THE BEST PLACES TO VISIT IN CHINA

After living in China for two years, we decided it was about time we sat down and shared the best places to visit in China. BUT China is massive so it is only right that we call on our fellow travel bloggers, China expats and travellers to share the what, where, how of their China travel destinations.

So here it is, the ultimate guide to the BEST places to visit in China.

If you are planning a trip to China, make sure you head over to our YouTube channel to watch our China travel vlogs or head over to Katie’s channel to see her weekly vlogs living in Tianjin, China. 

Places to visit in China

Tianjin

Of course, we had to start with Tianjin. This is a growing city, 30 minutes outside of Beijing and accessible by speed train.

Tianjin embraces the new with an ever-changing skyline and a collection of 5-star hotels whilst still staying true to what makes this city unique. It is a city of contrasts. One minute, you may be walking down a street of European architecture and modern buildings then you’ll take a turn and find yourself walking along bustling local markets. 

The Food

When we moved here, we were told that Tianjin is the city where you can find all types of Chinese food and we discovered how true this statement was. China is known for it’s incredible food and in most cases, you would have to visit each of the provinces to try the local dishes. But Tianjin is a place with so much local migration from other areas of China, that some of the best food can be found here.

Tianjin is also home to restaurants that specialise in Korean and Japanese food as well as a range of European restaurants too. 

Sightseeing

Tianjin may not have the postcard landmarks of neighbouring Beijing but it still has some interesting sights to offer. Tianjin is a getaway to the Great Wall; a journey from the city centre will take around two hours.

Plus, within the city you can take a boat along the Heihe river, see the city from above on the Tianjin Eye, sample some street food at the Ancient Culture Street, find yourself in Little Italy at the Italian Quarter and explore the cultural side of Tianjin at the Drum Tower and nearby temples. 

Tianjin isn’t overcrowded with tourists and expats, giving you a true insight into modern city life here in China which is why, you should visit our home city, Tianjin. 

Getting there

Fly – Tianjin Binhai International Airport is just 30 minutes outside of the city centre and offers a direct metro (line 2) into the city. A taxi or Didi (China’s version of Uber) will cost around 40 – 60 RMB into the city centre.

Train – A speed train is available from Beijing, costing 55 RMB and taking 30 minutes. You can also get a speed train from Shanghai, Xi’an and Chengdu.

Drive – Tianjin is a two-hour drive from Beijing and most drivers will charge between 500 – 650 RMB for this journey. Email us at katie@Creativetravelguide.com for driver details – we have a few recommendations of trustworthy, affordable and friendly local drivers.

Where to stay

  • Jinjiang Inn, Tianjin Train Station offers clean, fairly spacious rooms for just 170 RMB, plus it is a great location near the train station and a short walk from the Italian Town and food street.
  • The Tianjin Cloud Bay Hostel offers male and female dorm rooms from 56 RMB and can be found nearer the port area.
  • Hotel Nikko is a popular hotel with spacious rooms from 430 RMB.
  • Chain hotel Holiday Inn offers comfortable, western rooms for 269 MB.
  • Shangri-la has an impressive interior with river view rooms costing 1000 RMB – they also offer a fantastic Sunday Brunch!
  • You may also wish to splurge for a room at the Four Seasons hotel, also costing 1000 RMB a night.
 
Places to visit in China
Places to visit in China
Places to visit in China

Kunming

Kunming is the capital city of Yunnan province. It is not such a popular destination for people travelling to China. Most visitors arriving in Kunming tend to leave straight away to Lijiang or Shangri-la. Big mistake – there are ancients temples, scenic lakes, vibrant local market, sumptuous local cuisine, and the one and only stone forest. Whatís more, the air quality is one of the best in China, though it can get dusty at times.

The best area to stay

The best place to stay in Kunming is the area surrounding Green Lake (Cui Hu), also known as the jade of Kunming. Green Lake is located in the central of the city and is well connected to many local attractions. The beautiful Yunnan University is right at the opposite of Green Lake Park.

As well, Green Lake Park is the perfect place to spend 2-3 hours and feel the local vibe. You will see many locals showcasing their talents, especially in dancing, singing transitional songs, acting and performing the Chinese opera. There are also some local restaurants and cosy tea house in the centre of the park.

I stayed at Kunming Upland Youth Hostel, which is just two minutes walk from the park. I was reserved about hostels in China but Upland exceeded my expectation. It is well equipped with everything a traveller needs, including English-speaking staff, cosy cafe, nice and clean rooms.

Places of interest – my top picks

Stone Forest

Also known as Shilin, here you will come across karst stone landscape, which consists of limestone formation caused by erosion million years ago.

Getting there: from Kunming Eastern Bus station, there are frequent buses to the Stone Forest from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. The bus journey is about 2 hours, and the bus fare is 35 RMB per person.

Visit the local market

The largest local market in Kunming, Zhuanxin wet market is located at Xinwen Road and it opens daily from 8 am to 7 pm every day. This is a great place for people watching. You will really get to see the locals, especially on what they eat. The market is clean and well organised, and thereís a huge selection of good cheap food.

Believe it or not, I found dozens of different Sichuan peppers here!

Food

In Kunming, there is an enormous choice of edible mushrooms. According to a reliable source, there are more than 800 species. Most species are not available elsewhere, and they do not even have English names! Freak not – most of the local restaurants offer mushroom dishes. I had the mushroom hot pot at a restaurant called Jingchuan Yejunwang and cannot recommend it highly enough!

