To help inspire or plan your trip to China, some of its major attractions
for travellers are shown below, including some of the best natural, historical, cultural and adventure sites in the country.
These include all of UNESCO World Heritage Sites for China which represent the best
of the world's cultural and natural heritage.
Click on the icons below to focus on specific types of features (click again to return to all).
Beijing and Northern China
Harbin is the capital of Manchuria in north-eastern China and the final stop on the Trans-Manchurian Railway from Moscow before arriving in Beijing. During December and January, Harbin is famous for its Ice Festival where hundreds of spectacular ice sculptures are carved and illuminated at night to give the town a magical atmosphere. Other attractions in Harbin include the Church of St. Sophia and the Siberian Tiger Park.
Like the country of which it is capital, Beijing is a vast city with a hugely rich history and a wealth of attractions in addition to the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace and a trip to nearby sections of the Great Wall (detailed in other entries). These include Tiananmen Square, the world's largest public square and site of Chairman Mao's mausoleum and his portrait above the Gate of Heavenly Peace. The hutongs are the maze of historical lanes and alleyways of Beijing, surrounding the Forbidden City, which offer a great insight into the traditional life of Beijing's residents. Also worth checking out are the many fascinating shops and markets, a night at the Beijing Opera or the astonishing acrobatics shows and not forgetting the chance to sample Beijing's cuisine, particularly the famous Peking Duck.
The Forbidden City in Beijing was the site of supreme power for 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties from 1416-1911 and was off limits to commoners for all of that time. The Imperial Palace, now known as the Palace Museum, is remarkably well preserved and covers an enormous area within Beijing. At 720,000 square metres it is the world's largest palace complex and the largest and most complete series of ancient buildings in China. It comprises landscaped gardens, intricately carved walkways and many magnificent buildings containing almost 10,000 rooms.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Beijing and Shenyang
The Summer Palace just outside the centre of Beijing was built as a garden retreat for China's imperial elite. It was first built in 1750 and was restored in 1886 after being destroyed during the Second Opium War of 1860. The Summer Palace is three km² in size, most of which is covered by the water of Kunming Lake, and comprises pavilions, palaces, temples and bridges which complement the natural landscape. The Palace had three main areas - political and administrative, residential and recreational and has been open to the public since 1924.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Summer Palace, an Imperial Garden in Beijing
|Temple of Heaven|
The Temple of Heaven is situated in Tiantan Park in the southern part of Beijing and is a masterpiece of architectural and landscape design. Completed in 1420, it symbolises the Chinese relationship between Heaven and Earth and was used as an altar of sacrifice for the emperors. There are a number of temples and other buildings within the complex, the most notable of which is the superb, triple-roofed Circular Mound, built to symbolise Heaven within a square enclosure, symbolising Earth.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Temple of Heaven: an Imperial Sacrificial Altar in Beijing
|Great Wall of China|
One of the Wonders of the World and one of the most extraordinary structures ever created, the Great Wall of China is truly a must-see for every traveller. Building walls to defend China from invasion was a strategy dating back to the 8th century BC, but it was under the first Emperor Qin Shi Huang from 220BC that the separate sections were restored and linked to form one structure stretching 5,000km from the Jiayuguan Pass in the Gobi Desert to Shanhaiguan on the east coast. Much of the original work on the Wall was completed during the Qin and Han dynasties up to 220AD but it was revived and extended during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) due to conflict with the Mongols. Over a million workers were involved in its construction and many died with the effort. Today the Wall, partially ruined, stretches across mountains, plateaus, grassland and desert over nine provinces, though only one-third of the original remains. There are several sections of the Wall that can be walked along, allowing you to appreciate the breathtaking nature of the construction and how it integrates into the surrounding landscape.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: The Great Wall
|Mountain Resort of Chengde|
Northeast of Beijing in Hebei Province lies the Mountain Resort in Chengde, the summer palace of the Qing Dynasty. Built in the 18th century, the resort was the yearly destination for the Emperor and his ministers, royal troops, family and concubines. To accommodate them, a vast complex of palaces, administrative and ceremonial buildings, temples and gardens were built which today provide an insight into the final era of imperial rule. Of the temples at Chengde, Puning Temple contains a 22 metre statue of Buddha while Putuozuosheng Temple is a replica of the Lhasa's Potala Palace.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Mountain Resort and its Outlying Temples, Chengde
|Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties|
The Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties are in five separate locations throughout eastern China all of which attempt to achieve harmony between the natural landscape and the tomb buildings. The Eastern Qing Tombs near Beijing, dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries, are the largest and most complete site which contain the tombs of 5 emperors, 15 empresses and 136 concubines, in addition to hundreds of lesser nobles in the surrounding mountains.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties
The Yungang Grottoes are located in the ancient city of Datong in Shanxi Province, west of Beijing. The Grottoes, comprising 51,000 statues in 252 caves, were built in the 5th and 6th centuries AD and represent the outstanding achievement in Buddhist cave art of this period. Of particular note are the Five Caves created by the monk Tan Yao in AD 460-465 which have a unity of layout and design. The Hanging Monastery, an hour south of Datong, is another highlight of the region, with the 1,500 year old Buddhist temple hugging the side of a cliff.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Yungang Grottoes
Mount Wutai with its five flat peaks is one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains in China. Its has 53 monasteries which have been built over two millennia since the 1st century AD. These include the East Main Hall of Foguang Temple, which is the highest ranking timber building to survive from the Tang Dynasty, and the Ming Dynasty Shuxiang Temple, containing a huge complex of 500 statues, representing Buddhist stories woven into three-dimensional pictures of mountains and water. The beauty of the snow-covered peaks and thick forests has been celebrated by Chinese artists for centuries.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Mount Wutai
|Capital Cities and Tombs of the Ancient Koguryo Kingdom|
This site contains the archaeological remains of the now vanished Koguryo civilisation which ruled over parts of northern China and the Korean peninsula between 277BC and AD668. The site comprises the ruins of three cities - Wunu Mountain City, Guonei City and Wandu Mountain City as wells as 40 tombs.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Capital Cities and Tombs of the Ancient Koguryo Kingdom
|Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian|
The Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian, 42km southwest of Beijing, was the site of the discovery of the remains of Sinanthropus pekinensis, who lived in the Middle Pleistocene, along with the remains of Homo sapiens sapiens dating as far back as 18,000–11,000 B.C. The site offers an insight into human evolution and prehistorical human societies in Asia.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian
Xanadu is the site of the remains of Kublai Khan’s legendary capital city. Designed in 1256, the city was a unique attempt to assimilate the nomadic Mongolian and Han Chinese cultures. From this base, Kublai Khan established the Yuan dynasty that ruled China over a century and oversaw the dissemination of Tibetan Buddhism over north-east Asia. Planned according to traditional Chinese feng shui, the city's remains today include temples, palaces, tombs, nomadic encampments and waterworks.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Site of Xanadu
Chinese Silk Road
Xian is the capital of Shaanxi Province and the largest city in northwest China. It was the first capital of a unified China in 221BC (under Emperor Qin Shi Huang) and has been capital of the empire on 12 separate occasions. Being the terminus for the Silk Road, Xian was also one of the world’s largest, richest and most cosmopolitan cities. Many monuments in the city attest to its great history. The remains of the city walls demonstrate how vast and impressive they were and Xian is one of the few cities in China with preserved walls, some 15km in length which can be cycled on to appreciate views of the city. The Big Wild Goose Pagoda is a 64m, a 7-storey high structure which was built in 648 AD to house Buddhist scriptures brought back from India. The Muslim Hui District contains the 15th century Great Mosque, one of the largest in China, set amidst narrow streets with quaint shops, bazaars and food stalls. Elsewhere the Shaanxi History Museum contains artefacts from prehistory to the Qing dynasty.
The tomb of the first emperor Qin Shi Huang was discovered in 1974 and was considered one of the archaeological finds of the century. Thousands of life-size warriors were sculpted from clay and buried with the emperor to protect him, with the complex designed to echo the urban plan of the capital Xianyang. It took approximately 700,000 people 36 years to create the tomb and its clay warriors. The warriors and their horses and chariots are standing in battle formation, and each is unique, with different ranks, hairstyles, costumes and even facial expressions. The first pit contained an army of approximately 2,000 warriors, with infantry, cavalry and archers which have been reconstructed but left on their original positions. The second pit was similar with the third thought to be the command post, containing officers, dignitaries and a cart with four horses. Much of the site remains to be excavated and renovated. The Terracotta Warriors are a must-see of any trip to China and one of the most extraordinary historical sights in the world.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor
Lanzhou is the capital of Gansu Province and was one of the first staging posts after Xian on the Silk Road. Its main attraction today is the Bingling Temple, a series of Buddhist caves dating back to the 5th century AD. These are set in steep cliffs overlooking the Yellow River and contains hundreds of high quality stone statues and murals. Other attractions in Lanzhou include the Gansu Museum, White Pagoda and Water Wheel Garden. Just south of Lanzhou lies the remote town of Xiahe, a centre of Tibetan Lamaism and popular pilgrimage destination for Tibetan monks. The impressive 18th century Labrang Monastery is the most important Tibetan monastery outside of Lhasa.
Although it is nowadays a modern industrial town, Jiayuguan in the past marked the western limits of the Chinese Empire. Situated in a narrow pass between striking mountain ranges, Jiayuguan was a vital transit point between China and central Asia, both for traders and armies. The Ming dynasty Jiayuguan Fort built on the pass marked the end of the Great Wall and guarded China’s westernmost frontier. As well as visiting the Fort, you can walk on the Overhanging Wall, built in 1540 to guard the Shiguan Xiakou Pass, and explore the Xincheng Tombs.
