Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Southern China
Considered one of the most beautiful mountains on Earth, Tianmen Mountain (Tianmen Shan) is a highlight of a visit to Zhangjiajie. The mountain summits at 4,983 feet (1,519 meters), with plenty of spectacular sights on the way up, including near vertical cliffs, a winding walkway appropriately named the 99 Bends, and a rock arch called Heaven’s Gate. (Tianmen Mountain literally means "Heaven's Gate Mountain".)
If you’ve seen the James Cameron filmAvatar, the scenery at China’s majestic Zhangjiajie National Forest Park (Zhangjiajie Guojia Senlin Gongyuan) might look familiar. Yuanjiajie, the most popular spot in the park, is where you’ll find the Avatar Hallelujah Mountains, while the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon area is home to one of the highest and longest glass bridges in the world.
Along the banks of the Li River (Li Jiang) as it winds south from Guilin, dramatic karst peaks, dense vegetation, and the winding river itself create magical vistas that loom large in the Chinese imagination, having inspired art and verse for centuries. From Guilin to Yangshuo, there’s never a dull stretch along China’s most beautiful river.
Guangzhou’s loftiest and most impressive skyscraper, the vertiginous Canton Tower is one of the tallest buildings on Earth and Guangzhou’s most notable structure. Unveiled in time for the 2010 Asian Games, the freestanding structure is known for its slim shape, its outdoor observation decks, and the rainbow lights it sports after dark.
For the farmers who reside in Southern China’s Longji region, rice terraces are simply a way of life. Yet for the thousands of annual visitors who make the 2-hour journey from the city of Guilin, the Longji Rice Terraces—nicknamed the Dragon’s Backbone—are an iconic symbol of Chinese agriculture and one of the most photographed sites in the country.
Located 3 miles (5 kilometers) from downtown Guilin, this famous limestone cave is one of the top attractions in Guilin. It’s named for the reeds that grow outside the cave, which are used to make flutes. The cave stretches for 787 feet (240 meters), and is colorfully lit inside to highlight the interesting collection of stone pillars, stalactites, and stalagmites found within.
Impression Sanjie Liu is a unique outdoor night show directed by renowned filmmaker Zhang Yimou and staged at the Li River in Yangshuo. In the world’s largest natural theater, Yimou uses the river as a stage and the mist-shrouded karsts as a backdrop for a spectacle of light, sound, and intricate choreography.
The Pearl River (Zhujiang) stretches for 1,376 miles (2,214 kilometers) from Xi Jiang to the Pearl River Delta where it pours into the South China Sea. It’s the third longest river in China and the second largest by volume. According to local legend, the river got its name from a huge boulder in the middle of the river, smoothed by water erosion to resemble a round pearl in the middle of the river.
The most famous portion of the Pearl River flows through the heart of Guangzhou, and the waterfront is home to many of the city’s top attractions, White Goose Pool and the behemoth Canton Tower among them.
One of the most popular ways to enjoy the Pearl River in Guangzhou is by cruise. While boats ply the waters throughout the day, the best time to experience the sights of the river are at night, when the Guangzhou skyline is colorfully lit up. No matter when you cruise, you’ll likely pass beneath the 10 bridges that span the river within the city.
Guangzhou is home to one of the world’s most popular water parks, welcoming more than 2 million visitors annually. Chimelong Water Park has more play structures than nearly any other park in the world; thrill-seekers can zip down the Master Blaster, swirl around the Tornado or race each other down high-speed slides.
Besides a huge range of water slides, the park also features a spa pool, massage pools, lazy river, aqua plaza play zone, splash fountains and an infinity pool. The world’s largest wave pool creates nine different types of waves, while the Rain Fortress holds the record of the world’s largest single themed water attraction.
Live performances are staged throughout the day, and guests have five dining options to choose from, ranging from fast casual to sit-down.