Tel: 0871-67152168 / 0871-67168577

To make the most of your time in Kunming, follow my one day Kunming itinerary

Author bio: Ming Lee is the blogger behind Flyerism, where she shares smart travel hacks and cheap flight deals.

Getting there and around

Fly – Kunming Changsui International Airport is accessible with direct flights from Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. You can also fly domestically from Beijing, Chengdu, Guilin, Lhasa, Shanghai and Xi’an.

Train – Like most major cities in China, Kunming has four railway stations. Direct trains are available from Shanghai, Nanning, Hangzhou, Yiwu, Dali, Lijian and Yuxi as well as some smaller neighbouring towns.

Bus – You can also catch a long-distance bus along the highways from Beijing, Lanzhou, Shanghai and Fuzhou.

Where to stay

 
Places to visit in China

Shenzhen

Shenzhen is interesting because it is an entire city that didn’t exist a mere 40 years ago! In 1979, Shenzhen was designated a Special Economic Zone, so immigrants came from all over the country. As a result, Shenzhen is a fantastic melting pot of different Chinese cultures. Because of this, there are a ton of cool things to do around Shenzhen.

How to get around Shenzhen

To get around, use the Shenzhen Metro! It is quite fast, although the lines are not quite efficiently laid out, and it gets unbearably crowded during rush hour. Otherwise, I recommend downloading the taxi-hailing service app, DiDi, or hailing a cab, or using a bike-sharing app on WeChat.

Things to do in Shenzhen

There are so many things to do in Shenzhen, but here are a few that you just can’t miss! Visit OCT-Loft, which was originally an old industrial area with abandoned factory buildings, but is now the trendiest part of Shenzhen. It houses contemporary art galleries, bohemian coffee shops, fashion boutiques, tasty restaurants and so much more! Next, visit Splendid China Folk Village. This theme park is laid out like a miniature China. It is the world’s largest and most comprehensive miniature park, reproducing nearly 100 famous tourist attractions in China and 25 full-scale ethnic villages. The park’s theme reflects the history, culture, art, ancient architecture, customs and habits of various nationalities.

Weather in Shenzhen

If the weather is nice, you have to take a stroll around Shekou, the area of Shenzhen right by the coast! It offers gorgeous views of the ocean and of Hong Kong across the water and is a great place to take a bike ride or just lounge in the shade. If the weather isn’t so great, head over to Queen’s Spa. This is the mother of all spas. Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and measuring a massive 480,000 square feet, Queen’s Spa is an absolute unit. There are 7 floors of entertainment, and the amenities range from restaurants to pools, to massage chairs and more.

Food in Shenzhen

If you’re getting hungry, try a local delicacy called Coconut Chicken Hot Pot. Hot pot is a popular Chinese dish where raw meat and vegetables are served with a boiling pot of soup, and everyone cooks their food in the soup before eating. Coconut Chicken Hot Pot is this same concept but the soup is made with coconut water instead of regular water (due to Shenzhen’s subtropical climate there are plenty of coconuts). It’s a surprisingly delicious combination.

For a quick snack, stop by Akimbo. Every single part of this coffee shop is photogenic but also unique. You can choose to sit on a set of steps under a neon sign, or at the white tiled counters, or at the cute marble tables, or on the picturesque balcony. The decor is insanely cool, there are neon signs everywhere, and even the plates are decorated with cute illustrations. The food is also unusual – this mousse cake that I ordered looks exactly like a glossy strawberry!

Claire from Adventure Eat Work

Getting there and around

Train – The most popular journey to Shenzhen is via train. In mainland China, you can catch a train from many major cities in the country and Guangzhou is a short journey away. You can also catch a 1 hour, 40-minute train from Hong Kong – travel to Hung Hom MTR station on Kowloon side and take the East Rail Line to Lo Wu or Lok Ma Chau stations. This is the Hong Kong/Chinese border but you will need a Chinese via to enter Shenzhen.

Ferry – You can also catch a one hour ferry from Hong Kong to Shenzhen.

Fly – Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport is an expanding airport with over 100 airlines operating domestic and international flights from around 80 different cities. From the airport, you can catch an airport shuttle bus to the city centre or take the metro.

Where to stay

  • Shenzhen LOFT Youth Hostel is a highly rated hostel situated in an artistic, hippy area of the bustling city. Dorm beds start at 95 RMB whilst private rooms start at 265 RMB.
  • Royce Hotel is a 5-star hotel at affordable prices. Rooms start at 610 RMB and you expect clean and modern rooms.
  • Hotel Kapok Shenzhen Luohu is a classic hotel that offers luxury starting at 821 RMB a night.
  • The Langham Hotel offers top-end luxury for under 1000 RMB. This hotel offers western standards and is a popular choice for travellers to Shenzhen who don’t mind spending a bit of extra money.
Places to visit in China

Harbin

Harbin is located in the Heilongjiang province in northern China. It’s famous for making the most of its extremely cold winters by hosting the Harbin Ice & Snow Festival every year. The festival is the biggest of its kind in the world and a spectacle of all things snow and ice. The main attractions are the replica structures of iconic buildings made out of huge chunks of ice taken from Harbin’s Songhua River and impressive, giant snow sculptures.
 
When to visit Harbin
The best and most popular time to visit Harbin is in winter, during the Harbin Ice & Snow Festival. If you visit during this time be prepared for some very icy temperatures.
 
Things to do in Harbin
 
Sun Island Scenic Area is one of the most popular things to do in the city at any time of year. In winter it hosts part of the Ice & Snow Festival, but in summer it’s also a stunning area to explore.
 

