Top 8 Free things to Do in Chengdu
Chengdu is the hometown of the giant panda. It was the capital of the West Shu Kingdom in the Three Kingdoms period. There are lots of places to go and see, but most of them require an entrance fee. Here are some free sites to visit.
People's Park is the biggest park in the city center and there's always a colorful mix of Chengdu residents there. There is plum garden, a begonia garden, a bonsai garden and large rockeries in different corners. Some exhibitions and performances are also held there.
Enjoying a boat ride for two around the lake is a great way to spend an afternoon. Drinking a cup of tea at the archaized teahouse on the lakeside is another kind of leisure activity.
In the morning, local people go to the park to dance, practice Tai Chi or swords, sing, or clean their ears. After breakfast, they begin to play mahjong, drink tea, or walk their dog or bird that's in a cage. There is a matchmaking corner in the park. Some parents like to go there to try to find a boyfriend or girlfriend for their daughter or son. Read more on Chengdu People's Park
Chunxi Road is a main business street to shop, eat delicious snacks and watch beautiful girls and boys. It attracts crowds of over a million shoppers and spectators on weekends. There are lots of time-honored brand stores and boutique souvenir shops, as well as large shopping malls.
There are a great variety of tasty traditional snacks in Chunxi Road, such as Zhong Dumplings, Rice Balls with Sesame Sauce, a Husband and Wife Lung Slice, and Korean Steamed Buns. If you are not used to the Chinese food, McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut, Haagen-Dazs, cafés and teahouses are also easy to find.
At the north entrance, there is a relief wall for Chengdu fold arts which describes the 8 great highlights of Chengdu in the Tang Dynasty: the temple fair, the flower fair, the lights fair, mulberry leaf picking, lotuses, brocade cleaning and weaving, and wine making.
Transportation：Almost every public bus goes by or goes nearby.
Jinli Ancient Street
The 550 meter long Jinli Ancient Street is said to be the "oldest commercial street" in Chengdu. It is now a part of the Wuhou Temple Museum. It is a good place to experience the West Shu (one of the Three Kingdoms) cultures and local customs. There are regular traditional weddings, folk music shows, Sichuan operas and fashion shows held on this street. When the traditional Chinese festivals arrive, such as the Lantern Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival, and the Chinese Valentine Festival, themed activities will be held which will add more atmosphere to this old street.
The buildings along the streets are mainly Ming and Qing styles. There are teahouses, hotels, bars, snacks, artworks and local products. You can stay 1-2 hours there or longer.
Transportation: Bus 1, 57, 304, 306 or 335 can take you there.
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Kuanzhai Alley - the Wide and Narrow Alley
The 500 meters long alley is the epitome of leisure for old Chengdu and the fashionable modern Chengdu. It consists of three parallel alleys — Kuan Alley (Wide Alley), Zhai Alley (Narrow Alley) and Jing Alley (Well Alley) — and the quadrangle dwellings among them in the city center. Most residences were built in the late Qing Dynasty and the early Republic of China. The alleys and architectures are all well preserved.
Each alley represents a living style of Chengdu:
Kuan Alley represents a leisurely life. Lots of local people live there. The Longtang Inn, the delicate front door, the sycamore trees and the old teahouses all consist of a memory of the past times.
In the Kuan Alley, you can go to an exhibition house to see how a normal family in the Republican period lived their daily life. In the courtyard, you can see the kitchen, the study, the living room and the bridal chamber. It is an old kind of Chengdu life.
Visitors can also see what people did several decades ago, such as arranging troops according to the dragon gate tactics and girls embroidering the Sichuan brocades.
At night, you can watch a shadow play, puppet show, or a calligraphy performance.
There are also boutique hotels, unique local restaurants, local teahouses, inns, clubs and spas there.
Zhai Alley stands for a slow life. Zhai Alley is the storehouse of Chengdu. It represents the courtyard culture. The courtyard culture is a kind of elite culture — the elegant culture. There is a garden in a house, a courtyard in the garden, trees in the courtyard, heaven in the trees, and a moon in heaven. This is a kind of Chinese dream life. After renovation, Zhai Alley is now predominantly filled with golden bamboos and other climbing plants. A lot of Western restaurants, cafes and leisure facilities have settled there.
