Vast and varied, China is a nation that offers everything from dynamic metropolises rich in cultural encounters and shopping opportunities to quiet country towns surrounded by mountain landscape and rolling farming plains. A rich history can be found across the nation in ancient monuments such as temples and palaces.
Whether you’re seeking to capture the highlights or prefer to tread a less beaten path, these landmarks and attractions are ones you shouldn’t pass up crossing off your China list.
Top China landmarks and attractions
The Great Wall
The majority of what remains of the Great Wall of China was built during the Ming Dynasty in the 14th and 15th centuries.
Made of brick, earth, wood and stone, it stretches east to west from Dandong to Lop Lake and is the longest wall in the world. It’s commonly accessed from Beijing.
Being one of the most popular attractions in the nation, you may prefer to tour the wall with a guide for the best opportunity to learn about its history and explore the site.
These life-size terracotta statues were only unearthed in 1974 but have quickly become an icon of the country.
Dating back more than 2,000 years, the terracotta statues are dressed in the armory of the Warring States period of 475–221 BC. Mystery still surrounds these statues and their purpose. The Army is best accessed from Xi’an.
Like Central Park in New York City, the Summer Palace is a hidden gem in the heart of a busy metropolitan centre.
Located in Beijing, it’s the largest royal park in the country and features palaces, lakes and gardens. VIP tours of the palace are available to help you queue-jump, especially during peak tourist season.
If there’s one close encounter you should have when in China, it’s got to be with a giant panda.
You can gush over pandas in their natural habitat at the Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuary.
At the sanctuary you can also learn about breeding and rehabilitation efforts, visit the research facility and animal hospital, and gaze at the furry fellas as they play in their dedicated panda playground.
Shanghai’s the Bund is a waterfront street with a unique architectural landscape of baroque, Gothic, Romanesque, classic and renaissance buildings that merge into modern bridges and imposing skyscrapers.
Chinese New Year: This is the biggest date on the calendar. During Chinese New Year everything closes, giving way to celebrations that last for a fortnight.
Lantern Festival: This marks the final day of the Chinese New Year festivities and is celebrated with the lighting and flying of lanterns. Fireworks displays, parades and lion dances are also part of the celebrations. The biggest Lantern Festival in China is in Nanjing.
Dragon Boat Festival: Falling in line with the summer solstice, the Dragon Boat Festival is a national holiday of eating, drinking and dragon boat racing.
What to do for free in Beijing
If you’re traveling to China on the cheap and don’t feel like shelling out loads of money on attractions or at popular tourist traps, consider these fun, free activities:
Visit a park. China boasts parks that are beautifully manicured and filled with fun things to do. A notable park in Beijing that you won’t want to miss is Ritan Park. It has been around since 1530 and you’ll find a number of activities happening around you.
Head to Wangfujing. Visit Wangfujing Street and do some window shopping in one of China’s busiest retail streets. When your done checking out the shops, you can do some people watching or head to St. Joseph’s Cathedral that has been around since the 17th century.
Check out Tiananmen Square. This is very popular attraction that most tourists flock to. It can be a great place to take some photos and to do some people watching.
Walk through the markets. Watch the hustle and bustle hum through the shops at the Silk Market and the Zoo Market.
Splash around Houhai Lake. Take a run or walk around the lake while taking in the views. Surrounding the lake you’ll find many restaurants and bars to grab a drink and get a snack. And if you start to overheat, just hop in the lake and go for a swim.
Have fun on Sanlitun Bar Street. Weave through the bright lights and loud music when you walk down Sanlitun Bar Street. Street entertainers and musicians add some fun flare to this nightlife hot spot.
Visit a museum. Take in modern and classic art at one of Beijing’s museums. There’s the National Museum of China, the Beijing Museum of National History and the Beijing Theater Museum which are all free — you may need to make a reservation.
Best deals on China landmarks and attractions
Up to 20% off sightseeing and day tours in Beijing
Visit the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, top food markets and restaurants and more during your stay in China.
Stephanie Yip is the travel editor at Finder and has been writing about travel and lifestyle for over a decade. She has written for a range of travel publications including Thomas Cook Magazine and Showpo. Stephanie has a Bachelor of Communications from the University of Technology Sydney, Australia, and has visited over 50 countries (and counting). She has a passion for sharing her experiences and knowledge of travel and helping consumers stretch their travel cash while on holiday.
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