The oasis town of Dunhuang, set amidst desert landscapes and the last stop before entering the feared Taklamakan Desert, was an important stop on the Silk Road. The nearby sand dunes are known as the Singing Sands and can be explored on camel to see spectacular views of Crescent Moon Lake. Dunhuang is also the location for the famous Mogao Caves, a series of Buddhist shrines dating back to the 4th century AD. The 492 caves contains thousands of statues and 45,000 square metres of colourful murals, created by travelling monks and merchants and constituting some of the best Buddhist art in China.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Mogao Caves
The oasis town of Turpan is set in the Turpan Depression, the second lowest place on earth after the Dead Sea, where summer temperatures average 40C earning it the nickname 'Fiery Land'. Surrounding Turpan are many fascinating historical sites. These include the ruins of the ancient Silk Road cities of Gaocheng and Jiaohe. Jiaohe was a former garrison town destroyed by Genghis Khan. Gaochang was founded in the 1st century AD and was once the capital of the Uyghur people. Although abandoned 700 years ago, it still boasts impressive ruins of the city and the Tombs of Astana. Turpan is renowned for its grape production in Grape Valley, which is irrigated by the 2,000 year old Karez water channels, fed by melted snow and conducted via underground waterways. Other attractions near Turpan include the Flaming Mountains, the Bezeklik Caves - a Buddhist monastery between the 6th and 14th centuries, and the Emin Minaret, constructed in 1778.
Urumqi is the capital of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, a huge province in the west of China that borders eight countries. Set in beautiful scenery at the foot of the ice-capped Tianshan Mountains, Urumqi is widely regarded as 'the city farthest from the ocean'. Tian Chi, or Lake of Heaven, is located in the Tianshan mountains at an altitude of 2,000 metres in stunning alpine-like scenery. Other attractions in Urumqi include the Xianjiang Regional Museum with its eerie collection of mummies up to 4,000 years old and the 18th century pagoda.
Located at the foot of the Pamir mountains in the west of Xinjiang, Kashgar was a strategically important town and staging post based at the point where the northern and southern Silk Roads converged, with easy access to India, Persia, Central Asia and Russia. Kashgar has been fought over for centuries between Chinese and Arabs, has been conquered by Genghis Khan and Tamerlane and was the base for the Great Game between the Russians, British and Chinese in the 19th century. Today Kashgar is still evocative of the Silk Road era with a maze of narrow alleyways and open air markets run by Uighir, Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Tajik merchants. Its 1,000 year old Sunday market is one of the most famous and colourful in Asia as 100,000 people gather to buy camels, livestock, leather, rugs, daggers, jewellery and silk. Kashgar's other attractions include the Id Kah Mosque, the largest in China, and the 17th century Abakh Hoja Mausoleum.
Kuqa is located between Urumqi and Kashgar, a key stop on the Silk Road, and situated between the Tienshan Mountains and the Taklamakan Desert. Kuqa was the former capital of the ancient Qiuci Kingdom and is today the heart of the Uighir people. Just outside Kuqa lie the Kizil Buddhist Caves with murals dating back to the 5th century. These murals were thought to be some of the finest in Asia, but many have been removed over the years. Some of the murals that remain however display the fusion of eastern and western cultural influences along the Silk Road. The nearby Kizilgaha Beacon is one of the best preserved towers on the Silk Road - these were placed every 5km and fires on the top signalled the approach of invaders. The ruins of the ancient capital of Subashi are also worth a visit and include the remains of the 3rd century Buddhist Grand Pagoda as well as monk dwellings and the prayer hall.
Hotan lies on the southern end of the Taklamakan Desert, the world's second largest desert which means 'once in, never out' in the Uighir language, highlighting its treacherous nature for travellers along the Silk Road. Situated on the southern Silk Road, Hotan has been famous through the centuries for its silk production, carpet weaving and production of white jade. These industries are still important for the town's economy and you can visit factories demonstrating silk production and carpet weaving and see the locals searching for jade at the Yulongkax River.
Xinjiang Tianshan is part of the Tianshan mountain system of Central Asia, one of the largest mountain ranges in the world and includes unique physical geographic features and scenic areas including spectacular snow and snowy mountains glacier-capped peaks, undisturbed forests and meadows, clear rivers and lakes and red bed canyons. These landscapes contrast with the vast adjacent desert landscapes, including the Taklimakan Desert, which creates a striking visual contrast between hot and cold environments, dry and wet, desolate and luxuriant.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Xinjiang Tianshan
Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan province. As well as a base for exploring nearby attractions, Chengdu is an interesting city in its own right. More relaxed than most big Chinese cities, it is renowned for its tea houses, best samples in the tranquil Renmin Park. Other sites of interest include Wuhou Temple dedicated to the legendary Zhuge Liang and a giant statue of Chairman Mao. Sichuan food is considered the best in China and Chengdu is a fine place to taste this famous, spicy cuisine. Sichuan is also famous for being the home of the Giant Panda. These beautiful creatures are endangered and very difficult to see in the wild so a visit to the Giant Panda Breeding Centre in Chengdu offers a great chance to get close to the animal synonymous with China. The centre is a world leader into research on panda conservation and breeding and provides a home for them that mimics their natural habitat.