Covered by lush tropical evergreen rainforest, Yalong Bay Tropical Paradise Forest Park protects a huge swath of coastal land, home to more than 130 plant and 190 animal species. A popular place to commune with Mother Nature for the day, the park is also home to one of the biggest trail networks in Hainan Province. A small pagoda at the top of the highest peak affords superb views of Hainan Island.
While hiking is a popular option, it’s not the only way to navigate the park. A tourist bus shuttles visitors between scenic spots (included in the entrance fee), and there’s also a rope bridge and a zip line where visitors can catch a glimpse of the forest from the canopy level. Between activities, it’s possible to lie down on a tranquil beach, dine at a mountaintop restaurant or even go for a swim in a clifftop pool.
More Things to Do in Southern China
A UNESCO Scenic and Historic Interest Area, Wulingyuan encompasses more than 100 square miles (260 square kilometers) of Hunan Province. The vast area is most famous for its 3,000 narrow sandstone pillars, some poking more than 650 feet (200 meters) into the sky, as well as serene streams, natural pools, waterfalls, natural bridges, and karst caves.
Wuzhizhou Island, a former fisherfolk isle, is now one of Sanya’s most scenic beach destinations. The tiny butterfly-shaped island a few miles off the coast of Hainan gets its name from the colorful coral reefs just of the beach, where divers and snorkelers head to spot conches, sea urchins and a host of tropical fish.
Back on shore, the island is ringed with soft, white sand beaches, ideal for sunbathing. Other points of interest on the island include a temple dedicated to Matsu, the Buddhist goddess of the sea, and aptly named Sunrise Rock, where visitors come in the early hours to watch the sun peek up from the watery horizon. Several bars and restaurants cater to island visitors, and there’s a small guest house for those who prefer to stay the night.
The Yulong River, also known as the Little Li River, is the largest tributary of the Li River, and it runs 26 miles (43 kilometers) across Yangshuo county. The river flows past limestone karsts, bamboo forests, rice paddies, ancient villages, and stone bridges. Floating down the river, or hiking or biking next to it, provides up-close views.
The Yanoda Rainforest Cultural Tourism Zone, an eco-theme park for adventure enthusiasts, is set amid the lush greenery of Hainan Island, nicknamed the Hawaii of China. Park guests can hike along shaded paths through the dense forest, over bridges and past waterfalls, or for a thrill, zip line through the canopy or cool off with a waterfall climb.
A small village area has a cafe and some souvenir shops. While a guide through the park isn’t really necessary (and the official park guides speak limited English), it is possible to rent an audio guide inside with information on rainforest conservation and local Chinese legends about Hainan Island.
Opened in 2000, the Chimelong International Circus has become the largest professional circus venue in the world, where guests are taken on a multimedia journey of special effects, laser lights, acrobatics, horsemanship, clown antics, magic, dancing and a thrilling motorcycle Ball of Death, where nine riders perform at high speeds inside a suspended metal globe.
Before and after the 80-minute show, guests can shop for circus-themed souvenirs at the Circusky or Day & Night shops or grab something to eat at the Circustar Restaurant.
China's Chimelong Safari Park is the largest wild animal theme park in the world. Located in the biggest city in south China, Guangzhou, the park is home to some 20,000 animals and is presently the only zoo in the country to be awarded the 5A class tourist attraction level, the highest level obtainable.
Of its 20,000 animals, Chimelong features more than 500 species, including the giant panda, pygmy hippopotamus, black rhinoceros and white tiger. Visitors can self-drive through nine themed safari zones housing animals from every corner of the world, from native Australian kangaroos and koalas to cheetahs and lions from South Africa.
A huge attraction at the park is the set of panda triplets born here in 2014. Panda triplets are incredibly rare, and in fact, these are the only live set in the world today. In addition to safari tours, there are a whole host of other attractions and shows within the park, as well as plenty of shopping and dining opportunities.