You can even visit the Ice Sculpture Garden on a hot summer’s day, the largest indoor Ice and Snow Art Hall in the world. It gives you a taste of what to expect during the Ice & Snow Festival in winter as it contains sculptures that have featured in past festivals.

As you wander around the city, you’ll notice a Russian influence, most notably at Saint Sophia’s Cathedral. It’s a stunning landmark that may leave you feeling as though you’ve momentarily step foot into Russia.

The scenic pedestrianized Central Street (Zhongyang Daije) is the heart of the city, lined with shopping malls, department stores, cafes and restaurants. Many of the buildings feature European architectural styles and during the Russia era it was the main trading street. Around Central Street, you’ll find heaps of places selling delicious meat skewers and the hugely popular snack of candied fruit.

 
We saw these everywhere in Harbin and of course, gave them a try. They are traditionally made with Chinese hawthorn, but we tried the ones made with strawberries and pineapple. The fruits are coated in hardened sugar syrup and if you have a sweet tooth they are the perfect snack. Hopefully they still count as one of your five a day too!
 
Where to stay in Harbin
There a large number of hotels to choose from in Harbin and we recommend staying around Central Street if you can. It’s a convenient location, both for getting around and for the best choice of places to eat.
 

Getting there and around

Harbin can be reached by plane or train from major cities in China like Beijing or Shanghai.

Fly – If arriving by plane, just bear in mind the airport is about 45-60 minutes outside the city. Taxis and shuttle buses are readily available from the airport, with a taxi journey into the city costing around 130-150 CNY.

Getting around – Once in the city, it’s easy to navigate with an extensive network of buses, including two tourist routes, a limited but useful metro line and plenty of inexpensive taxi’s. In the warmer months, you can take a ferry to Sun Island across the Songhua River and in winter, when the river is completely frozen over, you can walk across it!

Don’t worry though, if you don’t fancy the walk a cable car is also available to get you there.

Where to stay

Earl Hotel – This was our hotel pick; the rooms are spacious and modern and the hotel isn’t far from the city centre. Plus, prices are affordable, starting at 184 RMB a night.

Wanda Realm Resort – For those looking for a resort experience, this hotel is for you. Rooms here are stunning and themed rooms are available for families. Rooms start at 431 RMB a night, including breakfast.

Shangri-La – For those looking for a piece of luxury, Shangri-La is said to be the best hotel in town. Rooms are available from as little as 580 RMB a night with lake view rooms costing a little more.

Places to visit in China

Guangzhou

Every country has its centre, its geographical, political and cultural “core”. Some countries, especially the large ones have two or more such “core”. China has a few, and Guangzhou is one of them. It is the centre of the southern part of the country, called by locals “Nanfang” (The South). And Guangzhou is the well known Canton, one of the largest cities in the world.

Guangzhou is one of the Pearl River Delta cities- the largest city cluster in the world, established on a complex maze of river canals and islands. It has more than 2000 years of history and you can see a lot of traces from the time.

Things to do in Guangzhou

In general, Guangzhou has 7 important landmarks, which are mandatory for every traveller to visit.

Hike Yuexiu Park, where you can see the famous Zhenhai Tower and the symbol of Guangzhou- the Five Rams statue. Visit Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, which is the best witness of the famous Chinese leader from the beginning of the 20thcentury. Walk around the old streets of Liwan and Xiguan Antique City. Be impressed in the fine art masterpieces of Chen Clan Academy.

Touch a part of Europe in Shamian Island, with its western classical mansions. Then make a cruise on Pearl River, watching the best cityscape views of Guangzhou. And finally- ascend to the panoramic terraces of the city’s newest landmark- Canton Tower, from where you can enjoy breathtaking images of Guangzhou, from bird’s point of view.

Food in Guangzhou

And Guangzhou has much more to reveal, but apart of its multiple interesting sites, just the city’s life itself is rich of many things that you can try. Cantonese food is famous not only in China but in the whole world. And there are three main places, where you can try it, and not only to eat but also to shop and enjoy the nightlife.

Best places to eat in Guangzhou

The first place is Shangxia Jiu pedestrian street (in English it means “Up Down 9”, whatever it may means). It is the oldest area of this kind, presenting Cantonese architecture and a lot of local traditional food, such as dim-sum, chang fen, fried noodles, white chicken, etc.

The second place is Beijing Road. It is a more modern pedestrian street with more malls, shops and restaurants. You can see many city activities there.

And the third place is Tianhe Square, which is the skyscraper centre of the city, with one of the largest malls in the world. Inside you can find not only a variety of world-famous cuisines but also every kind of things for shopping.

Where to stay in Guangzhou?

Being such a large center, Guangzhou has really a lot of options for accommodation, from luxury splurge, to budget. But I would recommend you choose from Booking or Agoda a hotel, which is near a metro station. Thus you could much easily move around the city.

Normally, you can plan something like 60 to 100 USD per day (including the accommodation). But if you are a budget traveler, even 30-35 USD could be enough. Having in mind all these details, you could spend a really great time in this unique city.

Krasen from Journey beyond Horizon

Getting there and around

Fly – Guangzhou Airport is a popular entry point into the city – it is also one of the few airports that offer the 144-hour visa-free entry. It is China’s largest transport hub and serves millions of visitors every year. Once at the airport, you can take an airport express bus to various spots in the city or jump in a taxi for the 25-minute journey into the city centre. There is not currently a train that connects the airport to the city centre.

