The traditions and culture of China overflow in a merry mix of past to present that spread out over the great size of this beautiful country. Forming the fourth largest country in the world, many visitors tend to stick to the larger and more popular cities that are often more commercialized. However every city in China has its own unique character, each with its own distinct dialect, style of cuisine and must-see attractions among other things. From the food courts of old Shanghai to the Terracotta Army of Xi’an to the magnificent Great Wall of Beijing, here are the top 15 cities you should visit when in China.
Forming the capital of China with a population of over 21 million, Beijing forms the political centre of the country. It is home to some of China’s most iconic spots and holds hundreds of years of history. From the world famous Tiananmen Square to the Forbidden City to the more popular Badaling section of the Great Wall, the mix of ancient culture and modernization together with the fast paced lifestyle of the locals will be sure to leave you with an amazing experience.
Places you must see: The Great Wall, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square
Xi’an forms the capital of the Shaanxi Province and was once known as the historical start of the Silk Road which made trading between Eurasian countries possible. More recently however, it became for the Terracotta Army which was discovered in 1974 by local farmers. This Army forms one of greatest archaeological sites in the world and consists of a collection of over a hundred life sized terracotta sculptures which depict the army of Qin Shi Huang who formed the first Emperor of China.
Must see places: The Terracotta Army, Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, Great Mosque of Xi’an and The Muslim Quarter
Known as China’s cosmopolitan city, Shanghai forms one of the world’s largest and most populated cities to date. Situated on the estuary of the Yangtze River, Shanghai serves as one of the most influential economic hubs of the East. Filled with shimmering skyscrapers lining the famous waterfront Bund area, this cultural metropolis is bustling at any time of day or night. Be sure to visit the tree-lined French concession and Yuyuan Gardens or walk along the promenade at night and watch take in the beauty of the lit skyscrapers.
Must see places: Oriental Pearl Tower, The Bund, Peoples Square, Yu Yuan Gardens
Located far south of China, Guangzhou is better known as ‘The City of the Ram’. Forming the capital of the Guangdong Province, Guangzhou forms the third largest city in China after Beijing and Shanghai. Every year Guangzhou attracts thousands of visitors for the famous Canton shopping festival. Be sure to visit the famous Shamian Island and Chen Family Temple which forms a key historical site.
Must see places: Temple of the Six Banyan Trees, Shamian Island, Canton Orchid Garden
If you’re looking for a slower pace than the busier metropolitan cities, then Chengdu is the place to visit. Forming the capital of the Sichuan province, this central Chinese city is best known for being the hometown of the giant pandas. Most people come here to visit the Panda Base which is a research and breeding facility as well as try the spicy Sichuan hot pot which this region is famous for.
Must see places: Research Base of Giant Pandas, Mount Qingcheng, Longchi National Forest Park
Regarded by Marco Polo as one of the most luxurious cities in the world, Hangzhou is best known as the city with a lake. Formerly known as Hangchow, it forms the capital of the Zhejiang Province and holds two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This city forms the perfect combination of temples, pagodas, gardens and artificial islands.
Must See Places: West Lake, Baochu Pagoda, Yue Fei Temple and Tianmu Mountain
Located in south eastern China, Shenzhen once formed a quiet fishing village. Today it forms the buzzing metropolis that links Hong Kong to mainland China. Shenzhen is best known for its famous shopping district and contemporary buildings.
Must see places: Splendid China Folk Village, Dongmen Shopping Street, Sea World and Nanshan Mountain
Located in the Guangxi region of China, Guilin is well known for its breath-taking scenic spots that are filled with mountains, rice paddies and serene country sides. This riverside town found in the south of China is most famous for its fishing boat lifestyle so be sure to rent a bamboo boat and sail along river.
Must see places: Elephant Trunk Hill, Longsheng Rice Terrace, Reed Flute Cave
Best known for the Hallelujah mountains from the famous movie, Avatar; Zhangjiajie is located in the north western region of the Hunan province. most people come here to see the stunning peaks, streams, dense forests and large caves. Be sure to visit the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Tiananmen Mountain and the iconic Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge.
Must see places: Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Wulingyuanm Tianmen Mountain
Suzhou is famous for its traditional Chinese village-like feel with surrounding water towns and traditional Chinese gardens. Better known as the ‘Venice of the Orient’, it’s clear to see why with its breath-taking canals and bridges. Come here if you love ancient traditions and beautiful gardens.
Must see places: Lake Tai, Hanshan Temple and Tiger Hill Pagoda
Huangshan is better known for its natural landscapes which comprise of strangely shaped rocks and pines amidst the Yellow Mountains. These enchanting mountains with the sea of clouds at the peaks and hot springs at the base are a must see. Be sure to wander around the ancient villages that line the city and see the traditional folk houses.
Must see places: Lotus Peak, Jade Valley, Huangshan Hot Springs, Huangshan Mountain
Famous for the annual Ice and Snow Festival, this is testament to the freezing cold temperatures that strike during Winter. Forming the capital of China’s Heilongjiang province, Harbin is located pretty close to the borders of Russia. Here you will find a host of Russian inspiration – from cobblestone zones to neoclassical styles to Russian dumplings – Harbin is a city with its own character.
Must see places: Saint Sophia Cathedral, Yabuli Ski Resort, Sophia Square
Nanjing is best known for its strong history, serving as China’s capital seven times in the past. Today Nanjing forms the capital of the Jiangsu Province with its name translating to ‘Southern Capital’ in English. Nanjing is usually a city that many people pass through when travelling from Shanghai to Beijing and is commonly known as one of the cleanest and best looking cities in China.
Must see places: Xuanwu Lake, Jiming Temple, Yangtze River Bridge, Drum Tower
Xiamen is a popular tourist city of the Fujian Province and is famous for its seaside areas. Famous for the hundreds of thousands of egrets that inhabit the city, Xiamen is more affectionately known as Egret Island. Here you will find endless mountains, temples and parks so be sure to schedule some time for hiking and sightseeing.
Must See Places: Gulangyu, Mount Wuyi and Bailuzhou Park
Known in English as the Green Island, Qingdao is one Chinese city that has manged to preserve some of its past while still becoming modernized as time has passed by. Located on the east coast of China, this seaside city is the largest in the Shandong Province and is home to the world famous Tsingtao Brewery.
Must see places: Mount Lao, Tsingtao Beer Museum, Zhongshan Park