Must see attractions in Ningxia

  • Top ChoiceSights in Helan Shan

    Western Xia Tombs

    Like giant beehives scattered on the arid eastern slope of the Helan mountains, the Xixia imperial tombs are Ningxia’s most celebrated sight. The earliest tombs were built a millennium ago by Li Yuanhao, founder of the kingdom. There are nine tombs, plus 250 lesser tombs, in an area of 50 sq km. The one you’ll see (Tomb No.3) belongs to Li – constructed as a 23m-tall wooden pagoda, now weathered to its earthen core. The tomb site is fashioned like a miniature city with towers, city walls and temple.

  • Sights in Zhongwei

    Gao Temple

    This is one of China's most extraordinary temples. The three faiths of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism are revered here; it has an unusual roofline because its halls and shrines are stacked cluster by cluster on a slope. Check out the unnerving Arhat Hall (罗汉堂, Luóhàn Táng), which contains 500 arhats, many in grotesque guises and postures. The drawcard oddity is Dì Gōng (地宫), a maze-like shelter converted into a Buddhist hell.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Guyuan

    Xūmí Shān

    Cut honeycomb-like into five sandstone hills, 55km northwest of Guyuan, are 132 magnificent grottoes housing 300 Buddhist statues. They date back 1400 years, from the Northern Wei to the Sui and Tang dynasties, when this region was an important gateway in the eastward spread of Buddhism and the westward movement of goods on the Silk Road. Cave 5 contains the largest statue, a colossal Maitreya, standing 20.6m high.

  • Sights in Tongxin

    Great Mosque

    Of all the mosques in Ningxia, the most hallowed is the Great Mosque. Dating back to the 14th century (although the present mosque was built in 1573 and then renovated in 1791), it was the only one of Ningxia’s 1000-odd mosques to avoid the ravages of the Cultural Revolution. As such, it’s a near-perfect example of Ming- and Qing-era temple architecture. Not until you get up close and notice the crescents that top the pagoda roofs does it become apparent that it’s a mosque.

  • Sights in Zhongwei

    Shapotou

    The desert playground of Shapotou, 17km west of Zhongwei, lies on the fringes of the Tengger Desert at the dramatic convergence of sand dunes, the Yellow River and lush farmlands. It’s based around the Shapotou Desert Research Centre, which was founded in 1956 to battle the ever-worsening problem of desertification in China’s northwest.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Yinchuan

    Yinchuan Museum of Contemporary Art

    Located in a white, fashionably fluid-lined building between the Yellow River and paddy fields is Yinchuan MOCA, the premier museum for contemporary art in northwestern China. It's also the site of the Yinchuan Biennale. Art lovers from Beijing and Shanghai are known to make trips here just for the high-quality exhibitions, particularly the ones on Islamic contemporary art.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Helan Shan

    Helan Shan Rock Carvings

    The most significant sight in Helan Shan is these ancient rock carvings dating from 1000 to 10,000 years ago. Over 2000 pictographs depict animals, faces, hunting and copulation scenes, as well as inscriptions of Xixia characters praising the Buddha. They are remnants of the early nomadic tribes who lived in the steppes north of China. Admission includes entry to a museum on ancient rock art and a ride to the valley containing the rock carvings.

  • Sights in Guyuan

    Liùpán Shān Guójiā Sēnlín Gōngyuán

    Those on the trail of Genghis Khan will want to visit southern Ningxia’s Liùpán Shān, where some maintain the great man died in 1227. Legend attests that the Mongol emperor fell ill and came here to ingest medicinal plants native to the area, but perished on its slopes (though it’s much more likely he died elsewhere). The mountain is now a protected area.

  • Sights in Guyuan

    Huǒ Shí Zhài

    The centrepiece of this geopark is its Danxia landform, with its dramatic red rocks and steep cliffs. This is not the most impressive Danxia in China but it's attractive enough. Studded into cliff-faces are shrines and temples, reachable via vertiginous steps, while pagodas perch on peaks and hiking paths snake between the various rocky formations. The light is best in the late afternoon.

  • Sights in Helan Shan

    Suyukou National Forest Park

    This park is a good place to start exploring Helan Shan. The 5km northbound trail is quite challenging in parts and takes you to the highest point in the park (just under 3000m above sea level). There are shorter and easier routes or you can combine hiking with a ride on the cable car (up/down ¥50/30) straight up to cool pine-covered hills.

