China's vast and diverse territory endows the country with some of the most beautiful natural scenery on earth. From the picturesque karst landscape in Guilin and Yangshuo to the precipitous pillars in Zhangjiajie, from the Rainbow Mountains in Zhangye to the holy high land of Tibet, China's diverse natural beauty is as impressive as it is splendid culture.
- 1. Guilin & Yangshuo - Karst Landscape
- 2. Yellow Mountains and Villages Nearby
- 3. Zhangjiajie — Precipitous Pillars
- 4. Lijiang - Ancient Town
- 5. Shangri-La - Meili Snow Mountains
- 6. Tibet — Lofty Mountain Splendor
- 7. Zhangye's Danxia — Rainbow Mountains
- 8. Western Sichuan — Daocheng Yading
- Which One(s) to Visit? Visit them at the Right Time!
Planning a winter tour? Find inspiration here!
- In Lijiang, the rainy season is gone and it’s the best (driest) time to take a Tiger Leaping Gorge hike and enjoy the Jinsha River with its natural emerald color.
- Find it hard to plan a winter tour for your young children? Xishuangbanna is a family-friendly place with animals, ziplines, forest hiking, tree houses, etc. Most important: the weather there is warm!!!
- How to describe Tibet in winter? Harsh cold? Not exactly as the sunshine and pure blue sky warm you up. How about a picnic on the blue ice? Or receiving a New Year's blessing in a temple at the foot of Mount Everest?
There is more to explore in winter! Contact our Winter Tour Experts for more information!
1. Guilin & Yangshuo — China's Most Beautiful Karst Landscape
The Li River in Guilin is like an artist's masterpiece, bounded by classic sheer karst hills, which have inspired many poets and ink painters. It is listed as one of the world's "Top 10 Watery Wonders" by America's National Geographic Magazine and the World's "15 Best Rivers for Travelers" by CNN Travel.
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. We can take you to less-crowded stretches for you to immerse yourself in this paradise of nature.
When looking for natural beauty, Yangshuo comes first in Chinese minds for its karst hills and rivers. Get away from the touristy parts of Yangshuo and enjoy the idyllic, painting-like scenes in peace. Maybe challenge yourself to a 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
2. The Yellow Mountains and Villages Nearby
An image of a twisting pine tree growing from a curiously curved rock pops into Chinese minds when they hear of the Yellow Mountains.
These mystical and mist-ical mountains are the most beautiful and most famous in China. Their classic attractions are grand dawns and their "four natural wonders": peculiar pines, oddly-shaped rocks, seas of clouds, and hot springs.
The villages, for example, Hongcun, around the Yellow Mountains were once considered to be the utopia of ancient China.
Hongcun was a set for "the best Chinese film of all time" — Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
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. The village attracts many Chinese art students to practice their skills.
You can walk or bike among ancient villages, stay in a typical Hui-style inn, and see how artists turn this small area into a rural paradise on canvas. Canola flowers in spring can be the icing on a cake.
- 3-Day Ancient Villages and Yellow Mountains Tour
- 3-Day Escape to Huangshan from Shanghai or Hangzhou
- 4-Day Trekking in the Yellow Mountains
3. Zhangjiajie — Precipitous Pillars
The precipitous pillars in Zhangjiajie National Forest Park are the inspiration for the Hallelujah Mountains in Avatar.
Zhangjiajie is famous for its towering peaks, breathtaking rock pillars, and deep valleys. The forest of massive pillars is one of the best muses for photographers in China.
Take a 4-day tour of the main highlights in Zhangjiajie: Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon with its Glass Bridge, and Tianmen Mountain.
Want a non-touristy route? 5-Day Zhangjiajie Hiking and Biking Tour for Any Level is a good choice.
Bungee jumping at Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge is available. Contact us to arrange an adventure tailored for you.
See more on How to Plan a Tour of Zhangjiajie.