Jing Alley stands for a new life. There are bars, nightclubs, dessert shops, retail stores, catering and entertainment areas. You can enjoy tasty snacks or spend a colorful night among the delicate traditional buildings. The most special building in Jing Alley is the French villa. It was once the residence of a big family. Now it is a church, a romantic place.
Transportation: Take bus 5, 13, 43, 47, 58, 64, 78, 81 or 163 and get off at Jinhe Road 金河路站. Or take bus 62, 70, 93 or 340 and get off at Changshun Shangjie 长顺上街站.
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Wangjiang Lou Park (River View Tower Park)
It is a beautiful park to honor the great female poet, Xue Tao (768-832) from the Tang Dynasty. Located right on the Jinjiang Riverside, there are beautiful bamboo forests, lovely pagodas, little ponds, teahouses and buildings to wander around.
Lots of scenic sites are related to Xue Tao. The Xue Tao Well, Xue Tao Tomb, the pagodas, pavilions, and the bamboo forest were all built or planted to honor her. The park predominately consists of over 150 kinds of bamboos because Xue Tao loved bamboo very much. The park is also called “Bamboo Park”.
The most magnificent building inside the park is the River View Tower (also called Chongli Tower, which means majestic and gorgeous) which is 39 meters (128 feet) high. There are 4 floors: the upper 2 floors are octagonal and the lower ones are quadrangular. Every roof ridge has beautiful animal or figure sculptures.
With regard to the Xue Tao Well, the beautiful and versatile lady once used its clean water, together with lotus flowers, to invent a delicate and colorful Xue Tao Paper.
A lot of retirees go to the park for its quiet and beautiful environment. You can see them dancing, playing mahjong or landlords' games, fishing, having fun with kids or just drinking tea there.
Entry to the tower is 20 yuan but the open area is free.
The tower: 08:00-18:00
Free open area: 06:00-21:00
Address: South bank of Jinjiang River, 300 Jiuyan Bridge, Wangjiang Road, Wuhou District. It is close to the east gate of Sichuan University 武侯区望江路300号九眼桥锦江南岸 (近四川大学东门)
Transportation: Take bus 35 or 335 and get off at Wangjiang Lou Park 望江楼公园. Or take bus 18 or 82, get off at Shunjiang Road Station 顺江路站, and walk to the park.
Luodai Ancient Town
Luodai Ancient Town is the representative of the Hakka community in Sichuan. 90% of the residents there are Hakka people. They speak Hakka and keep their traditional customs. Its name was derived from the saying that the Emperor Liuchan (Liubei's son) left his jade belt (it is what Luodai means in Chinese) in the octagonal well. Though established in the Three Kingdoms period, most of the existent architectures are in the style of the late Qing Dynasty.
Things to do in the ancient town:
- Visit the Hakka earth buildings, Hakka Museum, Hakka Park and the four great club houses: the Canton Club, the Jiangxi Club, the Huguang Club and the Chuanbei Club.
- Listen to the folk mountain songs.
- Take part in the Water Dragon Festival and the Fire Dragon Festival.
- Taste the delicious Hakka foods.
Transportation: Take bus 2, 81 or 58 to Wuguiqiao Bus Station. There are lots of buses to Luodai Ancient Town. The price is 3 yuan for a one way ticket.
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Huanhua Stream Park
Covering an area of 32.32 hectares, it is the largest, most invested historical, cultural and scenic park in Chengdu. It connects to the Dufu Thatched Cottage in the north, and Sichuan Provincial Museum in the east. Two streams - the Huanhua Stream and the Ganhe Stream - flow across the park.
You can relax and enjoy the abundant natural or historical beauty there.
Address: 9 Qinhua Road, Qingyang District, Chengdu. It is next to Qingyangzheng Street 成都市青羊区青华路9号 (近青羊正街）
Transportation: Take bus 165, 170, 19, 309, 319, 35, 407, 47, 58, 59, 82 or 88 and get off at Songxian Bridge Station. Walk to the park.
Covering an area of 88,000 square meters, it is the largest city-center square in western China. It is a special sight in a city with tall buildings everywhere.
On the west, there is an imperial mosque which is over 100 years old. On the north side is the Sichuan Art Museum and the Province Exhibition Hall. On the east is the Jincheng Art Palace — the once largest art palace in the south-west.
Things to do: Flying kites, dancing or doing exercises.
Transportation: Bus 16, 26, 38, 47, 61, 62, 104 or 118 can take you there.
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I updated this article on October 14, 2013
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