Located 56 miles (90 kilometers) northeast of Beijing, the Great Wall at Mutianyu was restored in 1986 after the section at Badaling rose in popularity. This section of the great wall includes a long, flat segment winding along the heavily forested hilltops of the area. This segment extends 1.6 miles (2.5 kilometers) with 22 watchtowers spread out along the way, allowing you to walk the wall for more than an hour, sometimes in solitude.
If you have a full day to spare for a Great Wall tour, the Mutianyu segment is a good choice. It’s less crowded than Badaling but is still easily accessible and incredibly scenic, particularly on a misty day. Visitors can either climb to the top, with steps in good condition and handrails the entire way, or take a cable car to the top. When you’re ready to return to the bottom, either take the cable car back down or ride a toboggan back to the base.
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.
Mao built the largest square in the world to flaunt the epic scale of the Communist project. This square is bounded by the Museums of Chinese History and Chinese Revolution, the Great Hall of the People, and the Chairman Mao Mausoleum. In 1989 pro-democracy rallies ended in the massacre of protesters in the streets, yet, it can be a bright, bustling sort of place, full of kids flying kites
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.
The Summer Palace - also known as Yiheyuan - was built in 1750. In those days, it was called the Garden of Clear Ripples, and was a lakeside oasis where the royal court could escape the dust and heat of the Forbidden City in summer.
It was razed twice by foreign armies and completely rebuilt, most extensively by Empress Dowager Cixi in the 19th century. To fund her projects, she's said to have diverted a bunch of money destined for the Chinese navy. Ironically, one of her grand schemes was a marble boat that sits at the edge of the lake.
The grounds were declared a public park in 1924. These days, the 290 hectares (716 acres) of the 'Gardens of Nurtured Harmony' are madly popular with both tourists and locals.
The gardens are liberally scattered with temples, covered walkways, pavilions and bridges. Longevity Hill, one of the garden's main features, was constructed from the earth excavated when the lake was extended.
Lantau Island is twice the size of Hong Kong Island, but only a fraction of the population live here, leaving its beaches, hills and national parks to visitors to enjoy.The highlight is the Po Lin monastery and temple, reached by the Ngong Ping 360 cable car on the western side of the island. The temple’s amazing seated bronze Giant Buddha is the world’s largest.Hong Kong Disneyland offers more familiar entertainment, and the island’s fishing villages, walking trails, beaches and seafood restaurants are also popular.
The Bund (or Waitan) is the grand center of Colonial architecture in Shanghai. The former International Settlement runs along the waterfront of the Huangpu River, facing the Pudong district ('Bund' is a word of Indian derivation meaning 'embankment'). Loosely known as the "museum of international architecture," the Bund attracts visitors who are interested in the artsy side of Shanghai.
When foreign powers entered Shanghai after the Opium Wars of the 19th century, the Bund existed as a towpath. It quickly became the center of Shanghai as Western traders built banks, trading houses and consulates along its length, and has been synonymous with Shanghai's east-meets-west glamor ever since.
Today the Bund faces the new wave of trading development - the vast towers of Jin Mao, the World Finance Center and the Oriental Pearl TV Tower in the financial district of Pudong.
A Ming temple, Temple of Heaven or Tian tan was built by the Yongle Emperor, who also built the Forbidden City, as a stage for the important rituals performed by the emperor, or Son of Heaven. Chief among these were the supplication to the heavens for a good harvest and the Winter Solstice ceremony, which was supposed to ensure a favorable year for the entire kingdom.
In those days it was believed that heaven was round and earth was square, so the architecture of the buildings (round, set on square bases) and the layout of the park (squared off at the Temple of the Earth end, rounded at the Temple of Heaven end) reflect this belief.
The buildings are rich in symbolic detail - variations on the number nine, which represented the emperor; coloured glazes which represent heaven and earth; and pillars which represent the months of the year, the seasons and time. There are also echo stones where you can stand to hear your voice reverberate.
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.
