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10 Best Cities to Visit in China

At a time of economic recession, we fully appreciate that you are mindful of the costs associated with your vacation this year, and we are confident that you would not wish to waste your precious vacation time on a marginal destination. We at China Highlights have therefore selected for your consideration some of China's most popular destinations and China travel packages covering the places that represent the best value for the money.

Top cities to visit in China map

1. BEIJING — Ancient and Modern Capital

tiananmen square

Beijing, China's capital city for over 700 years, is rich in history, both ancient and modern.

Beijing is home to some of the finest remnants of China's imperial past, most famously theGreat Wall of China, China's legendary line of defense; the Forbidden City, the largest and best-preserved ancient imperial palace complex in the world; the Temple of Heaven, fascinating site of imperial worship; and the Summer Palace, a lovely imperial garden. There is also Tian'anmen Square where the People's Republic of China was inaugurated by Chairman Mao, whose body still resides there in its show casket.

Beijing has a glorious past, but is by no means stuck in the past. Standing side-by-side with old Beijing's crimson palace complexes are the city's modern buildings, the super-modern Olympic Village, with the Bird’s Nest Stadium and Water Cube; the dazzling shopping malls in Wangfujing Street and the colorful entertainment center of Houhai.

Despite all the changes in recent years, traditional lifestyle has been well-preserved in the oldest neighborhoods of the city — the Hutongs, which are mazes of narrow alleyways and old traditional courtyard houses. A tour by rickshaw through the Hutongs will give travelers a glimpse of old Beijing.

2. SHANGHAI — China's Prosperous Largest City

The Night Scene of the Bund, Shanghai

Shanghai, China's biggest city, oozes an atmosphere of vitality which can rival New York and Paris in terms of modernity. Shanghai is the second largest “city proper” in the world after Mumbai. As one of the world’s leading economic and business cities, Shanghai's modernity is evidenced by the ambitious skyline in the Pudong Economic Zone and the gorgeous night scenes of the Huangpu River, when the spectacular lights of its immense towers dance in unison.

Shanghai's colonial legacy combined with things Chinese has created a unique culture, which is a fusion of the East and the West. The Bund, the waterfront of the city gives a vivid illustration of the combination of East and West cultures through its large collection of colonial architecture.

However, old Shanghaiis not set to disappear overnight. Beneath Shanghai's impressive modern buildings and in the back alleys, scenes of the 1920s have been kept.

Unlike Beijing, Shanghai does not brim with many great sights. Except for Yuyuan Garden, Jade Buddha Temple, and the Huangpu River Cruise, there are not many famous tourist attractions. However, the beauty of visiting Shanghai lies not in scurrying from sight to sight but in the feel of the city's modern atmosphere.

3. XI'AN — A Window on China's Ancient Civilization

Terracotta Army, Xian

As the second most famous of China's ancient national capitals (after Beijing), Xi'an was the first capital of a united China in 221 BC (the Qin Dynasty). It also served as the capital during the golden eras of the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) and the Tang Dynasty (618–907).

Thus Xi'an is blessed with a great number of precious relics and historical sites, with the highlights being the Terracotta Army (a contender for the eighth wonder of the world), two historical Buddhist Pagodas (Big Wild Goose Pagoda and Small Wild Goose Pagoda), the Great Mosque, the Ancient City Wall, and the Banpo Site (a prehistoric civilization museum).

Xi'an was also the starting point of the Silk Road, an ancient trade route that extended from Asia to Europe and played an important role in economic and cultural exchange between the East and the West in ancient times.

Xi'an is, for certain, one of the most popular tourist destinations among foreign travelers, and so is included in the itineraries of many of our tour packages. At China Highlights, we feel that a tour to Xi'an is something that any tourist to China would not want to miss, as it serves as a window on China's ancient civilization.

4. GUILIN — China’s Top Karst Landscape

Yulong River Rafting, Guilin

Guilin, with its marvelous limestone scenery, is renowned as one of the most beautiful places on earth. The city, nestling among the vegetation-clad pinnacles on the banks of the Li River, seems to belong to a landscape painting.

During his visit, former US President Nixon was inspired by Guilin's picturesque natural scenery and remarked: "I have visited more than eighty countries and over a hundred cities. I have found that no city can surpass the beauty of Guilin.”

Guilin City is in the center of two tourist honey pots (each about 1½ hours by bus): Yangshuo and Longsheng, which are renowned for their beautiful scenery. Yangshuo in particular has become a paradise for backpackers, with its idyllic karst countryside, its easy-going atmosphere, and its Western food and beer. Longsheng is famous throughout China, if not throughout the world, for the scenic beauty of its terraced rice paddies, and for its Zhuang and Yao ethnic culture.

Guilin is due west from Hong Kong, from which it can be reached by air in an hour. A tour of Hong Kong can be easily combined with a Guilin tour.

5. HONG KONG — Like Nowhere Else on the Earth

Victoria Harbor viewed from Victoria Peak

Hong Kong is not like any other place on earth. As one of the most important economic and financial centers in the world, Hong Kong enjoys all the benefits of a dynamic and vibrant metropolis. While definitely Chinese, it still enjoys a good measure of independence.

Hong Kong is afusion of cultures. Remnants of its colonial past, British culture, share space with Chinese tradition. Once known as an exotic port for Eastern trade, it is now famous for its movies.

