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China's Top 15 Must-Visit Attractions: Historical, Cultural, Scenic & More

Written by CindyUpdated Aug. 28, 2023

With a vast territory and a long history, China offers so much to see and explore. We have listed for you the top 15 must-visit attractions in China for any classic China tour.

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1. The Great Wall of China in Beijing

In the eyes of most travelers, you haven't been to China if you haven't climbed the Great Wall.

One of the iconic symbols of China, the Great Wall is the longest wall in the world, an awe-inspiring feat of ancient defensive architecture. Its winding path over a rugged country and steep mountains takes in some great scenery. It deserves its place among "the New Seven Wonders of the World" and the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in China.

Great Wall of ChinaDifferent Sceneries at the Great Wall of China

The most integrated and best-preserved sections are close to Beijing. Among them, the Jinshanling section has the most beautiful scenery and is very suitable for hiking.

The Mutianyu section has a better architecture with densely spaced watchtowers and easy to climb, which is suitable for families with the elderly and children. Which Sections of the Great Wall Should I Visit?

The Simatai section is good for a night tour of the Great Wall. See our 4-Day Beijing Highlights and Great Wall Night Tour

There is no better way to explore China's Great Wall than by hiking or walking along with it. Tread the centuries-old bricks and walk through watchtower ruins. Take your time and feel the history come to life. See 1-Day Jinshanling Great Wall Hiking Tour

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2. The Forbidden City in Beijing — Imperial Palace for 24 Emperors

The Forbidden City in BeijingThe Forbidden City in Beijing

It was once a "palace" city where ordinary people were forbidden entry. An extravagant demonstration of ancient Chinese architecture, over 8,000 rooms with golden roofs are elegantly designed and painted in red and yellow.

The Forbidden City was the imperial palace of the Ming and Qing Dynasties for 560 years till 1911. 24 emperors lived there. Listed as World Cultural Heritage, it also houses many Chinese cultural and historical relics and treasures. See 4-Day Beijing Private Tour with Visit to Forbidden City

It is recognized as one of the five most important palaces in the world (with the Palace of Versailles in France, Buckingham Palace in the UK, the White House in the US, and the Kremlin in Russia). Read on How to Visit the Forbidden City — for Discerning Travelers

3. The Terracotta Army in Xi'an — 2,000-Year-Old Underground Army

The Terracotta Army in Xi'anThe Terracotta Army in Xi'an

The Terracotta Army has been laid underground for more than 2,000 years. However, in 1974, farmers digging a well uncovered one of the greatest archaeological sites in the world. In 1987 it became World Cultural Heritage.

It is significant because the hundreds of detailed life-size models represent the army that triumphed over all other Chinese armies in the Warring States Period (475—221 BC), and who were the decisive factor in forming a united China.

It raises interesting questions about why it was made, which await your consideration when you come face-to-face with soldiers of the past. See our 3-Day Essence of Xi'an Tour including Terracotta Warriors

You could make your own warriors at a cave-dwelling where there are only a few craftsmen left who continue to work in a traditional way. Read more about How to Visit the Terracotta Army Hassle Free

All our tours are customized. Our travel consultants will create an itinerary based on your interests, group sizes, travel length, and other requirements.

4. Giant Pandas in Chengdu — China's "National Treasure"

Giant Pandas in ChengduJoin a Panda Keeper Program in Chengdu

The giant panda is not only deeply loved by the Chinese, but by many foreigners too, and not just children. Although there are many zoos in China and elsewhere, where you can see a giant panda, the best place to see them is Chengdu — the giant panda's "hometown".

There are three places you can see pandas close up: Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Center, Dujiangyan Panda Valley, and Bifengxia Panda Base.

  • Chengdu Panda Center is in the north of the city and is more established.
  • Dujiangyan and Bifengxia Panda Bases are 1-2 hours from Chengdu and you can see pandas in their natural habitat.
  • You can get even closer to the pandas by taking a volunteer program in Dujiangyan or Bifengxia Panda Valley. See our 1-Day Dujiangyan Panda Volunteer Program Tour

Read more about How to Plan a Panda Tour

5. The Yellow Mountains near Shanghai — Legendary Wonders

The Yellow Mountains

In east China, close to Shanghai and Hangzhou, the Yellow Mountain Scenic Area (Huangshan) woos travelers with its five wonders: sunrises, seas of clouds, oddly-shaped rocks, twisted pine trees, and hot springs. The Yellow Mountains are the most famous peaks in China.

The villages nearby such as Hongcun Village were once considered to be the utopia of ancient China. Villagers have diverted water into "house gardens" and "water yards", which exist only in this village. The village, in its breathing-taking setting, looks like a Chinese painting. Canola flowers in spring can be the icing on the cake.

