From dazzling cities, stupendous scenery, temple-topped mountains to sublime Buddhist grottoes and ancient desert folks, the world’s oldest civilization offers an endless list of places to explore. To save you time and energy, maximize the value of your money, and guide international travelers and first-time visitors out there, we’ve listed 10 best places in Greater China that you should definitely not miss!
From the world’s highest observation deck and shimmering skyscrapers to its fastest commercially operating train and historic buildings, China’s beacon of change, opportunity and modernity are sprawling with places you can indulge yourself into. Shanghai is one of the world’s largest cities and home for more than 24 million people. Throughout Song and Ming dynasty, it gradually bolstered up its importance as a city, but it was under the Qing dynasty that it became the most important trading port on the Yangtze River Delta
The Forbidden City
Forbidden City, also known as the Imperial Palace, is not a city and no longer forbidden. This grandiose palace teeming with a plethora of history, legend and good old-fashioned imperial intrigue is nestled at the heart of Beijing. For 500 years, this enormous palace served as a domicile for 24 Ming and Qing Emperors whose presence forbade the entrance of anyone other than the imperial family and their concubines. During these times, the price for uninvited admission was instant execution. However, in the present age, ¥40 or ¥60 will do.
The palace covers 720, 000 square meters so it can be time-consuming to navigate through every nooks and cranny. Highlights include the five marble Golden River Bridges, the Hall of Supreme Harmony, a 35-meter-tall building housing the imperial throne, the exquisite emperor’s banquet hall, and the Palace Museum with its large collection of art and artifacts to name a few. Other important attractions in the vicinity of the Imperial Palace include the famous Tiananmen Square, and the Temple of Heaven, one of the country’s most important religious sites, which dates back to the 15th century.
Built by political prisoners, this ancient magnificent edifice wriggles haphazardly from the fortresses of Shanhaiguan in the east all the way to Jiayuguan in the west, passing through Hebei, Tientsin, Beijing — where the best-preserved sections of the wall can be visited —Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, and Gansu. This fortification boasts numerous battlements and watchtowers, some dating back as far as the 7th century BC, with the best-known areas added around 210 BC. Today, the most visited section of the wall is near Badaling Pass northwest of Beijing, easily reached by public transport or organized tours. Other restored sections worth visiting include the section near Gubeikou, 130 kilometers from Beijing, and in Mutianyu, just 70 kilometers northeast of Beijing.
Not only is this Special Administrative Region of China a global powerhouse of finance and trading, but it’s also a nerve center for adventures. Skyscrapers march up jungle-clad slopes by day and blaze neon by night across a harbor crisscrossed by freighters and motor junks. Above streets teeming with traffic, five-star hotels stand next to aging tenement blocks. A meander through a market offers similarly cheap thrills. And you can also explore the theme parks on Lantau Island.
When China started transforming into a lunar desertscape in the far west, the sublime oasis county-level city of Dūnhuáng was a major stop for dusty Silk Road explorers. Mountainous sand dunes swell outside town while Great Wall fragments lie scoured by abrasive desert winds, but it is the magnificent cave at Mogao that truly dazzles. Mogao is the cream of China’s crop of Buddhist caves, and its statues are ineffably sublime and some of the nation’s most priceless cultural treasures.
Longsheng Rice Terraces
The Longsheng Rice Terraces, also known as Dragon’s Backbone Rice Teracces, gained its name because it resembles a dragon’s scales and the mountain range looks like a backbone of a dragon. This is one of China’s most archetypal and famous landscapes and is arguably the most beautiful rice terraces in the world.
Claimed by some to be the inspiration behind Pandora’s floating mountains in the hit film Avatar, Zhangjiajie’s otherworldly rock towers do indeed seem like they come from another planet. Rising from the misty subtropical forests of northwestern part of Hunan province, there are 243 peaks and more than 3000 karst pinnacles form a landscape so surreal it is, arguably, unmatched by any other in China. Raft along a river, hike to your heart’s content, walk along a petrifying glass walkway, or just spend hours filling up the memory card on your camera.
Shrouded in mist and light rain more than 200 days a year, and maddeningly crowded most of the time, Huangshan has an appeal that attracts millions of annual visitors. Perhaps it’s the barren landscape or an otherworldly vibe on the mountain. Mist – a fickle mistress – rolls in and out at will; spindly bent pines stick out like lone pins across sheer craggy granite faces.
Jiuzhaigou National Park
Exploring the forested valleys of Jiuzhaigou National Park – past crystal clear lakes and small Tibetan villages, in the shadow of snow-brushed mountains – was always a highlight of any trip to Sichuan province, but the excellent ecotourism scheme in the restricted Zharu Valley means travelers can hike and camp their way around this stunning part of southwest China. Guides speak English and all camping equipment is provided. All you need to bring is your sense of adventure and a spare set of camera batteries.
The Silk Road
There are other Silk Road cities in countries such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, but an impressive length of the historic route runs through China, dotted with west and northwest China’s pervasive Muslim heritage and fragments from earlier Buddhist civilizations along its trail. You may not be set off on horse or camel-back from Xi’an, but hopping on a bus still allows you to follow the route as ancient traders once did. Mile by mile, town by town, dune by dune.
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