10 Cities in China You Should Visit

Add these locations to your never-ending travel list

by SHFamily | Wed, July 12, 2017

Massive in size and varied in geography, it may seem like the list of places you would like to visit in China is forever growing. From the major cosmopolitan cities bursting with modern features to the ancient water towns further afield, we've rounded up some of our favorite locations that you simply have to visit before you leave.

1. Beijing

As China's capital for over 700 years, it's safe to say that Beijing is a must location to have on your China bucket list. Rich in history, Beijing is home to monumental historical sites such as the Great Wall, one of the longest man-made structures in the world built to protect the city against invaders, and the Forbidden City, the best-preserved and largest ancient imperial palace.

We recommend: Camping on the Great Wall, exploring the hutongs by rickshaw, enjoying some Roast Peking Duck and watching the Beijing Opera.

2. Xi'An

Filled with precious relics, Xi'An offers a window into China's ancient civilisation. The city played an important role in economic and cultural exchanges between East and West as the starting point of the Silk Road. Visiting the excavation sites of the infamous Terracotta Army, and simply standing in the main hall filled with unearthed terracotta soldiers, will leave you in awe.

We recommend: Saluting the Terracotta Army, visiting Xi'An's Great Mosque, cycling along the City Wall, climbing the Big Goose Pagoda for aerial city views and tasting delicious street food in the Muslim Quarter.

3. Guilin

Guilin is infamous for its marvellous natural scenery, where karst limestone hills make up a vast amount of the landscape. They provide the most picturesque backdrop for gliding on the waters of the Li River and make for a relaxing getaway that all the family can enjoy. No matter how you choose to view the city – be it from the top of hill, inside a charming eco-friendly hotel or inside a cave – it'll be hard not to fall in love with Guilin.

We recommend: Cruising along the Li River on a bamboo raft, climbing the Folded Brocade Hill, wandering under the stalactites and stalagmites of the multi-colored Reed Flute Caves and visiting the Longji Rice Terraces.

4. Zhangjiajie

Situated on the northwest border of Hunan Province, Zhangjiajie City is home to the Wulingyuan Scene Area, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This area was the inspiration for the visual setting of the Valley of Mo'ara and its floating mountain ranges on the mythical world of Pandora in the blockbuster film, Avatar! Divided into three different sections – Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Yianzi Mountain and Suomi Valley – you can easily spend a couple of days exploring the striking scenery and wondering how easy it would be to climb the pillars before you.

We recommend: Making the time to visit Fenghuang Ancient Town. Though around a four hours drive from Zhangjiajie, there's an air of mystery that shrouds the mountainous slopes surrounding the stilt houses of this ancient water town.

5. Chengdu

As the home of the giant panda, a trip to Chengdu in Sichuan province would not be complete without paying a visit to these loveable bears. At the Chengdu Research Base and Panda Breeding Center, they've created and imitated a natural habitat where they specialise in and care for baby pandas. The city itself thrives with culture and holds a repertoire of thousands of Sichuan Opera plays. Characterised by circus-like elements, Sichuan Opera astounds the crowds with the dazzling art of lightning-fast face-changing performances.

We recommend: eating spicy Sichuan hot pot, watching the magical face-changing opera and gazing upon the form of the giant Leshan Buddha.

6. Jiuzhaigou

Pristine lakes, waterfalls and forest walks are abdundant for those who choose to explore Sichuan Province even further. Jiuzhaigou is a beautiful escape away from city life, nestled in a valley of mountains that is often regarded as a "fairytale world". Jiuzhai Valley National Park will surprise you at every turn, no matter the season, whilst folk customs in nearby Tibetan villages will ooze charm and character that will be unforgettable.

We recommend: witnessing the frozen waterfalls in winter, gazing upon the Multicolored Lake, walking through the lanes of Shuzheng Village and dancing around the fire pits with the locals.

7. Ürümqi

As the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China, Ürümqi features great influences from the ethnic minorities that live in the city. A diverse range of historical artefacts have been unearthed in the region, including Indo-European mummies excellently preserved by the natural environment! Venture just outside of the city limits and you'll come across what's disputed as the true centre of Asia, where a geographical marker lies very much off the beaten track, as well as the earliest developement of Buddhist cave art in China at the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves near Turpan.

We recommend: Browsing the stalls of Bei Yuan Chun Market, getting close to historical artefacts at the Xinjiang Regional Museum, admiring the murals in one of the Bezeklik Buddhist caves in Turpan.

8. Harbin

In the 1920s, most of the population in Harbin was Russian. As you walk through the streets of the city, you'll come across many buildings of Russian influence and architecture, standing in a prominent contrast to their surroundings – such as Saint Sophia Cathedral. If you're willing to brave the cold in winter (often of -14 degrees celsius or less), Harbin holds it's annual Ice Lantern Festival every January or February. Sculptors from all around the world make ice or snow sculptures to create a wonderful winter wonderland of fun.

We recommend: Walking around the viscinity of Saint Sophia Cathedral, indulging on ice cream (it's delicious even in minus temperatures) and spending the day skating around Harbin Ice Festival.

9. Nanjing

Yet another city densely packed with historical, cultural and natural beauty, Nanjing offers some remarkable contrasts when it comes to cityscapes versus natural scenery. Xuanwu Lake Park is a lovely natural reserve in the middle of the city, where you can appreciate the combination of ancient architecture and modern skyscrapers that define the horizon. Additionally, you can venture to Purple Mountain and climb the 392 stairs to Dr Sun Yat-Sen's Mausoleum – father of the People's Republic of China – for unbeatable panoramic views of Zijin Mountain and more nearby.

We recommend: Strolling through Fuzi Miao, paying tribute at the Confucious Temple, enjoying a moment of solitude at the open-air music hall by Dr Sun Yat-Sen's Mausoleum and marvelling at the Ming City Wall.

10. Lijiang

Blessed are we to be surrounded by so many sites with UNESCO World Heritage status. Lijiang, located in Yunnan Province in southern China, is an ancient town with a history of more than 1,300 years. Lying on a plateau surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery, the well-preserved city is filled with brilliant culture, collections of handicrafts and old time architecture giving insight into its historical background and multi-racial inhabitants.

We recommend: Battling Yulong Snow mountain and marvelling at the furious rapids of Tiger Leaping Gorge.