Must see attractions in Henan

  • Top ChoiceSights in Song Shan & Dengfeng

    Shaolin Scenic Area

    The largely rebuilt Shaolin Temple is a commercialised victim of its own incredible success. A frequent target of war, the ancestral home of wǔshù was last torched in 1928, and the surviving halls – many of recent construction – are today assailed by relentless waves of selfie-shooting tour groups. The temple’s claim to fame, its dazzling gōngfū (kung fu) based on the movements of animals, insects and sometimes mythological figures, guarantees that martial arts clubs around the world make incessant pilgrimages.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Luoyang

    Longmen Grottoes

    The ravaged grottoes at Longmen constitute one of China’s handful of surviving masterpieces of Buddhist rock carving. A sutra in stone, the epic achievement of the Longmen Grottoes was commenced by chisellers from the Northern Wei dynasty after the capital relocated here from Datong in the year AD 494. Over the next two centuries, more than 100,000 images and statues of Buddha and his disciples emerged from over a kilometre of limestone cliff wall along the Yi River (伊河, Yī Hé).

  • Sights in Luoyang

    White Horse Temple

    Although its original structures have all been replaced and older Buddhist shrines may have vanished, this vast, active monastery outside Luoyang is regarded as China’s first surviving Buddhist temple, originally dating from AD 68. When two Han dynasty court emissaries went in search of Buddhist scriptures, they met two Indian monks in Afghanistan; the monks returned to Luoyang on white horses carrying Buddhist sutras and statues. The impressed emperor built the temple for the monks; it's also their resting place.

  • Sights in Song Shan & Dengfeng

    Taishi Shan

    Arguably the best hike in the area, Taishi Shan serves as a much quieter counterpoint to Shaolin Temple. It's not for slackers, however; like all Chinese mountains, the steps go straight up, and these ascend a leg-busting 1000m in altitude before reaching Junji Peak (1492m). Along the way you'll pass some fantastical landscapes and a host of ravaged temples, the most interesting being Laomu Cave (老母洞, lǎomǔ dòng), where according to one legend Laotzu lived for six years while writing the Tao Te Ching.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Kaifeng

    Temple of the Chief Minister

    First founded in AD 555, this frequently rebuilt temple vanished along with Kaifeng in the early 1640s, when rebels breached the Yellow River’s dykes. During the Northern Song, the temple covered a massive 34 hectares and housed over 10,000 monks. The show-stopper today is the mesmerising Four-Faced Thousand Hand Thousand Eye Guanyin (四面千手千眼观世音, Sìmiàn Qiānshǒu Qiānyǎn Guānshìyīn), towering within the octagonal Arhat Hall (罗汉殿, Luóhàn Diàn), beyond the Hall of Tathagata (大雄宝殿, Dàxióng Bǎodiàn).

  • Top ChoiceSights in Luoyang

    Ancient Tombs Museum

    This superb but little-visited museum has three main exhibits: 20 reconstructed tombs (spanning five main dynasties, or over 1000 years), re-created using original building materials; original tomb murals; and a Northern Wei royal burial mound. Grab an audioguide (¥20) on the way in and let loose your inner Indiana Jones: stand inside 2000-year-old tombs to admire delicately carved panels and faded frescoes.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Guoliang

    Long Corridor in the Cliffs

    This tunnel on the cusp of Guoliang village offers a closer perspective on the plunging cliffs, with dramatic views carved through the rock. The tunnel was built between 1972 and 1978 by a local man called Shen Mingxin (with help from other villagers). It's an incredible feat of engineering: much of the corridor was excavated by hand, using eight-pound hammers and steel bars forged by the village blacksmith.

  • Sights in Kaifeng

    Iron Pagoda Park

    Kaifeng's most iconic landmark is a magnificent 11th-century Iron Pagoda (55m tall) at the centre of a pleasant park. The gorgeous, glazed-brick edifice, named for its rust-coloured tiles, is the oldest and tallest of its kind in China. You can climb its narrow stairs for an additional ¥35. Take bus 1 from Zhongshan Lu; alternatively, a taxi will cost ¥10.

  • Sights in Song Shan & Dengfeng

    Shaolin Temple

    The largely rebuilt Shaolin Temple is a commercialised victim of its own incredible success. A frequent target of war, the ancestral home of wǔshù was last torched in 1928, and the surviving halls – many of recent construction – are today assailed by relentless waves of selfie-shooting tour groups. The temple’s claim to fame, its dazzling gōngfū (kung fu) based on the movements of animals, insects and sometimes mythological figures, guarantees that martial arts clubs around the world make incessant pilgrimages.

