Chengdu vs Chongqing – Which City Should I Visit?
Chengdu or Chongqing, which city is better for visiting? These two big cities in the western region of China are only 270 kilometers or 166 miles apart, so they are quite close and less than 3 hours driving distance from each other and less than 2 hours by high-speed train. Both have interesting places to see, naturally scenic side trips, parks, excellent Sichuan food, and shopping malls, and you can have a great time in both.
With slight differences, they have similar cultures as well. Chongqing was a part of Sichuan Province of which Chengdu is the capital city until 1997 when Chongqing and several surrounding districts were made a government municipality.
Which might be better for you depends on what you are looking for. If you want to go on a Yangtze cruise, then cruise ships dock in Chongqing, but if you want to go to the high mountains of Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou or see pandas, then Chengdu is where to go.
Here in this article, we compare Chengdu vs Chongqing in many ways including urban population density, main travel highlights, side trip options, historical sights, ancient/old historical places, skyline and scenic beauty, food and dining experiences, youth interest, kid-friendliness, amusement parks, shopping, malls, comparative prices, weather, nature areas, visas and transportation to help you make a decision about which you’d prefer to visit.
Quick Facts: Chengdu vs Chongqing
|Chengdu||Chongqing Core City Districts|
|Chengdu's features: a long history, close to panda habitats, national parks, historic places and Tibetan regions, laid back atmosphere, Sichuan food capital. Chengdu has a long history as a capital city with important historical sights and museums, and it has been a cultural center.|
|Chongqing's features: industrial river and port city, cruise ship port, energetic metropolis, working-class people, historical port streets. Chongqing is transforming into a city for finance.|
|Resident Urban Population (2018)||about 11,430,000||About 8.5 million in the core city districts. Note that along with the core city districts, the Municipality of Chongqing covers a great area and includes many other cities and towns. It covers about 82,000 square kilometers, and about 34 million people live in the entire territory.|
|Urban Area||1,761 km² (680 sq. miles)||5,472 km² (2,113 sq. miles) )|
|City Population Density||6,840/km² (16,808/sq mi)||1,553/km² (4,022/sq mi) (core city area)|
|GDP (2018)||231 billion USD||304 billion USD|
|GDP per capita||14,534 USD per person. Chengdu feels like a wealthier city than Chongqing that is mainly a new, rapidly growing industrial city.||About 10,000 USD per person|
Chengdu is a gateway city for the southwestern area of China including Tibet, the Tibetan highlands, and Yunnan to the south. It is noted for numerous tea houses and Sichuan cuisine. Here is useful information for you to know about this important city: Chengdu Facts
Chongqing, officially China's biggest metropolitan area, has superlative and interesting aspects too: Chongqing Facts - 10 Things You Should Know
Travel Highlights: Chengdu vs Chongqing
Chengdu's Best Places: Brief Description, Location, Time Needed, and Tips
|Chengdu's Must-sees||Brief Description/Location/Tips||Time Needed|
|Pandas||Pandas are the most popular attraction for tourists to Chengdu. There are 4 panda bases near Chengdu that are the Top Places to See Giant Pandas in China.||2 hours|
|Jinli Pedestrian Street||Other than pandas, it is Sichuan food that is the biggest attraction for tourists, and Jinli Street and Kuanzhai Alley are two good areas for both street food and restaurants.||1-2 hours|
|Jinsha Museum||The Jinsha Museum is one of the best places to go to learn about Sichuan's history. The large modern museum with English-language displays is one of the most tourist-popular places in Chengdu. It is close to a subway station and easy to reach since it is only about 7 kilometers west of downtown Chengdu. A big park and entertainments help to make it popular.||2 hours or half a day (daylight hours)|
|Sanxingdui Museum||This museum is 40 kilometers north of Chengdu and has older exhibits than the Jinsha Museum. It is better than the Jinsha Museum in terms of artifacts but less popular than Jinsha probably because it isn't as easy to reach.||2 hours|
|Laid Back Atmosphere||In China, Chengdu is known as one of China's most laid back of cities where the locals enjoy relaxing, socializing and eating more than in most of China. It could be a destination to go to relax from stress.|
