Must see attractions in China

  • Top ChoiceSights in Forbidden City & Dongcheng Central

    Forbidden City

    Enclosed by 3.5km of citadel walls at the very heart of Beijing, the Unesco-listed Forbidden City is China’s largest and best-preserved collection of ancient buildings – large enough to comfortably absorb the 16 million visitors it receives each year. Steeped in stultifying ritual, this otherworldly palace was the reclusive home to two dynasties of imperial rule, sharing 900-plus buildings with a retinue of eunuchs, servants and concubines, until the Republic overthrew the last Qing emperor in 1911.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Dunhuang

    Mogao Grottoes

    The Mogao Grottoes are considered one of the most important collections of Buddhist art in the world. At its peak during the Tang dynasty (618–907), the site housed 18 monasteries, more than 1400 monks and nuns, and countless artists, translators and calligraphers. English-language tours, running at 9am, noon and 2.30pm, are included in the ¥258 'A' ticket admission price, which gives you access to eight caves; the alternative ¥100 'B' ticket is for Chinese-language tours, with access to four caves.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Temple of Heaven Park & Dongcheng South

    Temple of Heaven Park

    An oasis of methodical Confucian design, the 267-hectare Temple of Heaven Park is unique. It originally served as a vast stage for solemn rites performed by the emperor (the literal 'Son of Heaven'), who prayed here for good harvests at winter solstice and sought divine clearance and atonement. Since 1918 this private imperial domain has opened its gates to common folk, who still congregate daily to perform taichi, twirl on gymnastics bars and sing revolutionary songs en masse.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Xi'an

    Army of Terracotta Warriors

    The Terracotta Army isn't just Xi'an's premier sight: it's one of the most famous archaeological finds in the world. This subterranean life-size army of thousands has silently stood guard over the soul of China's first unifier for more than two millennia. Either Qin Shi Huang was terrified of the vanquished spirits awaiting him in the afterlife or, as most archaeologists believe, he expected his rule to continue in death as it had in life.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Summer Palace & Haidian

    Summer Palace

    A marvel of Chinese garden design and one of Beijing's must-see attractions, the Summer Palace was the royal retreat for emperors fleeing the suffocating summer torpor of the old imperial city and, most recently, it was the retirement playground of Empress Dowager Cixi. It merits an entire day’s exploration, although a (high-paced) morning or afternoon exploring its waterways, pavilions, bridges and temples may suffice.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Gyantse

    Gyantse Kumbum

    Commissioned by a local prince in 1427 and sitting beside Palcho Monastery, Gyantse Kumbum is the town’s foremost attraction. This 32m-high chörten, with its white layers trimmed with decorative stripes and crown-like golden dome, is awe-inspiring. But the inside is no less impressive, and in what seems an endless series of tiny chapels you’ll find painting after exquisite painting ( kumbum means ‘100,000 images’). It costs a worthwhile ¥10 for photos (not included in the ticket, bring cash).

  • Top ChoiceSights in Datong

    Yungang Caves

    One of China’s most supreme examples of Buddhist cave art, these 5th-century caves are simply magnificent. With 51,000 ancient statues and celestial beings, they put virtually everything else in the Shanxi shade. Carved by the Turkic-speaking Tuoba, the Yungang Caves drew their designs from Indian, Persian and even Greek influences that swept along the Silk Road. Work began in AD 460, continuing for 60 years before all 252 caves, the oldest collection of Buddhist carvings in China, had been completed.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Samye

    Samye Monastery

    About 170km southeast of Lhasa, on the north bank of the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra River) is Samye Monastery, the first monastery in Tibet. Founded in 775 by King Trisong Detsen, Samye is famed not just for its pivotal history but for its unique mandala design: the Main Hall, known as Ütse, represents Mt Meru, the centre of the universe, while the outer temples represent the oceans, continents, subcontinents and other features of the Buddhist cosmology.

  • Sights in Sichuan

    Jiuzhaigou National Park

    The raw mountain beauty and sparkling lakes of Jiuzhaigou National Park was, for many, a highlight of China. However, in August 2017 a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck near Jiuzhaigou, affecting the parks infrastructure. At the time of research the park was closed to independent travellers while renovation work takes place. Check with hostel staff in Chengdu as to whether the park has reopened before venturing up here.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Hangzhou

    West Lake

    The very definition of classical beauty in China, West Lake is utterly mesmerising: pagoda-topped hills rise over willow-lined waters as boats drift slowly through a idyll of leisurely charm. Walkways, perfectly positioned benches, parks and gardens around the banks of the lake offer a thousand and one vantage points for visitors to admire the faultless scenery.

