Things to Do in China
The 1974 discovery of thousands of life-sized Terracotta Warriors near Xian was one of the archaeological sensations of the 20th century. The figures date from 210 BC and were meant to guard the first emperor of China in the afterlife.
A huge statue of the emperor now guards the entrance to the Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum, undeniable high point of any trip to Xian. To avoid disturbing these priceless treasures, they were left in situ with enormous structures now shielding them from the elements.
Three enormous pits are filled with row upon row of these remarkable effigies, with the first pit alone holding some 6,000 examples in excellent condition. There is a fourth exhibition space which holds other pieces found here, including bronze horses and chariots.
For a genuine experience that not only show you the history of China, but also showcase its beauty, try a visit to China’s great ancient water town known as Zhujiajiao. Formed over 1,700 years ago, this wonderful canal laden town that was once an important trading hub, has seen the days of both the Yuan, Qing and Ming dynasties, and has flourished today as a an up-and-coming bohemia of Asia.
In order to truly have an understanding of this beautiful place, one must visit the towns many bridges and canals. The Fangsheng Bridge is the biggest around, wonderfully engraved with eight dragons coiling around a shining pearl. Once you’ve done that, take a boat ride on the canal gondola, where you will experience wonderful views of this historic and well-preserved town. You can also take longer boat rides lakeside, experiencing the town from a different angle and perspective.
The name ‘Erhai’ translates to ‘ear-shaped sea’ — the name giving to the 97-square-mile (250-square-kilometer) lake sandwiched between the town of Dali and the Cangshan Mountains in China’s Yunnan Province. It’s one of the seven biggest freshwater lakes in all of China and the seconds largest highland lake after Dianchi.
The local Bai people — one of China’s 56 recognized ethnic minority groups — have long used the waters of the lake for fishing using a rather unusual method. Fisherman train cormorants to catch fish (mostly carp) and return them to the fishing boat. Parks along the banks of the lake offer hiking and cycling opportunities, but most visitors choose to explore the lake by boat. These tours allow visitors to see cormorant fishing in action as well as visit some of the lake’s many islands and temples.
Anyone who’s experienced either of the Disney Magic Kingdom resorts in the United States will feel a sense of déjà vu when walking in to Hong Kong Disneyland. The Disney franchise has stayed true to form with a topnotch amusement park experience combining a few classic attractions, like Space Mountain and the Jungle Cruise with some new offerings, like the Toy Soldier Parachute Drop in the newly opened Toy Story Land. The park is split into six themed areas: Main Street USA, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Toy Story Land, Grizzly Gulch and Adventureland.
Weekdays have the lightest crowds, but no matter when you visit, remember to pick up a Fast Pass for the big attractions.
More Things to Do in China
The Little Li River (Yulong River) is the largest tributary of the Li River and the most popular for travelers in Yangshuo County, China. The Little Li River starts in northern Yangshuo County near the town of Litang and meanders 22 miles (35.4 kilometers) to where it empties into the Li River near Ping Le. While the Li River is a major thoroughfare with motorboats shuttling passengers between Guilin and Yangshou, the Little Li is serene and slow-moving, just like the agrarian lifestyle of the denizens along the banks.
An excursion down the river starts a few miles south of Yangshuo’s town center. The two to three hour trip takes visitors through the towering limestone karst formations that make the area famous along shallow, crystal-clear water. During the hotter summer months, boatmen will stop at a few popular swimming holes to get a break from the heat. While a rafting trip down the Little Li is generally peaceful and relaxing, it can be quite exhilarating as well.
Also known as the “Temple of the Souls’ Retreat,” Lingyin Temple is one of the most famous Buddhist temples in all of China. The temple was founded in 328 by the Indian monk Hui Li and it is said that he sought out this spot for the solace that is found in this corner of the Wuling Mountains. His ashes are now buried in a stone pagoda at the temple and he also bestowed an adjacent limestone peak with the name of Feilai Feng, a term which loosely translates to “peak flown from afar.” So similar was the mountain to those found back in his native India, Hui Li is said to have concluded that the only logical explanation was that the mountain had transported itself overnight from India to the outskirts of Hangzhou.
Modern day visitors to Lingyin Temple will enjoy ambling among the picturesque grottos and examining the hundreds of intricate Buddhist carvings.
Travelers don’t have to venture out into nature to get an up close look at one of China’s top wildlife attractions. That’s because since 1955 Chongqing Zoo has been showcasing the country’s most rare and most beloved animals—like giant pandas and the South China Tiger—to visitors. This destination is stationed along the Yangtze River and serves as a hub for both research and conservation. It’s home to some 230 species and more than 4,000 animals.
In addition to natural landscapes, protected areas and animal exhibitions, families will find an amusement park, outdoor stage, restaurant and even a dry skating rink. The Chongqing Zoo is the perfect place to spend an afternoon—or even an entire day—getting a unique look at nature without ever leaving the city.