4. Lijiang — An Ancient Town with Awesome Natural Beauty
Lijiang, with its ancient town, snowy mountains, highland glacial lakes, and majestic canyons is truly a breathtakingly beautiful destination.
A stroll in Lijiang Ancient Town brings you a charming look at local Naxi minority life. Take a cable car up Jade Dragon Snow Mountain to enjoy fantastic views of the glaciated peak. Or you may choose to skip the cable car, hike through the bushes, wade across a little stream, and enjoy exclusive views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain that only hikers can.
Take a 2-day hike along the deepest-but-easily-accessible gorge. Tiger Leaping Gorge is considered the best hiking trail in China and a once-in-a-lifetime bucket-list experience. You will not only hike between two holy snow-capped mountains but also be party to the most remarkable views when passing the steep 28 bends and the most tumultuous part of the Jinsha River.
See more on The Top 10 Things to Do in Lijiang.
- 3-Day Tiger Leaping Gorge and Stone Village Hiking Tour
- 6-Day Lijiang to Shangri-La Adventure Tour
- 7-Day Dali, Lijiang, and Shangri-La Tour — A Feast of Landscapes and Ethnic Minority Culture
5. Shangri-La — the Holy Meili Snow Mountains
In the southwest of Deqin County, Shangri-La and the surrounding Meili Snow Mountains is holy place of pilgrimage for Tibetan people. The mountain range has 13 peaks and the main peak is Kawagebo, which is 6,740 meters (22,100 feet) above sea level.
The most important highlight is the golden sunrise on these spectacular snow-capped peaks.
The best season to visit the Snow Mountains is autumn when the sky is clear and blue.
Besides the snow-capped mountains, you can also see plateau lakes, thick forests, exotic flowers and trees, and various wild animals in the mountains. There are many Tibetan monasteries and villages at the foot of the mountains, bringing you a real Tibetan culture experience.
Pudacuo National Park, about 22 km (14 mi) from Shangri-La, is also stunning in fall. The blue sky, red meadows, clear lakes, and colorful forests make a beautiful picture.
- 4-Day Shangri-La Highlights Tour
- 7-Day Shangri-La and Meili Snow Mountain Adventure Tour
- 15-Day Shanghai, Kunming, Shangri-La, Lijiang, Chengdu, Xi'an, and Beijing Tour
Check out more tour options including Shangri-la.
6. Tibet — Lofty Mountain Splendor
Tibet, locked in the Himalayas, holds travelers' imaginations of the lost Shangri-la. From the unspoiled sacred lakes to the world's highest peak — Mount Everest; from the vast untouched Changtang Grasslands to the depths of the Yarlung-Tsangpo Canyon, the Roof of the World is filled with awe and pristine beauty.
Tibet doesn’t accept independent travelers. Traveling with a travel agency is required. Contact us to explore the main highlights from Lhasa to Everest Base Camp. Consider a top Tibet trekking trip, Everest Base Camp trek, if you’d love a more outdoorsy experience.
Also, read Top 8 Things to Do in Tibet.
- 4-Day Lhasa Highlights Comfort Tour
- 5-Day Lhasa Highlights and Lake Yamdrok Tour
- 8-Days Lhasa to Everest Base Camp Tour
7. Zhangye's Danxia Landscape — Rainbow Mountains
The Danxia landscape in Zhangye is vividly named "Rainbow Mountains" by many due to its dazzling colors. Danxia (丹霞 /dan-sshya/) means "red, red clouds". In China's remote northwest, Zhangye is deeply loved by photographers and en route for those on a Chinese Silk Road scenery and culture journey.
The landscape is composed of curvy, layered, multi-hued formations, most of which are several hundred meters high. When the sun shines on them, their colors appear in full vibrancy. It looks like an oil painting when the vast red rock formations are simply set against a pure blue sky.
