Home of giant pandas, an even bigger Buddha, and the famed fiery Sichuan cuisine, Chengdu is the hub of Southwest China and a gateway to Tibet. A day offers plenty of time to put your finger on the pulse of this city of 14 million people while seeing its two star attractions. Here’s how to make the most of your limited time.
Morning: Giant Pandas
Giant pandas have become a symbol of China, and Chengdu is one of the best places in the world to see them. Start your morning early with a guided tour of the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. You’ll get to see plenty of giant pandas playing, snoozing, or munching on bamboo, as well as red pandas, and if you’re lucky, baby pandas in the Panda Nursery (particularly if you’re visiting in summer). Learn about the breeding of captive pandas while supporting one of the world’s most successful breeding centers.
Afternoon: Leshan Giant Buddha
While it makes for a full day, it’s well worth the long drive to see the Leshan Giant Buddha, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, during your visit to Chengdu. Take a boat trip along the river to see the world’s tallest Buddha statue from its base, or hike to the top for spectacular views of the region. Alternately, opt for a private or small-group sightseeing tour of Chengdu on foot or by bamboo bicycle. Learn more about Sichuan culture while taking in the highlights, including the Tibetan Quarter, Tianfu Square, People’s Park, and Wenshu Buddhist Temple.
Night: Night at the Opera
You can’t leave Chengdu without experiencing two cultural icons—hot pot and Sichuan opera—and it’s easy to combine them into one night on the town. Start with a meal at a traditional hot pot restaurant, where you can throw your favorite ingredients into the bubbling stock pot in the center of the table. After your meal, head to a Chengdu theater for an evening of acrobatics, music, comedy, and the face-changing performances that characterize the opera of this region. If you’re in the mood for something a bit more low-key, head out on an evening tuk-tuk food tour instead.