Bishan Village is the best choice if you want to enjoy some quiet moments with your partner. Stay in a typical Hui-style inn, feel the freshness of the air on an early morning walk, and drink a coffee while enjoying nature in its unspoiled beauty. See our 3-Day Ancient Villages and Yellow Mountains Tour

6. The Li River in Guilin & Yangshuo — China's Most Celebrated Scenery

Li River CruiseThe Reflection of the Limestone Peaks in the Li River

The karst landscape along the Li River has captured the heart of artists. Generations of Chinese painters and poets have been inspired by the beauty of nature there, using their pens and brushes to capture the breathtaking natural scenery. When Chinese travelers seek a place for natural beauty, they first think of Li River and Yangshuo.

The Li River was listed as one of the "World's Top Ten Watery Wonders" by America's National Geographic Magazine. Several world-famous figures have visited the Li River, including former US Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush (senior), and Bill Gates.

The 83-kilometer-long section of the Li River between Guilin and Yangshuo is the most beautiful. The river landscape is decorated with startling hills, steep cliffs, and farming villages, and is lined with bamboo groves.

Taking a leisurely cruise or a 3–4-hour family-friendly moderate hike (more on Li River hiking) are good ways to enjoy the Li River's beauty.

Guilin & Yangshuo offer many interesting activities. You could challenge yourself to an SUP (stand-up paddleboard, i.e. a mini raft) on the Yulong River, take a bamboo raft, have a cycling tour into the countryside, or take an exciting drive with an all-terrain vehicle. See 5-Day Dynamic Guilin and Yangshuo Tour

7. The Potala Palace in Tibet — Heart of the Roof of the World

The Potala Palace in TibetHave a Family Photo In Front of the Potala Palace

The Potala Palace is a symbol of Tibet. In 1994 it was declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. It is a huge treasure house of materials and articles from Tibetan history, religion, culture, and art. The palace is widely known for its precious sculptures, murals, scriptures, Buddhist statues, antiques, and religious jewelry housed within it.

You could witness the architectural miracle containing the regal heritage of Tibet, listen to stories of Dalai Lamas who lived in the palace, and view the palace from the four best angles.

Tibet doesn't accept independent travelers. Traveling with a travel agency is required. Read more about Tibet Travel Restrictions or contact us to explore the main highlights from Lhasa to Everest Base Camp. See our 8-Day Lhasa to Everest Base Camp Private Tour

8. Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

Zhangjiajie National Forest ParkZhangjiajie National Forest Park

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, the inspiration of Avatar, is a must-see place for its out-of-this-world scenery. It is huge with many different scenic areas. The "floating mountains and peaks" that inspired Avatar are concentrated in this park.

The top-rated scenic areas are Yuanjiajie, Tianzi Mountain, and Gold Whip Stream. These three areas can be visited by tourists of any age.

Walking is not hard at the main attractions, where cable cars, elevators, a tram, and shuttle buses are available and concrete paths and steps have been built. See our 4 Days Essence of Zhangjiajie

9. The Mogao Caves in Dunhuang

The Mogao Caves in DunhuangThe Mogao Caves in Dunhuang

"In the West, there is the Louvre; in the East, there are the Mogao Caves."

The Mogao Caves are famous for their exquisite murals and Buddhist statues. The Mogao Caves were included in UNESCO's world cultural heritage list in 1987.

Artists from different periods of the Middle Ages left their work there. All kinds of works spanning over one thousand years complement each other.

Standing out in the desert, the Mogao Caves are like a glittering pearl that adorns the Silk Road.

In addition to visiting these wonderful caves, you could get some hands-on archaeological experience. We can take you to the Dunhuang Research Academy. There, you can linger over copies of murals created by masters and can copy a sample mural on a mud slab with your own hands under the guidance of the teacher.

10. The Bund in Shanghai — Stunning Skyline, Colonial Architecture

The Bund in ShanghaiDo Morning Exercises at the Bund

The Bund is one of the most recognizable architectural symbols of Shanghai. It showcases the world with its colonial European buildings and skyscrapers on the other side of the Huangpu, housing one of the world's foremost business districts.

The Bund was Shanghai's most prosperous area in the late 19th century and early 20th century. When the first British company opened an office at the Bund in 1846, it became the epitome of elegance.

one of the best ways to explore the Bund is to take an in-depth cultural walk where you could step into some of the iconic old buildings and learn about the stories behind them. A night cruise on the Huang Pu Rover could also be a good choice.