Train – Similarily to all major cities in China, there are 4 different railway stations in Guangzhou. From Guangzhou Train Station, you can catch a speed train to Shenzhen (30-minute journey), whilst the North Railway Station offers high-speed trains to Eastern cities such as Hangzhou and Wuhan as well as Xi’an. The South Railway Station offers high-speed trains to Shanghai, Beijing, Guilin, Hong Kong, Hangzhou and Wuhan.

Where to stay

  • 433 Life is a modern and chic hotel in the Liwan District, who rooms starting at 453 RMB a night.
  • Dongshan Gaga Hotel is a popular hostel in a vibrant area, with dorm beds starting at 78 RMB and private rooms starting at 208 RMB.
  • Overlooking the Pearl River, on Shamian Island, the White Swan Hotel is the perfect place to stay for a romantic getaway. Room prices start at 1056 RMB.
  • Sofitel Guangzhou is the choice for you if you are looking for luxury and calm away from the bustling city. Rooms start at 960 RMB and rooms with stunning city views are also available.
Places to visit in China

Suzhou

Suzhou is known as the ‘Venice of the East’. The city has many canals with gorgeous old buildings running alongside them. When I visited, we enjoyed a beautiful late night boat ride. While it might not have been in a gondola, it was still special! The city is very popular with domestic tourists and it’s not hard to see why. After living in China for a year, Suzhou is one of the most beautiful places I have visited here.

Things to do in Suzhou

Suzhou’s most famous attractions are its water towns. I would recommend visiting Tongli Water Town. We wandered the streets before having a well-deserved cup of coffee at a riverside café.

Suzhou is also famous for its Chinese gardens. I recommend visiting the Lingering garden or Humble Administrator’s Garden. Admittedly, most Chinese gardens look the same to me! Therefore, I advise visiting just one garden while in Suzhou. Tiger hill is also a popular attraction in Suzhou being home to the ‘leaning pagoda of China’. Check out further things to do in Suzhou here (Related blog post link).

Local delicacies you must try:

  • Squirrel shaped Mandarin fish – the most famous dish to try in Suzhou. This fish is shaped to look like a squirrel and soaked in sweet and sour sauce.
  • Shengjian Mantou – these are one of my favourite foods I’ve eaten in China. They are steamed buns containing meat, fried in oil and garlic. So yummy… however, watch out for the squirt of oil when you bite into them!
  • Meat mooncakes – this pastry dish is slightly sweet and contain meat in the centre. They are a great little snack you can buy at a local shop or bakery.

Where to eat in Suzhou?

  • Deyuelou Restaurant:

Go here for local delicacies

Address: 43, Taijian Lane, Guanqian Street, Pingjiang District

Chinese: 平江区观前街太监弄43号

Estimated cost: 100 RMB per person

  • YangYang Dumplings

Go here for dumplings and local delicacies

Address: 420 Shiquan Jie

Chinese: 十全街420号

Estimated Cost: 50 RMB per person

  • Haidilao HotPot

Go here for Sichuan hotpot (a swirling vat of oil where you cook your meat and vegetables yourself…. don’t forget to try brain and intestines)

Address: 7th Floor, Xinsutiandi Shopping Center, 219, Guangji South Road, Jinchang District

Chinese金阊区广济南路219号新苏天地购物中心7楼

Estimated cost: 100 RMB per person

Hannah from Hannah’s Happy Adventure

Getting there and around

 Taxi: a cheap option with the metre starting at around 6 RMB per journey.

DiDi: Chinese Uber – switch your app store to China, and download the English version. A hassle-free way to order taxis starting at 7 RMB per journey

Metro: journeys start at 2 RMB per person, a good option if you’re travelling solo. please note, Suzhou’s metro is not as extensive as other Chinese cities. However, still worth mentioning!

Places to visit in China

Macau

Considered the Vegas of the East, Macau is more than flashy casinos and kitsch buildings. There is a rich history with loads of cultural exploration to be had. The food is also great as its a perfect blend of East meets West combining Chinese influence with Portuguese flavours. With over 30mil visitors a year, it has overtaken Vegas in terms of gambling revenue.

Before it became a gambling hotspot Macau was a trading post which started to develop after Portuguese settlements in 1863. Portugal gained full control in 1887, declaring independence from China, but was finally handed back to China in 1999. It is known as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China. So just like Hong Kong, Macau enjoys some autonomy within the PRC, for example, a separate legal, administrative and judicial system, with its own passport, currency and visa system.

Things to do in Macau

Macau is divided into two main parts: Peninsular Macau on the mainland; and the island of Taipa and Coloane, also know as the Cotai Strip, which is actually man-made by landfill.

Macau Peninsula has the Historic Centre of Macau and is UNESCO listed with 22 gorgeous buildings to explore like Casa Garden, Church of St Dominic, Mandarin’s House and Lou Kau Mansion.

The quaint Street of Happiness is a fun road filled with boutique stores, and the Macau Design Center is the place where digital nomads gather to work, chat and explore the ongoing exhibitions. The infamous Hotel Lisboa is also here and you should definitely give it a visit. Not only is it famed for its architecture, but it also houses the only 3-Michelin star restaurants, Robuchon au Dome (French) and The Eight (Chinese).

Cultural sites are various from Na Cha Temple sitting right next to the iconic Ruins of the Church of St Paul, to the 1488-built Taoist A Ma Temple. Stop at A Lorcha (The Sailboat) restaurant close-by to experience Portuguese and Macanese delights.