One of the most popular attractions in Yangshuo, Moon Hill (Yueliang Shan) is easily recognizable by its crescent-moon-shaped natural arch, the remnants of what was once a limestone cave (Moon Palace). Rising 750 feet (230 meters), Moon Hill offers stunning panoramic views of the countryside, which is dotted with unique karst formations.
Ping’an Village is one of three main villages that comprise the Longji Terraced Fields Scenic Area northwest of Guilin. The terraced rice paddies here rank among the region’s most spectacular as they spill down the mountainside toward a river. The village itself is home to a few hundred people living much as they did centuries ago.
Built in 1988 to commemorate two thousand years of Buddhist history in China, Nanshan Temple (Nanshan Si)and the surrounding Buddhism Cultural Zone serve as a window into China’s rich Buddhist heritage. Nanshan is also the largest Buddhist temple established since the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
Situated at the foot of Nanshan Mountain, the temple architecture was heavily influenced by the Tang Dynasty. Visitors enter the grounds through The Mountain Gate, where two figures of the Buddha stand guard. Several more statues of the Buddha in his various forms live within the two main halls of the temple. A terrace in front of the temple looks out over the South China Sea, affording stunning views of the nearby 354-foot (108-meter) copper statue of the Buddhist goddess Guan Yin.
Come hungry, as the vegetarian food served at the temple restaurant is famously tasty.
Formerly a sleepy fishing village along the Li River, Xingping town (or Xingping village) is now a popular visitor destination for its rural landscape and well-preserved ancient architecture. Hiking and biking are popular ways to soak in the scenery, and Xingping is also the starting point of many river cruises as it’s on an especially beautiful stretch of the Li River.
Located in the heart of Hainan Island, about 40 minutes outside of Sanya, this former ethnic village has been transformed into a cultural park where visitors can learn about the traditional lifestyle of Hainan’s rural Li and Miao communities. Craftspeople demonstrate their skills in recreated old-style huts, while local villagers stage an outdoor dance production.
Two on-site museums display traditional Li and Miao clothing, arts and crafts. Should you see something you like, you’ll find numerous souvenir shops (bargaining accepted) with arts and crafts for sale. Electric cars ferry visitors to various points of interest within the village — a welcome amenity when feet start to feel tired.
Beyond Guangzhou’s soaring skyscrapers, discover another, older side of the city when you visit Shamian Island. A sandbank island in the heart of the city that once served as a busy port, Shamian Island was divided between British and French concessions in the 19th century. Today, it’s known for its heritage architecture and ample charm.
Most commonly written "End of the Earth" in English, Tianya Haijiao translates to ‘edges of the heaven, corners of the sea'. When you’re sitting on the sun-warmed sand of this vast beach fronting the South China Sea, the name makes sense.
According to local legend, a young couple from two rival clans ran away and ended up at the beach. Believing it was the end of the earth, they swore their love for each other, jumped into the sea, and were transformed into two stones. Two large boulders poking out from the sand represent the star-crossed lovers’ eternal love, and newlyweds often come here during their honeymoons.
While Tianya Haijiao isn’t really the end of the earth, it is considered the southernmost point of China. On clear days, the sea seems to stretch on forever, with small islets visible in the distance.
If you’ve ever wanted to see the world in an hour or two, you can do it at Window of the World in Shenzhen. This theme park features 130 miniature replicas of the planet’s most famous cultural and natural landmarks: the Eiffel Tower, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pyramids of Giza, Sydney Opera House, Niagara Falls, Matterhorn Mountain, and more.
- Things to do in Yangshuo
- Things to do in Guilin
- Things to do in Guangzhou
- Things to do in Shenzhen
- Things to do in Zhangjiajie
- Things to do in Sanya
- Things to do in Xiamen
- Things to do in Changsha
- Things to do in Guangxi
- Things to do in Northern Vietnam
- Things to do in Okinawa
- Things to do in Nanning
- Things to do in Macau SAR
- Things to do in Southwest China
- Things to do in Eastern China