What Are China’s Main Tourist Attractions and Activities?


With its skyscrapers and relatively wealthy population, the capital encapsulates the best of modern China but the past survives in some splendid imperial icons, including the elegant palaces of the vast Forbidden City, and the extraordinary, circular Temple of Heaven. Downtown, look for the ever-dwindling number of hutongs, the narrow alleyways which makeup so much of old Beijing. There are also China’s foremost restaurants and nightlife to take advantage of – everything from teahouse theatres and acrobatic shows to clubs that only play deepest house. Within easy reach of the capital you’ll also find the imperial Summer Palace’s spacious and unpolluted parklands, and the stone guardians and chambers of the Ming Tombs

The Great Wall

This extraordinary feat of civil engineering was begun in the 5th century and stretched 6000km across China. The most accessible of its remaining sections are within easy reach of Beijing, including at very popular Badaling and at less commercialized Simatai and Jinshanling


Made rich by the old Silk Road trade, Xi’an was one of China’s former capitals. Its most famous sight is the Terracotta Army, life-sized figurines guarding the tomb of the country’s first emperor, Win Shi Huang, but there’s much more to Xi’an, including its two 1300-year-old Tang pagodas, and the Neolithic remains at nearby Banpo. The famous kung fu temple Shaolin Si, is within a day’s journey to the east, near Luoyang – packed with visitors, it’s a major tourist trap, filled with shops selling weapons and tracksuits, and with wushu students showing off their skills.

The Li river

Looking exactly like a Chinese scroll painting, a procession of tall, wonderfully weathered limestone peaks flanks 85km of the Li River in southwestern Guangxi province. Base yourself at either the package-tour city of Guilin or the more mellow village of Yangshuo, then cruise around or rent a bicycle and pedal off through the countryside.


With over thirteen million residents, Shanghai is the world’s most populous city. It’s buzzy, style-conscious nightlife is second only to Beijing’s, and the shopping is fantastic, with good bargains for tailor-made clothes and plenty of glamorous malls to peruse. Though the city has few unmissable sights, the beautifully presented Shanghai Museum offers the perfect introduction to China’s phenomenal artistic heritage. Shanghai also sports pockets of impressive European ART Deco architecture along its riverfront esplanade, a legacy of its time as a former colonial concession, strategically close to the mouth of the Yangzi river.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s cityscape is one of the modern wonders of the world, best seen at night while crossing the harbour on the Star Ferry, though taking the famous tram up to Victoria Peak gives you another classic panorama. Shopping is a major Hong Kong pastime, at the excessively glitzy shopping malls, at the chaotic Temple Street Night Market and in the more traditional Stanley Market. Hong Kong is also the place for unrivalled dim sum brunches. Away from the commercial hub, the Ten Thousand Buddha Monastery at Shatin offers fine temple statues and hill views, and there’s historic interest at the Qing dynasty walled village of Kat Hing Wai. Or spend a day or two poking around the less-developed outer islands, exploring Lantau’s small beaches and wooded hills or visiting the former Portuguese enclave of Macau

Three Gorges

The latter stage of the 6400-kilometre-long Yangzi River, in Chinese, and is still used as a transport artery. Catch a ferry through the Three Gorges, between the Sichaunese city of Chongqing and Yichang in Hubei, a three-day 250-kilometre journey past ancient towns, turbulent shoals and spectacular cliff scenery, some of it under threat of submersion from a massive and highly controversial dam project that’s due to be completed in 2009


The “roof of the world” is a place of red-robed monks and austere monastery complexes set against the awe-inspiring vastness of the Tibetan Plateau. It’s also labouring under heavy-handed Chinese military rule, but even the Dalai Lama, exiled in India, encourages people to visit and see the region first-hand. Take your time and, after seeing the mighty Potala Place – Tibet’s foremost tourist sight – in the capital Lhasa, get out to less-youristed monasteries at Shigatse and Gyantse. By 2008 access to Tibet will be possible by what is set to be the spectacular Qinghai-Tibet railway, the highest in the world. It will run over 1100km from Golmud to Lhasa, nearly all of it at an altitude of 4000m or above, using pressurized compartments to prevent altitude sickness.

Guangxi and Guizhou

The rural regions of these provinces are among China’s poorest, but it’s worth exploring the minority communities dotted throughout the fabulously terraced mountains here, especially the Dong village of Zhaoxing, in northern Guangxi. The Miao hilltribe settlements around Kaili in Guizhou host riotous festivals through the year, featuring bull fights, dancing, dragon-boat races and fantastic outfits.


An oasis town in China’s northwestern deserts, Kashgar is populated by Muslim, Turkic-speaking Ulgir people. Its appeal is in its very remoteness from the rest of China – and its Sunday Bazaar, an Arabian-Nights style affair which draws 100,000 people, including thousands from nearby Krygystan, Turkistan, Tajkistan and Pakistan, to trade in everything from camels and carpets to plastic buckets

The Silk Road

Follow the ancient Silk Road between China and Central Asia – a 3000-kilometre-long train and bus route from Xi’an to Kashgar. On the way, you can take in remote sections of the Great Wall, the bird watching lake Qinghai Hu, astonishing eight-century Buddhist cave art at Dunghuang, the pleasant oasis town of Turpan and the scorching sands of the Taklamakan desert.

Hangzhou and Suzhou

Once a vital trade centre on the 1800-kilometre-long Grand Canal in eastern China, Hangzhou is set around the famed beauty spot of Xi Hu, or West Lake, ringed by pagodas and wooded, hilly parkland, its surface dotted with fishing boats. It’s also worth making the haul 60km north to Suzhou, another canal city with a host of traditional Chinese gardens.

Changbai Shan nature Reserve

Set right up on China’s frontier with North Korea, Changbai Shan is hard to reach even when the road opens in summer, but the rewards are the stunning blue Tian Chi – “Heaven’s Lake” – and the faint chance you may spot Siberian tigers. More likely, you’ll get to sample some of the rare fungi and medicinal herbs which locals harvest here and serve up in restaurants; Changbai Shan’s ginseng is considered the best in China.

Yunnan in Sichuan

China’s mist varied region, these two provinces stretch from Tibet to the steamy tropical forests of Xishuangbanna, and also share borders with Laos, Vietnam and Burma. Top spots are Sichuan’s holy mountain, Emei Shan, where you can sleep and eat in the dozen or more Buddhist temples; the Yunnannese town of Dali, with its ethnic Bai population and vivid mountain and lake scenery; Lijiang, a delightful maze of cobbled lanes and wooden houses, home to the Tibetan-descended Naxi people; and the stark, dramatic scenery of Tiger Leaping Gorge, the deepest canyon in the world, with a drop of 2.5 kilometres.


A self-consciously traditional town in southern Guangdong province, Chaozhou has nineteenth-century streets and even older architecture, including its city walls and beautiful Kaiyuan Temple, which make it a pleasure to explore. Foodies will also need to try out Chaozhou’s restaurants, famed for their bitter, refreshing gongfu tea and fruit-flavoured sauces.

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