Culture, Shopping & Recreation
Tourist Attractions in China
It’s ok to play the tourist sometimes during your stay in China! And you have an advantage over a normal tourist who has to try to cram all the sights into a two-week vacation. You can space out your trips and take the time to soak in the marvels of all the tourist attractions in China.
Defending the Empire: The Great Wall of China
If you ask someone to name one historic landmark in China, chances are they’ll say the Great Wall. This giant (in size and fame) among the tourist attractions in China mirrors the power and glory of the world’s oldest continuous civilization. At its peak, the Wall was over 5,000 km long, the longest in the world. The majority of the Great Wall was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 AD) to protect the Chinese Empire from northern invaders. Although the Great Wall once stretched from China’s western frontier to the east coast, the best-preserved sections are now located near Beijing.
Several renovated sections of the wall are open to the public. Some of the most popular are:
- Badaling: This section is located 2 hours (72 km) from Beijing and is the most popular and most touristy section. It has also been open to the public the longest, since 1957.
- Mutianyu: This is the longest fully restored section of the wall, including watchtowers, fortresses, and crenellations. It is located 1 ½ hours (73 km) from Beijing.
- Jinshanling: A popular hiking route, this section of the wall features restored beacon towers and is located about 2 ½ hours (154 km) from Beijing.
- Simata: This is the most steep and dangerous section of the wall, although recent restoration work has made the route a bit safer. In 1987 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is known for the surrounding trees’ beautiful red leaves in the fall. It is also located about 2 ½ hours (120 km) from Beijing.
Beijing: Highlights of the "Northern Capital"
Beijing has grown from a dynastic stronghold to a national capital over the past 800 years and is home to a fascinating mix of old and new, historic and modern. Some of the top tourist attractions in China spread out within this metropolis’s borders.
One Emperor and 9,999 Rooms: The Forbidden City
The most popular tourist attraction in China’s capital is the Forbidden City. This vast palace complex was home to 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties over a span of more than 500 years from 1406 to 1911. Whereas in times past ordinary people were forbidden entry, giving rise to its fear-inspiring name, now the palatial complex is a museum and is open to anyone who pays the admission fee. With almost 1,000 brightly painted buildings housing countless artifacts of Chinese cultural history, it would be impossible to see everything in just one visit.
Serene Lakes and Fragrant Pavilions: The Summer Palace
Located in the northwest of Beijing, the Summer Palace, once the playground of the imperial court, is now open to the general public. It’s easy to while away the better part of a day strolling among its beautiful lakes, temples, gardens, and pavilions. Visitors can admire halls and pavilions with fanciful names such as the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, the Buddhist Fragrance Pavilion, and the Cloud Dispelling Hall.
The Hutong: A Glimpse of Ancient China
To get a taste for the lives of everyday urban Chinese outside of the imperial family, wander through the city’s hutong (narrow alleyways), a crisscrossing network of narrow streets lined with historic courtyard houses. The hutong originally date back to the 13th century, when the city was overtaken by Genghis Khan’s army, destroyed, and then redesigned. Some of the historic homes and courtyards along the hutong were originally built in this time period.
The Sights of Shanghai
In contrast to the cultural and historical richness of the sights in Beijing, Shanghai offers a look into the future. Although construction of its ambitious skyline in the Pudong district began just 25 years ago, today it’s hard to picture Shanghai without its collection of soaring skyscrapers. Whereas Beijing points to China’s past, Shanghai blazes its way into the future. Shanghai has an inescapably Western feel, which is partly due to its colonial past and partly due to its many skyscrapers and the ubiquitous signs of rapid modernization.
A Soaring City: The Shanghai Skyline
If you like modern architecture, you won’t want to miss the tourist attractions in China’s most modern and high-tech city. Pudong, Shanghai’s commercial and financial district, is home to magnificent skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower, the Shanghai World Financial Center, the Jin Mao Building, as well as the up-and-coming Shanghai Tower, which upon completion will be the second tallest building in the world.
Also not to be missed for architecture aficionados is the Bund, meaning “embankment”, lined with impressive art deco buildings and former home to Shanghai’s equivalent to Wall Street in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Then continue on to the French Concession to stroll down tree-lined streets and explore the district’s many restaurants, bars, and shops.
Paradise on Earth: The Classical Beauty of Hanzhou
In Hangzhou, located not far from Shanghai, you’ll discover an escape from urbanity in the “Paradise on Earth”. This city was built around the West Lake, a man-made lake constructed in the 8th century as the epitome of classical beauty in China. During an excursion to West Lake, you’ll find islands and causeways, pagoda-topped hills, and willow-lined water — just the break you need after the sprawling modernity of Shanghai.
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