The Cotai Strip

Moving over to the Cotai Strip, you’ll witness modern Macau with all its flashy and over the top excesses. Beyond gambling, it’s also the place to go for amazing food. Indulge in an egg tart, as this is where the delicious treat was invented. Lord Stow’s Bakery is the original and my personal preference. Move onto Tai Lei Loi to taste South China’s most famous pork-chop bun. Don’t leave without tasting almond cookies, minchi for breakfast, bacalhau and serradura. Antonio’s is one of my top picks for Portugal dining in Macao.

Some of the top casinos to visit are Studio City for its eight-shaped ferris wheel, have a gondola ride at the Venetian, the Dancing Fountain show at the Wynn and the must-see Cirque de Soleil-esque House of Dancing Water Show at the City of Dreams. Explore Taipa Village on foot for a gentle stroll away from the raucous casinos.

Cal from Once Upon a Lifetime 

Getting there and around

Getting to Macau is fairly easy and although you can fly in, the most popular alternative is to visit via a one hour ferry from Hong Kong. The two main operators are TurboJet and Cotai Water Jet. They start at 7am and there are ferries leaving either every 15mins or 30mins. Visit out of typhoon season in Winter for drier and cooler weather.

Where to stay

Hainan

Alright, let’s talk real straight for a hot minute: when someone says “insanely beautiful tropical beaches”, China probably isn’t the first place that springs to mind, right?? But China’s southern island, Hainan, is rife with them! The island is home to miles and miles of sandy shoreline, surf spots, jungle-covered mountains, tropical farmland, towns, and cities — and the fruit, did we mention the fresh fruit?!

Needless to say, Hainan Island is a far cry from the rest of the Chinese mainland — and I don’t just mean in terms of scenery and weather (which, by the way, is warm and sunny virtually year-round). Culturally and linguistically, Hainan is very much a place apart as well. It’s one of the most ethnically diverse provinces in all of China, with substantial populations of Li, Miao, and Zhuang minorities (as well as the majority population of Han, of course); and as such, the island plays host to dozens of festivals in celebration of its multiethnic culture.

Hainan has two main cities; Haikou in the north and Sanya in the south. Like many places in China, both cities are expanding and developing at an explosive rate — the difference here being that 30 years ago, neither city really existed at all. As such, these soon-to-be central hubs were little more than villages surrounded by jungle all but 3 decades back (can you imagine what that must be like for the Hainanese people who have been living there for generations?! Totally mind-blowing!). Nowadays, Hainan’s cities are filled with shopping malls, markets, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and of course the ubiquitous KTVs.

But honestly? The cities are not Hainan; Hainan is not its cities. Without a shadow of a doubt, the island’s real charm lies in the great outdoors — the soaring mountain peaks of WuZhiShan, the surf-washed beaches of ReYueWan, the quiet fishing town of HouHai, and the blustery kitesurfing beaches of Bo’ao. 

Hainan outdoor adventures

Hainan is overflowing with outdoor adventure potential; and yet, still fairly few foreign tourists make it here. To be fair, the world-class waves of Hainan’s east coast have been drawing crowds for the O’Neill’s Surfing Open and the International Surfing Association competitions for years now; and adventurous travellers have long known that Hainan is by far the best place for kitesurfing in China. But for now, Hainan is still slipping blissfully under many foreign tourists’ radars. My advice? Go now, before it all changes.

Hainan Itinerary

Fly into Haikou airport, spend a day exploring the city, then take the bullet train to Wenchang. Eat the famous Wenchang ji (Wenchang chicken — Hainan style!) and visit the quieter parts of town. Hop back on that train and head for Qionghai; skip the gaudy KTV bars and instead take a taxi to Bo’ao and relax on what might be one of the nicest beaches in all of China. Try your hand at kitesurfing, if it’s windy!

Don’t leave town without eating dinner at the local La Mian muslim restaurant, and finish off with a qingbuliang (a Hainan dessert consisting of ice cold coconut milk ‘soup’ with sweetcorn, red beans, watermelon, taro, and tapioca. I know it sounds weird as hell but I’m telling you that lil’ bowl of goodness will change your life). 

While you’re near the centre of the island, head west for the mountainous middle of Hainan and block off a day to hike the incredible peaks of WuZhiShan (Five Finger Mountain).

Once you’re well and truly knackered from your hike, hop back on the train and hit Sanya. Don’t be put off by the seemingly omnipresent construction and swerving motorbikes; dive into the city’s backstreets and seek out the hole-in-the-wall restaurants with fresh seafood and handmade noodles. \

Grab a drink and settle in for a live music show at Nan Lou. Escape to the sister village of Houhai for some r&r and chilled out beach days.

Grace from Extreme Nomads

Getting there

There are 2 ways to get to Hainan.

Fly – The easiest and quickest route, is to fly into Haikou City, the capital of Hainan Island. You could also into Sanya City but the flights are often more expensive and limited.

Train -There is a train to Hainan Island, which takes you to the railway ferry and across Qiangzhou Straits. This is a more scenic route and one to choose if you are travelling at your own leisure.

Where to stay

Places to visit in China
Places to visit in China

Chengdu

Chengdu is the perfect destination to start exploring China and we loved spending time in this great city as a family of 5 on our 3 month trip in Asia. 

Initially, what drew us to Chengdu was the promise of seeing the amazing Giant Panda up close but it became so much more than that as we connected with locals at the community playground, discovered amazing food and even spent a lunchtime with local monks in a monastery.

We flew into Chengdu from Melbourne, Australia via Kuala Lumpur. We had to organise an E- visa beforehand which was a pretty easy process. We had booked a guest house in the centre of the city and it confirmed our decision that guesthouses are not just for young backpackers, they can be amazing places for families too. We loved the communal eating areas, being able to book affordable tours and the fun activities they hosted.

