Imperial Architecture

Crumbling dynasties have deposited an imposing trail of antiquity across north China, from vast imperial palaces to the noble ruins of the Great Wall and altars reserved for the emperor.

Forbidden City China’s standout imperial residence in Běijīng, home to two dynasties of emperors and their concubines.

Summer Palace An epic display of traditional Chinese aesthetics with crucial ingredients: hills, lakes, bridges, pavilions, temples and tantalising sunsets.

Imperial Palace Manchu splendour in Shěnyáng within the former Manchurian heartland of Liáoníng province.

Xī’ān Shaanxi home of the Terracotta Warriors, an imposing Ming city wall and traces of the city’s astonishing Tang apogee.

Chéngdé Summer bolt-hole of the Qing emperors, with palatial remains and a riveting brood of Tibetan-style temples.

The Great Wall

The Wall most famously belongs to Běijīng, but fragments leave a ragged band across much of north China, trailing from the North Korean border to the wind-scoured deserts of China’s wild northwest.

Jiànkòu Běijīng’s prime chunk of ruin, a sublime portrait of disintegrating brickwork, overgrown with saplings and immersed in a magnificent mountain panorama.

Gǔběikǒu Trekking options galore at this Great Wall crossroads accessible from Běijīng.

Zhuàngdàokǒu Little-visited length of wall near Běijīng packing supreme views and hiking opportunities.

Huánghuā Chéng Excellent hiking opportunities along some of the most authentic sections of wall to be found around Běijīng.

Jiāyùguān Fort Confront weathered slogans from Mao’s Cultural Revolution lashed by the Gānsù desert winds.

Bā Táizi Sublime Gothic church tower ruin alongside a similarly dilapidated length of the Great Wall, outside Dàtóng.

Extremes

China has more than enough extremes to satisfy thrill-seekers, or just the plain inquisitive. From the world's highest mountain to its fastest trains and the world's furthest city from the sea, take your pick from China's extremes.

Běihóngcūn China's northernmost village in Hēilóngjiāng, where winter temperatures are glacial.

Turpan China's hottest spot and the world's second-lowest depression, where the thermometer has topped 48°C.

Shànghǎi Maglev The world's fastest commercially operating Maglev system train has a top operational speed of 431 km/h (268 mph).

Everest Base Camp Rise early for dramatic images of the world's highest mountain in the morning sun.

Ürümqi Journey along the Silk Road and stop by the world's most remote city from the sea.

Ancient Settlements

Traditional China can be glimpsed in its picturesque, ancient villages and towns. Ming and Qing dynasty architecture, narrow lanes and superlative feng shui combine in a pastoral aesthetic complemented by a relaxed rural tempo.

Píngyáo China’s best-looking, best-preserved walled town – by a long shot – warrants thorough exploration.

Fènghuáng Make sure you overnight in this fantastic historic town on the Tuó River for its beautiful evening lights.

Wùyuán Take time off to village-hop in the gorgeous Jiāngxī countryside and dream of abandoning urban China for good.

Fújiàn Tǔlóu Explore the fortress-like earthen ‘roundhouses’ of Fújiàn, distinctive for their imposing enormity.

Xīnyè This effortlessly charming village is designed with an eye for traditional Chinese harmony and balance.

Urban Extravaganzas

Among China’s most dynamic cities is Shànghǎi, where glittering skyscrapers overlook Maglev trains, and cashed-up consumers shop in chic malls, drink at elegant cocktail bars and dine at fashionable restaurants.

Shànghǎi The city that everyone – architects, fashionistas, cocktail connoisseurs, foodies, urban travellers, interior designers – is talking about.

Hong Kong Poised between China and the West, the ex-British colony continues to plough its own distinctive furrow.

Běijīng China's leading city: a riveting blend of ancient capital and modern metropolis.

Hángzhōu One of China’s most attractive cities with the sublime and romantic West Lake at its heart.

Boat Trips

China is cut by some dramatic and breathtaking rivers, including the mighty Yangzi. Hop on a riverboat and ease into a totally different experience of China’s landscapes.

Three Gorges China’s most awesome river panorama.

Lí River The hypnotising karst landscapes of northeast Guǎngxī.

Star Ferry, Hong Kong The short but iconic ferry hop across Victoria Harbour from Tsim Sha Tsui.

Evening river cruise, Chóngqìng Before getting all misty on the Yangzi, experience Chóngqìng’s nocturnal, neon performance.

Qīngyuǎn boat trip, Guǎngdōng Lazily float along the Běi River, past secluded Fēilái Temple and Fēixiá monastery.

Fantastic Food

With its novel flavours, unexpected aromas and tastes, China is a true culinary adventure. Head west for zing, zest and spice, north for hearty and salty flavours, east for fresh and lightly flavoured seafood, and south for dim sum.

Peking duck Once bitten, forever smitten, and only true to form in Běijīng.

Chóngqìng hotpot Sweat like you're in a sauna over China’s most volcanic culinary creation.

