This post is on the best cities to visit in China, particularly the central and southern regions of the country. Here, you will find top sights in China that shouldn’t be missed, and some tips and advice to perfect your trip!
The best cities to visit in China aren’t always the most famous ones. Having lived in China for 10 years and traveled across the country on multiple occasions, it is without a doubt that some of the top sights in China are unfamiliar to many. This is not to say that classic destinations like Beijing and Xi’an shouldn’t be added to your travel list, but do consider all possibilities if you are embarking on a trip across mainland China!
China is a beautiful country. With over 5000 years of documented history and one of the largest populations in the world, the country’s rich culture and delicious cuisine seem only somewhat charming when compared to its diverse scenery. With high mountains and low seas, each region in China is characterized by a unique feature.
In recent years, China’s urban landscape has changed greatly to accompany its rising economy. With the Open-Door Policy in 1978, China’s desire to catch up to Western modernization led to its own industrial revolution. The country underwent vast development, which corresponded to millions of factories and high-rise buildings that popped up along seashores and within city grounds.
I was born in China in the 1990s. Between moving, traveling, and studying, I witnessed Xi’an and Shenzhen, both cities close to my heart, transform before my eyes. With such a transform, traveling in China has become much easier. The best cities in China, as well as the top sights in China, are easily accessible with the right information!
Here are a few extra things to make your trip around China easier!
Find affordable flights on Kiwi, a booking site that mixes and matches flights from different airlines to find the best/most economic route (Kiwi offers a money-back guarantee if you miss a connection).
Find economic hotel options on Hotels.com
Here are 10 things you should know before visiting China!
Below are some of the best cities in China with the most beautiful sights, especially if you are planning a trip in the Central and Southern regions of this vast country.
Kate and Kris from What Kate and Kris Did
Shanghai is a fantastic mix of ancient and modern. One of the best cities to visit in China, it’s not surprising that there is so much to see. From the old Yuan Gardens and Jade Buddha Temple, the colonial buildings on the Bund, and the hypermodern skyscrapers of the Pudong Skyline, you can span the ages in a few days.
When we aren’t teaching English, some of our favorite things to do are wandering around the pretty French Concession area, the narrow streets of Tianzifang and Xintandi, where the old shophouses are now home to gift shops, restaurants, and bars.
The Shanghai metro system is expansive and it’s easy to get around. However, don’t try to travel on it at rush hour. There are so many people trying to get home at the same time that it’s like a sardine can. People pack into the train carriages so tightly that there is no way to get off! We once saw someone leave the carriage horizontally!
In Shanghai you can find food from all over China. Something that visitors from the west perhaps don’t appreciate is that Chinese food is diverse and totally different from ‘Chinese’ food we get back home. Food from Yunan is different from spicy Sichuan hotpots, or the kebabs of Xicheng. The thing to eat in Shanghai is dumplings. Xiaolongbao are the famous soup dumplings, meat-filled dough which is steamed. There’s a knack of how to eat them without the hot soup-style gravy inside burning your tongue!
Suzhou, Jiangsu Province
The Best Cities to Visit in China
Talek from Travels with Talek
Suzhou is one of the best cities to visit in China. It’s a quintessential Chinese water town that sits on the Yangtze River Delta. Canals meander through the town, restaurants sit right on the water, vendors sell their merchandises from boats and gracefully carved bridges dot the town at every turn.
Although a town of almost 5 million inhabitants, Suzhou is a mere village by Chinese standards. It is part of Jiangsu Province, one of China’s most prosperous, about one and a half hours drive south of Shanghai making for a great day trip from that megapolis.
History abounds in pretty Suzhou. People have called Suzhou home for over 2,500 years. Many historical buildings and sites bear testament to the time when Suzhou was one of the ten largest and most important cities in the world around 100 CE.
Today Suzhou is a major tourist center for both local Chinese and international tourism. Textile, particularly silk manufacturing is also a major component of the city’s economy. It is fascinating to visit a silk manufacturing factory and see how this beautiful and smooth material is made from silkworms to looms to the final manufacturing process creating lovely patterns.
Suzhou also has some of the top sights in China, with major tourist draws such as strolling around the ancient town, crossing the delicately carved bridges, navigating the canals, and exploring the ancient restored homes some of which are now museums.
Two Suzhou gardens that have become famous worldwide are the Humble Administrator’s Garden and YouYicun Garden, both of which are worth a visit. But the highlight of this town has to be its local cuisine available in any one of the many restaurants.
Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province
Top Cities to Visit in China
Pia from Next Stop TBC
My first visit to China was over a decade ago and I was impressed by this great country. Four years ago, the opportunity presented itself and I got to experience Hangzhou from April to December for work. It was an unforgettable experience.
Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang Province and one of the seven ancient capitals of China. This city has some of the top sights in China, such as West Lake, recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. West Lake is an idyllic place worth visiting for its gorgeous scenery, Buddhist temples, arched bridges, and lush gardens. It’s a very popular destination, so it’s best to go there on a weekday. Hangzhou is also famous for its Longjing green tea and silk, which make excellent souvenirs.
Hangzhou can be reached from Shanghai by a one-hour bullet train connection and I would recommend others to visit the city during spring or autumn. It is best to avoid public holidays, which occurs at the beginning of May and October, as it gets very crowded.
Zhejiang cuisine is one of the eight culinary traditions of China and dining is a social experience where people gather around a round table to savor numerous courses. Some delicious vegetarian dishes include eggplant and cauliflower stir-fried with garlic and a bit of chili. Shrimp in Longjing tea and honey lotus root are local specialties that I highly recommend.
Hongcunzhen, Huangshan City, Anhui Province
Wendy from The Nomadic Vegan
Hongcun village in southern Anhui province is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the most popular of the ancient villages in this area where the Hui style of architecture has been preserved.
Entrance fee of RMB 104 is charged to visit the village, which is open from 7 am to 5:30 pm. The ticket is valid for three days and must be shown each time you enter or leave the village. Unlike overrun Lijiang in Yunnan, tourism is low-key here. You won’t find many souvenir stalls or pushy touts; just people quietly going about their daily lives.
Hongcun was founded in the Song dynasty and then remodeled during the Ming dynasty. Using feng shui principles and a great deal of symbolism, the layout of the village is meant to resemble the body of an ox. Leigang hill at the west end of the village is the head, two trees represent the horns, and the village itself is the body. The canals of the waterway system, which still function today, represent the ox’s intestines. These canals feed into the picturesque Moon Pond and the Southern Lake.
Hongcun was a trading center and is filled with homes of wealthy merchants decorated with ornate wooden carvings. One building worth seeking out is the Chengzhi Hall, which belonged to a wealthy salt merchant. In addition to the Qing-dynasty carvings of scenes from Chinese mythology, if you look closely you’ll also see faded portraits of Chairman Mao on the walls. These were left by the Red Army when they stayed here during the Long March.
Tianmen Mountain, Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province
Ben from Horizon Unknown
Tianmen Mountain is one spot in China that should be high on everyone’s must-see list. Situated in the Hunan Province, this towering ancient mountain is believed to give good luck to those who reach the summit.
This mountain is home to many myths and legends. Unicorns are said to have roamed the paths around Tianmen Mountain, an ancient General, Li Zicheng, hid treasure somewhere inside the mountain that hasn’t been found.
Soaring 1,519 meters above sea level, the many pathways wind around giving stunning vistas of surrounding mountains. To make the most of your visit, plan for a clear day for best visibility of nearby mountain ranges.
There are two common ways to reach the summit of Tianmen Mountain. A bus that winds up 99 bends and drops you off at the base of a steep 999 step staircase. The other way is the longest high mountain cable in the world, at 7,454 meters in distance, the views as you ascend into the clouds are unforgettable.
Tianmen Mountain is well known for its glass walkways situated around 1400 meters above the valley floor. The most popular clear glass path to test your fear of heights is known as the “Walk of Faith”.
Chengdu, Sichuan Province
Lisa from Clumsy Stray Cat
Chengdu is a rather unique and exciting place to visit in China. As the capital of the Sichuan province, it is an influential economic, financial, and cultural region in Southwestern China – and it has been an important region throughout most of its past. In the 4th century BC, the ninth king of Shu’s Kaiming dynasty came and named his new capital Chengdu, a name that remained mostly unchanged throughout the imperial, republican, and communist eras.
And those different eras are still present in the city. There is a great buzzing vibe and so much to see and do in Chengdu! You could check out the Mao statue at Tianfu Square, visit Wenshu Monastery, and Wuhou Temple, or walk around Qintai Road, Kuanzhai Alley and Jinli Pedestrian Street. And if you’re into food, I suggest you go to a traditional tea house (who doesn’t like tea?) as well as taste Sichuan hotpot (beware, though, it is SPICY).
But Chengdu’s main draw is perhaps the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. It is a fun, interesting, and enlightening experience that brings you close to one of China’s most famous animals: pandas. Be sure to make room in your itinerary for this activity. It is just north of Chengdu and easily reached via a variety of buses and metro line 3.
Lijiang, Yunnan Province
Nikki & Michelle from Cheeky Passports
Making it to the ranks of Unesco Heritage Sites, Lijiang’s charming old town features historical aspects you would expect from an ancient settlement, including cobbled pathways which are best tackled with comfortable shoes.