- 6-Day Zhangye and Dunhuang Photography Tour
- 8-Day Qinghai Lake, Zhangye, and Dunhuang Tour
- 11-Day Tour from Xi’an to Kashgar including Zhangye
Check out more Silk Road Tours.
8. Western Sichuan Province — Pure Daocheng Yading Nature Reserve
Yading Nature Reserve is called "the last pure land on earth" and "the last Shangri-La". It features snow-capped mountains, crystal clear lakes, vast grasslands, and colorful forests. You can tour it by starting from Chengdu and passing through Xinduqiao, a picturesque Tibetan town famous for its plateau pasture views, before arriving at Daocheng Yading Nature Reserve. You will see stunning fall scenery throughout the whole trip.
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
9. Kanas in North Xinjiang — Beautiful Mountain Lake
Nestled in the deep forests and mountains of Altay, Kanas is a truly beautiful mountain lake. Since its access roads have been improved for travelers, it has attained a reputation as "the tourism pearl of Mountainous Altai".
The lake takes on different colors following the four seasons: sometimes it's crystal blue, sometimes it's dark green or even gray, you may find it containing many colors setting off each another, thus it got a name as “the color-changing lake”.
Nearby Kanas Lake, you can visit a village of the Tuwan tribe, which is a branch of the Mongolian ethnic group. Believers of Lamaism, live in their traditional houses and practice their centuries-old traditions. If you are interested in local culture, you can visit the village or even stay with hospitable families.
Follow our 8-Day North Xinjiang Tour to experience the beauty of Kanas.
10. Ejina Desert Polar Forest in Inner Mongolia
An Euphrates poplar golden leaves shoot in autumn is a dream trip for many photography lovers. If you’re one of them, the Populus euphratica forest in Ejina, Inner Mongolia is the right place for you. Ejina Euphrates Poplar Forest is one of the best remaining ancient desert poplar forest areas, and features dazzling golden leaves, dreamy water reflections, running sheep, and boundless deserts with longed-for camel riding opportunities. It is a good place for both sunrise and sunset shoots.
With its advantageous position adjacent to Gansu Province, Ejina Euphrates Poplar Forest is usually combined with a trip along the legendary Silk Road. Traveling from Dunhuang to Zhangye via Jiayuguan and Ejina, with the mysterious Mogao Caves, desert landscapes, and colorful landforms, and stunning golden leaves, you will have a rich touring experience.
Recommended tour: 7-Day Dunhuang, Zhangye, and Ejina Photography Tour
11. Hangzhou — Next Best Place to Heaven
Renowned for its scenic beauty, Hangzhou is one of the most photogenic cities in China. In the 13th century, Marco Polo described Hangzhou as "the city of heaven" and "the finest and most splendid city in the world".
Hangzhou's most famous sight, West Lake, is considered one of the most beautiful sights in China. Each season offers picturesque scenes that will leave an ever-lasting impression.
The best time to go is spring (March to May). The lake, ancient buildings, and causeways decorated with flower blossoms are the theme of many an elegant Chinese painting.
Also, read How to Plan a Hangzhou Tour.
- 1-Day Dragon Well Tea Culture & West Lake Tour
- 2-Day Hangzhou Highlights & Grand Canal Heritage Tour
- 5-Day Shanghai & Hangzhou with Watertown Tour
12. The Yuanyang Terraced Fields — Steps to Heaven
"If you are a traveler, but have never been to Yuanyang,
Yuanyang will feel sad for you;
If you are a photographer but have never been to Yuanyang,
God will feel sorry for you!"
There are many things that you know will never be surpassed once you see their beauty. And you will find Yuanyang's terraced fields are the most beautiful terraces in the world, once you have been there.
- Also, read China's Five Most Beautiful Rice Terraces.
- Recommended itinerary: 6-Day Jianshui and Yuanyang Tour
13. Jiuzhaigou — Colorful Alpine Lakes
Jiuzhaigou, in remote western China, has inspired dreams of a colorful fairyland among many travelers. Jiuzhaigou features multicolored lakes surrounded by vast mountain forests. These lakes change color throughout the day and year. The colors come from the reflections of surrounding mountainsides and algae and minerals in the lakes.
