If China isn’t on your travel bucket-list for 2018, then it should be. Just as affordable as neighbouring Vietnam and nearby Thailand, China is second in the world for World Heritage sites and its size means much of the country remains untouched by tourists. Beijing might be home to the Great Wall, but only touches the surface as to what the country has to offer. Here are fifteen places to visit in China (beyond Beijing).
Beach resorts and China don’t usually go together- but Sanya is an idyllic exception. If visiting in winter, the city offers a welcome respite from the bitter climates of places like Beijing. Here the weather is tropical year-round and you’ll find beautiful beaches dotted along the coast. Try out Yalong Bay, framed with the Buddhist Statue ‘The Guanyin of Nanshan’ (one of the tallest in the world).
Photo Credit: Jenna Farmer
Just a two-hour train journey from Shanghai lies the ancient port city Ningbo. Tourists are rare here and the vast, modern city provides a base to explore some of China’s hidden scenic spots, such as the serene Wulong Pond and Yellow Mountain. Guaranteed to be selfie-stick free.
Despite being a special administration of China, Macau differs in every way from the mainland: from its cuisine (a strong Portuguese influence means its staple dish is custard tarts) to its currency (Macanese Pataca) and activities (Macau is the only place where gambling is legal). The glitzy Las Vegas-style casinos are well worth a visit, even if your strapped for cash (a free bus runs between them all) but the city’s architecture, such as The Ruins of St Paul’s, should also be on your to-do-list.
‘Gardens and Canals’ is a pretty concise summary of Suzhou’s attractions (in fact, 42% of the city is covered with water). But when your gardens are a World Heritage UNESCO site dating back to the 1500s,that’s really all you need. The Humble Administrator’s garden is the most famous-and stretches for almost 13 acres.
Chengdu is a modern and bustling city but almost all tourists visit for one reason only – pandas! The Giant Panda Breeding Research Base, a bus ride from the city centre, gives visitors the chance to get up close with the furry creatures, take photos and even feed them. It doesn’t come cheap (whilst its only 58¥/£7 to enter, prices rise to up to 2000¥ /£230 for closer encounters). It is a once in the lifetime trip and how can we resist those furry faces?
As China’s most North-western city, Harbin’s temperatures plummet up to -38 degrees at winter. Being cold, however, is Harbin’s claim to fame, as each December-February sees its renowned ice and snow sculpture festival take place. A spectacle of thousands of enormous, neon-lit ice sculptures built by an estimated 10,000 workers provide the perfect backdrop for the ‘gram.
When China has travellers ‘city-ed out’, many head to Mogashan Mountains. A few hours bus-ride from Shanghai, this bamboo forest complete with hiking trails and waterfalls, is the perfect place to get back to nature. 80¥ (just over £9) will get you into the park and once inside there are several hiking trails to get you back on track.
Photo Credit: Jenna Farmer
Hangzhou is home to China’s famous West Lake; a vast and tranquil setting that with its many pagodas, gardens, temples and boat rides easily takes a full day to explore. Book ahead to nab a dorm at Hangzhou International Youth Hostel, a wee walk from the lake’s entrance and home to some of the best food in the city.
Nanjing has many of Beijing’s pull factors (cheap to get around, a mix of western and traditional cuisine and important culture landmarks) without its chaos and congestion. Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall is an unmissable venue, a sobering tribute to the WW2 massacre that killed over 300,000 people.
Photo credit: Jenna Farmer
With four train stations and two airports, Shanghai is a hub to the rest of China. A stroll and ferry ride across the majestic Bund should be first on your itinerary, followed by scaling the heights of Shanghai’s many skyscrapers and rooftop bars.
Nanjing Road is a shopping-hub crammed with Western bars, whilst People’s Square is a much-needed spot of greenery. This is where many local traditions take place (including the infamous marriage market where parents match make their unmarried children!) We’ll stick to Love Island…
Scenic-centric Guilin has stunning landscapes, a mild climate and pollution-free skies. Not often frequented by international tourists, the city is very popular with domestic ones; who flock to the Li River, famous for its scenery depicted on China’s 20 yuan notes. From there, take a two-hour bus ride to neighbouring Longsheng for the beautiful Longji Rice Terraces.
Afraid of heights? In Zhangjiejie you’ll find Tianmen Mountain national park, a world heritage site said to be the inspiration for the film Avatar. Its views just can’t be topped and thrill-seekers will love the glass skywalk across the cliff at 4,600 feet. Dare you to look down!
Photo Credit: Jenna Farmer
The Terracotta Warriors drive many people to Xi’an, but it’s become a bit of a tourist cliché. Far more interesting is Xi’an’s centre with its majestic bell tower (beautifully lit-up at night), peaceful city walls that are perfect for cycling around and the Muslim Quarter for cheap-eats and people watching.
14.Tiger Leaping Gorge
Very popular amongst hikers, Tiger Leaping Gorge is a stunning trail along the Jinsha river. It’s billed one of the world’s deepest canyons and its hiking trail (which many complete over 2-3 days) is approximately 22 kilometres and is 8858 ft. above ground. There’s guesthouses within the gorge itself, as well as in Lijiang; a nearby city accessible by bus. Perfect to rest your head after a vigorous days hiking.
Shenzen used to be know as a gateway to Hong Kong, but has recently emerged as a destination in its own right. As well offering blue skies, sandy beaches and golf resorts; tourists love its many theme parks. Short of time? Windows of The World allows you to see replicas of all of China’s most famous attractions such as The Great Wall and West Lake.
Venture beyond Beijing and start your adventure in one of these incredible hostels in China.
Still want to add Beijing to the list? Check out our guide for the top things to do in the city.
About the author:
Jenna Farmer is a freelance journalist from Warwickshire. Having spent several years working in China and travelling across South Asia, she’s now back in the UK. Jenna also runs a blog all about living, eating and travelling with food intolerances.