If you’ve ever thought about visiting China, then you probably have the Great Wall written on your bucket list as one of the must-see attractions for your itinerary. The Great Wall, which has been standing for centuries now, routinely ranks as one of the top places to visit in the entire country.
If you’re looking to add to your itinerary or you’re just hoping to get a little bit more off the beaten path, however, you might want to forego visiting the Wall and pick some other great tourist attractions. There are plenty of options, no matter which part of China you plan on visiting.
China is a large country, with many regional cultures and a rich history. If you only visit the Great Wall, you’re missing out on so much more of what this great country has to offer. We’ve picked 20 other great spots to visit and sights to see when you visit China. Whether you add one or all of them to your bucket list, you can’t go wrong with these choices.
Give yourself a fuller experience of different takes on local culture, history, and geography by visiting national parks, imperial palaces, and Buddhist temples. You won’t be disappointed.
One of the top tourist attractions within the city of Beijing is the Forbidden City. You may have even heard of it. After the Great Wall, it’s one of the most recognizable attractions in China. It’s also one of the most visited places on Earth.
The Forbidden City was the home of the emperor for more than 500 years, and it is indeed a city. There nearly 1,000 buildings inside its walls. Pack a lunch and spend the day here, since there’s so much to explore. If you linger until closing, you can get a better glimpse of history without the crowds.
The Leshan Great Buddha, a 223-foot-tall statue located in the province of Sichuan, is still one of China’s architectural wonders, even today. The statue dates back to the 8th century, and it was originally constructed to calm the confluence of 3 rivers at its feet. It was carved directly into the cliffs on the banks of the river, and it’s been reducing boat crashes and wrecks since the Tang Dynasty.
Today, the Buddha is the largest sitting Buddha statue in the world. Clamber up the stairwell at the Buddha’s feet, to the cliff top to truly experience the Buddha from all angles and vantage points.
You’ll need to hit the road out of Beijing to see this next impressive sight. Known as the Hanging Temple, this building juts out from the wall of a cliff, hanging precariously over the valley below. The buildings are connected by wooden walkways, and the views are stunning. Just don’t look down. It’s more than 100 feet down to the valley floor.
The temple also mixes Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian influences. Since it’s a bit of a trek, it’s also one of the least visited temples in China. If you’re hoping to escape the crowds, the Hanging Temple is for you.
Sichuan province, located in China’s southwest reaches, is known for many things. One of the most stunning things about it is its geography. The natural landscapes here are some of the most uniquely beautiful in the world.
As an example, located deep in the mountain ranges, you can find the stunning Jiuzhaigou Valley. Crystal-clear glacial lakes and waterfalls are mingled with forests and trails connecting tiny villages. You can explore the park via a bus service, or you can choose to explore off the trail to an extent. If you prefer nature and solitude over the hustle and bustle of cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong, a trip to Jiuzhaigou Valley could be right for you.
If you visit Xi’an in the province of Shaanxi, you’re in for a treat. This is the home of the world-famous Terracotta Army. First discovered in 1974, the army features thousands of life-sized soldiers, officers, horses, and chariots.
The army was constructed for the burial of China’s very first emperor, Emperor Qin. That means the army dates back to around 210 BCE! Visitors are almost always impressed by the visual scale of the massive army, along with the details. Each soldier is individualized, suggesting someone put many hours of long and loving work into sculpting each figure so very long ago.
Yangshuo is a small town in Guangxi province. It’s become famous for its dramatic landscape, which features a karst mountain range. Angular green hills jut up toward the sky, while rivers and waterfalls cut through the countryside.
Yangshuo has been popular since the 1980s, especially with those who love the great outdoors. If you like hiking, biking, running, or even just drifting along a peaceful river, Yangshuo has something for you. Some of the most popular climbs include Moon Hill, Low Mountain, and Bamboo Grove, among others. Many of the locals speak English, which makes it more accessible than other towns of its size.
If you travel to the very western border, into the Pamir Mountains, you’ll probably find Karakul Lake. This glacial lake is 3,600 meters above sea level, but it has another claim to fame. Its waters appear black. You can walk around it on a 3-hour hike. This also allows you to take in the view of the Muztagh Ata Mountain, a 7,500-meter high peak.
You can opt to spend the night with a Kyrgyz herder family in one of their yurts. Your accommodations will include food and heat. You’ll want to dress for warmth, however, as the nights up here can get pretty chilly.
The number of cars and drivers in China has exploded in recent years, which has led to increasing emissions, congested roadways, and more traffic accidents. For tourists, there’s even more danger, as you may not be familiar with the way people drive or the rules of the road.
If you’re hoping to escape, one great place to go is Gulangyu Island, off the coast of Xiamen. The island is a virtual sea of calm, since there are no motorized vehicles allowed. Even bicycles are banned.
Don’t worry, though. The island is just 1 square kilometer! Even without wheels, it’s easy to get around.
The Nu River Valley is something that should be on every traveler’s bucket list, especially if you want to experience all of what China has to offer. One-third of the country’s ethnic groups make their home here, meaning you can experience several cultures and many traditions.
In the warmer months, you can embark on a 3-day trek across the mountain range and the Mekong River. Traveling from the Nu River Valley, you’ll eventually arrive in Shangri-La, after visiting many traditional villages along the way. In recent years, China has moved to preserve the Nu River by turning the area into a national park.
You probably know China is the only place in the world where you can find wild giant pandas. You probably also know pandas are endangered. Their slow rate of reproduction and the destruction of their habitat threatens these cute creatures.