Hong Kong is a world-renownedshopping paradise, known for its tourist-friendly atmosphere and numerous options. The huge shopping malls of Central, Admiralty and the street fashion factory in Causeway Bay are reasons for many travelers to make their Hong Kong trips.

Hong Kong also has some amazing beaches and natural sights for outdoor lovers. Lantau Island for example, provides a relaxing atmosphere for a holiday break.

Words fail to convey the essence of Hong Kong. If you want to appreciate this "Oriental London", visit Hong Kong ready for a fast-paced eye-opener.

6. Hangzhou — Next Best to Heaven

West Lake

When Marco Polo came to Hangzhou in the 13th century, he declared it “the most beautiful and elegant city in the world". There is a popular Chinese saying: "Above there is heaven, below there are Hangzhou and Suzhou." Hangzhou's "heavenly" beauty attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists to its exquisite West Lake area each year to enjoy the placid lake, beautiful gardens, reflecting pools, lavish temples, and lakeside teahouses.

There are many well-known historical and cultural sites around West Lake, such as Lingyin Temple and Six Harmonies Pagoda. You can also combine a Hangzhou Tour with visits to the nearby ancient water towns, like Xitang and Wuzhen.

The most famous products of Hangzhou are silk and tea. No wonder China's National Silk Museum and National Tea Museum are all located in Hangzhou. At the tea plantation located in the hills near West Lake, visitors can learn about the processing procedures for tea and watch a traditional tea ceremony.

7. Chengdu — Hometown of Giant Pandas

Pandas Chengdu

Chengdu is the hometown of Giant Pandas. Although there are giant pandas in zoos in various places around China, such as Beijing Zoo in Beijing, and Shanghai Zoo in Shanghai, the best place to see pandas is in Chengdu. Visitors can see Giant Pandas at Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding and Research Center, or take part in volunteer program at Dujiangyan Panda Valley. Besides, there are many historical sites, such as Sanxingdui Ruins Museum, Qingyang Palace. To experience theleisurely local life, visit the Wide and Narrow Alleys and Jinli Old Street, or sip tea while watching the magical face changing of Sichuan Opera.

Chengdu, more than 2,000 years old, has been a famous cultural center with age-old colorful traditions of both religious and civil significance. Home of poets of old and spicy Sichuan food, Chengdu has also become a popular place for Westerners to reside.

8. Huangshan — Majestic Beauty

Yellow Mountain Pine tree

Huangshan (the Yellow Mountains) is surely the most famous and most photographed and painted mountainous region in China. It was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1990.

Outstanding natural beauty is Huangshan's number one feature. Austere and majestic clean rock faces rise sheer among the mists, clung to by the hardiest of pines. This is the scenery of legends. Indeed it is said that China's supernatural ancestor, the Yellow Emperor, lived here.

The Yellow Mountains' classic four attractions are curiously-shaped pines, oddly-shaped rocks, the seas of clouds, and hot springs. There are hundreds of peaks and thousands of ravines, many made accessible by well-worn steps. Lotus Peak, Bright Summit, and Heavenly Capital Peak are the three major peaks, all rising more than 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) above sea level.

Nearby attractions not to be missed: Xidi Village and Hongcun Village present ancient China's elegance and tranquility with well-preserved ancient folk houses and flowing rivers. Xin'an River is a recent popular hiking destination, while Tachuan Village's autumn scenes are among the best in China.

9. Lhasa — Gateway to Transcendent Tibet

Tibet Monks

Lhasa, capital of Tibet, is the gateway to explore Tibet. Tibet, the highest land o the earth is a world away, a traveler's dream.

Lhasa is the center of Tibetan cultural and religious life. "Lhasa" is Tibetan for "place of the gods", and is revered as such. There are many sites and religious sites in the city proper and its suburbs, among which the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Drepung Monastery, Sera Monastery, and Norbulingka are world famous. At Barkhor Street, visitors can go souvenir hunting, rub shoulders with locals, and experience the sacred "one step one bow" way to religion.

Most tourists enter Tibet via Lhasa. Outside the city is Tibet's wealth of natural wonders and holy sites, from Lake Namtso to Mt. Everest, to Mount Kailash.

10. Suzhou — Elegant Water Towns and Gardens

Water Town, Suzhou

Suzhou is famous for the water towns around it and its traditional Chinese gardens, like Humble Administrator's Garden.

Suzhou's gardens harmoniously mix man-made landscapes with natural scenery: architecture, painting, calligraphy, and horticulture are combined, and enclosed like pearls by walls.

China's water towns hold the quintessential image of traditional Chinese villages. Centuries-old wooden houses lining crisscrossing canals, arched stone bridges, and people in bamboo hats punting sampans, form the unique charm of the ten or so water towns around Suzhou. The most popular ones are Zhouzhuang (very commercial), Xitang, and Tongli.

30 minutes by high-speed train from Shanghai, 5 hours from Beijing, it is very convenient to combine Beijing, Shanghai, and Suzhou in a tour.

Visit China with China Highlights

For a first trip, most travelers choose Beijing, Shanghai, and Xian. These four destinations show travelers a rough idea of China from its history and culture to its development and prosperity today. The most classic first time china trip is 8-day Beijing, Shanghai and Xian tour.

There are many options for return trips to China, you can get inspirations from these top places provided on this page, or tell your interests to our travel advisor, and they will help you make your choices.

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