|Leshan Giant Buddha|
The Giant Buddha of Leshan was carved into a cliff face on Lingyun Hill overlooking the confluence of the Dadu and Min Rivers. Begun in the 8th century AD and taking almost 100 years to complete, it is the largest Buddha statue in the world, being 71 metres high.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Mount Emei Scenic Area, including Leshan Giant Buddha Scenic Area
The mountain of Emei Shan is one of China's four most sacred Buddhist Mountains and was the site of China's first Buddhist temple in the 1st century AD. It has been a place of pilgrimage ever since with many temples and monasteries on the mountain. The summit at 3099 metres can be reached on foot or by cable car to Golden Summit (Jinding Peak) where you van visit the impressive Wannian Temple. There is also very diverse vegetation on Mount Emei, ranging from subtropical to subalpine pine forests. Among the species found are the silver apricot, a huge range of fungi and medicinal herbs and trees over a thousand years old.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Mount Emei Scenic Area, including Leshan Giant Buddha Scenic Area
|Dazu Rock Carvings|
Baoding Shan (Treasured Summit Hill) in the Dazu area is renowned for its Buddhist rock carvings dating from the 9th to the 13th centuries. Created by monks, the carvings are of outstanding quality and depict both religious and secular matter. The highlight is a reclining Buddha which is 31 metres long and 5 metres high.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Dazu Rock Carvings
|Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries - Wolong, Mt Siguniang and Jiajin Mountains|
Sichuan is home to the Giant Panda and the sanctuaries in the Qionglai and Jiajin Mountains contain 30% of the world's pandas. This unique species, recognised as a National Treasure of China and an icon of global conservation, is highly endangered due to the destruction of its habitat. These sanctuaries comprise seven nature reserves and nine scenic parks (also home to other endangered animals such as the red panda, snow leopard and clouded leopard) as well as the captive breeding centre in Wolong. As giant pandas are extremely difficult to spot in the wild, a trip to Wolong offers the chance to see pandas young and old in a mountainous setting akin to their wild home. A donation to the centre also offers the chance for a brief interaction with the younger pandas.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries - Wolong, Mt Siguniang and Jiajin Mountains
Huanglong Valley is situated in northwest Sichuan Province. It comprises extensive areas of snow-capped mountains, including the easternmost glacier in China, as well as diverse forest ecosystems, gorges, limestone formations, waterfalls and hot springs. In addition to its natural beauty, Huanglong is a habitat for a number of endangered species including the giant panda, Sichuan golden snub-nosed monkey, Asiatic black bear, Pallas' cat and Sichuan takin.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Huanglong Scenic and Historic Interest Area
Jiuzhaigou Valley in northern Sichuan Province encompasses 720 km² and is an area of outstanding natural beauty. Located in the Min Shan Mountains, it reaches heights of more than 4,800 metres and the valley comprises a diverse series of forest ecosystems, classic ribbon lakes, narrow conic karst landforms and spectacular waterfalls, including Nuorilong Falls - at 320 metres the widest in China. The valley is also inhabited by endangered animals such as the giant panda, white-lip deer, golden monkey and the Sichuan takin.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Jiuzhaigou Valley Scenic and Historic Interest Area
|Dujiangyan Irrigation System|
The Dujiangyan Irrigation System was constructed in the 3rd century BC by the provincial governor Li Bing to control the Minjiang River and distribute its waters to the farmlands of the Chengdu plains.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Mount Qingcheng and the Dujiangyan Irrigation System
Taoism was founded by the philosopher Zhang Daoling on Mount Qingcheng in AD 142, which is celebrated in a series of ancient temples on the mountain, built during the Jin Dynasty between 265 and 420 AD.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Mount Qingcheng and the Dujiangyan Irrigation System
|Yangtze River Cruise and Three Gorges|
The Yangtze River is the third longest river in the world and the longest in China. It rises in Qinghai Province north of Tibet and flows for 6,300 kilometres through nine provinces. As well as supplying rural China, it flows through several important industrial centres before emptying into the East China Sea near Shanghai. A three day river journey on the Yangtze between Chongqing and Yichang is one of the great travel experiences in China. This section meanders through the mountains between Sichuan and Hubei provinces, forming the famous Three Gorges where towering vertical cliffs on both sides of the river rise up to the clouds above. The boats will pass through the spectacular scenery of the Qutang Gorge (8km long), Wu Gorge (45km long) and Xiling Gorge (a series of smaller gorges along 78km) before descending through five locks of the Yangtze Dam, one of the great engineering projects of the world, and onto Yichang. Some trips will also take a detour to visit the narrower Three Little Gorges along the Daning River tributary.
Shanghai is China's largest city and is a vibrant place at the heart of China's new economy. The Bund waterfront area contains a wealth of historic, grandiose buildings showing foreign and colonial influences and provides excellent views across the Huangpu River of Shanghai's new futuristic skyline. Other stunning views of the city can be seen from the World Financial Centre which has the highest observation deck anywhere in the world at 474m or from the Oriental Pearl television tower. Other attractions of Shanghai include the tranquil Yuyuan Gardens, the Jade Buddha Temple, the French Quarter of old Shanghai and shopping on Nanjing Road. The Shanghai Museum, reopened in 1995, is beautifully designed and is the world's best showcase of Chinese art and antiquities, with over 120,000 items on display.