  • Sights in Song Shan & Dengfeng

    Zhongyue Temple

    A few kilometres east of Dengfeng, the ancient and hoary Zhongyue Temple is a colossal active Taoist monastery complex that originally dates back to the 2nd century BC. Embedded in a mountainous background, with monks garbed in traditional dress and sporting topknots, the temple is less visited and exudes a more palpable air of reverence than its Buddhist sibling, the Shaolin Temple.

  • Sights in Kaifeng

    Po Pagoda

    This stumpy pagoda from 974 is the oldest Buddhist structure in Kaifeng and was originally a nine-storey hexagonal building, typical of the Northern Song style. The pagoda is clad in tiles decorated with 108 different Buddha images – note that most of the Buddhas on the lower levels have had their faces smashed off. The pagoda is all that survives of Tianqing Temple (天清寺, Tiānqīng Sì), but worshippers still flock here to burn incense and pray.

  • Sights in Kaifeng

    Shanshangan Guild Hall

    This tiny, elaborately styled guild hall was built as a lodging and meeting place during the Qing dynasty by an association of merchants from Shanxi (山西), Shaanxi (陕西) and Gansu (甘肃) provinces. You can delve into the exhibition on historic Kaifeng and see a fascinating diorama of the old Song city – with its palace in the centre of town – and compare it with a model of modern Kaifeng. Note the ornate carvings on the roof beams.

  • Sights in Luoyang

    Luoyang Museum

    This huge museum, situated out of the action south of the river, has fascinating displays across two huge floors and is one of the few places where you can get any kind of perspective on ancient Luoyang. There’s an absorbing collection of three-colour Tang dynasty sāncǎi porcelain; the city’s rise is traced through dynastic pottery, bronzeware and other magnificent objects. An audio guide (¥40) is also available. Bring your passport.

  • Sights in Kaifeng

    Kāifēng Fǔ

    This reconstructed site of the government offices of the Northern Song has daily theatricals commencing outside the gates – the doors are thrown open and costumed actors play period scenes, complete with cracking whips and the sound of gongs. Drumming, kung-fu displays and Chinese-language plays are staged inside throughout the day. Drama aside, the site is one of Kaifeng's better recreations of Song imperial life, with English explanations, martial parade grounds, a prison and several appearances by the famed Judge Bao.

  • Sights in Kaifeng

    Kaifeng Museum

    Housed in a colossal fortress 10km west of town, the Kaifeng Museum contains a modest collection of archaeological finds, woodblock prints and historical objects, along with a sizeable exhibition on Zhang Zeduan's Qingming painting. The audio guide (¥20 with ¥200 deposit) is helpful for lending context to the displays. Get here on bus 56 from Zhongshan Zhongduan (¥1, 45 minutes, every 25 minutes), or by taxi (¥25). Bring your passport.

  • Sights in Luoyang

    Luoyang Old Town

    Any Chinese city worth its rice has an Old Town. Within Luoyang’s is this scenic area comprising a plethora of water-banquet restaurants, costume shops and the occasional creaking monument, namely the lovely brick Wenfeng Pagoda (文峰塔, Wénfēng Tǎ), originally built in the Song dynasty. Bring your passport for access or skip the theme-park area entirely and make your way to the more atmospheric Drum Tower rising up on Dong Dajie (东大街).

  • Sights in Luoyang

    Wangcheng Square

    This square is the cacophonous meeting place for locals who come to play chess and cards, practise calligraphy, stroll with grandchildren, play instruments and work on their dance moves. Catch the square at its busiest and you could say it represents a good chunk of Chinese society in a nutshell; it's also busy at night.

  • Sights in Nanjiecun

    East Is Red Square

    In this square, guards maintain a 24-hour vigil at the foot of a statue of Chairman Mao, and portraits of Marx, Engels, Stalin and Lenin (the original ‘Gang of Four’) rise up on all four sides. Behind the ensemble, a tri-coloured rainbow proclaims 'Mao Zedong thought will shine forever'. The square is deluged in shrill propaganda broadcast from speakers in true 1950s style, kicking off at 6.15am daily.

  • Sights in Zhuxian Zhen

    Zhuxian Mosque

    Originally founded in the Northern Song dynasty, this mosque is housed in a traditional Chinese temple compound with a pretty rose garden. Examine the elaborately carved lintels and the examples of Chinese/Arabic calligraphy. It's a pleasant walk 700m south of Zhuxian's main road along a wide stone path. Scoot around the block to the east entrance if the west one looks closed.

  • Sights in Luoyang

    Eastern Zhou Royal Horse & Chariot Pits

    A huge statue of six rearing horses marks this two-hall underground museum, where the principal draw is the in-situ remains of a Zhou emperor’s royal horses – that were buried alive when the emperor passed on.