  • Sights in Guyuan

    Guyuan Museum

    The collection of relics at this excellent museum features Neolithic pottery, lacquer coffin paintings from the Northern Wei dynasty, Tangut ceramics and Silk Road artefacts from Roman coins and Persian ewers to Buddhist statues, most of which were excavated in villages or found in tombs in and around the region. As an early stop on the northern bypass of the eastern Silk Roads, Guyuan was a site of vigorous cultural exchange between civilisations, nomadic and otherwise.

  • Sights in Yinchuan

    Haibao Pagoda

    This fantastically well-preserved pagoda in the north of town is a beauty. Its cross-shaped (from above), straight-edged and tapering form was exquisitely built. The pagoda was damaged during the 2008 Sìchuan earthquake, so sadly can no longer be climbed. Also known as North Pagoda (北塔, Běitǎ), the structure was possibly originally built in the 5th century, before being toppled by an earthquake in 1739. It was then rebuilt in its current form in 1771.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Yinchuan

    Ningxia Museum

    This cavernous museum contains an extensive collection of rock art and Silk Road artefacts. The highlights are relics from the imperial tombs of the Xixia empire, including fascinating representations of the Kalaviṅka, a Buddhist mythical creature with a human head and a bird's torso; it's a common feature in Tangut art and one that graces the facade and cornices of the museum building. This museum gives great context to the history of Ningxia, especially pertaining to Xixia and Silk Road culture.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Helan Shan

    Western Film Studios

    This wacky film studio is where famed Chinese movies like Red Sorghum and many Hong Kong classics by Stephen Chow, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Tsui Hark were shot. If you're a Chinese-language film buff, you may recognise some of the sets. But even if you're not, it’s fun to explore the fake villages, fortresses and other recreations of China's windswept, deserty 'Wild West', but be prepared to jostle with domestic tourists for good pictures.

  • Sights in Yinchuan

    108 Stupas

    This unusual arrangement of Tibetan-style Buddhist dagobas (stupas) is 83km south of Yinchuan, not far from the town of Qingtongxia (青铜峡). The 12 rows of (much renovated) brick vaselike structures date from the Yuan dynasty and are arranged in a large triangular constellation on the banks of the Yellow River.

  • Sights in Zhongwei

    Gao Temple Park

    Gao Temple is located inside a nicely landscaped park with a willow-fringed pond, a dainty bridge and handsome pagodas. It's colourfully illuminated at night – a little kitsch perhaps but still photogenic. And it buzzes with life – locals come to play chess, walk their dogs and grandchildren, dance, play èrhú (mandolin-type instrument) and meet their lovers. The square-shaped park is bordered on three sides by Gulou Beijie (鼓楼北街), Changcheng Xijie (长城西街), and Tuanjie Lu (团结路).

  • Sights in Yinchuan

    Chengtiansi Pagoda

    Climb the 11 storeys of steep, narrow stairs of this brick pagoda topped with a green spire for 360-degree views of Yinchuan. The octagonal pagoda is also known as Xītǎ (西塔, West Pagoda) and dates back almost 1000 years to the Western Xia dynasty, though it has been rebuilt several times since, especially after it toppled during the great Ningxia earthquake of 1738; the current pagoda dates to 1820. Buses 9, 10, 24 and 25 all reach the temple.

  • Sights in Yinchuan

    Xinyi Market

    At this busy market with lanes flanked by mounds of local produce, the assortment of chilli peppers is astounding – all shapes, sizes and hotness levels: dried, ground, fried and fresh. Here vendors make manakish and Chinese buns from scratch, extract chilli oil with old-fashioned presses, and weigh spices. Fruit is good and cheap here.

  • Sights in Yinchuan

    Shuǐ Dòng Gōu

    This archaeological site 25km east of Yinchuan, right on the border with Inner Mongolia, has been turned into something of an adventure theme park. Highlights include an unrestored section of the Great Wall dating back to the Ming dynasty; a fortress with an elaborate network of underground tunnels with false passages and booby traps, which Chinese soldiers used to defend the Wall; and a mildly interesting museum showing Palaeolithic-era relics first uncovered here in 1923.

  • Sights in Yinchuan

    Nánxūn Mén

    The sole surviving gate of the old town wall, Nánxūn Mén looks south out onto Nanmen Sq (南门广场, Nánmén Guǎngchǎng) from its position east of Nanxun Dongjie. The two viewing platforms were added in the 1970s, making a faithful duplication in miniature of Beijing's Gate of Heavenly Peace – Tian'anmen. Mao's portrait was added, to perfect the copy. Around and behind around the gate, locals gather to play chess and socialise.