|New Century Mall||Most visitors to China want to shop, and some like malls.... this mall is the biggest building in the world in terms of floor area. It is easy to reach on Line 1 of the metro.||½ day|
Chongqing's Best Travel Sites: Brief Description, Location, Time Needed and Tips
|Chongqing Must-sees||Brief Description/Location/Tips||Time Needed|
|Yangtze River Cruises||Though Chongqing is interesting in its own right, it is mainly famous as the starting or ending point of Yangtze River cruises during which tourists go to several famous scenic areas such as the Three Gorges.||Most river cruises take 4 to 6 days.|
|Three Gorges||The Three Gorges were famed for the natural beauty before, but now they are also famed for being sights to see aboard the big cruise ships. Many are interested in touring in the biggest dam in the world, the Three Gorges Dam.||Half a day is enough for the dam or sightseeing by boat in the Three Gorges themselves. The Lesser Three Gorges that are closer to Chongqing make for interesting half-day or day trips.|
|Ciqikou Old Town||Many tourists to Chongqing go to this old area near the river for sightseeing. They are attracted by the dining, street food, and tourist shopping.||½ day|
|Chongqing Zoo||The zoo is in southern Chongqing and is connected by subway line 2. About 200 species of animals, 12 pandas, and red pandas are in the zoo in 2019.||several hours|
Side Trips: Chengdu vs Chongqing
Nearby cities: Both cities have famed sightseeing and natural areas near them.
Chengdu Side Trip Options
From Chengdu, you can travel by bus or private car to several great places for side trips within an hour such as the Jinsha Museum; or you can reach Jiuzhaigou within 8 hours.
- One-Day Chengdu Highlights tour - taking you to visit the pandas, enjoy a hotpot meal, and see some local city sights.
- 5-Day Chengdu and Jiuzhaigou Highlights Tour - includes the Giant Panda Breeding and Research Center, Huanglong, and Jiuzhaigou
Chongqing Side Trip Options
Wulong has weathered karst hills, cliffs, rocks, deep gorges and stone arches. It is the best side trip near Chongqing.
- Wulong Karst Region is about 205 kilometers from Chongqing. It has Sichuan's best natural scenery except for the Jiuzhaigou region. You can hike amid strikingly shaped rocks, stone bridges, and limestone caves. The area was seldom traveled by tourists until recently. A day trip is possible but a little busy. Contact China Highlights to tailor make a trip to explore this karst region.
- The Dazu Grottoes are two hours from Chongqing by bus. You can see ancient rock carvings and art.
Conclusion: Winner on side trips is Chengdu
Chengdu wins. Unless you are particularly interested in seeing Wulong, a 2-hour train journey away from Chongqing plus additional travel time, or taking a Yangtze River cruise, then touring Chengdu and its surrounding region is more varied and interesting.
There are popular attractions close to Chengdu such as Dujiangyan, the panda bases, the Jinsha Museum, and the Sanxingdui Museum. Dujiangyan is only 20 minutes away from Chengdu by high-speed train.
History: Chengdu vs Chongqing
Chengdu’s Historical Places Are Very Ancient
Chengdu has two 3,000 to 4,000-year-old archeological sites, the Jinsha and Sanxingdui sites, that are among China's best for antiquity and amazing artifacts. You can visit them easily. Along with very ancient sites, The Dufu Thatched Cottage is a museum and park area where you can learn about Chengdu’s poetry and history about 1,300 years ago.
Along with these historical sites, Chengdu has good general historical museums where you can get an overall view of Sichuan’s history, culture, and art. The most popular of these museums is in the center of the city near the large People's Park. It is called the Chengdu Museum New Building with good exhibits in the English language. There is an older Chengdu Museum that tourists like too called the Chengdu Museum where you’ll learn the area’s history.
The Qin State built the Dujiangyan Irrigation Project more than 2,000 years ago about an hour from Chengdu.
Chengdu has long been a capital city area of empires or the capital of provinces of empires, and it was known during the Tang Dynasty (618–907) for poetry. Later, starting about 400 years ago, it became famed for Sichuan Opera. Sichuan opera is characterized by entertaining acrobatics and "face changing theater" actors and actresses. See our Chengdu History Highlights.