Overlooking the Central district on Hong Kong Island, Victoria Peak (Tai Ping Shan) is one of the best vantage points for stupendous views of the harbor and high-rises. Rising 1,810 feet (552 meters), Victoria Peak is topped with the touristy Peak Tower complex of shops, restaurants and 360-degree Sky Terrace viewing platform.Go for a stroll through the Victoria Peak Garden, follow one of the many nature walks on the mountain, and stay on for nightfall to see Hong Kong's spectacular nightly light show.
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.
If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to travel at speeds upward of 260 miles per hour (418 kilometers per hour), the Shanghai Maglev train is your chance. Using magnetic levitation technology that allows the train to literally “float” along the tracks, the world’s fastest train can take you from the Pudong International Airport to Shanghai proper in a quick 8 minutes.
Using technology purchased from Germany, construction of the Shanghai Maglev began in 2001, and by the time the project was completed two and a half years later, it had racked up a $1.2 billion price tag.
If you’re planning to ride the Shanghai Maglev to or from the airport, you’ll have to get on or off at the Longyang Road Station in the outskirts of Shanghai and switch to the subway or hail a taxi from there. If you want to know more about the Shanghai Maglev project and the technology behind the train, spend a few minutes browsing the Shanghai Maglev Museum, located within the Longyang Road Station.
Dujiangyan Panda Base is situated near Chengdu in China’s Sichuan province. It’s the world’s only center dedicated to giant panda care, disease prevention, and research. The giant panda is one of the rarest animal species in the world, with a population of less than 2,000. They only inhabit the major mountain ranges in the Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Gansu provinces of China and are recognized as a special-class protected species under the country’s Wildlife Protective Law.
The Dujiangyan Panda Base is home to 170 of these much-respected national treasures. It’s a huge, sprawling site covering more than 500 square-meters and divided into separate zones dedicated to six different area of research and care. These include: rescue and quarantine, disease prevention and control, recovery and training, education, vegetation, and service.
Of all of the wonders of Ancient China only two are believed to be visible from space: The Great Wall and The Grand Canal. While the Great Wall doesn’t run anywhere close to Hangzhou, the southern terminus of China’s other wonder of engineering, the Grand Canal, can still be found in the city today.
Commissioned during the Sui Dynasty as a way to connect the Haihe, Yellow, Huaihe, Yangtze and Qiantang rivers, the Grand Canal at one point stretched for over 1,100 miles (1,770 kilometers) and earned the title of longest canal or artificial river in the entire world. Once running from Hangzhou all the way to Beijing, various sections of the canal have fallen into disrepair and are no longer navigable. Nevertheless, visitors to the southern sections around Hangzhou are still able to book a cruise boat on the historic trade route for a view of traditional waterfront villages and a chance to learn the history of the greatest supply conduit in all of Ancient China.
Jinshanling and Simatai are two of the most remote and least restored portions of the Great Wall near Beijing. Visitors craving a more natural Great Wall experience, without the buses and crowds of domestic tourists posing for photos at every step, should plan to make the day hike between the two wall segments.
This stretch of the Ming wall was built here to protect the 17-mile (27 kilometer) defensible pass. The segment between Jinshanling and Simatai extends roughly 6 miles (10 kilometers), passing many portions of the wall left completely unrestored since the wall’s original construction.
From Jinshanling, it takes about 4 to 5 hours to hike all the way to Simatai, passing 43 watchtowers in various states of disrepair. Jinghanling, the starting point for the hike, sits 81 miles (130 kilometers) northeast of Beijing, so be sure to get an early start if you plan to complete the entire hike.
Shanghai’s Old French Concession, an area once leased to the French in the Luwan and Xuhui districts of the city, is a reminder of an older Shanghai. The visitor-friendly area is packed full of beautiful colonial mansions and hotels dating back to the first three decades of the twentieth century. The French took control of the area in 1849, but it wasn’t until the 1920s when the neighborhood reached its peak of popularity as one of Shanghai’s most elite neighborhoods.
