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, and how of their China travel destinations.
So here it is, the ultimate guide to the BEST places to visit in China.
Where to visit in China
Of course, we had to start this guide to the best places to visit in China with Tianjin (after living here for two years). 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.
Food in Tianjin
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.
Things to do in Tianjin
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 Around Tianjin
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 in Tianjin
- 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.
Kunming is the capital city of Yunnan province. It is not such a popular destination for people travelling to China and is definitely worth a visit before it suffers from overtourism. 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.
Things to do in Kunming
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!
Best Areas to Stay in Kunming
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.
Food in Kunming
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 Around Kunming
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 in Kunming
- For a cheap, friendly hostel; check out the Kunming Cloudland International Youth Hostel with budget doubles starting at 112 RMB.
- For a quieter, mid-range hotel, look at Cachet Boutique Kunming Artime.
- Swallow Nest Guesthouse is a charming guesthouse that offers character. This is a perfect midrange hotel for romantic travellers.
- For those looking for 5-star luxury, check out the Sofitel Kunming which includes a spa, fitness center, swimming pool and excellent location. Plus, the rooms offer stunning views!
Next on our guide to the best places to visit in China is 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.
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.
Getting 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.
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
Where to stay in Shenzhen
- 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.
Getting to Shenzhen
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.
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.
If you love Winter destinations, Harbin will be your best place to visit in China.
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!
Getting to Harbin
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 Harbin
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 in Harbin
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.
Sarah from Hotels and Hand Luggage
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
Best hotels in Guangzhou
- 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.
Getting to Guangzhou
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.
Suzhou is one of the most beautiful places to visit in China so it is a must visit! 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’.
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
Estimated cost: 100 RMB per person
- YangYang Dumplings – Go here for dumplings and local delicacies
Address: 420 Shiquan Jie
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
Estimated cost: 100 RMB per person
Hannah from Hannah’s Happy Adventure
Getting Around Suzhou
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!
Where to stay in Suzhou?
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.
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 to Macau
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 in Macau
- We loved The Venetian in Macau, a themed hotel that resembles that of Las Vegas. Book directly on their website to get some great offers.
- There are some fantastic, 5-star hotels along the Cotai Strip, including The Parisian (1170 RMB), City of Dreams (990 RMB), Studio City Hotel (1024 RMB) and Grand Coloane Resort (640 RMB).
- Hotel Lisboa is a great alternative for those looking for affordable luxury at 686 RMB.
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 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.
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 to Hainan
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 in Hainan
- The SANYA Edition is an expansive, impressive, modern and sleek hotel with rooms available for all types of travellers, starting at 1614 RMB.
- Mangrove Tree Resort World Sanya Bay Kapok Tower is the perfect, affordable hotel with kids play areas, water slides and
- Banyan Tree Sanya is a romantic haven and costs 2082 RMB per night for a villa with private pool.
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.
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
Where to stay in Chengdu?
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.
Getting to Chengdu
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.
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 2 days in Hong Kong during 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 and a few things you need to know about Hong Kong before you visit.
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 in Hong Kong 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 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.
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 to Hong Kong
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.
Places to visit in China from Hong Kong
- Macau – Known as the Vegas of Asia, Macau is just a short 1 our ferry away from Hong Kong. You could visit just for the day or spend a few nights on the Macau strip.
- Guangzhou – Experience a modern Chinese city by visiting Guangzhou. Admire the skyscrapers and stroll through the fancy malls before heading to local restaurant for delicious food. This city is 2 hours by train from Hong Kong.
- Zhuhai – Experience daily life in China in this normal city on the coastline of China. Visit the gorgeous islands that are favourite getaway destinations for Hong Kongers.
- Shenzhen – Shenzhen is less than an hour away from Hong Kong and can be visited via MTR. This is a city full of cheap shopping and business.
Where to stay in Hong Kong
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.
- Hong Kong Travel Guide
- TOP 10 THINGS TO DO IN HONG KONG
- The Peak in Hong Kong & the View from Sky Terrace 428
- Getting from Hong Kong to Macau via Ferry
Yangshuo is one of the most unique places in China to visit, 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 to Yangshuo
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 in Yangshuo
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.
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 modernising cityscape. When you think of the best sites in China and the important places of China, it is likely that many sites are in Beijing.
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 to Beijing
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.
- 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.
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
- 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.
- 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 still, rent a bike and cycle the route.
- 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.
- Giant Wild Goose Pagoda – This pagoda is amazing and also, given its slightly further away location, it is often a lot quieter than other areas of the city.
- GuanGren Temple – This Buddhist temple is absolutely stunning; full of colour and intricate detail.
Whilst spending time in the area, jump on a speed train over to Luoyang for an off-the-beaten-path destination and incredible Shaolin Temple.
Getting to Xi’an
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 its 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 in Xi’an
- 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.
Viewed as 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 the easeful lifestyle that natives uphold. The best way to discover the charm of Hangzhou is, of course, to walk and eat like a local.
Things to do in Hangzhou
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 in 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 northwest 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 visit the world’s longest canal that flows through Hangzhou city. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a 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, and 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) which 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 farmhouse, 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 recommend to any tea lover.