Suzhou is located on the banks of the Grand Canal, an extraordinary engineering feat that connected the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers over 1,800km. This location gave the city, called the "Venice of the Orient" by Marco Polo, a great affluence which was manifested in the extraordinary gardens created here by the imperial elite. Chinese gardens seek to recreate natural landscapes in miniature and the nine gardens in Suzhou, dating from the 11th to the 19th centuries, are the best in China. The most famous is the Humble Administrator’s Garden which contains streams, ponds and beautifully decorated pavilions and a recreation of the scenery of the Lower Yangtze. Suzhou is also one of China's main silk producing towns, which can be purchased from street vendors and silk merchants in the city's Old Quarter.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Classical Gardens of Suzhou
The city of Luoyang is located in Henan Province. It is most famous for the Buddhist Longmen Grottoes which are located in caves along the River Yi, 13km south of the city. Built during the Northern Wei and Tang dynasties from the 5th to the 8th centuries AD, they represent a high point in Chinese stone carving. Over 2,300 grottoes contain more than 100,000 Buddhist statues (the tallest is over 17 metres), 2,500 stelae and 60 Buddhist pagodas. Other attractions near Luoyang include the White Horse Temple, China's first Buddhist Temple, or watching the locals practice tai chi, dancing or sword fighting early in the morning in Peony Square.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Longmen Grottoes
Mount Songshan is one of the most sacred mountains in China. At its foot close to the city of Dengfeng lies 8 clusters of historical buildings including three Han Que gates (the remains of the oldest religious edifices in China), the Zhougong Sundial Platform and the Dengfeng Observatory which are excellent examples of ancient Chinese structures devoted to ritual, science, technology and education. Mount Songshan is also the location of the Shaolin Temple - the spiritual home of kung fu famous for the legendary monks who developed the martial art. Today you can still witness the many students training in kung fu and see displays by experts.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Historic Monuments of Dengfeng in “The Centre of Heaven and Earth”
Ping Yao is a remarkably well preserved imperial Han Chinese city of the Ming and Qing dynasties (14th to 20th centuries). It offers a fascinating insight into the development of architecture and town planning over several centuries. China's first banks were set up in Ping Yao, which became a financial centre during the Qing dynasty and the Rishengchang Financial House is one of the most impressive buildings in the city. Ping Yao has very imposing city walls, dating to 1370, which are ten metres high and measure 6km in length. Along their length are six fortified gates and 72 watchtowers, each inscribed with a chapter from Sun-tzu's The Art of War.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Ancient City of Ping Yao
The great philosopher, politician and educator Confucius of the 6th–5th centuries BC was born and died in Qufu in Shandong Province. Two years after he died his house was consecrated as a temple. It was rebuilt in 153 AD and regularly renovated over the subsequent centuries, particularly during the Ming Dynasty in the 16th century. Today it comprises over 100 buildings and covers 20 hectares. Confucius's cemetery contains his tomb and the remains of more than 100,000 of his ancestors who have lived here for over 2,500 years spanning 77 generations. Additionally 152 buildings of the Kong Family residence have been preserved. The site rivals Beijing's Forbidden City in size and grandeur and represents an extraordinary historic and artistic heritage.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Temple and Cemetery of Confucius and the Kong Family Mansion in Qufu
Mount Taishan is the most revered of China's five sacred mountains, with Chinese emperors having made pilgrimages there for over 3,000 years. It has inspired Chinese artists and scholars (including Confucius) and was an important centre of activity for the Buddhist and Taoist religions. Today, rock inscriptions, stone tablets and temples bear witness to these influences and are integrated into the natural landscape of the mountain. The summit can be reached on foot, comprising 6,000 steps, or more conveniently by cable car, rewarded with magnificent views over the landscape below.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Mount Taishan
Mount Huangshan, or Yellow Mountain, is known as the 'loveliest mountain in China' and is one of the country's most famous natural landscapes. It has spectacular scenery, with 72 granite peaks emerging from the clouds and a wealth of beautiful ridges, gorges, lakes and waterfalls. The trees on Mount Huangshan are renowned for their age, strange shapes and precarious positions. The mountain has been an inspiration and destination for poets and artists for centuries and more recently as the setting for much of the film 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'. The mountain can be climbed either by foot (9,000 steps!) or cable car, with spectacular views guaranteed at the top.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Mount Huangshan
|Lushan National Park|
Mount Lushan in Jiangxi Province is one of the spiritual centres of Chinese civilisation. There are approximately 200 historic buildings within the national park, including Buddhist and Taoist temples, of which the most famous is the East Grove Temple. The beautiful landscape of the area has been an inspiration for Chinese art, poetry and philosophy.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Lushan National Park
|Mount Sanqingshan National Park|
Mount Sanqingshan National Park is located in the Huyaiyu mountain range in the northeast of Jiangxi Province. It is an area of beautiful and unique scenery, with concentrated granite pillars and peaks, mixed with temperate forests, numerous waterfalls and lakes. Mount Sanqingshan has been a Taoist shrine for over 400 years and contains many Taoist relics, stone carvings and temples.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Mount Sanqingshan National Park
