On a trip to China, millions of tourists are attracted to see China's most popular tourist sights like the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, and the Terracotta Army... but their experience of these iconic attractions is sometimes spoiled by big crowds.
The golden rule for avoiding the crowds is: avoid Chinese vacations, and weekends during peak season. In such times not only are attractions packed, but also hotels are more expensive, and transport etc. is very crowded and hard to book. See more on Dates to Avoid.
There are other more general tips, like making the most of the time when the Chinese tourist groups are having their lunches, on 8 Mistakes That Will Put You in a Sea of Chinese Tourists. However, here we give more specific tips for perhaps the most crowded ten sights in China...
The following places are notorious for noisy, dense crowding. But we explain methods to avoid the crowds and have a better experience including lesser used routes, favorable times to go, touring techniques, and convenient travel methods will make your trip more enjoyable and help you get away from the crowds.
1. The Great Wall of China without "the Great Wall of Chinese"
Near Beijing, there are actually about 14 Great Wall sections, not only one as many people think. So you have a choice about the level of crowding.
We recommend about 10 Great Wall choices as worth visiting. The best rebuilt sections of the wall are the most crowded. The less renovated the section, the less the crowding. The unrenovated sections may have no crowds at all; but the drawbacks are much more rugged walking, some danger while walking, and a lack of facilities.
Levels of Crowding
Best restored: Badaling is the closest to Beijing and also the busiest receiving about 75% of Great Wall visitors!! Mutianyu is also close to Beijing and also well restored. It gets far less crowds, and it is known for Ming era watch towers.
Semi-restored: Jinshanling and Huanghuacheng are less crowded still, and parts are crumbling away, but you might still hike on them.
Unrestored: Jiankou, Zhuangdaokou, and Gubeikou are basically original, little visited, and might prove dangerous to hike since the walls are crumbling. There are great views. Jiankou has ladders, steep wall climbs, and is covered with brush. You may not be able to gain access to all parts of these due to legal restrictions.
When to Go?
Weekends and holidays are to be avoided as well as the busy times from May to October especially from July 1 to early September due to school vacations. The earlier in the morning you can get there, the better your experience.
2. Avoid Forbidding Crowds in the Forbidden City
The Forbidden City is visited by 14 million people each year! It is the grandest highlight in Beijing city, but imagine the crowds!
Pushing through the crowds and lines can be daunting. You'll probably face an hour's line at the ticket counter, and then still have to push through noisy crowds inside, especially during busy hours.
Here are general tips: Weekends or public holidays are busy, except Sunday morning before 10, when it might still be quiet. Go in the early morning or in the later afternoon. Try to walk off the path beaten by the countless marching tour groups.
Our Private Forbidden City Heritage Tours — a Better Experience
Instead of chancing it alone, wouldn't you prefer to enter in with an expert guide? Our guide knows the ins and outs of the huge complex well and can take you to less crowded places in the complex to see the places that most interest you.
Our tour guides are specialists in leading our clients to the out of the way places and helping you figure out the areas you'd most like to tour in the grand one-kilometer-long complex of 9,999½ rooms and hundreds of buildings and towers.
Expedited visit: We bring the tickets to you so as to avoid possibly an hour wait, usher you through the entrance, and help you tour the complex with graphics, maps and pictures to explain to you the layout, history, and the various options about what to see.
See more on our Forbidden City Heritage Walks.
3. See the Terracotta Army not the Tourist Army
The Terracotta Army is one of China's three most famous ancient tourist attractions, along with the other two above. There is a smaller area for the crowds to range since the crowds necessarily must stand around the same three main pits to view the Warriors and the other treasures. But you can avoid some of the crowding by following these touring methods.
Times to go: The best times to arrive are either early before the tour buses come or after they leave for lunch at about 12. The museum stays quieter after lunch as well.
Low tourism season is winter. Xi'an's daytime temperatures stay just a little above freezing usually. So, if you don't mind the cold, Xi'an and most of China is yours for less without the crowds.
Tour route: Most people enter and crowd around the biggest pit, Pit 1, that has the arrayed Warriors. So instead, visit the pits in reverse order. When you enter in, go left towards the Bronze Chariot Exhibition Room and circle around counterclockwise and see the Warriors last. See more Terracotta Warriors Tour Tips>>
Guided tours: We try to help you make your visit to the Terracotta Army museum as enjoyable as possible. We arrange a good time to visit and buy the tickets so as to avoid the lines. See our Xi'an Essence Tour>>
Exclusive experiences: We can provide an up-close visit to ancient treasures, facilitated by an archaeological organization, as an exclusive experience for our customers. There's no crowding there! See more beyond ordinary activities in Xi'an.
4. The Legendary Yellow Mountains Minus the Legendary Crowds
What makes Huangshan Scenic Area seem particularly crowded are the narrow mountain paths that get clogged to frustrated lines at bottlenecks in peak season.
The West Sea Canyon (西海大峡谷) route, known as the back route, up the Yellow Mountains is less frequented than the front ways that most tourists crowds go. There is spectacular scenery and less crowded trails to explore. People say that this section of the park is the most beautiful.