Fall is the most beautiful season in Jiuzhaigou, when the landscape changes color, providing a vivid backdrop of autumnal hues — an unspoiled, dazzling beauty rarely rivaled in China.
- 3-Day Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong Highlights Tour
- 6-Day Essential Chengdu and In-Depth Jiuzhaigou Tour
- 7-Day Chengdu, Mount Emei, and Jiuzhaigou Scenic Tour
14. Sanya — Warm Winter Escape
Located at the southern tip of China’s Hainan Island, this tropical paradise is known as the "the Hawaii of China".
Sanya has the best beaches in China, and you will find plenty of resort choices at Yalong Bay, Dadonghai, and Sanya Bay. Wuzhizhou Island and West Island are paradises for diving enthusiasts.
What about walking on a suspension bridge or flying over the rainforest on a zipline? The tropical rainforests bring you choices of exciting and adventurous activities. Nanwan Monkey Island is especially popular among families with children.
15. Xishuangbanna — Tropical and Exotic Charms
Remember the “Long March” of 15 Asian elephants in 2021?
Right, they came from Xishuangbanna — a pleasant place with an annual average temperature of about 20°C (68°F). It is a paradise of tropical plants, a kingdom of wild animals, and home to the Theravada Buddhist temples of China.
Nature lovers would be spoiled with a visit to the Tropical Botanical Garden in Xishuangbanna, which has the richest collection of species and the most plant-specific attractions of anywhere in China.
Stilt-style Dai houses are dotted throughout every corner of the region. Take ethnic-culture-rich pictures and find yourself in a truly Southeast Asian atmosphere.
Last, but not least, local tourists rush to Xishuangbanna in winter to escape the cold further north. More flights are available, but you will find airfares are comparatively high during winter times.
What about a short hike in the tropical forest or a stay in a treehouse, relaxing in the oxygen-rich air? Or a chance to interact with the native Asian elephants and peacocks? Our 6-Day Xishuangbanna and Pu'er Tour gets you in touch with the rainforest.
Which One(s) to Visit?
These top 15 most beautiful places in China are excellent destinations that everyone would visit if they could. But, for the best experience, it is important that you choose the places to visit that best meet your travel needs at the right time for you.
Visit at the Right Time
These 15 places are suitable to travel all year round, but the best times are definitely April to May and September to early November when the weather is the most pleasant on average. There are some exceptions:
- Sanya: Want somewhere sunny and warm for winter? This is a great place for a winter escape.
- The Yuanyang Terraced Fields: For great photos, try to visit between January and March when the terraces are irrigated with water.
- The Yellow Mountains: The snow-capped Yellow Mountains in winter are quite different from their legendary popularity in other seasons — more like a peaceful haven.
- Tibet: It’s the rainy season in Tibet during summertime, but there isn’t much rain and temperatures are the most comfortable of the year. The annual Shoton Festival is around that time.
Busy Golden Weeks:
- Ejina Desert Polar Forest: To enjoy the very best of the golden poplar leaves, visit in early October during the National Day holiday in China (if you do not mind crowds).
Visit These Beautiful Places with Us
It is hard to plan a trip to cover all these naturally beautiful places on your own. Our travel advisors can help you with an itinerary and personal advice. They can help you choose awesome places according to your interests, and plan the trip you want.
If you are planning to travel to these places, click on the links in the article for more information. Or contact us to tailor-make a tour according to your requirements. Or continue to read How to Plan a First Trip to China.
Here are two sample itineraries for inspiration:
- 11 Days China Classic Wonder Tour: the most popular destinations in China
- 14-Day China History and Scenery Discovery Tour: the most important historical destinations and extraordinary scenery destinations in China
- Find more ideas from our China tours.