Mount Wuyi is an area of outstanding natural beauty with subtropical humid forests interspersed with the gorge landscapes of the Nine Bend River. It's an important region for biodiversity with many endemic and endangered species including the Chinese tiger, clouded leopard, black muntjac and the Chinese giant salamander. The area also contains the ruins of many temples and monasteries, associated with the development and spread of neo-Confucianism, and well as the archaeological remains of the Han dynasty centre of Chengcun, dated to the 1st century BC.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Mount Wuyi
|Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Interest Area|
The region of Wulingyuan in Hunnan Province covers 260 km² and is an area of spectacular natural beauty. Its features include more than 3,000 sandstone pillars and peaks, between which lie ravines and gorges with streams and waterfalls, as well as karst features including 40 caves with spectacular calcite deposits. The region is also a habitat for a number of endangered species including the Chinese giant salamander, Asiatic wild dog, Asiatic black bear, clouded leopard and Chinese water deer.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Interest Area
|Ancient Building Complex in the Wudang Mountains|
The valleys and slopes of the Wudang Mountains in Hubei Province are the setting for this complex of temples and palaces. Although it was built as an organised complex during the Ming Dynasty, it contains Taoist temples from as early as the 7th century.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Ancient Building Complex in the Wudang Mountains
|Ancient Villages in Southern Anhui - Xidi and Hongcun|
The villages of Xidi and Hongcun in Anhui Province are well preserved examples of traditional Chinese villages which have largely disappeared during the 20th century. Reflecting the socio-economic structure of the feudal period, they are characterised by granite-paved streets, widely-spaced brick and timber-framed houses and a comprehensive water system.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Ancient Villages in Southern Anhui – Xidi and Hongcun
The archaeological site of Yin Xu, 500 km south of Beijing, is an ancient capital city of the late Shang Dynasty which ruled from 1300 - 1046 BC. It's a testament to a golden age in Chinese culture and sciences during the Chinese Bronze Age. The oracle bone script of Yin Xu is one of the world's oldest known writing forms. Among the discoveries at this site are the Palace and Royal Ancestral Shrines Area and the Tomb of Fu Hao.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Yin Xu
|Hangzhou West Lake|
The West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou comprises the West Lake and the hills surrounding its three sides. With numerous temples, pagodas, pavilions, gardens and ornamental trees, as well as causeways and artificial islands, the area has inspired famous poets, scholars and artists since the 9th century. West Lake is an excellent example of the cultural tradition of improving landscapes to create a series of vistas reflecting an idealised fusion between humans and nature.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou
Kunming is the capital of Yunnan Province and although a vibrant and bustling it is also a beautiful city of wide boulevards and attractive lakes. Set at 2,000 metres above sea level, Kunming enjoys a temperate climate and is known as the 'City of Eternal Spring'. Its attractions include the Flower and Bird Markets, the Bamboo Temple and Yuantong Temple or you can watch people practise tai-chi in People's Square or try Yunnanese cuisine. There's a strong ethnic minority influence in Kunming and a vibrant Muslim area. It's also worth visiting Stone Forest, 120km from Kunming, which is a strange natural wonder with tightly packed rock formations.
Lijiang is the former capital of the Naxi Kingdom and still home to the Naxi people today. Set on a mountain slope, the town is a well preserved maze of cobblestone streets and decorative wooden houses. It is famous for its complex and ancient water-supply system where rivers are channelled through a network of narrow canals to supply every house in the town. With over 350 bridges covering these canals, Lijiang is known as the 'City of Bridges'. Lijiang is a wonderful town to wander and explore or take a panoramic overview from Wangu Pagoda on Lion Hill. It's also worth checking out a performance of the local Naxi Orchestra for a unique musical experience.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Old Town of Lijiang
|Tiger Leaping Gorge|
Tiger Leaping Gorge is located in Yunnan Province in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River. Surrounded by 5,000 metre high mountains the gorge itself is 16km long and is the world's deepest canyon, being 3,000 metres deep. The scenery is dramatic and awe inspiring, with sheer cliff faces rising above the torrents of the Yangtze below. The gorge's name is derived from a legend where a tiger escaped pursuit by leaping across the gorge, so narrow is it at some points. There are several trekking trails around the gorge which allow you to appreciate the spectacular scenery. The Gorge is part of the Three Parallel River National Park, a 17,000 square kilometre site where the Yangtze, Mekong and Salween Rivers run parallel north to south for 300km through steep gorges in the Hengduan Mountains. It is one of the world's richest temperate areas in terms of biodiversity.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas
Dali is a relaxed small town in Yunnan Province. It is located in a beautiful setting, on the banks of Lake Erhai and surrounded by the snow-capped peaks of the Cang Shang mountain range. Enclosed by Ming dynasty walls, Dali is a town of cobblestone streets and old wooden and stone houses and is home to the Bai people, a traditional group renowned for their craftsmanship. The surrounding countryside and nearby villages can be explored on bicycle, boat rides on Lake Erhai and hiking or taking a chairlift up the adjacent mountains. Especially worth visiting are the famous Three Pagodas, elaborately decorated Buddhist temples which date back to the 9th century AD. The largest, Qianxun Tower, is 64 metres high comprising 16 levels.