Chongqing Has a Less Significant History in Comparison
Chongqing and surrounding towns have had a shorter history as a major city in comparison. Sometimes, it was the capital of a state or small regional empire. Access to the Yangtze River made it somewhat important for trade since the river allowed for some direct boat navigation to eastern China.
Chongqing was a small city of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). But unlike Chengdu, the city of Chongqing was relatively unimportant until the late 1800s when Europeans established trading concessions. Before that, Chinese junks were pulled slowly up the river by dozens of men with ropes. In 1900, the first foreign merchant steamer reached Chongqing.
The start of WWII swelled Chongqing's population 4 fold to a million people, and suddenly, it became an important city and the wartime capital of the Republic of China. After that, rapid industrialization and modernization, aided by the electrical power and much easier river navigation afforded by the Three Gorges Dam, turned Chongqing into the second biggest industrial area of the Sichuan region. You can learn about the dam and also about Chongqing history and WWII history at the Three Gorges Museum near People's Square.
Some older areas of historical interest remain preserved in Chongqing such as the streets and alleys of Ciqikou that was a port area.
If you are interested in the WWII era, the Americans had a military headquarters in Chongqing. See the General Stillwell Museum.
The winner for places of historical interest: Chengdu
The two very ancient Sanxingdui and Jinsha archeological museums in and near Chengdu are among China's most interesting. Including these two museums, Chengdu has several other good museums in and near it.
For more on the history of the two cities see Sichuan History (Chongqing was part of Sichuan Province until 1997).
Chengdu vs Chongqing: Comparison of Urban Architecture, Scenic Beauty, and Skylines
Urban Architecture and Skylines
For many people, one of the main travel highlights in Chinese cities are very tall buildings and seeing the views from their observation decks. Both cities are in an earthquake region, and you might think that they have no very tall buildings. But Chongqing does!
Chongqing wins out since it has the tallest building in the Sichuan region, the Chongqing World Financial Center, that is 339 meters or 1,112 feet tall and 73 stories high. An even taller one is under construction in Chongqing that will be 468 meters tall. It will be one of the tallest in China upon completion about the year 2023.
Chengdu lies flatter and spreads out on a plain. It does have a 339 meter TV tower and a cluster of buildings downtown that are less than 50 stories tall. It is often smoggy or foggy, so the views are not good overall.
The overall winner for scenic beauty: Chongqing
Basically, Chengdu is a low lying and spread-out city on a plain. The buildings are often white, and from a distance, the city looks sort of grey and bland. On the other hand, Chongqing has a dynamic downtown that looks like tall new buildings are jutting out of the river, and at night, this center is colorfully lit.
It has a more natural green mountain setting. Two rivers, including the large Yangtze River, flow through it, and it is closely surrounded by green mountains with parklands. The white mists nestling on the green mountains look beautiful. The scenery inside of the city is relatively green and verdant too. So Chongqing wins.
Chengdu vs Chongqing: Food & Dining Comparison
Sichuan cuisine has strong flavors, and you can get it in both cities everywhere.
Sichuan's local cuisine is known for being pungent and hot. They love to cook garlic, chili peppers, and Sichuan pepper.
Don't miss to sample hot pot. It is the most famous dish in both cities. But if you've never had Sichuan-style hotpots and are not used to such spicy food, caution is advised. See How to Survive a Chengdu Hotpot.
They put black peppercorn and red pepper in other Sichuanese dishes too such as kung pao chicken and fish fragrance pork. So when you order, you can ask them to use little pepper if you want. Both cities are famed for their street food, but which is better?
Chengdu is better than Chongqing for dining too.
Chongqing has local specialties such as mapo tofu and dandan noodles. But around the world, newspapers and even international organizations such as UNESCO have described Chengdu as one of the world's or China's "gastronomical capitals." People love to eat the snacks in Chengdu including noodles, wontons, dumplings, pastries, tangyuan (sweet rice balls), salads and soups.
See Where to Eat in Chengdu for suggested areas and streets for dining and street food too.
