China is huge, and diverse in landscape and culture. We have selected China’s most popular cities for tourism, to help you narrow down your choices and maximize your time discovering the highlights of China.
1. Beijing — Historic Capital Full of Cultural Heritage
Beijing, China's capital city for over 700 years, is rich in history, both imperial and modern. There are many well-preserved relics in Beijing, as well as recent landmarks.
It's very easy to get to Beijing by air, and it's the first stop for most first-time travelers to China. Flights and high-speed trains from Beijing to other popular cities are very convenient.
- The Great Wall is the world's longest wall and greatest ancient architecture. Mutianyu is foreigners’ favorite section.
- The Forbidden City is China's best-preserved imperial palace, and the world’s largest. See our Insider’s Guide.
- The Summer Palace is an ornate imperial garden, where the royals relaxed in the warmer months.
- The Temple of Heaven was where emperors prayed for good harvests. Now locals do morning exercises there.
Suggested stay: 2–4 days
144-hour visa-free transit: Plan Your VISA-FREE Beijing Tour
More tour tips: How to Plan a Beijing Tour
2. Xi'an — a Window on China's Ancient Civilization
The second most famous of China's ancient capitals, Xi'an, was the first capital of a united China in 221 BC, and capital for much of the next millennium. Thus Xi'an is blessed with a great number of precious relics and historical sites.
Xi'an was the starting point of the Silk Road trade route, through Asia to Europe, playing an important role in East-West economic and cultural exchange in imperial times.
- The Terracotta Army is part of the world's largest imperial tomb complex, which dates back to 206 BC.
- The Ancient City Wall is the world’s largest city fortification from the 14th century. Walk or cycle the 22-km (14-mile) loop.
- Big Wild Goose Pagoda is the library and most prominent building of one of the oldest Buddhist temples in China.
- The Muslim Quarter is a must-visit if you’d like to try some local snacks and experience China’s Muslim culture.
- Discover a local craftsman's cave dwelling and learn how to make a mini terracotta warrior.
- Enjoy a dumpling feast in a local restaurant, with dumplings in more than 20 different sizes and shapes.
Suggested stay: 1–3 days
Visa-free: Xi'an has a 72-hour visa-free transit policy.
More tour tips: How to Plan a Tour of Xi'an
3. Shanghai — China's Prosperous Largest City
Shanghai, China's biggest city, oozes an atmosphere of vitality, which can rival New York and Paris. As one of the world's leading economic and business cities, Shanghai's modernity is evidenced by its ambitious skyline.
Unlike in Beijing, there are not many famous attractions. However, the beauty of visiting Shanghai lies not in a richness of relics, but in experiencing the city's historic and cutting-edge grandeur.
- The Bund is a worthy walk by day or night. See the colonial architecture one side and awesome skyline the other.
- Yu Garden is a delightful traditional Chinese garden, in sharp contrast to the busy city surrounding it.
- Zhujiajiao Water Town is the best of the charming ancient canal towns in Shanghai.
- Shanghai Tower, tallest building in China, second globally, offers a great view of Shanghai and China’s future.
- Experience the world's fastest train — the Maglev, running at 431 kph (270 mph).
- Take a cruise on the Huangpu River to admire Shanghai's remarkable views.
- Enjoy some leisure time in the French Concession, a Chinese garden, or a water town near Shanghai.
Suggested stay: 1–3 days
Visa-free: The Shanghai area has a 6-day visa-free transit policy.
More tour tips: How to Plan a Shanghai Tour
4. Guilin — China's Top Karst Landscape
Guilin, with its marvelous limestone scenery, is renowned as one of the most beautiful place on earth. On his tour, Former US President Nixon remarked: "I have found that no city can surpass the beauty of Guilin."
Guilin is an hour due west from Hong Kong by air. A tour of Hong Kong can be easily combined with a Guilin tour for visa-free travel.
- The Li River is one of the most beautiful sights on the planet. It is best experienced with a cruise or a leisurely hike along its banks.
- Yangshuo is a foreigners’ favorite — a great place to experience rural China.
- The Longji Terraced Fields boast fantastic natural scenery with sprawling rice terraces and rich ethnic culture.
- Discover the Old Town of Daxu with a local scholar.
- Experience some farming activities in a village near Yangshuo.
- Enjoy a helicopter tour to have a bird’s view of the Li River.
- Taste some Guilin local food, such as rice noodles, bamboo rice and oil tea.
Suggested stay: 1–4 days
Guilin Visa-free travel: 72-hour for 51 countries, and 144-hour for 10 ASEAN countries.
More tour tips: How to Plan a Day in Guilin
5. Chengdu — Hometown of Giant Pandas
Although there are giant pandas in zoos in various places around the world, the best place to see pandas is in Chengdu.
Chengdu is also famous for delicious Sichuan food like kung pao chicken and spicy hotpot. You can experience cooking the most authentic Sichuan cuisine with a local chef.
- Hold a panda in your arm and take photos.
- Try spicy Sichuan hot pot.
- Enjoy magical face changing.
- Take an onward tour to Jiuzhai Valley.
Suggested stay: 1–4 days
Visa-free travel: Long-haul international flights from Chengdu are increasing, so more travelers can enjoy its 72-hour visa-free policy.
More tour tips: How to Plan a Chengdu Tour
6. Hangzhou — Shanghai’s Picturesque Backyard with Rich Culture
When Marco Polo came to Hangzhou in the 13th century, he declared it "the most beautiful and elegant city in the world". There is a popular Chinese saying: "Above there is heaven, below there are Hangzhou and Suzhou."
Hangzhou's "heavenly" beauty and Buddhist, imperial, and tea culture attract millions of travelers yearly. There are convenient 1-hour high-speed trains from/to Shanghai.