|Mountain trekking in Yunnan|
Yunnan Province is one of China's most beautiful areas, with spectacular mountain scenery, great biodiversity and a diverse and vibrant culture of ethnic minorities and Tibetan influence. This makes it a perfect destination for trekkers. The town of Bin Zhong Luo, northwest of Lijiang, is the base for a 2-3 day trek to the snow-capped peak of Bi Luo Mountain at 3970 metres. Further north, Deqin is the base for trekking around the sacred Kawakarpo Mountain (Meili Snow Mountain), at 6740 metres the highest point in Yunnan Province. The routes here are pilgrimages for people from China and Tibet and colourful prayer flags and Tibetan villages will be frequently seen. The trails take you through ancient forests and offer spectacular views of the mountains and two sacred waterfalls which descend from a cliff off the mountain. Close by lies the Mingyong Glacier, the lowest in Asia, offering more fantastic views.
|Honghe Hani Rice Terraces|
The Honghe Hani Rice Terraces are located in Southern Yunnan. It is marked by spectacular terraces that cascade down the slopes of the towering Ailao Mountains to the banks of the Hong River. For 1,300 years, the Hani people have developed spectacular terraces to grow red rice that cascade down the slopes of the Ailao Mountains to the banks of the Hong River with a complex system of channels to bring water from the forested mountaintops to the terraces. The Hani live in 82 villages between the mountaintop forests and the terraces which feature traditional thatched “mushroom” houses.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Cultural Landscape of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces
|Chengjiang Fossil Site|
The site at Chengjiang in Yunnan Province comprise the most complete record of an early Cambrian marine community with fossils from almost 200 species across 16 phyla which record the early establishment of a complex marine ecosystem. It provides testimony to the rapid diversification of life on Earth 530 million years ago, when almost all of today’s major animal groups emerged.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Chengjiang Fossil Site
Yangshuo is a small town in Guangxi Province, near the city of Guilin. Set amidst the stunning limestone karst scenery of southern China, this is a beautiful area which has inspired poets and painters for centuries. Yangshuo is a relaxed town but is very popular with backpackers and tourists with excellent tourist infrastructure. The nearby countryside can be explored on bicycle on farm tracks through the paddy fields, by scaling the karst peaks including Moon Hill for spectacular vistas or by taking a cruise along the Li River. There are also opportunities for rock climbing on the karst peaks with hundreds of routes. Back in town there's a chance to learn Chinese calligraphy, painting, Mandarin, Tai Chi and Chinese cooking. The area around West Street offers souvenir shopping at numerous curio and antique shops or just relax and soak up the atmosphere. The nightly light and music performance of 'Impression Liu Sanjie' is an impressive extravaganza, performed on the river by 500 singers and dancers.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: South China Karst
|Longji Rice Terraces|
The rice terraces at Mount Longji near Longsheng are an extraordinary example of agricultural engineering. Known as the 'Dragon's Backbone', the verdant green rice fields begin at the base of Mount Longji and coil around the mountain's edge all the way to the summit at 800 metres. The mountain can be climbed on a narrow stone path and provides superb panoramic views of the rice terraces on the slopes and valleys below. The terraces, begun during the Yuan dynasty and completed during the Qin dynasty, are the work of the minority tribes who live in the area, including the Yao, Red Yao and Zhuang, who can be seen working in the fields in their colourful dress.
|Hong Kong SAR|
Hong Kong is a unique city, having been under British colonial rule for 150 years but still very much retaining its Chinese character. It is a bustling, modern and sophisticated city, located in a dramatic setting. The funicular railway up to Victoria Peak offers superb vistas of the city. The Aberdeen Fishing Village is a vibrant waterfront area, home to thousands of people in their sampans. Elsewhere, the local markets and street stalls offer some excellent shopping opportunities and a contrast from the modern department stores. At night, the Sound and Light Show lights up the city's high rise buildings in all their glory.