Youth Culture & Night Life: Chengdu vs Chongqing
The winner is Chengdu. Chongqing is more crowded. It is a noisy industrial city. There are more foreigners, educated people, and universities in Chengdu, so young foreign students will feel more at home. Also, Chengdu is more foreign tourist-oriented. More foreign tourists have been visiting for decades, so English is more widely spoken. Chongqing is transforming into an international finance center, but it has not caught up with the entertainment and culture in Chengdu.
If you can afford the higher costs in Chengdu, the more polite, quiet and laid back behavior and the more international ambiance is more pleasant and helps to avoid culture shock.
In Chengdu, as per its reputation, you'll probably feel more comfortable and relaxed. Tea houses are everywhere, and the food is better. You'll be surrounded by people who make it their aim to eat, chat with friends, play mahjong, and enjoy entertainment.
Activities for Kids in Chengdu vs Chongqing
The winner for family fun and kids’ activities is Chengdu! Chengdu is more fun and educational.
Chengdu has everything that Chongqing has for kids, but much more. It has better museums and intriguing historical places. Chengdu has a Happy Valley that is a Chinese amusement park (like 6 Flags in the US) with good thrill rides such as a huge roller coaster. The company is more internationally oriented.
Chongqing doesn't have a comparable amusement park. It does, however, have forest and mountain parks. Chengdu's city parks often have historical architecture in them.
The more relaxed, sophisticated, and recreationally oriented city of Chengdu is probably a better environment for fun and enjoyment. See The Best Places for Families in Chengdu.
We recommend Chengdu as a main Family Tour Destination in China and a Top 8 Kids-friendly Destination. Children especially enjoy seeing the pandas, and families enjoy hikes in Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong.
Shopping and Malls: Chengdu vs Chongqing
Shopping Streets and Variety of Shops: Comparison
Chengdu is much better for shopping in general. Chengdu's Best Shopping Streets combine shopping, food, and entertainment for tourists in a more enjoyable way for middle-budget and luxury shopping.
Chongqing's best shopping is in Jiefangbei around the Chongqing Liberation Monument. Luxury malls are in the basements of the tallest skyscrapers, and you find numerous department stores and malls.
Luxury Mall Comparison: Chengdu Wins Again
The New Century Global Centre can be called the biggest mall in the world because it is the world's largest building in terms of floor space. For many people, seeing the water park inside and the vast size of it is worth a visit. In general, though, the prices and selection are not as good as in Chengdu's other shopping areas. It has ritzy stores and is one of the places in Chengdu for luxury shopping.
The most luxurious shopping malls are downtown. The IFS Mall is reminiscent of Hong Kong shopping malls with the best luxury brands, but due to China's high luxury and import taxes, it isn't a place to go for value shopping. It has a rooftop garden and dining area.
The ritzy factor: Shoppers looking for high fashion and costly luxury can find it in Chengdu's best malls. But be aware that the prices for the same items will be less outside China. As explained below, prices for the same prices are generally less in Chengdu than Chongqing.
Conclusion: The winner for shopping is Chengdu.
Comparative Prices: Chengdu and Chongqing
|Price a basic lunchtime meal in the business district (2019)||3.75 USD||8 USD|
|Price of Big Mac Meal||4.06 USD||3.87 USD|
|Price of brand name jeans||74 USD||89 USD|
|Price of taxi ride 8 km (5 miles)||3.32 USD||3.61 USD|
|Price of a cup of cappuccino in expat area||4.51 USD||4.33 USD|
|Price of good quality, tourist popular 4-star hotel room for 2 in the main tourist areas in September 2019||about 50 to 110 USD in the Jinjiang District, the main business and shopping district of Chengdu and near People's Park||about 40 to 80 USD near Jiefangbei pedestrian street in Yuzhong District that is the central business district|
How do the two cities stack up on prices?
Meals: Expect that it costs less for the same quality meal in Chengdu.
Hotels: Staying at Chengdu hotels costs a little more in general.
Shopping: Chengdu' prices are usually a little less than Chongqing's.
In general, you'll get more for the same amount of money in Chengdu.
Chengdu vs Chongqing: Which Has Better Weather and Climate?