A visit to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base is one place you’ll see quite a few pandas. The research center hopes to help save the pandas by increasing their numbers and studying their behaviors. You can take in the antics of adults and adolescents at play, then get a sneak peek at some of the babies. Even a walk through the park is a relaxing affair.
If you’re looking for lake monsters, you’ll no doubt think of Loch Ness in Scotland and maybe the Ogopogo of British Columbia, Canada. Did you know China also has its very own legendary lake monster?
People have been claiming to see the monster of Heaven Lake for years now. Even if you don’t happen to see the lake monster, however, you’ll be glad you took a trip to this heavenly body of water. Located in Jilin province, this volcanic lake sits in a caldera atop Paektu Mountain. It was considered a holy place during the Qing Dynasty. It’s not hard to see why.
China’s famous floating mountains have inspired centuries of art. Even more recently, they’ve made their way into Western media, in movies like James Cameron’s Avatar, which drew inspiration from these quartz-sandstone pillars.
You can visit the surreal landscape for real in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. You might even be tempted to paint your own after you take in the ever-foggy landscape here. If you want to get a better vantage point, ride the Bailong Elevator, a 1,070-foot high glass lift built directly into the side a cliff.
Whether you paint it or snap it, you’ll carry memories of the floating mountains with you forever after a visit here.
Victoria Peak is a mountain on Hong Kong island, which soars to a height of 1,811 feet. Known locally as The Peak, it’s also home to the world’s steepest funicular railway. The Peak Tram originally opened in 1888, replacing sedan chair as the only mode of transportation up this steep incline.
You can still ride the tram today. Once you arrive at the top, get ready for shopping with a serious view. The Galleria Mall provides amazing views of the city, Victoria Harbour, and even the Kowloon Mountains. You’ll probably feel like you’re on top of the world from this height.
If you’re planning to visit Beijing, here’s another historic site to visit. Located in the southeastern part of Beijing’s core, you can find the Temple of Heaven. This site is actually a 15th-century complex. Built for the Ming and Qing Dynasty emperors so they could perform sacrifices to ensure good harvests, the temple complex is also situated inside a picturesque park.
The most important building is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. It’s all the more impressive because it was built without a single nail. In the park, locals practice tai chi and qigong, play the chess-like game of xiangqi, and fly kites.
There are 2 markets you must visit when you’re traveling China’s west, and Sunday is the best day of the week to visit. The 2 markets are 6 miles apart, so you may have to pick and choose. You can visit the Yengi Bazaar any day of the week, just northeast of the city center in Kashgar.
The other is Ulak Bazaar, which is a livestock market. You probably won’t make a purchase here, but it’s a sight to behold. At Yengi Bazaar, you can pick up some great souvenirs, including hats, embroidered fabrics, and more. At Ulak, find some of the lamian vendors to try delicious hand-pulled noodles.
The ancient Silk Road still runs through China, although this once-vital trade route has diminished in its importance. Dunhuang, one of the towns along its route, is tiny, but it’s an important site for many Buddhists.
Travel about 17 miles out of town, and you’ll find the Mogao Grottoes, a complex of 700 caves filled to brimming with ancient Buddhist art. Most of the caves are closed to the public, but you can still see a good deal of art in the 40 that are usually open. Cave 96 has a giant seated Buddha, as does Cave 130. There are even caves that house libraries.
Tiger Leaping Gorge is a stunning sight, although you might not have guessed it was actually the world’s deepest gorge. You can choose from 2 treks through it. The upper trail is about 25 miles long. A leisurely pace is recommended, since it will allow you to take in the stunning scenery.
If trekking isn’t for you, you can leave the trail, and head back to Lijiang by bus. The buses will also take you to the narrowest point of the gorge, which legends say a tiger leapt in order to escape a hunter. From Shangri-La, you can almost drive the entire way. From Lijiang, you’ll need to hike around 3 miles.
Ever dreamed of climbing a 10,000-foot mountain? If so, Emeishan is just for you. The mountain, which is one of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains, is an important and world-renowned pilgrimage site for Buddhists.
You’ll be taking the stairs up, for 25 miles. If this is too much for one day, feel free to stop off in one of the temples along the way. You’ll be rewarded with some fantastic views from the top, as well as the sights of the Golden Summit. If you don’t want to take the stairs, hop the cable car or hike from nearby Leidong Terraces.
Shanghai is a busy, modern city, but it also has a long and storied history. Nowhere is that more evident than on the Bund, where the colonial-era architecture of yesteryear is still prominent. The waterfront has about 52 buildings that boast various Western influences, from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
It may be shocking and surprising to see this kind of architecture here, but the Bund serves as both a scenic walk and a quick lesson in the history of European architecture. You can see Baroque Revival, Romanesque Revival, Gothic Revival, Art Deco, and Neo-classical styles, all side by side.
The Classical Gardens of Suzhou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Jiangsu province, have been impressing visitors for centuries now. In fact, they’re almost a millennia old, and they are the standard bearers for Classical Chinese garden design.
The largest garden is called the Humble Administrator’s Garden, which was built in 1509 and reflects the Ming Dynasty style.
Other gardens include the Master of the Nets, the Lingering Garden, and the Joyous Garden, which was built in 1874. You may also want to visit the Barrier of Cloud grotto, with its pine trees and a cypress tree that dates back to the Ming Dynasty.
Sources: Huffington Post, CNN Travel, Fodors.com