The city of Macao was under Portuguese administration from the mid-16th century until 1999 when it was returned to China. Developed as an important port for international trade, its historic centre highlights the integration of Portuguese and Chinese influences. The centre of the town includes Leal Senado Square and the Cathedral and St. Dominic's churches, in addition to the Chinese bazaar area and Sam Kai Vui Kun Temple. On Guia Hill, the fortress includes the 17th century Guia Chapel and the 19th century lighthouse, the oldest in China.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Historic Centre of Macao
Fujian Tulou comprises 46 communal earthen houses in Fujian Province, built between the 12th and 20th centuries. Designed to house whole clans of up to 800 people, they functioned as a village unit and were designed as defensive structures around a central open courtyard with only one reinforced entrance and windows to the outside only above the first floor. Inside, the tulou were highly decorated and comfortable residences.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Fujian Tulou
|Kaiping Diaolou and Villages|
The Kaiping Diaolou and Villages in Guangdong Province are multi-storeyed defensive village houses built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They display a fusion of Chinese and Western influences and were built to protect the wealth of returning émigré Kaiping people.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Kaiping Diaolou and Villages
China Danxia is a region in south-west China characterised by spectacular red cliffs and natural pillars, towers, ravines, valleys and waterfalls. The landscape also includes sub-tropical broad-leaved evergreen forests which host many species of flora and fauna including about 400 rare or threatened species.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: China Danxia
Lhasa is the religious, cultural and economic centre of Tibet. Its most imposing feature is the Potala Palace, winter palace of the Dalai Lama since the 7th century and the symbol of Tibetan Buddhism. Built between the 7th and 17th centuries, the palace resides atop Red Mountain and comprises over 1,000 rooms across its 13 stories, though only 15 are accessible to tourists. The complex includes the White Palace, which includes the throne of the Dalai Lama and his personal apartments, and the Red Palace, which contains chapels and stupa tombs of previous Dalai Lamas. Norbulingka, the Dalai Lama's summer palace, is located on the bank of the river 2km from the Potala Palace. The 18th century garden palace is a masterpiece of Tibetan art. The Jokhang Temple Monastery in the centre of Lhasa's old town is the most sacred temple in Tibet, attracting pilgrims from all across the country. It includes the Jowo Rimpoche, a gilded statue of Buddha Shakyamuni, and is surrounded by the Barkhor, an 800m flagstone pathway which is walked by pilgrims and houses Lhasa's main bazaar. Other sites of interest in the city include Drepung and Sera Monasteries, the latter renowned for the daily philosophical debates by the resident monks.
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace, Lhasa
|Qingzang Railway (Qinghai-Tibet)|
The Qingzang Railway was opened in July 2006 and links the western province of Qinghai to Tibet. The 1,143km section from Golmud to Lhasa is an astonishing engineering feat, the highest railroad ever built. It passes through the harsh landscapes of the Kunlun Mountains, past glaciers and along a plateau of permafrost. Over 80% of the line is above 4,000 metres, with the highest point at 5,072 metres through the Tanggula Pass (the world's highest piece of track) and the world's highest tunnel, Fenghoushan, at 4,905 metres. The scenery from on board is breathtaking, with glaciers, snow-capped peaks and the deep blue sky just some of the attractions. The track includes 283 viaducts (the longest is 11km) with the journey taking 11 hours to complete. The specially designed trains are pressure sealed, have tinted windows to protect against ultra-violet rays and oxygen supplies to help passengers cope with altitude sickness - individuals with heart disease or high blood pressure are not allowed to travel on the railway. The entire journey from Beijing to Lhasa, via Golmud, takes two days.
Located north of Lhasa, Namtso Lake is the largest and one of the holiest in Tibet, attracting pilgrims who spend weeks circumnavigating it (80km long by 30km wide). The lake is located at 4,718 metres and is towered over by the Nyenchen Tanglha mountain range, with several peaks over 7,000 metres. There are numerous Buddhist temples around the lake, including some remarkable rock shrines.
Shigatse is Tibet's second largest town, situated at 3,900 metres near the confluence of the Ngang and Yarlung Tsangpo rivers. The Tashilhunpo Monastery is one of the great centres of Tibetan Buddhism and the traditional seat of the Panchen Lama. The monastery survived the Cultural Revolution intact and contains numerous impressive chapels and prayer halls, as well as a giant statue of Buddha in the Temple of Maitreya containing 280kg of gold and an ornate tomb which is the final resting-place of the fourth Panchen Lama.
|Everest Base Camp (North Face)|
A drive and trek to Everest Base Camp in Tibet provides spectacular views of the north face of Everest and the neighbouring Himalayan peaks. From the Friendship Highway just after Shegar, a dirt road takes you 85km to Rongphu, over the Pang La pass at 5,120 metres which offers a superb panoramic view of the peaks of Everest, Cho Oyu, Lhotse, Gyachung Kang and Makalu. The monastery at Rongphu (4900m) provides a stunning view of the north face of Everest as its colour changes with sunset. From here you can trek or take a pony cart to base camp, where there are great close up views of the Everest, a small hill decorated with hundreds of colourful prayer flags and a memorial to Mallory and Irvine's climb in 1924.
The Friendship Highway links Lhasa in Tibet with Kathmandu in Nepal across the spectacular mountain scenery of the Himalayas. Driving south from Lhasa, you cross the Kamba La (4794m) mountain pass, with superb views of the Yarlung Tsangpo River behind and the scorpion-shaped turquoise lake of Yamdrok Tso ahead. After following the lake shoreline, you pass Karo La (5010m), close to a hanging glacier near the summit, and then Simi La before reaching the town of Gyantse, home to the Pelke Chode Monastery and the Kumbum Stupa. The route continues through high altitude plateaus and mountain passes past Shigatse and Shegar and through Gyatso La (5220m) to Tingre. Reaching the Nepal border, the views of the Himalayan peaks are magnificent at Lalung La (5000m) and Tong La (5100m) including Shishapangma, the only mountain in Tibet over 8,000 metres. Descending to Zhangmu, the border is crossed at the Friendship Bridge, followed by a short journey to Kathmandu.