Both cities are lowlands surrounded by mountains, and they have similar weather. Chongqing is in the Yangtze River valley, and Chengdu is in a big lowland basin. Chongqing has colder winters than Chengdu and hotter summers. In December, weather dips to freezing at night in both cities. When it gets cold, air pollution significantly increases in both cities as well.
The best periods to visit Chengdu are from March to June, and September to November. There is substantial rainfall during the rainy season (July and August).
Chengdu has a foggy, relatively mild, basin climate. The pollution seems worse due to the humidity and fog, and it is worse in the cold late fall and winter months. However many describe the climate of Chengdu as "pleasant" when compared to the harshness of the surrounding mountain areas you might visit such as Jiuzhaigou and Mount Emei. See more on Chengdu Weather.
On the other hand, Chongqing's weather is more extreme. It is one of the "three furnaces" of the Yangtze River Delta. The other two are Wuhan and Nanjing. In the summers, the rain, humidity, and high temperatures combine to make the city uncomfortable. It is also a foggy city. Late fall to early spring is the fog season. Travel during the winter is probably too cold and bleak.
So when it is less rainy in April, September, and October, it is probably the best time to visit. For a river cruise, perhaps coming in the summer and fall is the best so that you can bask in the sun. See our Chongqing Tour Packages and choose your time of travel. See more on Chongqing Weather.
Winner for better weather: Chengdu
Basically, Chengdu's weather is better. Chongqing's hot August days average about 34 °C (93 °F), and Chengdu's August highs are a more pleasant 30 °C (86 °F). If you are visiting China during summer, then Chengdu has a better climate.
If your proposed vacation is in winter, Chengdu wins over Chongqing by having more pleasant winter weather too. In Chengdu, the highs in January average about 10 °C (50 °F), and the lows in both cities are generally just above freezing. Chengdu stays dry and hazy, but Chongqing is often cloudy, and it snows or rains often.
Pollution: Be aware that both cities are considered polluted, but the air quality has improved in both cities in the last decade. Chengdu's air quality in 2018 was about the same overall as Beijing's. It is significantly more smoggy than Chongqing. Chengdu is more smoggy than Chongqing in the winter when the AQI reaches 85, but in June, it drops to about 25, about the same as that of Chongqing. So to avoid the pollution, avoid the cold late fall and winter months when the pollution is much greater.
Chengdu vs Chongqing: Nature, Parks, Forests, Mountains
The mountain areas to the north of Chengdu offer breathtaking natural scenery. Jiuzhaigou National Park and Huanglong National Park are well-known for their clean lakes, waterfalls, colorful ponds, snowcapped mountains, and gorges.
The Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou travel route is one of China’s most scenic itineraries. However, this trip takes 8 or more hours and generally requires an overnight stay in the mountains. Some might enjoy that.
In a big contrast to Chengdu's nearby mountains, from Chongqing, you can go to large caves and amazing limestone formations and arches at Wulong. It is only about an hour and a half away by private vehicle. Our guides can get you there during a fine day tour and back for dinner in the evening.
Winner for nature and outdoors: Chengdu! Though Chongqing has the Three Gorges Lake, Chengdu is closer to western China’s most famed national parks.
Chengdu vs Chongqing: Visa Policies & Transport
Chengdu airport: For ease of access internationally, Chengdu's airport is much easier to reach. It is China's 4th busiest airport, and flights to/from Chengdu are easy to schedule. The airport is also set up comfortably. It is quite big, but it is easier to find your way around inside compared to many large airports of its size.
It is easy to travel to Chengdu from the main cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, Guilin, and Hong Kong.
Chengdu is an international transport hub for the western region including Chongqing. It has many more international flights than Chongqing's airport that is more of a domestic airport. You can use it for your excursion tours to Leshan, Emei Mountain and Jiuzhaigou from overseas.
Chongqing airport: Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport is a fine airport as well. It is an award-winning airport in the smaller airport category. It has numerous domestic connections, and you can also travel to it from abroad.
