of the emperors of the Qing dynasty. It is a world-renowned site for its 880-year-old Ming-dynasty structure and its Golden Altar, the world's largest free-standing gold-plated altar. Entrance to the Temple of Heaven is controlled by China's security police and normally open only twice a month, during a military parade in Beijing to mark the Mid-Autumn Festival, and on August 1, the Chinese New Year. The structure itself is made of wood and was built in 1420. A series of hidden passageways lead to smaller altars where offerings of incense, prayer and fruit are made to Heaven and Earth.

Tiananmen Square

Photo of Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen Square: en.wikipedia.org

Though the gates to Tiananmen Square (; Tāiānmén Chǎng; map Google map; 太南门; Xīntángmén) are guarded 24 hours a day by a crowd of uniformed Chinese soldiers, any visitor to the world's most visited tourist site will find that the crowds of people and the glitzy feel of the place is irresistible. The square has been the main focus of political protests for decades. People are asked to keep quiet and move on through at all times, and in 1989 the Chinese government resorted to troops to forcibly evict students who tried to camp out in protest and set up makeshift barricades. Tiananmen Square was built by President Mao Zedong as a symbol of national power. Today, it's also a symbol of the world's biggest superpower. Close by, on Beijing's north side, lies the Forbidden City (; Bīgào; map; 特纪; Bìgōng), once the home of the country's emperors. The Temple of Heaven (; Tai Miao; map; 太磨; Xī'ù) in the square's northeast corner, founded in 1420, was built to pray for good harvests. The lavish building, covered with carved marble and gold leaf, is now a museum.

Leshan Giant Buddha

Photo of Leshan Giant Buddha
Leshan Giant Buddha: en.wikipedia.org

Located in the western portion of the city of Kaifeng, about 200 km (125 miles) from the tourist heartland of Beijing, the giant Buddha is China's largest monolith and one of the two biggest human statues in the world. The statue is 56 meters (184 ft) tall and weighs over 60,000 tons. To get to Leshan, China's biggest car museum, you take the narrow-gauge railways that link the city to a major rail junction. Or, you can take a bus. Either way, you travel through wide areas that could easily be host to traditional villages, having changed dramatically during the Maoist era when cities like Kaifeng were neglected. After reaching the base of the statue, take the ropeway (single ride tickets ¥20) that leads to the summit of the enormous structure, at nearly 220 meters (720 ft) high. Be sure to arrive early, as you can be locked in when you reach the top. After you return down, purchase a ticket (there are several choices; ¥20–30) to go to the right of the statue to see the main halls and the eight-story pagoda. Finally, to get back to the city, take the local train back.

West Lake, Hangzhou

Photo of West Lake
West Lake: en.wikipedia.org

Bounded to the north and south by two mountain ranges, the West Lake (Shuishi) is an artificial lake of 71 sq. km in Hangzhou. Filling the triangle formed by the West Lake and two mountain ranges, there are over 200 islands with a total area of 8 sq. km. In the center of the lake is a unique island - West Lake Island (Xijiao Shuishi). It is said that Emperor Taizong has put a bridge across the lake. West Lake is not only a popular scenic spot, but also an important economic and political center, and the abode of Chinese poetry. West Lake is home to the famous Four Great Lakes, also known as the Four Tigers. It is filled with water-purifying equipment, with a capacity of 2000 m3 per hour. There are also numerous palaces, pavilions, ancient temples, small lakes and scenic spots. For example, there is the Hangzhou Old Town (Changshangyuan) with Hangzhou's famous Fish Street (Etanglang). The West Lake is famous for the Three Harmonious Sounds Scenic Spot (Sanqin Hengjing Langya), an artificial plateau where the sound of water and the wind echoes. The tallest dike in the lake, which can support a rafting cruise, is also a tourist attraction. The embankments on both sides of the river have two channels: One goes upstream and the other downstream. A long lane lined with ancient cypresses has been maintained in the road below. The air in the car park is crisp and clean, and when the wind blows, the hill slopes and ruins are shaken, making the scene picturesque.

Guilin

Photo of Guilin
Guilin: en.wikipedia.org

Guilin is located in the heart of southern China's Yangtze River Delta. Guilin features long, white sandy beaches that attract visitors who come to unwind and enjoy the natural beauty of this coastal city. Although not a particularly scenic spot, the setting is picturesque and comfortable. Travelers are well-served by transport links, with the airport about 10 minutes' drive from the city center, the train station in the city and suburban area and the bus station and tourist information center (within walking distance of the train station). Guilin's friendly and welcoming atmosphere makes it a great place to stay. Its historic downtown features colorful tiled rooftops, pagodas and crumbling temples, while the numerous cafés, bars and nightclubs offer a taste of the international traveler. For the naturalists, Guilin's forests and mountains offer a good area for hiking.

Read more 👉  Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Guilin

The Terracotta Warriors, Xi'an

Photo of Terracotta Army
Terracotta Army: en.wikipedia.org

For centuries, Xi'an's Terracotta Warriors, made of fired-clay helmets, breastplates and pottery fragments, have puzzled scientists and historians. These clay military statues are the remains of over 2000 warriors, dating to a period in China's history when rulers were buried with great military displays. The warriors were first discovered during the 1930s, but it wasn't until 1974 that they were moved and further excavations of the warriors began. If you're traveling to Xi'an from Beijing by train or plane, make sure to stop at Hohhot before arriving in Xi'an. The Chengde International Expo is held each July on the outskirts of Hohhot.