- West Lake, famous for its stunning scenery and various historical sites, can be enjoyed by bike, walking, or boat ride.
- Lingyin Temple, one of the most important and wealthiest Buddhist temples, has many pagodas and Buddhist grottoes.
- The Grand Canal, from Hangzhou to Beijing, is the longest ancient canal in the world. Some parts are over 2,000 years old.
- Wuzhen Water Town is a restored ancient water town looking like a traditional Chinese painting.
- On our 1-Day Dragon Well Tea Culture Tour, step into a tea plantation to pick tea leaves and learn the art of tea making.
- Paint your own oiled-paper umbrella at an artisan’s pavilion.
- Enjoy a boat ride on the charismatic water town canals, and even on the Grand Canal itself.
Suggested stay: 1–2 days
Visa-free travel: Hangzhou shares a 144-hour visa-free transit zone with Shanghai.
More tour tips: How to Plan a Hangzhou Tour
7. Suzhou — Elegant Water Towns and Gardens
Suzhou is famous for the water towns around it and its traditional Chinese gardens. The gardens harmoniously mix man-made landscapes with architecture, painting, calligraphy, and horticulture; enclosed like pearls by walls.
China's water towns hold the quintessential image of traditional Chinese Yangtze Delta life. 30 minutes by high-speed train from Shanghai, 5 hours from Beijing, it’s easy to combine Beijing, Shanghai, and Suzhou in a tour.
- Take a rickshaw ride in Suzhou’s alleys and catch a glimpse of local people’s lives.
Suggested stay: 1–2 days
Visa-free travel: Suzhou shares a 144-hour visa-free transit zone with Shanghai and Hangzhou.
More tour tips: How to Plan a Suzhou Tour
8. Huangshan — Majestic Beauty
Huangshan is steeped in picturesque natural landscapes and history. Marvel at the peculiarly-shaped rocks and pines of the Yellow Mountains. It’s stunning views are best among China’s “Famous Mountains”.
The ancient-styled dwellings in quaint fengshui villages present ancient China's elegance and tranquility, with well-preserved ancient folk houses and flowing rivers.
- The Yellow Mountains is one of the most beautiful mountains in China. You are recommended to spend a day and a night on the mountains, and don’t miss the sunrise.
- Hongcun Village is a charming ancient village with a history of over 800 years. It will show you the original Hui style architecture.
- Xidi Village is blessed with rich history and beautiful rural surrounding. It has a more tranquil feel compared to Hongcun.
Suggested stay: 3–4 days
More tour tips: How to Plan a Huangshan Tour
9. Hong Kong — Like Nowhere Else on Earth
Hong Kong is a fusion of cultures. Remnants of its colonial past and British culture share space with Chinese tradition. It is also a world-renowned shopping paradise, known for its tourist-friendly atmosphere and numerous attractions.
The huge shopping malls of Central and Admiralty and the street fashion factory in Causeway Bay are reasons for many travelers to make their Hong Kong trips.
- Victoria Harbour is home to “the world's most beautiful skyline”. Its skyscrapers’ Symphony of Lights is amazing.
- Victoria Peak is the best spot for a bird's-eye view over Victoria Harbour. The Peak Tram is very popular.
- Lantau Island has several theme parks like Disneyland, tourist sites, parks, and areas of natural beauty.
- Enjoy authentic dim sum a local restaurant.
- Take the Star Ferry, world’s favorite ferry ride, to enjoy the skylines of Victoria Harbour.
- Ride a tram to experience the color and atmosphere of Hong Kong's street life.
Suggested stay: 1–3 days
Visa-free travel: Hong Kong has a liberal visa-free policy, which opens up many other cities on the mainland for visa-free transit. If you are transiting via Hong Kong, here are 5 things to do to make the most of your stopover time.
More tour tips: How to Plan a 3-Day Tour of Hong Kong's Highlights
10. Lhasa — Gateway to Holy Tibet
Lhasa, capital of Tibet, is the center of Tibetan cultural and religious life. Most tourists enter Tibet via Lhasa. Outside the city is Tibet's wealth of natural wonders and holy sites, from Lake Namtso to Mt. Everest, to Mount Kailash.
"Lhasa" is Tibetan for "place of the gods", and is revered as such. There are many sites and religious sites in the city proper and its suburbs.
- The Potala Palace, the Dalai Lamas' Winter Palace, houses countless treasures including eight holy stupas (tombs).
- Barkhor Street is a place for you to go souvenir hunting, and experience the sacred "one step one bow" way to religion.
- Sera Monastery offers a rare chance for you to watch the monks' debate, held 3:30pm every day except Sunday.
- Mount Everest, Earth's highest mountain, is the holy grail of mountaineers and sacred among the Tibetans and Nepalese.
- Visit a Tibetan family to experience how people of the roof of the world live.
- Attending a Tibetan festival will give you the best insight into Tibetan culture and beliefs — feel the grandness and reverence.
- Venture outside Lhasa to take in Tibet’s pristine landscapes — the holy lakes and sacred peaks are breathtaking!
Suggested stay: 4–8 days
More tour tips: How to Plan a Tibet Tour
Discover China’s Most Popular Cities with Us
A couple is learning to make bamboo rice in an ethnic village in Guilin.
It is not easy to organize an excellent itinerary for these destinations on your own. For a first trip to China, most choose to visit Beijing for the Great Wall and Forbidden City, Xi’an for viewing the Terracotta Army, Guilin for its stunning scenery, and Shanghai for its skyline.
These two most-selected itineraries feature the top destinations in China:
For return trips to China, you can get inspiration from our recommendations here, or tell us your interests, and we will tailor make your China trip.