11. West Lake in Hangzhou — Paradise on Earth

West Lake in HangzhouNight view of the West Lake

Hangzhou is renowned as China's "paradise on earth" owing to its beautifully crafted landscape. West Lake was created after the Chinese love for garden-style parks for recreation.

West Lake is a place of tranquility where urbanity becomes a silhouette on the northeast horizon and mountains near and far surround it on the other three sides. The occasional pagoda and Chinese-style arched bridge add atmosphere to the tree-lined walkways, verdant islands, and hills.

To admire the beauty of West Lake, you can leisurely bike around the lake, walk around the lake, or take a short cruise on the lake. We could also find a perfect location for you to enjoy afternoon tea while enjoying the beautiful view of West Lake. See 4-Day Shanghai & Hangzhou with Watertown Tour

12. Daocheng Yading Nature Reserve — Gemstone-Colored Lakes, Colorful Forests, Meadows

Daocheng Yading Nature ReserveDaocheng Yading Nature Reserve

Daocheng Yading Nature Reserve is called "the last pure land on earth" and "the last Shangri-La" due to its breathtaking natural scenery.

"I want to go there with my sweetheart to see the clear blue sky, the snowcapped mountains, and the golden meadows, to experience an autumn fairy tale." A Chinese romantic drama movie, I Belonged to You, made Daocheng a desirable romantic place to visit.

As early as 1928, the Austrian-American explorer Joseph F. Rock visited Daocheng and captured its beauty, printing pictures of it in the National Geographic magazine and making it known to the world.

The Tibetan cultural experience is another highlight of this route. You can see many ancient monasteries and Tibetan-style houses during the trip.

All our tours can be customized. The itinerary can be adjusted according to your group size, time, interests, and other requirements. Just contact us.

13. Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong — Mighty Skyscraper Skyline

Victoria Harbor in Hong KongVictoria Harbor in Hong Kong

The view over Victoria Harbour from Victoria Peak is to Hong Kong as climbing the Great Wall is to China; it offers the iconic outlook over Hong Kong's "high rise" to success and prosperity.

Victoria Peak is the best spot to have a bird's eye view of Hong Kong. Viewed from the peak, both day and night scenes are worth taking in. See high-rise buildings around the busy Victoria Harbour stretching out towards the Chinese mainland. At night the scenery is gorgeous when the Symphony of Lights of various buildings dances in unison.

14. Lijiang Old Town in Yunnan — Cobbled Pedestrian Streets, Small Waterways

the Big Waterwheels in Lijiang Old TownThe Big Waterwheels in Lijiang Old Town

Lijiang Old Town in Yunnan is characterized by ancient cobbled streets, stone bridges, and water-wheel-driven canals decorated with flowers. Shops, cafés, bars, restaurants, snack stalls, and hotels can be found everywhere.

The big waterwheels are a landmark of Lijiang Old Town. As you enter the old town, you will see them. The river flowing through the old town keeps them rotating. Bar Street is next to them, which is busy at night.

You could also go to Naxi Hieroglyphs and Painting Exhibition Hall to experience Naxi art. The Naxi are the only people who still use hieroglyphs to write in the world.

All our Yunnan tours can be customized. Contact us to create a trip for you according to your group size, time, budget, interests, and other requirements.

15. Erhai Lake in Dali — One of the Most Beautiful Lakes in China

Erhai Lake in DaliErhai Lake

Erhai Lake is the most beautiful place in Dali. It is a plateau lake. Erhai Lake is in the shape of an ear, hence its name Erhai ('Ear Sea'). This plateau lake is like a deep blue gem set in the green land. The water of the lake is calm and blue. The soft and gentle wind by the lake will make you feel relaxed.

Every December, flocks of black-headed gulls from Siberia fly in to spend the winter at Erhai Lake.

Biking is the best way to travel around the lake. Capturing the beauty of the landscape bathed in sunshine and breezes is a real pleasure. There are two cycle routes around Erhai Lake: Haixi (on Erhai's west shore) and Haidong (on Erhai's east shore). The Haixi route is more suitable for young or inexperienced riders. Haidong route is quiet and has panoramic views. Contact us to arrange mountain bikes with helmets for you.

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The Most Popular China Tour Itineraries

Our tour services are personalized. We will help you to maximize your travel experience by suggesting the optimal trip for the time you have and the places you want to see. Just contact us.

  • The Golden Triangle (8 days): Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai — the most popular destinations for a first trip
  • Classic Wonders (11 days): Beijing, Xi'an, Guilin, and Shanghai — classic architecture, culture, and scenery
  • Find more ideas from our China tours.
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