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 tours.
- The Great Wall of China in Beijing
- The Li River in Guilin & Yangshuo
- Giant Pandas in Chengdu
- Lijiang Old Town
- Erhai Lake in Dali
- The Potala Palace in Tibet
- Daocheng Yading Nature Reserve
- The Jade Dragon Snow Mountains in Lijiang
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 rugged country and steep mountains take in some great scenery. It deserves its place among "the New Seven Wonders of the World" and the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in China.
The wall spans from China's western frontier to the east coast, totaling around 5,000 km (3,100 miles), but the most integrated and best-preserved sections are close to Beijing. So this is what people usually mean when mentioning the Great Wall of China.
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.
- 1-Day Jiankou Wild Great Wall Hiking
- 1-Day Jinshanling Great Wall Hiking
- 2-Day Mutianyu & Simatai Great Wall Night Tour
2. The Li River in Guilin & Yangshuo — China's Most Celebrated Scenery
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 breath-taking natural scenery.
Nowadays it's a popular photography destination. When Chinese travelers seek a place for natural beauty, they first think of Li River and Yangshuo.
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.
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.
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.
- 4-Day Guilin Scenic and Ethnic Discovery
- 5-Day Dynamic Guilin and Yangshuo Tour
- 6-Day Guilin, Yangshuo, and Longsheng Tour
3. Giant Pandas in Chengdu — China's "National Treasure"
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. Bifengxia Panda Base is 2 hours from Chengdu, has more pandas, and you can see pandas more in their natural habitat. You can get even closer to the pandas by taking a volunteer program in Bifengxia or Dujiangyan Panda Valley, an hour outside Chengdu.
- 13 Fascinating Facts about Giant Pandas
- The Top 5 Places to See Giant Pandas
- See our panda tours for inspiration.
4. Lijiang Old Town — Cobbled Pedestrian Streets, Small Waterways
Lijiang Old Town is characterized by ancient cobbled streets, stone bridges, and water-wheel-driven canals decorated with flowers. Shops, cafés, bars, restaurants, snack stalls, hotels, and hostels 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.
- 3-Day Essence of Ancient Lijiang Tour
- 6-Day Yunnan Ethnic Minorities Tour
- 7-Day Dali, Lijiang, and Shangri-La Tour
All our tours can be customized. Contact us to create a trip for you according to your group size, time, budget, interests, and other requirements.
5. Erhai Lake in Dali — One of the Most Beautiful Lakes in China
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). Haixi route is more suitable for young or inexperienced riders. Haidong route is quiet and has panoramic views.
We can arrange mountain bikes with helmets for you or you can also use a shared bike (no helmet available) if you have the app on your cellphone.
- Recommended tour: 4-Day Dynamic Dali Tour
6. The Potala Palace in Tibet — Heart of the Roof of the World
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 the precious sculptures, murals, scriptures, Buddhist statues, antiques, and religious jewelry housed within.
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.
- 8-Day Lhasa-EBC-Lhasa Roof of the World Adventure
- 7-Days Tibet Tours by Train from Xining
- 4-Day Lhasa Highlights Tour
7. Daocheng Yading Nature Reserve — Gemstone-Colored Lakes, Colorful Forests, Meadows
Daocheng Yading Nature Reserve is called the "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 culture experience is another highlight in this route. You can see many ancient monasteries and Tibetan style houses during the trip.
- 4-Day Western Sichuan Tibetan Spring Tour from Chengdu
- 5-Day Chengdu, Daocheng, and Yading Tour
- 8-Day Chengdu to Shangri-La Adventure Tour
- 9-Day In-Depth Exploration of Western Sichuan — Baby Pandas, Eastern Alps, and Hidden Monasteries
All our tours can be customized. The itinerary can be adjusted according to your group size, time, budget, interests, and other requirements. Just contact us.
8. The Jade Dragon Snow Mountains in Lijiang
Jade Dragon (Yulong) Snow Mountain is in the closest snow-capped mountain range to the equator outside the Andes. Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is sacred in the hearts of Naxi people.
Glaciers, canyons, waterfalls, and colorful azaleas blooming at different elevations, not to mention its snowy summits, make up the most beautiful scenery of the mountain.
Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is a popular hiking destination. Skip the cable cars, and ascend the lofty mountain step by step to get close to its beauty and feel its awesomeness.
You will cross a grassland and go through a forest to get to a meadow at the southern foot of the mountain range.
You could find cows in the forest. And if you are lucky, you will see yaks on the meadow. From March to May, the slopes are covered with azalea flowers.
9. The 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 addtion to visit 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.
- 5-Day Dunhuang Desert Culture Journey
- 6-Day Silk Road Photography Tour (Dunhuang and Zhangye)
- 11-Day Along the Great Silk Road
10. The Terracotta Army in Xi'an — 2,000-Year-Old Underground Army
The Terracotta Army has 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.
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.
- The Top 10 Amazing Facts You Probably Don't Know about the Terracotta Army
- Why and How the Terracotta Army Was Built
11. The Forbidden City in Beijing — Imperial Palace for 24 Emperors
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. World Cultural Heritage, and now known as 'the Palace Museum' among Chinese, it is a treasure house of Chinese cultural and historical relics.
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).
- How to Visit the Forbidden City — for Discerning Travelers
- 10 Facts You Should Know Before Visiting The Forbidden City
12. The Bund in Shanghai — Stunning Skyline, Colonial Architecture
The Bund is one of the most recognizable architectural symbols of Shanghai. It showcases the world with its colonial European buildings and skyscrapers the other side of the Huangpu, housing one of the world's foremost business districts.
The Bund was Shanghai's most prosperous area in 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.
- 2-Day Shanghai's Old and New Collision
- 4-Day Shanghai Family Disneyland Tour
- 2-Day A Journey to the Future
13. The Yellow Mountains near Shanghai — Legendary Wonders
In east China, close to Shanghai and Hangzhou, the Yellow Mountain Scenic Area woos travelers with its five wonders: sun rises, seas of clouds, oddly-shaped rocks, twisted pine trees, and hot springs.
The Yellow Mountains are the most famous peaks in China, and one of China's three best national parks — the other two being Zhangjiajie National Forest Park and Jiuzhaigou National Forest Park. Compared to the two other national parks, Yellow Mountain National Park is easier to access, and, naturally, more popular and busy.
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 a cake.
Jiuzhaigou in west China's Sichuan Province is famous for its multicolored lakes and fall foliage; Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is well-known for its grotesque rock pillars. If you are looking for world-class scenery, consider going to all of them.
- 3-Day Ancient Villages and Yellow Mountains Tour
- 3-Day Escape to Huangshan from Shanghai or Hangzhou
- 4-Day Trekking in the Yellow Mountains
14. Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong — Mighty Skyscraper Skyline
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 round the busy Victoria Harbour stretching out towards Mainland China. At night the scenery is gorgeous, when the Symphony of Lights of various buildings dances in unison.
15. West Lake in Hangzhou — Paradise on Earth
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, visitors can leisurely bike around the lake, walk around the lake, or take a short cruise on the lake.
- 2-Day Hangzhou Highlights & Grand Canal Heritage Tour
- 2-Day Weekend Getaway to Anji Bamboo Forest
- 2-Day Lin'an Hot Spring & Skiing Tour
- 2-Day Hengdian World Studios Weekend Getaway
The Most Popular China Tour Itineraries
Here are two best tours for your inspiration.
- 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.
If you can't decide where to go or how to, don't hesitate to contact our specialists, who 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.