Strenuous hiking: However, it is harder to hike than the front way. You will need to have a good level of fitness to reach the top even if you take the monorail part of the way up.
Two suggested routes:
1. If you wish to hike all the way up from the Service Station, you could either take the path that goes to the monorail station and continue on up past the two loops and reach the Bright Peak summit (1,860 meters) in about 3½ or 4 hours.
Taking the monorail takes you near Baiyun Hotel, and it will cut about an hour or more off your ascent and another hour if you use it for the descent. So the whole circuit might require three hours of hiking if you are very fit. However, you'll face a huge crowd and a long line during the holidays and weekends.
2. Or you could go the other direction to Buxian Bridge and reach the summit in about 3½ hours. People can hike this circuit in 6 or less hours if they are very fit, otherwise it might take 7 hours or more. Beware the 45 degree angled stairs!
You can read more on these and other routes on Yellow Mountain Hiking.
5. The Bund without the Bundling
The Bund is one of the most recognizable architectural symbols of Shanghai and Shanghai's favorite foreign tourist attraction. However, the crowds in the world's biggest city like to go there on weekends and holidays, and it is literally safer to go there at other times. There was a large death toll from a stampede there in 2014.
For the lowest crowding, go early in the morning.
6. The Li River not the Tourist River
The karst landscape along the Li River in Guilin has captured the heart of artists. Generations of Chinese painters and poets have been inspired by the beauty of nature there, so Chinese crowd in and West Street in Yangshuo especially can get crowded.
The 83-kilometer-long section of the Li River between Guilin and Yangshuo is the most beautiful and is plied by cruise boats. For less crowding on your cruise boat, choose one of the top-rate/foreigner cruises, or cruise by raft instead.
- You could avoid West Street altogether and eat at the restaurants on the periphery and shop in Guilin if you want to shop.
- West Street is uncrowded in the mornings, before 10 or so, and under the hot sun, about 12 to 2 in the afternoon, or in the tourism low season.
7. Victoria Harbor with Less Hubbub
About 60 million visitors are expected to go to Hong Kong in 2018, and Victoria Harbour draws most of them like a magnet.
Star Ferry tips: The Star Ferry is a busy ferry service between the Avenue of Stars area and Central's pier that carries about 26,000,000 annually. On TripAdvisor, tourists rank it as their favorite Thing to Do in Hong Kong and their sixth favorite attraction in all of China!
- Ride the top deck. It is a little less crowded, though not as fun and scenic.
- Avoid work rush hours. It gets quieter around 10 am before lunch and between 2 to 4 pm.
Avenue of Stars tips: This is another of HK's top tourist attractions. It is a short pedestrian path along the harbor. For day views without the crowds, go in the morning before 10. In the evenings, crowds of thousands gather for the Symphony of Lights.
8. Disneyland, Hong Kong
Hong Kong Disneyland on Lantau Island keeps growing in size and improving, so now it is almost neck and neck with Ocean Park for popularity, but still on a smaller plot of land (7.4 million visitors/year on 28 hectares or 68 acres!).
Part of the reason it is so popular with tourists is that it is located close to Hong Kong International Airport and connected to it directly by metro.
- Disneyland offers a 3-hour tour that expedites your visit. You can book it from their official site.
- A tour company with knowledgeable guides can expedite the whole process and help you avoid crowds. See our 1-Day Hong Kong Disneyland Tour
9. Ocean Park's Oceans of People
Ocean Park gets 7.7 million visitors a year. Most cram into the 915,000 square metres of land (226 acres) during weekends and holidays.
The park is open from 10 am to 6 pm during weekdays and 10 am to 7:30 pm during weekends. We recommend that you purchase Ocean Park tickets in advance and arrive when it opens. The ticket lines can be quite long. it You can get tickets at luxury hotels concierges, Klook and other places. To make for a better experience, Ocean Park offers a Fast Pass for about 150 HKD.
10. Victoria Peak — Take a Peek around the Tourist Peak
Victoria Peak is a must-see attraction in Hong Kong, but since it is a fairly big area including country parkland, only the area around the mall and tram usually gets crowded. They are popular with Chinese tourists (7 million visitors/year).
Make sure you find a less-crowded view from Victoria Peak for the iconic outlook over Hong Kong's "high rise" to success and prosperity.
- Way in: The Tram has the longest lines of any travel option. Hike up, take the bus, or even better a taxi.
- Where to go: Outside of the area around the mall, there are walking paths and some great viewpoints.
Enjoy a Better Experience of China's Highlights
We are a tour company who excel at tailor-made and small group tours. Tell us your requirements and interests, and we will help you tour China your way and avoid the crowds.
These customizable China itineraries include the most popular places from the list above.
- The Golden Triangle — the classic 8-day Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai itinerary
- The Taste of China — an 11-day Beijing, Xi'an, Chengdu, Guilin, and Hong Kong food tour
For a different combination of China cities, contact us with your favorite China highlights and we'll tailor-make your dream tour.