Antique yet up-to-the-minute, familiar yet unrecognisable, outwardly urban but quintessentially rural, conservative yet path-breaking, space-age but old-fashioned, China is a land of mesmerising and eye-opening contradictions.
Awe-Inspiring AntiquityChina may be modernising at a head-spinning pace, but the slick skyscrapers, Lamborghini showrooms and Maglev trains are just eye-catching but wafer-thin gift-wrapping. Let's face it: the world's oldest continuous civilisation is bound to pull an artefact or two out of its hat. Travel selectively around China and you can quickly tap into a rich seam of antiquity: ponder the legends and myths of the Forbidden City, rediscover your sense of wonder on the Great Wall or attempt to fathom the timeless expressions of the silent Terracotta Warriors. Submit to the unique charms of Píngyáo – China's best preserved walled town – or get a glimpse of Nirvana at the serene Mògāo Caves outside Dūnhuáng. Meander among the historic villages of Wùyuán, wake with the cock crow in an ancient Hakka roundhouse or join well-dressed Tibetan pilgrims on their circuitous kora around Labrang monastery.
Out-of-This-World FlavoursChina is famously fixated with food but do yourself a favour and exchange your meagre local Chinatown menu for the lavish Middle Kingdom cookbook. Wolf down Peking duck, size up a sizzling lamb kebab in Kāifēng or gobble down a bowl of Lánzhōu noodles on the Silk Road. Spicy Húnán food really raises the temperature but find time for momo (boiled dumplings), tsampa (roasted barley flour porridge) and other titbits from Tibet. Impress your friends as you gānbēi (down-in-one) the local firewater, sip a frozen daiquiri in a slick Běijīng bar or survey the Shànghǎi skyline through a raised cocktail glass. Second to none, the never-ending culinary adventure is possibly the most enticing aspect of Middle Kingdom travel and you'll come back from China with highly stimulated taste buds and much-cherished gastronomic memories.
Stupendous SceneryChina is vast. Off-the-scale massive. And you've just got to get outside: island-hop in Hong Kong, gaze out over the epic grasslands of Inner Mongolia or squint up at the mind-blowing peaks of the Himalayas. Trek your way around Tiger Leaping Gorge or cycle between the fairy-tale karst pinnacles of Yángshuò. Ponder the desiccated enormity of the Taklamakan Desert or swoon at Huángshān's preternatural mists. Become entranced by the Yuányáng Rice Terraces of Yúnnán, size up the awesome sand dunes of Dūnhuáng, hike your way around the exquisite landscape of Déhāng or, when your energy fails you, flake out for a tan on the distant beaches of Hǎinán island.
Ready to go?
These tours & activities make it easy:
Best places to stay in China
Ten of the world's best city hikes
Stretch your legs over hours or days, without leaving some of the world’s biggest cities. This article is adapted from Lonely Planet's 1000 Ultimate Adventures. Tijuca Forest, Rio de Janeiro Aerial shot of Rio de Janeiro surrounded by the Tijuca Forest. Image by Paddy Eckersley / Digital Vision / Getty Images.
Architecture in China
Best of the Great Wall
China destination guides
East-meets-West fashion capital where temples linger below a sci-fi skyline.
Ten of the world's most mind-blowing landscapes
Gazing at a remarkable view for the first time is one of travel’s greatest thrills - and these 10 landscapes are among the most mind-blowing we’ve ever seen. Straight from our brand-new hardback Lonely Planet's Beautiful World, these landscapes are almost too extraordinary to be real.
China's top temples
Great Wall Trek
This trek takes in a classic section of the Great Wall in Hebei Province. Camp, explore and trek between small villages after exploring the iconic sights of Beijing
Encounter the essence of China in all its wonderful diversity—climb the Great Wall and stare down the Terracotta Warriors before heading down south on this 3-week tour of China's cultural and natural highlights.
Li River, Guangxi Zhuang, China
Image by Glowing Earth / Getty Images. The Li River area is renowned for classic images of mossy-green jagged limestone peaks, bubbling streams, wallowing water buffalo and cormorant fishing. Open a copy of Lonely Planet's Beautiful World for more glimpses into the world's most magnificent places.
Sights in China
Activities in China
Tours in China
Restaurants in China
Budget hotels & hostels
Guesthouses and B&Bs
Vast metropolis of ancient alleys, glimmering towers and imperial monuments.