The fifth-largest city in a country of over a billion people, Chengdu rarely sees a moment where there isn't something happening. More than just a metropolis, the city that first gave the world paper currency is also surrounded by the culturally rich mountains of Sichuan and sits right on the doorstep of the Tibetan plateau. Circled by UNESCO World Heritage sites and brimming with thousands of teahouses and pubs, Chengdu is the perfect jumping off point for a foray into the wonders of Sichuan. Though the province warrants extended exploration, here is a three-day itinerary to get you on your feet.
Day 1: Mt Qingcheng, Dujiangyan Irrigation System, and a Sichuan opera
If you're looking for some peace and quiet in a city of 11 million people, you can head to the forested wilderness of Mt Qingcheng, set 35 miles outside of the city center. The preferred trekking destination of choice for locals, the summit of one of the most sacred mountains in Taoism is reachable via a four-hour climb past ancient temples and lonely caves. Or, if you're short on time, peruse the confines of Jianfu Temple at the base of the mountain and then ride the cable car up the mountain. Then head over to the Dujiangyan Irrigation System for a look at one of the world's most ingenious no-dam waterways. If you still have the energy once back in Chengdu, finish off the day with a Sichuan opera or cultural show for a rousing evening of face-changing performers, thumping percussion, and high-flying acrobats.
Day 2: Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, Green Ram Temple, and Renmin Park
You'll want to be up early in order to reach the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, easily Chengdu's most famous attraction. A feeding takes place at 9am, and this is the best chance you'll have to see active giant pandas. Then grab a taxi back into town for a gander at the famously strange sculpture at Qingyang Palace. Often referred to as "Green Ram Temple," this name refers to a bronze goat with the characteristics of all 12 animals found in the Chinese zodiac. Relax and enjoy a cup of green tea to bolster your energy for evening dancing at Renmin Park (People's Park).
Day 3: Day trip to the Leshan Giant Buddha
Although set about an hour outside of Chengdu, there is no way you can come this close to the world'slargest stone carved Buddha and not take a trip out to see it. A masterful figure with toes taller than a human and 18-foot-long (5.5-meter) eyebrows, the Leshan Giant Buddha can be considered one of the spiritual wonders of the world. Many visitors combine a trip to the buddha with a two-day hiking excursion on Mt Emei, so those with more than three days in Chengdu are encouraged to head further afield and climb the ancient slopes of what is the tallest of all the sacred mountains of Buddhism.