China things to see and do

Tourist offices

China National Tourist Office (CNTO) in the UK

71 Warwick Road, London, SW5 9HB, United Kingdom
Tel: (020) 7373 0888 or 09001 600 188 (brochure request and general information; calls cost 60p per minute).
www.travelchina.gov.cn

China National Tourist Office (CNTO) in the USA

Suite 912, 370 Lexington Ave, New York, NY, 10117, United States
Tel: 1 888 760 8218
www.cnto.org

Things to see and do

Beaches

It may come as a surprise, but China has some gorgeous tropical beaches. Sanya, on the southern coast of China's most southerly province, Hainan Island, is one of China's most popular holiday areas and has international resort hotels, fine sand beaches, golf courses, coconut palms and watersports (www.sanyatour.com).

Beijing

As well as the Forbidden City, Beijing is home to a large number of first-rate attractions including Tiananmen Square, the world's largest public square; circular 15th-century Temple of Heaven; the Summer Palace imperial resort (www.summerpalace-china.com); the old city wall gates; traditional hutong alleys and courtyards; and beautiful Beihai Park.

Buddhist monuments

See the monumental carved Buddhist effigies of Yungang Caves, near Datong, or carved effigies and monuments in Luoyang's fifth-century Longmen Buddhist Caves. At Bingling Lamasery, near Lanzhou, you'll find 34 early Buddhist caves whilst Dunhuang's Mogao Caves have some of China's oldest Buddhist shrines.

Caves

Head underground to Zhangjiajie's Yellow Dragon Cave, Asia's largest, or more popular caverns including Guilin's Reed Flute and Crown caves and Yangshuo's Silver Cave - their stalactites and stalagmites lit by garish multi-coloured neon.

Chengdu

From Chengdu, you can visit the holy Buddhist mountain of Emei Shan and the spectacular Grand Buddha of Leshan, carved out of a cliff. At 71m (225ft) high, it is so enormous that 100 people can fit on its instep. There's also the panda breeding and research centre.

Chinese meridian massage

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) therapies, such as massage, acupuncture, cupping and herbal tonics, are very popular throughout China. Meridian massage, designed to promote the flow of qi (vital energy) through the meridians and bring the body into harmony is available at local massage joints in most Chinese cities.

Cycling

Some 300 million Chinese use bicycles to get around. Hire shops are everywhere and cycling is one of the best ways to see China's countryside. Popular cycling routes include alongside sections of the Great Wall and Guilin and Yangshuo, in Guanxi province.

Great Wall of China

The Great Wall, built over 2,000 years and stretching over 5,400km (3,375 miles), contrary to legend, cannot be seen from space! The restored stone and brick Badaling section stands 8m (26ft) high and 6m (20ft) wide, and is the closest to Beijing, 70km (44 miles) away. A slightly less touristy section lies a little further away at Mutianyu. Here, you can take a cable car up to the wall and bobsled down. In October 2013, the steep Simatai section which was closed, will once again be open to the public.

Hangzhou

Shop for silk and tea in ancient China capital Hangzhou, described by celebrated traveller Marco Polo as 'the most beautiful and magnificent city in the world'. Popular with Chinese and foreign tourists, its main attraction is the beautiful West Lake scenic area.

Hiking

China has some incredible scenery and much of it is best seen on foot. Everest Base Camp is Tibet's most popular trekking destination. There's also great hiking in other areas of the mountainous Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, Yunnan's threatened Tiger Leaping Gorge and along the Great Wall.

Horse riding

Mount a steed in Inner Mongolia and go riding across the vast grasslands. Horse-riding tours generally include overnight accommodation in a well-equipped yurt and meals and dancing around the campfire.

Lhasa

Tibet's capital, Lhasa, stands at 3,700m (12,000ft). The iconic seventh-century Potala Palace, home to successive Dalai Lamas, houses exhibits including frescoes and gigantic bejewelled Buddhas. Also visit the Norbulingka (Summer Palace) and Jokhang Temple, with its golden Buddhas.

Ming Tombs

Of the dynasty's 16 emperors, 13 were buried in the Ming Dynasty Tombs (www.mingtombs.com). They lie just outside Beijing and are an easy stopping off point on a day trip from Beijing to the Great Wall.