Lijiang was the main prefecture controlled by the Mu family during the Ming and Qing dynasty. This character has been well preserved through its architecture and cultural appeal, including attractions such as traditional Naxi-dancing ‘flash mobs’ which gather around the town’s square at unannounced times.
With frequent train and bus connections to Kunming, making your way to Lijiang is not hard at all. Do bear in mind that keeping your passport handy whilst booking any transportation in the area is always necessary.
Visitors to the town will not find it hard to gather a list of attractions and places to visit in Lijiang. The area’s most instagrammable feature is the Black Dragon Pond Park, which conveniently lies at a walking distance north of the town’s center.
The Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Park, a very picturesque attraction, also makes for a perfect day trip from town. Organized tours to the snow mountain are plenty, but traveling independently is also entirely possible, although it would be best to purchase supplies such as oxygen bottles and snacks in Lijiang town itself.
Lijiang is also a convenient base from where to organize the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek. The smaller and well-preserved old towns of Baisha and Shaxi are also worth the short bus trip from Lijiang town center.
Kaili City, Guizhou Province
Best Cities to Visit in China
Kaili City is one of the best cities to visit in China, due to both its beautiful landscape and captivating Miao culture. The Miao people are a minority population that primarily live in Southern China. In fact, the entire province of Guizhou is worth a visit. From rural villages to undulating hills, this scenic region is definitely one of the top sights in China.
Each village-visit should be accompanied by stops at handicraft stalls and local merchant shops. The traditional attire worn by the Miao people are decorated with silver ornaments and embroideries. These gorgeous clothing are especially captivating, dotting the green hills with splashes of red and blue.
Yangshuo, Guangxi Province
Clare from Travels in Peru
The most beautiful place I visited in China has to be Yangshuo. It is surrounded by karst peaks, now covered in vegetation with the River Li running through it.
Guilin City is the most well-known city in the county of Yangshuo and one of the best cities to visit in China. It is popular for both domestic and foreign visitors, with many activities to do in the surrounding area.
Sitting on a wooden chair on a bamboo raft is a unique and exciting experience, especially when you hit a few tiny rapids.
If you like cycling then rent a bike and cycle through the scenic 10-mile gallery, where you can pass through the breathtaking fields. Visit Moon Hill as it has one of the top sights in China. You might even see a marriage proposal there!!
Another must is rock climbing, there are over 400 routes in the area, from easy to very difficult treks you can partake in. A raft ride down River Li is a relaxing way to end your visit since the scenic views and the restful ride will be more than pleasing.
Xiamen, Fujian Province
Annalisa from Travel Connect Experience
Xiamen was developed from an island 4 kms from mainland China. Although it is relatively new, Xiamen’s population increased steadily as it welcomed migrants from other regions and many foreigners from abroad.
Xiamen is one of the local’s favorite holiday destinations. Subtropical, warm weather and laid back atmosphere are some of the many reasons as to why it is one of the best cities to visit in China. As a port that was opened to Western influence at the beginning of the 20th century, its local customs is a tad extroverted when compared to that of mainland China.
You can see the colonial influence reflected in the architecture of the city center, especially around Zhongshan Road and Siming Nan. Siming Bei Road on Gulangyu Island is one of the top sights in China and the main point of interest in the city. Having lived in Xiamen, I noticed that local dialect and customs resonate deeply with the Taiwanese culture.
When you visit Xiamen, be sure to reserve your accommodation in Siming District so you can easily access major attractions. Do spend some time at Xiamen University and enjoy its characteristic buildings, cafes, and lakes; the Nanputuo Buddhist Temple Hill; Huandao Road, and its refined boardwalk that circumnavigates the island from Baicheng Gate to Huli district; and the Bird Sanctuary on Gulangyu Island.
To have a taste of the local delicacies like “Shacha noodles”, head to the Taiwan Food Street which is located downtown, close to the ferry towards Gulangyu Island. Also, spend some time visiting the small tea shops that are spared across the island. Have a taste of the tea culture by stopping at a booth on the side of the road, and taking a sip of a popular green tea such as “Tieguanyin” or a red tea like “Dahongbao.”
As the third largest country in the world, China’s weather can vary depending on the location. South China has a mild climate with hot summers and cool winters. It rarely snows, but does experience plenty of rainfall, especially during monsoon season.
Best Time to Visit China
Due to its hot summers and chilly winters, Spring and Fall are the best time to visit China. April and May, or September and October have the best weather depending on where you are. Do avoid the beginning of May and October, since they are public holidays.
Map for this Guide
China is full of beautiful places to visit. From historic city of Xi’an to the serene Labrang Monastery, this country will surely surely surprise you with all that it has to offer. Need some Travel Inspiration? If not, what are you waiting for?
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