 Flip Flop Guesthouse was perfectly placed and had a wide variety of rooms. Our family room with 4 beds was around $50 AUD for a night. Our favourite event they hosted was a hot pot night, where we could learn how to prepare and eat traditional Chinese food.

Things to do in Chengdu

Outside the guesthouse, we loved visiting the Panda Research Centre (10kms from Chengdu centre) which we organised through our guesthouse. We were transported there and back in a minivan and could explore the park at our leisure. It was easy to spend a whole day here wandering around the gardens and seeing pandas across all ages and learning about how China is conserving this precious animal. Tickets to the park were around $10 AUD each.

Booked through our guesthouse was another family favourite which was a street food tour with our fabulous guide named Winter. We walked through local markets tasting and sampling new foods and learning all about traditional Sichuan food. Our favourite foods to try was all the pickled vegetables and fresh fruit, and of course some pork belly! This tour cost $10 AUD each person.

For lunch, we had a special experience of joining the monks at a local monastery which was amazing for our whole family. We especially liked that the monks would sneak a sweet biscuit to the kids with big smiles even though there was a big language barrier for us.

Chengdu has a great mix of historic China with another area that is modernised with big buildings, shopping centres and great public transport that is easy to navigate.

Bron from Smiths Holiday Road

Getting there

Fly – Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport is the fourth-largest airport in China, with direct flights from Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Qingdao, Nanjing, Hangzhou and other major cities in China. There are also international flights available from Bangkok and Hong Kong.

This airport also allows 144-hour visa-free transit entry, meaning, you can visit Chengdu as part of a stopover and explore the city for up to 5 days. 

Train – Speed trains to Chengdu Railway, North Railway, South Railway and East Railway stations, are available from Chongqing, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xi’an. Browse the C-Trip app to book tickets and find the best times and seats.

Getting around – Once in Chengdu, you can use Metro Line 1, 2 and 4 to get around the city; Line 1 connects with the North Railway Station and Line 4 connects to the Dufu Thatched Cottage and Kuanzhai Alley.

Taxis are also available, with the first 3 kilometres costing 9 CNY or use the Didi app to avoid the language barrier.

Where to stay

As with many major cities in China, you can find elite chain hotels such as the Hyatt, Shangri-La, Hilton and Mercure for cheaper prices than the west but also cheaper than many other cities in Asia.

  • For a 5-star luxury, western hotel, the Dorsett Chengdu is stunning but you can also get rooms for as cheap as 320 RMB.
  • Flip Flip Hostel is a popular, highly-rated hostel in Chengdu and the perfect choice for young and/or solo travellers. Dorm beds cost 100 RMB whilst private rooms start at 400 RMB.
  • For something a little bit different, check out Buddhazen Hotel. Rooms start at 340 RMB and the interior is traditional and gorgeous.
Places to visit in China

Hong Kong

Hong Kong is an amazing area of China that has so much to see and do. The history and culture of the area, plus the modern twist, make it a great place to spend at least a few days on your trip to China. Even though there is so much to do, there were three things I would recommend as must-sees while you are there.

Things to do in Hong Kong

Tian Big Buddha

The Tian Big Buddha is an important place to visit for a few reasons. The history of the Big Buddha is not that impressive, because it’s actually pretty new. Built in 1993, the statue was built as a sort of present for the transition of Hong Kong from UK rule to Chinese rule.

The Big Buddha is located on Lantau Island, and you can visit it by train or by cable car. The cable car route is an amazing adventure in itself but is closed during any bad weather, so plan accordingly.

Victoria Peak

Victoria Peak is another amazing location in Hong Kong, and is one of the best views of the city. You can hike up to the peak or take the Peak Tram. Although the tram seems a little dangerous, it’s actually incredibly safe and an iconic thing you must do while in Hong Kong.
 

Victoria Peak (like many other tourist attractions in Hong Kong) has a mall at the top, so take in some shopping or lunch while at the top. However, during our trip, it was completely foggy at the top so there was no view to be seen.

Street Markets

 
Although not an obvious attraction, the street markets in Hong Kong are one of the most cultural attractions in the city. The markets include blocks and blocks of vendor stalls, including (mostly fake) designer bags, phones, and clothing of all kinds. There is also plenty of authentic food within these markets, which makes it a perfect outing. Our family of 10 (ranging from ages 8 to 65) spent hours just walking through these markets, and we were all able to get dinner at different places. It was delicious and a fun family experience.
 
My favourite was the Temple Street Night Market. While you are there, go to the centre and find the one sit-down restaurant. The noodles are as authentic as it gets, and the view offers some amazing people-watching.
 
Some other recommendations include eating some hot pot, going to the beach, visiting the Hong Kong waterfront, and just walking around the city.
 
Hong Kong is such an amazing place to visit while in China, and a destination you should definitely not overlook next time you are there.
 
Jaclyn from Your Travel Spark

Getting there

Fly – Hong Kong Airport serves international flights from all over the world, including direct flights from London and other European cities. Cheaper alternatives are available if you don’t mind flying via the UAE or smaller Asian countries. Once landed, you can catch the Airport Express Train for KH$100, which takes 24 minutes to Hong Kong Island. There are taxis available, which will cost around HK$300 and take around 40 minutes.

Train – You can catch a ‘through train’ from Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing or the Metro from Shenzhen.