High-speed trains are the preferred method to travel domestically for moderate distances. Both cities now have a high-speed train service, and you can reach them from numerous other cities. You can go from Shanghai to Chongqing in 10 and a half hours and Shanghai to Chengdu in 11 hours. Guilin to Chongqing takes about 5 hours, and Guilin to Chengdu takes about 6 hours. Chengdu to Mount Emei can take only about an hour.
Chengdu is a Gateway to Tibetan Regions
Chengdu is on the east side of Tibet Plateau. There are many ways to get to Tibetan areas from Chengdu: by flight, train, or car. Chengdu is the most surefire way to get into Tibet (especially for flights with more routes than anywhere else).
Once you step foot in Chengdu, you have already started your journey into the mysterious Tibetan world. Just a short bus ride out of Chengdu will take you to many villages that are mostly inhabited by Tibetan people.
- Visa policies: Chengdu and Chongqing now both have a 6-day visa-free transit policy, and travelers who have flight tickets to a third country/region can stay for 144 hours. Read more about China's 144-Hour Visa-Free Transit Policies.
- Taxi costs: Flag price for taxis in Chongqing are 10 yuan for the first two kilometers, and for Chengdu, it is about 12 yuan for the first 2 kilometers.
- Airport transportation to the city center: Chengdu's airport is only about 16 kilometers or 10 miles from the city center, and it is connected directly by both high-speed train and by subway. Chongqing's airport is further away. It is 21 kilometers or 13 miles away. See details below.
- Subway: Chongqing is divided by valleys and mountains, and building the metro system has been difficult, but the system is fast and efficient. At present, there are 9 operating lines. Chengdu is flat, and it has 6 lines in operation.
Airport trains: From the Chengdu airport, high-speed trains go the distance to the South Railway Station in 11 minutes and to the East Railway Station in about 17 minutes. From the airport, fast trains also go to Leshan, Emeishan, Meishan East, Qingshen, Deyang, and Mianyang. From Terminal 1 and Terminal 2, you can also take line 10 of the metro to the city center for only 4 RMB.
From the Chongqing airport, lines 3 and 10 run into Chongqing.
Winner for transportation: Chengdu
The inner-city transportation situation is easier in Chengdu because of the flat geography, and the regional train and regional bus transportation are equivalent. But Chengdu has the better international airport, and the airport transit to the city is better also. Being able to take a bullet train to common tourist destinations such as Leshan, Mount Emei, and Dujiangyan is a big plus. Chengdu is also useful for going to Tibet and the highlands. So overall Chengdu has better transportation for tourists.
Chengdu vs Chongqing in Conclusion
1. If you want to go to cruise the Yangtze, visit Wulong, enjoy the Sichuan food, and tour the inner city of Chongqing, then three days would be sufficient. Chongqing's 144-hour visa-free policy permits that.
2. If you are more interested in a richer, more diverse experience of history, better shopping, nature, and dining, you might budget four days or five days for the Chengdu region. Chengdu's 144-hour visa-free policy permits that.
3. In general, though, Chengdu beats Chongqing in most of the points considered on this list except Yangtze cruises and city skylines/scenery, and prices are generally less in Chengdu.
4. An option to consider is to book a private tour to maximize your precious time, and we can arrange a trip to both cities!
Enjoy Chongqing’s and/or Chengdu's Highlights with Us
Dumplings, wontons, Sichuan hotpot and hundreds of other dishes you maybe never heard of are waiting for you to try them. So are fine Sichuan restaurants where we can introduce you to your favorite meals as you tour these city areas. We suggest the One-Day Chengdu Food Tour for ideas about food.
If you are planning a trip to Chengdu and/or Chongqing, we can combine going to your favorite kind of restaurants for meals with our recommended regional tours such as:
- 2-Day Panda Keeper and Chengdu Highlights Tour: A classic panda and Chengdu tour.
- 6-Day Essence of Chongqing and Yangtze Cruise Tour: 6-Day Three Gorges Museum, Ciqikou Ancient Town, Dazu Grottoes, and Yangtze Cruise Tour
- 12-Day A Broad Taste of China Tour: We'll take you across China from Beijing to Xi'an, Chengdu, Guilin, and Hong Kong. You'll see the highlights in each region and dine on the best of each regional cuisine.