Xiǎolóngbāo Shànghǎi’s bite-sized snack packs a lot of flavour (but watch out for the super heated meat juice).

Dim Sum Head to Hong Kong for the very best in China's bite-size delicacies.

Museums

Urbanisation means that museum collections can be the clearest window onto China’s past, and they are ubiquitous, covering everything from ethnic clothing to clocks, Buddhist artefacts and vanished civilisations.

Palace Museum The official and highly prosaic name for the Forbidden City, China’s supreme link to its dynastic past.

Shànghǎi Museum A dazzling collection of ceramics, paintings, calligraphy and much more at the heart of Shànghǎi.

Alashan Museum Terrific museum and collection of artefacts and objects relating to Ālāshān and Mongolian culture.

Hong Kong Museum of History Entertaining, resourceful and informative.

Nánjīng Museum A lavish celebration of Chinese culture's big hitters, with astounding exhibitions.

Sacred China

From the esoteric mysteries of Tibetan Buddhism to the palpable magic of its holy Taoist mountains and its disparate collection of Christian churches, mosques and shrines, China’s sacred realm is the point at which the supernatural and natural worlds converge.

Pǔníng Temple, Chéngdé Be rendered speechless by China’s largest wooden statue, a towering effigy of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy.

Labrang Monastery Tap into the ineffable rhythms of southern Gānsù’s place of pilgrimage for legions of Tibetans.

Gyantse Kumbum An overwhelming sight and monumental experience, the nine-tiered chörten is Tibet’s largest stupa.

Dà Zhào Hohhot's riveting and colossal Tibetan Buddhist temple at the heart of the Inner Mongolian capital.

Wǔdāng Shān Commune with the spirit of Taoist martial arts in the birthplace of taichi.

Hiking

Despite urban encroachment, China is one of the world’s most geographically varied and largest nations, with stupendous hiking opportunities amid breathtaking scenery.

Tiger Leaping Gorge Yúnnán’s best-known and most enticing hike is not for the faint-hearted.

Lóngjǐ Rice Terraces Work your way from Dàzhài to Píng’ān through some of China’s most mesmerising scenery.

Wùyuán Follow the old postal roads from village to village in the drop-dead gorgeous Jiāngxī countryside.

Lángmùsì Excellent options in most directions from the charming monastic town on the Gānsù–Sìchuān border.

Yàdīng Nature Reserve Follow a Tibetan pilgrimage route on two- to eight-day tracks around magnificent peaks.

Ganden to Samye An 80km, four- to five-day high-altitude hike between these two Tibetan monasteries.

Ethnic Minorities

Han China hits the buffers around its far-reaching borderlands, where a colourful patchwork of ethnic minorities preserves distinct cultures, languages, architectural styles and livelihoods.

Tibet Explore this vast region in the west of China or chart an itinerary through the easier-to-access regions outside the Tibetan heartland.

Déhāng This Miao village in hilly Húnán finds itself delightfully embedded in some breathtaking scenery.

Lìjiāng Yúnnán’s famous home of the blue-clothed Naxi folk.

Kashgar Dusty Central Asian outpost and Uyghur China’s most famous town, on the far side of the Taklamakan Desert.

Bayanhot Easily reached just over the border from Níngxià, this town is a fascinating introduction to west Inner Mongolia and its awesome desertscapes.

Stunning Scenery

You haven’t really experienced China until you’ve had your socks blown off by one of its scenic marvels. China’s constructed splendours give cities such as Shànghǎi head-turning cachet, but nature steals the show.

Yángshuò You’ve probably seen the karst topography before in picture-perfect photographs; now see the real thing.

Huángshān When suffused in spectral mists, China’s Yellow Mountain enters a different dimension of beauty.

Jiǔzhàigōu National Park Turquoise lakes, waterfalls, snowcapped mountains and green forests: all this and more.

Chìshuǐ Trek past waterfalls and through ancient forests dating to the Jurassic.

Yuányáng Rice Terraces Be transfixed by the dazzling display of light and water.

Modern Architecture

Befitting its ascendancy on the world stage, China has reached for the stars with some dazzling and funky newfangled architecture. And you don’t have to be a building buff to get a buzz from the sleek skyline of Shànghǎi or Hong Kong; all you need is a taste for the up-to-the-minute, the unexpected and high-altitude observation decks.

Shànghǎi World Financial Center Reigning supreme over Lùjiāzuǐ, but soon to be eclipsed by the even more titanic Shànghǎi Tower.

CCTV Building ‘Big Underpants’ to Běijīng locals, a masterclass in engineering complexity to others.

National Centre for the Performing Arts The opinion-dividing Běijīng edifice drops jaws whatever your perspective or persuasion.

HSBC Building Hong Kong’s most elaborate and precision engineered building and a masterclass in feng shui design.

Shànghǎi Tower China's tallest tower rises triumphantly above rivals in Shànghǎi’s Lùjiāzuǐ district.