Where to stay

Hong Kong is much more expensive than mainland China, so finding quality but cheap accommodation can be a challenge. For Hong Kong, make sure you compare prices across comparison websites and the hotel websites, often you can find deals for hotels; especially in the past year, with tourism being heavily affected by the protests

  • Yessin @ YMT – This hostel is in a great location and offers fantastic services. Private rooms start at 240 RMB whilst dorm beds start at 92 RMB.
  • The Salvation Army Booth Lodge offers a good size room for just HK$400 a night.
  • The IBIS is our favourite because it is in an excellent location and rooms offer fantastic views across the harbour but room prices start at HK$650 – considerably less than the big chain hotels with similar views.
  • For a luxurious stay, check out The Royal Garden Hotel with rooms starting at HK$950.
Places to visit in China

Yangshuo

Yangshuo is an incredibly unique place located in Southern China. Firstly because it feels like you’re in Avatar with it’s huge limestone mountains which make up the landscape of this region, and secondly because the town of Yangshuo is full of restaurants, shops, bars and clubs for tourists. Yangshuo was the first place I visited in China and it really surprised me!

Things to do in Yangshuo 

You can easily spend a few days in Yangshuo and activities I’d recommend are hiking up to the TV Tower in town, riding a bike to the nearby caves which have a mud bath inside them, doing a cooking class in town, going rock climbing and kayaking.

Cloud 9 Cooking School is a great place to learn how to cook some typical Chinese Dishes and it’s also a good place to eat Dinner although it is more on the pricey side with meals costing around £3.00-£3.50.

There’s not a shortage of restaurants in Yangshuo though and they offer a range of Chinese dishes and Western Food to suit all budgets.

Once you’ve finished with dinner you can head into one of the many bars and clubs along the main walking street. They’re not hard to find as you can hear them from a distance and see their flashing lights. Live music is popular in many of these bars too. 

A budget tip when in Yangshuo, is to walk around the shops and try all of the free samples they have on offer. There are lots of sweet treats including Durian Cake on offer and not only are you sampling the local food, but you’re also saving money on buying snacks.

Ellie from The Wandering Quinn

Getting there

Train: The City of Guilin is the nearest major City; you can fly into Guilin or get the train from many cities around China and the south. From Guilin, you can. reach Yangshuo by an hour bus or taxi journey. Alternatively, you could get a cruise boat down the Li River. 

It’s possible to travel from Hong Kong to Guilin, it takes a full day of travel including crossing the border into China but once in China there is a bullet train from Shenzhen to Guilin.

Getting around – It’s very easy to walk around the town of Yangshuo and for places further out you can hire a bike or join an organised tour, you’ll see many on offer once you’re there, meaning it’s a good place to visit as an independent tourist in China.

Where to stay

If you’re backpacking China and staying in hostels you’ll be pleased to know that there are lots of hostels in Yangshuo starting from as little as £2.00 a night in a dorm room. Hostels that are highly rated are Yangshuo Wada Hostel and Yangshuo Sudder Street Guesthouse, both of which are in the town centre.

Places to visit in China

Beijing

Obviously, we can’t have a guide to the best places to visit in China without including the capital. Beijing is often the destination you will fly in or out of and is full of history, culture and a modernizing cityscape.

Things to do in Beijing

There are a lot of interesting things to do in Beijing but here are some of our favourites:

The Great Wall – You can’t visit Beijing without spending a day at the Great Wall. There are many different sections of the Great Wall to visit, so do your research and choose a section that is best for you.

Summer Palace –  This palace is beautiful and the perfect way to spend a spring, summer or autumn day. Walk around the grounds and lakes of this imperial garden from the Qing Dynasty.

Forbidden City – This is the busiest attraction in Beijing but is worth the visit. It is the largest and best-preserved collection of ancient buildings and was home to two generations of dynasties.

Hutongs – Head to the hutongs of Beijing for a fun and busy day out. These hutongs have been converted to boutique, independent bars and cafes but you can also find tasty street stalls too.

Getting there

Fly – Beijing is home to the biggest airport in the country and this is predominantly how international visitors travel to Beijing. The airport serves over 120 destinations and direct flights are available from major cities around the world.

From the airport, you can get to the city centre via train or taxi – taxis are cheap in China but traffic can be bad during Chinese holidays.

Train – You can catch a speed train from most major cities in China to Beijing, and if a speed train isn’t available from a destination, it is likely that you can get a normal train a certain distance then jump on a speed train.

Where to stay

  • Beijing 161 Lama Temple Courtyard Hotel is a traditional courtyard with rooms starting at 469 RMB. The location is excellent – the Lama Temple and metro line are near but also, the nearby hutongs offer cute cafes and boutique bars.
  • The Chinese Box Courtyard Hostel offers dorm beds for 150 RMB, which includes breakfast and the hostel offers free dinners, three times a week as well as tea ceremonies on the weekends.
  • Novotel Beijing Xinqiao offers good western standards at a fair price; rooms start at 570 RMB per night.
  • Courtyard 7 is the perfect mix of high quality, affordable prices and perfect location. This is our favourite place to stay in Beijing because it is an experience in itself.
Places to visit in China

Xi’an

The home of the Terracotta Warriors, Xi’an, offers so much more than clay pots. We love Xi’an and everything it has to offer.

Things to do in Xi’an

  1. Muslim Quarter – Head to this bustling area of restaurants and street stalls selling weird and wonderful food. We loved the lamb kebab sticks and Biang Biang noodles.
  2. City Wall – The city wall surrounding Xi’an offers wonderful views and an insight into the history of this ancient capital. Take a walk around the temple or better stil, rent a bike and cycle the route.
  3. Bell and Drum Tower – You can’t miss these towers in the centre of the city but they do look amazing at night when they are all lit up.
  4. Giant Wild Goose Pagoda – This pagoda is amazing and also, given it’s slightly further away location, it is often a lot quieter than other areas of the city.
  5. GuanGren Temple – This Buddhist temple is absolutely stunning; full of colour and intricate detail.