  • Sights in Southern Gansu

    Bǐnglíng Sì

    With its relative inaccessibility, Bǐnglíng Sì is one of the few Buddhist grottoes in China to have survived the tumultuous 20th century unscathed. Which is a good thing, as during a period spanning 1600 years, sculptors dangling from ropes carved 183 niches and sculptures into the porous rock of steep canyon walls. The cave art can’t compare to Dunhuang, but the setting, few tourists and the remarkable terraced landscapes you pass getting here make Bǐnglíng Sì unmissable.

  • Top ChoiceSights in The Peak & Northwest Hong Kong Island

    Victoria Peak

    Standing at 552m, Victoria Peak is the highest point on Hong Kong Island. It is also one of the most visited spots by tourists, and it’s not hard to see why. Sweeping views of the metropolis, verdant woods and easy but spectacular walks are all reachable in just eight minutes from Central via Hong Kong’s 125-year-old, gravity-defying Peak Tram. Predictably, it's become a money-making circus with restaurants and two shopping malls, but there's still magic up here if you can get past that.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Lhasa

    Potala Palace

    The magnificent Potala Palace, once the seat of the Tibetan government and the winter residence of the Dalai Lamas, is Lhasa's cardinal landmark. Your first sight of its towering, fortress-like walls is a moment you'll remember for years. An architectural wonder even by modern standards, the palace rises 13 storeys from 130m-high Marpo Ri (Red Hill) and contains more than 1000 rooms. Pilgrims and tourists alike shuffle open-mouthed through the three storeys, past the dozens of magnificent chapels, golden stupas and prayer halls.

  • Top ChoiceSights in The Peak & Northwest Hong Kong Island

    Man Mo Temple

    One of Hong Kong’s oldest temples and a declared monument, atmospheric Man Mo Temple is dedicated to the gods of literature (‘Man’), holding a writing brush, and of war (‘Mo’), wielding a sword. Built in 1847 during the Qing dynasty by wealthy Chinese merchants, it was, besides a place of worship, a court of arbitration for local disputes when trust was thin between the Chinese and the colonialists.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Shanghai Old City

    Yuyuan Gardens & Bazaar

    With its shaded alcoves, glittering pools churning with fish, plus pavilions, pines sprouting wistfully from rockeries, and roving packs of Japanese tourists, the Yuyuan Gardens is one of Shanghai's premier sights, but becomes overpoweringly crowded at weekends. The spring and summer blossoms bring a fragrant, floral aspect to the gardens, especially the luxurious petals of its Magnolia grandiflora, Shanghai's flower. Other trees include the luohan pine, bristling with thick needles, plus willows, gingkos, cherry trees and magnificent dawn redwoods.

  • Top ChoiceSights in The Bund & People's Square

    The Bund

    Symbolic of concession-era Shanghai, the Bund was the city’s Wall Street, a place of feverish trading and fortunes made and lost. Originally a towpath for dragging barges of rice, the Bund (an Anglo-Indian term for the embankment of a muddy waterfront) was gradually transformed into a grandiose sweep of the most powerful banks and trading houses in Shanghai. The optimal activity here is to simply stroll, contrasting the bones of the past with the futuristic geometry of Pudong’s skyline.

  • Sights in The Great Wall

    Jiankou Great Wall

    For stupefying hikes along perhaps Beijing’s most incomparable section of Wall, head to Jiankou, where white-knuckle sections like ‘Upward Flying Eagle’ and ‘Heavenly Ladder’ will make you marvel at just how they built the thing in the first place. Accessible from Xizhazi Village (西栅子村, Xīzhàzi Cūn) via the town of Huairou, and connected to Mutianyu Great Wall, you'll need a car and driver to hike here, and someone to guide you up onto the wall.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Sai Kung Peninsula

    High Island Reservoir East Dam

    Handsome architecture, the South China Sea, and 140-million-year-old volcanic rocks make this one of Hong Kong's most breathtaking places. High Island Reservoir East Dam is the most easily accessible part of Hong Kong Global Geopark and the only place where you can touch the hexagonal rock columns. The scenery is surreal and made even more so by the presence of thousands of dolosse (huge reinforced concrete blocks shaped like jacks) placed along the coast to break sea waves.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Zhangjiajie

    Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

    Among China’s crop of surreal landscapes, Zhangjiajie has got to be a contender for one of the most impressive. A forest of spectacularly weathered spires rises up out of a verdant valley that's filled with dripping moss, fragrant blossoms and acrobatic monkeys. Come dusk, the ensemble is serenaded by a chorus of chirping insects.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Lhasa

    Jokhang Temple

    The 1300-year-old Jokhang Temple is the spiritual heart of Tibet: the continuous waves of awestruck pilgrims prostrating themselves outside are a testament to its timeless allure. The central golden Buddha image here is the most revered in all of Tibet.