Mountain climbing

China is home to some of the world's highest mountains. Mighty Himalayan peaks form Tibet's southern border, among them Mount Everest (or Qomolangma), at 8,848m (29,021ft), and Namcha Barwa, at 7,756m (25,445ft), around which the Brahmaputra River carves a fantastic gorge to enter India.

Natural wonders

China's scenic natural wonders make for fantastic hikes and views. One of the best is Tibet's Qomolangma Nature Reserve (around Everest). There are also a number of UNESCO World Heritage sites to explore, including Mount Taishan mountain park, Huangshan Mountain's fog-shrouded rocky precipices, Buddhist mountain Emei Shan and Jiuzhaigou Valley's lakes and waterfalls.

Pagodas

China's oldest wooden pagodas are the Yingxian Pagoda, Kaifeng's Iron Pagoda and Fan Bo Pagoda (AD 1049 and c. AD 977), Jinan's Square Four Gate Pagoda (China's oldest stone pagoda) and Guangzhou's Huaisheng Mosque (built by Arab merchants in AD 650).

Pandas

Sichuan province's ancient parks and bamboo forests are among the last strongholds of the endangered giant panda. View them close up in Chengdu's panda breeding and research centre and on a day trip to a mountain sanctuary at Wolong.

River cruising

By 2010, the Three Gorges Dam had raised levels of the Chang Jiang (Yangtze) by 175m (574ft), but the spectacular gorges still tower high above. See striking limestone formations on a Li River cruise from Guilin.

Rock climbing

Rock climbing is a fast-growing sport in China. The sheer-faced limestone karst mountains around Yangshuo in Guangxi province have become a climbing mecca, offering many marked routes for everyone from novice to expert climbers. Some bars even have practice walls.

Shanghai

In the cosmopolitan atmosphere of economic powerhouse Shanghai, soaring skyscrapers contrast the European-style Bund waterfront, art deco laneways of the former French Concession and traditional delights like Yuyuan, an ancient Chinese garden surrounded by a touristy shopping bazaar, also home to the Temple of the City God.

Shilin Stone Forest

Take a day trip from Yunnan capital Kunming to see one of southwest China's most celebrated natural attractions. The Shilin Stone Forest's (www.chinastoneforest.com) limestone rock columns resemble petrified trees.

Silk Road

Trace the ancient Silk Road trading route, which ran from Xi'an through deserts and mountains to the Caspian and Mediterranean seas, bringing Buddhism and Islam into China. The main sights include Dunhuang's Buddhist grottoes at Dunhuang, the ruins of Jiaohe city near Turpan and Kashgar's lively Sunday market.

Spring Festival

Enjoy festivities surrounding the Spring Festival, the Chinese calendar's most important date. Families get together to celebrate Chinese New Year, festooning homes with banners and pictures to bring good fortune. Festival activities often include temple fairs, lion dances and fireworks.

Suzhou

2,500-year-old Suzhou is China's own Venice. Its streets lining the Grand Canal and famous water gardens are a delight. Gardens include the Humble Administrator's Garden and the Garden of the Master of the Nets. Buy exquisite Suzhou silk fabrics and embroidery.

Tai chi

Try the ancient 'shadow art' of tai chi, a series of linked, slow movements using the entire body while focusing the mind. Traditionally practiced early in the morning in parks and public squares throughout China, good places to see it include Beijing's Beihai Park and People's Square in Shanghai.

Terracotta Army

The Terracotta Army is an enormous collection of Chinese warriors made out of hardened clay, 40km (25 miles) east of the town of Xi'an. Created in the second century BC by the emperor Shih Huang-Ti, the first emperor of a unified China, it was entombed with him upon his death. The army was discovered in 1974 during an attempt to dig a well, and subsequent digs have revealed over 10,000 figures. Each figure is individual, made to represent actual members of the imperial army, including both soldiers and officers. The collection is often referred to as 'the eighth wonder of the world'.

Tombs

Pay homage in Qufu at Confucius' Tomb, Temple and Mansion. Shenyang's North Imperial Tomb is where the Qing Dynasty's founding father is buried. Nanjing possesses the Xiaoling Tomb of Ming Dynasty founder Zhu Yuanzhang, and the mausoleum of China's first president, Dr Sun Yat-sen.

Newsletter