Getting there

Fly – Xi’an Xianyang Airport connects to most major cities in China as well as international destinations such as; Macau, Hong Kong, Seoul, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Japan.

Train – Being a few hours from Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu, Xi’an welcomes a lot of it’s visitors at the Railway Station. Speed trains are available to and from most major cities and, once at the train station, catch a taxi into the city centre for the easiest route to your hotel or hostel.

Where to stay

  • Han Tang Inn Hostel – This hostel has got real character and is placed in the perfect position in the centre of the city. It is a short walk from the drum and bell tower as well as Muslim street. Private rooms start at 140 RMB and 36 RMB gets you a dorm bed.
  • Ramada Drum Tower – If you want a little bit of luxury in a good location, this is the place to stay. Rooms start at 380 RMB and tours to the Terracotta Warriors can be arranged at reception.
Hangzhou Travel

Hangzhou

Viewed as the Heaven on Earth by Chinese people, Hangzhou is utterly a dreamy place to visit and live in. I recently made a side trip from Shanghai to Hangzhou, and honestly, that was one of the most mesmerizing destinations in China I had ever been to. Not just about the stunning West Lake, I was so obsessed with the rich history and gourmets as well as easeful lifestyle that natives uphold. The best way to discover the charm of Hangzhou is, of course, to walk and eat like a local. Here I would like to share my Hangzhou tour with you, and hope it could inspire you to explore the city without missing any highlights or hidden gems.

Top Places to Go

West Lake is no doubt the No. 1 stunner of Hangzhou City. There are a great number of free picturesque parks clustered around the huge lake, where you could easily immerse into the soothing and refreshing scenes and plants. The Su Causeway (Su Di) was my favourite part of the experience. Walking under the lush tree shades was definitely a great treat especially on a summer day. Another surprise of my walking tour was the Lotus in the Breeze. Huge ponds of rosy lotus, all in blossom, were quite a spectacle that I literally had little chance to see in my country.

Lingyin Temple is another big draw located north-west of Hangzhou. Literally translated as Temple of the Soul’s Retreat, it is a true escape away from the city bustle. The temple allows you to easily get lost in time and place, with a special sense of calmness and quietness. I saw a lot of locals coming with incense sticks, and I guessed it must be a part of their monthly rituals praying for well-being.

If you are looking for something off-the-beaten-path, I would suggest you to visit the world’s longest canal that flows through Hangzhou city. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the canal is now a laidback place for leisure free of crowds. It is a delight to wander through stylish inns, cafes and boutiques settled on the embankments, and more interestingly, you could encounter an array of funny museums about Chinese handicrafts like umbrellas, paper fans, kites, silk and even scissors.

Personally speaking, Meijiawu Tea Village should not be skipped, either. It is a famous base for Longjing Tea (Dragon Well Tea) that is regarded as the best-of-the-best among green tea in China. I was given a chance to be a tea farmer for a half day at a farm house, where I was able to see how tea was processed. It was a great learning experience deep into Chinese tea culture that I would highly recommended to any tea lovers.

Hangzhou, More of a Heaven for Food

Just several days after returning home, Hangbang cuisine became something I missed most about Hangzhou. Hangzhou food is characterized by light, mild and sweet tastes, which could be probably the most agreeable cuisine of China to foreign tongues and stomachs. Stir-fried shrimps with Longjing tea, crab meat tofu and dongpo pork are the dishes one must have a try. Concerning the restaurants specializing in Hangzhou food, I had only been to Louwailou and Zhiweiguan. Both are famous sites where beforehand reservations could keep you free of waiting.

Getting there

For expats in Hangzhou, taxi + walk might be the easiest and most ideal mode to explore the city. There are plenty of taxis in Hangzhou, and you can access one by the side of a street. However, the case is different at tourist sites. When I finished sightseeing in West Lake, I found it truly hard to find a taxi. I had to walk a bit far from the major avenue to try my luck. Meanwhile, I think you also should avoid hailing taxis around rush hours when traffic gets really crazy.

Many suggest a biking tour around the West Lake like I just had planned, but finally, I gave up on that. As I saw, there were a few cyclists on the boulevard, where instead I noted many locals opted for a leisurely walk along the waterfront path. It was inspiring seeing their active lifestyles and follow their pace to discover the city’s stunner. You could spend hours roaming and photographing around, with break stops on the well-located benches. Likewise, the Grand Canal is also a pleasantly walkable place where you could explore according to your pace.

Where to stay

This was the second time for me to visit Hangzhou, and like I always did, I chose to stay in a lakeside hotel. Luxury brands like Hyatt Regency and Dahua Hotel by the eastern lake embankment offers brilliant views of the West Lake. For first-timers, places like Longxiang Bridge and Wushan Square are the best choices. You could not only find lakeside accommodations of various standards, but also a lot of affordable shopping and eating options.

Helpful resources

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Places to visit in China
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Places to visit in China
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Places to visit in China
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  • […] China is a beautiful country that offers amazing sights and unique experiences. It does, however, have a tendency to intimidate travellers. China is sometimes viewed as a country that is so unlike others that it is difficult to know where to begin when planning a trip. Knowing what to expect before you visit China does a lot to help ease the nerves. […]

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Places to visit in China