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Top China Gateway Cities

Top China Gateway Cities

Written by Kelly PangUpdated Nov. 14, 2023

China has four large international airports: and these will most likely be you first and last contact with China on your visit. That is unless you are entering or leaving China via a nearby Asian nation like Japan, Korea, or Thailand.

1. Beijing

Tian'anmen Square, BeijingTian'anmen Square, Beijing

Beijing' s 144-hour visa-free stay policy began in 2017. Imagine this: you could see the main sights of the capital of China without even having to get a visa! See how to spend your layover in Beijing.

Beijing has by far the biggest airport in China: Beijing Capital International Airport. Beijing is also China's top tourist city with several world class sights, like the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City. So by passenger numbers, choice of flights, and interest value Beijing has to be your No. 1 gateway to China.

2. Hong Kong 

Hong KongHong Kong

You could begin your tour of China with some time in Hong Kong to "acclimatize". Hong Kong is a good city to enter China as it is a "half-way house" between West and East, with many English speakers and familiar standards of service, design, and quality to the West. 

Hong Kong's Western and Cantonese food is also usually the most familiar and palatable of China's cuisines. Hong Kong has one of the most relaxed visa policies in the world with large visa-free stays for most nationalities. Hong Kong International Airport is China's second largest airport, with 90+ airlines flying to over 150 destinations around the world, and 40+ domestic routes.

A good city to visit in the winter, Hong Kong maintains mild or warm weather, while areas north of it are generally dreary or bitterly cold.

See 10 Top China Tours from Hong Kong

3. Shanghai

The Bund,ShanghaiThe Bund, Shanghai

Shanghai has adopted a 144-hour visa free city. Shanghai Pudong Airport is one of two international airports of Shanghai and a major aviation hub of China. China's largest city is unique in that it has another large airport in the city (Hongqiao), serving mostly domestic flights. 

Shanghai is a very popular gateway city for China. The Maglev transports Pudong arrivers to central Shanghai at 430 kph and the subway connects with Hongqiao Airport.

See 6 Top China Tours from Shanghai for inspiration

4. Guangzhou

Shamian Island GuangzhouShamian Island Guangzhou

If you're on business in South China and land in Guangzhou, consider a little R&R with our Guangzhou day tours or an Evening Cruise on the Pearl River. 

Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport is China's third largest. Guangzhou is the largest city in China's largest conurbation, a popular business destination famed for its factories, but it's not short of tourist attractions and scenic places either. Cantonese food, popularized in the West, is Guangzhou's mainstay.

Most Popular Guangzhou Tour: 4-Day Essence of Guangzhou and Shenzhen Tour

5. Taipei

TaipeiTaipei

By passenger numbers Taipei Taoyuan International Airport is only the eighth most popular way into China, but unlike other big-city airports Taipei serves more long haul flights to Western countries. Taipei's differences from Chinese mainland and international economic history add interest value, and make Taipei a good place to transition into or out of China.

Airports Serving East Asian Destinations … and Expanding …

If you change flights in East Asia, places to enter and leave China increase several-fold. However, we can only recommend a few of these as top tourist cities.

Recently a second tier of international China airports are emerging as China gateway city options. Previously only dealing with East and Southeast Asian airports, new direct routes have been opened up to Western countries.

The following six are the largest in this group, serving over 20 million passengers in 2013, ranked according to international coverage and tourism appeal.

Chengdu

Chengdu shuangliu international airportchengdu shuangliu international airport

Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport has flights to San Francisco, London, Melbourne, Frankfurt, and Amsterdam. Chengdu is "the gateway to Western China" with the most connecting flights to Tibet, and no bigger city westwards in China. Land in Chengdu for the giant pandas, giant Buddha, and giant mountains and colorful valleys of Sichuan.

Hangzhou

Land in prosperous Hangzhou for ancient culture, Buddhist culture, tea culture, and serenic West Lake. Shanghai and the legendary Yellow Mountains are nearby. Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport has flights to Amsterdam, Paris, and Moscow, besides the larger East and SE Asian airports.

Chongqing

Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport is an award-winning airport that is just expanding its operations beyond East and SE Asia with flights to the Maldives, Qatar and Finland. Land in Chongqing for a Yangtze cruise through the awe-inspiring Three Gorges. You may also fly to Chongqing for business, as it dominates West and Central China for industry and size.

Xi'an

Xi'an is China's second or third most popular tourist city, an ancient capital displaying relics from China's golden Qin, Han, and Tang eras. Xi'an Xianyang International Airport has flights to KL, Seoul, Bangkok, Singapore, and seasonal flights to Helsinki!

Kunming

Kunming Changshui International AirportKunming Changshui International Airport

Kunming is the gateway to Southwest China's minorities and mountain scenery. You may want to enter China via Kunming if that is what you have come to see. Kunming Changshui International Airport has no flights beyond China's neighboring countries.

Shenzhen

Shenzhen, like Guangzhou, is more a business than tourism destination, but being adjacent to Hong Kong it has more Western influence, making it an easier transition into China's culture. Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport has no passenger flights further than SE and East Asia.

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