What to eat in Hangzhou
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 around Hangzhou
For expats in Hangzhou, a taxi and walking 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 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 following their pace to discover the city’s stunners. 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 in Hangzhou
This was the second time I visited Hangzhou, and as I always did, I chose to stay in a lakeside hotel. Luxury brands like Hyatt Regency and Dahua Hotel by the eastern lake embankment offer 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.
Historic, glamorous, mysterious and exotic, we share everything you need to know before visiting in this Shanghai Travel Guide.
High-rise buildings stand aside rich cultural temples and gardens, creating an incredible hybrid that draws tourists in.
There are some gorgeous temples and buildings to visit as well as great shopping opportunities. Each neighbourhood shows a unique side to the economic capital, whilst there are some great day trips from Shanghai too.
Things to do in Shanghai
The Bund – Walk along the waterfront for gorgeous views of the Shanghai skyline; perfect if you are looking for an evening stroll. If you are looking for a romantic experience, why not take a cruise along the Huangpu River.
Yuyuan Garden – This Ming Dynasty garden is a beautiful place to visit in the bustling city. With colourful pagodas, decorative shop fronts and delicately engraved bridges, there is lots to appreciate here. Visit early or during the week to avoid the crowds.
Oriental Pearl TV Tower – Head up this famous landmark for views of the city. There are 15 different levels to visit as well as the Shanghai Municipal History Museum. Arrive early or late to avoid queues.
Shanghai Tower – Head up to the highest building in China for a bird’s eye view of the city. It has the fastest elevator in the world so expect your ears to pop! This is a great alternative to the Pearl Tower because it is taller and often has a shorter queue.
Zhujiajiao – Visit the Watertown on the outskirts of the city for a unique look at old China. Stroll through the canals and bridges before eating at a local restaurant in the area.
Shanghai Museum – The Shanghai Museum is home to over 120,000 pieces of ancient relics including ceramics and sculptures.
Getting to Shanghai
Fly – Shanghai is China’s second-largest international air hub with flights inbound from around the world. Flights from the USA (West Coast) work out at 13/14 hours whilst flights from London take about 11 hours.
Domestic flights connect Shanghai to every major city in China. Be aware that there are two international airports; Pudong and Hongqiao, so check which airport your departure flight goes from.
Bus – The unpredictable traffic makes travelling by bus an unpopular choice. The Shanghai South long-distance bus station serves cities in the south of China but can be difficult to get to.
Train – The only international train arriving in Shanghai is the T99 from Hong Kong but there are some great options to travel by train from other parts of China. The city has three main stations; Shanghai Railway Station, Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station and Shanghai South railway station. Speed trains are available to and from Beijing, Guangzhou (which is a short 2-hour train ride to Hong Kong), Nanjing, Hangzhou and Suzhou.
Where to stay in Shanghai
Budget: The Shanghai Fish Inn Bund is a favourite of mine, with private rooms starting at ¥145 and just a short walk from Time Square and the metro station.
Another popular spot for budget travellers is the Shanghai Chi Chen Hostel dorm beds starting at ¥72 and just a few metres from Xiaonanmen subway station.
Midrange: The Astor House Hotel is ideal for those interested in the history of the city; located a 2-minute stroll from Waibaidu Bridge and a short walk from The Bund Historical Museum and Huangpu Park. Rooms start at ¥490.
Luxury: Oozing luxury, the Grand Central Hotel is a stunning and vast hotel that is perfect for a night or two if you want to treat yourself. Rooms start at ¥850 and this is definitely a place I will be spending a night or so next time we visit Shanghai.
PLACES TO VISIT IN CHINA FAQ
Where should you go in China?
The best places to go in China include:
- Hong Kong
Which part of China is most beautiful?
Zhangjiajie is a beautiful place to visit in China; with gorgeous pillar karst that inspired the film Avatar. You can also enjoy a stunning sunrise over the Yellow Mountains or take a cruise down the Li River for beautiful karst landscapes.
What is the prettiest city in China?
The prettiest city in China is Yangshuo if you are looking for stunning karst surrounding a town whilst the town of Zhouzhuang is a gorgeous water village between Shanghai and Suzhou.
Is China safe to visit?
China is a very safe place to visit, with a very low crime rate. Learn about the local laws and cultures before visiting and make sure to download a VPN before arriving, so that you can access social media and blocked sites during your visit.
What is China famous for?
China is known for its Great Wall, Forbidden City, delicious food and thousands of years old architecture.
How much does a trip to China cost?
China is not as cheap as South East Asia but you can still visit on a budget. Plan to spend around $60 a day in the smaller cities and at least $80 a day in the bigger cities (including accommodation). We have a full cost of travel in China breakdown to help you plan your trip.
Is Japan more expensive than China?
Yes, because of accommodation and travel. As a smaller country, hotel prices are much higher than China’s, meaning it is a more expensive place to visit. Food is often at similar prices as is public transport but expect to pay more for long-distance trains, flights, alcohol and some attractions.
Is visiting China expensive?
No, travel in China can be affordable if you stick to public transport, local meals and local hotel chains.