When you walk through the heart of the area on the tree-lined streets between Julu Road and Huaihai Road, you’ll find a collection of nicer restaurants and boutique shops occupying the surviving historic structures alongside Shanghai locals going about their day to day life. The French Concession is a good place to grab some food as there are so many choices; you’ll find almost everything here from Indian to French, Spanish and Thai food.
Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005, the Historic Centre of Macau comprises a zone of culturally significant buildings scattered in the southwestern corner of the Macau peninsula. Easily enjoyed as a half-day or full-day walking tour, the Historic Centre of Macau primarily focuses on the fusion of Portuguese colonialism with traditional Chinese cultural heritage. As an important Far East trading port, Macau has one of the longest-standing histories of European influence found anywhere on the Asian continent. For over 400 years two distinctly different cultures coexisted on a tiny strip of land. During this time both the Chinese as well as Portuguese residents crafted temples, forts, public squares and traditional works of architecture that create what is now the best example of European influence found anywhere on the Asian continent.
The Huangpu River, extending over 71 miles (113 kilometers), flows through the middle of Shanghai’s, dividing the city into two parts – Pudong to the east and Puxi to the west. The port where the river empties into the East China Sea has now become the largest port in China and in 2012 became the world’s busiest container port.
Walking along the Huangpu River juxtaposes the colonial buildings of Old Shanghai with the towering, ultramodern skyscrapers that now dominate the skyline. While it’s possible to experience the Huangpu River from the banks with a walk along the Bund, the best way to see both sides is on a river cruise.
Most cruises start from the Bund and go upstream before turning south towards the Yangpu bridge. Boats depart throughout the day, but after the sun sets and the buildings to either side of the river light up, the Shanghai skyline becomes even more impressive than usual.
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.
The 233-foot (71-meter) tall Grand Buddha in Leshan (also called the Leshan Giant Buddha) holds the record as both the tallest stone Buddha sculpture and one of the tallest sculptures anywhere in the world. Construction of the Buddha, carved out of the mountain, began in 713 when a Buddhist monk by the name of Hai Tong decided to carve the statue as a way to gain divine protection for local fisherman who were getting killed each year by violent river currents.
Ninety years of work went into the carving of the Grand Buddha, but the river rages on. After earning a place on the UNESCO World Heritage list, the statue has undergone extensive repairs, and today you can see it in much of its original glory with a day trip from Chengdu.
To see the statue from all angles, take the stone staircase down the statue's right side from the gift shop just behind his head. Once you've zigzagged your way down, you'll find a viewing platform at the statue's toe level.
The Ancient City Wall at in Xi'an is one of the best-preserved city walls in China. It was built in the 14th century during the Ming Dynasty, under the regime of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang, and expanded upon from walls remaining from the Tang Dynasty. Visitors can either cycle or walk along the Ancient City Wall, which is almost 14 kilometers long and takes around three hours at a leisurely pace. The site features a moat, a drawbridge, the main towers, watchtowers, and gates, all of which combine to depict an impressive ancient defense system.
The South Gate is situated near the Bell Tower and is widely considered to be the most significant, with greeting ceremonies by the government held in the South Gate Square, which has recently been restored. Like the other gates, the South Gate features three towers – the gate tower, which holds the drawbridge, the narrow tower and the main tower.
It used to be that visitors landing in Hong Kong’s airport quickly hopped on the metro or hailed a taxi to Kowloon or Hong Kong Island, completely skipping Lantau Island. Thanks to a massive development project, Lantau is now home to some of Hong Kong’s most popular attractions, the Ngong Ping Cable Car among them.
The 3.5-mile (5.7 kilometer) takes passengers on a 25-minute journey from the Tung Chung metro terminal to the plateau at the peak of Ngong Ping. From the gondolas, you’ll be able to look out over the South China Sea with views over verdant Lantau Island and its Tian Tan Buddha, which you can visit upon arrival at the top.
Cable car passengers have the choice of riding the standard car or a Crystal Cabin equipped with a glass bottom. For special occasions, you can ride the 360 Sky Lounge, a private cabin appointed with Swarovski crystals.