The Li River’s reputation as the most beautiful in all China rests on a stretch totaling less than a quarter of its length; the 60-odd miles (100 kilometers) starting in Guilin and heading south. Here dramatic karst outcrops, dense vegetation and the clear, winding river itself create magical vistas which loom large in the Chinese imagination, having inspired art and verse for centuries.
Outside of the main cities, the painters and poets who so prized the river would find life going on here much as they remember it; water buffalo tilling terraced rice paddies, fishers angling off bamboo rafts, vendors in market towns selling the bounty of this fertile region.
The river is a year-round delight, just as stunning under blazing blue skies or wrapped in winter mists. From Guilin to Yangshuo there’s never a dull stretch, but most agree that the scenic high point comes about two-thirds the way along, at the area between the towns of Yangdi and Xingping.
There are few images more iconic to southwestern China than that of the giant panda. Unfortunately, despite its status as a Chinese national treasure, the giant panda population has been whittled down to just 1,000 pandas due to mass human development over the last century.
As a response to this ecological crisis the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding was opened in 1987 and began caring for six pandas rescued from the wild. During the 25 years since its founding the Chengdu Panda Base has employed some of the world’s leading giant panda researchers to manage an open air sanctuary where giant pandas can be bred and raised in an effort to eventually be reintroduced into wild populations.
Located only seven miles from downtown Chengdu, the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is inarguably one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of southern China.
The Confucius Temple, located in the heart of Qufu city, is the oldest and largest temple of its kind within China. Along with the Cemetery of Confucius and the Kong Family Mansion, the temple forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site collectively known as San Kong (meaning ‘The Three Confucian Sites’). Built in 479 BC, shortly after Confucius’ death, the temple features an impressive 466 halls, pavilions, and other rooms that are surprisingly still intact. Over the years, alterations and expansions on the temple building have transformed it into a sprawling complex with nine rows of courtyards leading up to a statue of Confucius before the temple entrance. The Great Accomplishment Hall forms the main basis of the building, which features another statue of Confucius and a stone inscription of the Ming Dynasty, with various images depicting the story of Confucius.
Have you ever wondered what's so forbidden about the Forbidden City? It's called that because it was closed to the outside world for 500 years. This was the seat of the Ming and the Qing emperors, and no one could enter - or leave - the imperial domain without their permission. These days, the Chinese mainly call it Gu Gong, or Former Palace.
The Forbidden City, or Beijing Imperial Palace, is BIG - you'll need to allow at least one day for your visit. UNESCO have listed it as the largest collection of ancient wooden structures in the world. There are nearly 1,000 rooms in over 800 buildings. However, because it's been ransacked by invaders and gutted by fire several times (wooden buildings, lanterns, you do the math) most of the structures date from the 18th century on. As you move around the gardens and palatial buildings, which have now been converted to museums, you'll start to get a feel for what it was like to live the imperial life.
Impression Sanjie Liu is a unique outdoor night show directed by the renowned director, Zhang Yimou and staged at the Li River in Yangshuo. This is the world’s largest natural theater, using the setting of the Li River as its stage and the mist-shrouded karst hills as its backdrop – along with whatever weather the evening may bring. For this open-aired spectacle, which is performed twice every evening in the summer, the audience watch from designated terraces while hundreds of performers appear to float on the water before them. Most of these performers are fishermen from the villages along the river, and the show itself depicts the story of the history and culture of the local Yangshuo people. Throughout the performance, impressive lighting, sound, and special smoke effects blend in harmoniously with the natural landscape of the river and its surroundings, creating a truly mesmerizing experience.
If the Li and Little Li Rivers are the lifeblood of Yangshuo, West Street (Xi Jie) is the heart. This marble-paved street, the oldest street in Yangshuo County, is lined with boutique shops, Western cafes, Chinese restaurants and youth hostels. The traditional architecture and close quarters lend a sense of antiquity to the area in spite of the neon lights that illuminate the street at night.
By day, West Street has a sleepy vibe as travelers lounge outside cafes and hostels sipping on tea and munching on banana crepes, a local breakfast specialty. By night, the area transforms into a vivacious hot spot replete with busy night clubs, relaxed beer gardens and a seemingly endless array of restaurants serving the local favorite: beer fish, and shops touting all sorts of tourist souvenirs.
Visitors planning to do some shopping along West Street should plan to visit in the evenings when most of the smaller vendors have their stalls set up.
- Things to do in Beijing
- Things to do in Shanghai
- Things to do in Xian
- Things to do in Guilin
- Things to do in Chengdu
- Things to do in Tianjin
- Things to do in Suzhou
- Things to do in Luoyang
- Things to do in Nanjing
- Things to do in Zhengzhou
- Things to do in Taiwan
- Things to do in Vietnam
- Things to do in Eastern China
- Things to do in Northwest China
- Things to do in Southwest China