The high-altitude, far west of China, including Tibet, Qīnghǎi and west Sìchuān, gradually and fitfully steps down to level out as it nears the prosperous and well-irrigated canal-town provinces of Jiāngsū and Zhèjiāng, and the dazzling metropolis of Shànghǎi in the east. The lion’s share of scenic marvels and hiking territory belongs to the mountainous interior of China, while in the mighty northwest, peaks and deserts meet in dramatic fashion. Minority culture is a speciality of the west and southwest, and of the remote border regions. Different cuisines range across the entire nation, from the hardy northeast to the warm jungles of the far southwest.

Beijing

History

Temples

Food

Běijīng’s imperial pedigree (and the Great Wall) assures it a rich vein of dynastic history, balanced by splendid seams of temple and hútòng (narrow alleyway) architecture. Wining and dining is a further attraction as the capital is home to a resourceful restaurant scene.

Tianjin & Hebei

History

Temples

Outdoors

Tiānjīn’s spruced-up foreign concession streetscapes echo stylish Shànghǎi, and some standout pagodas and temples can be found in Héběi, where the rural side of China – peppered with rustic village getaways – comes to the fore.

Shandong

History

Mountains

Seaside

Shāndōng groans under the weight of its historical heavy-hitters: Confucius' home and tomb at Qūfù and sacred Tài Shān. Then, of course, there's the home of Tsingtao beer, Qīngdǎo, a breezy, laid-back modern and sophisticated port city.

Shanghai

Architecture

Food

Urban Style

Shànghǎi exudes a unique style unlike anywhere else in China. There’s plenty to do, from non-stop shopping and skyscraper-hopping to standout art, fantastic eats and touring the city’s elegant art deco heritage.

Jiangsu

Canal Towns

Outdoors

History

Jiāngsū's awash with cute-as-pie canal towns – all reachable as day trips from neighbouring Shànghǎi. The provincial capital, Nánjīng, has history in spades, with its fabulous Ming wall and epic past as former national capital.

Zhejiang

Canal Towns

Outdoors

Islands

Flushed with water and vaulted with bridges, the canal town of Wūzhèn is full of traditional charm. Hángzhōu is one of China’s most appealing cities, while stunning pastoral escapes abound further south, including the gorgeous villages of Xīnyè and Zhūgě.

Fujian

Architecture

Food

Islands

Fújiàn is Hakka heartland and home to the intriguing tǔlóu – massive packed stone, wood and mud structures once housing hundreds of families. Gǔlàng Yǔ, a tiny, hilly island off Xiàmén, is decorated with crumbling colonial villas.

Liaoning

Festivals

History

Minority Culture

In history-rich Liáoníng, imperial relics contend with the legacy of Russian and Japanese colonialism. The North Korean border at Dāndōng is a sobering contrast to the wild beer festival at Dàlián.

Jilin

Landscapes

Culture

Skiing

Boasting China’s largest nature reserve, and a top ski destination, Jílín exerts a pull on the nature lover. On the trail of the exotic? Head to Jí’ān for the ruins of the ancient Korean Koguryo empire.

Heilongjiang

Festivals

Culture

Nature

Fire and ice are the highlights in this province where volcanic explosions have left one of China’s most mesmerising landscapes, and the winter’s bitter climate provides the raw materials for a spectacular ice sculpture festival.

Shanxi

History

Culture

Mountains

Repository to the superlative Buddhist grottoes at Yúngāng, Shānxī also brings you the beautiful Buddhist mountain, Wǔtái Shān; the intact walled city of Píngyáo; the rebuilt city fortifications of Dàtóng; and time-worn sections of the Great Wall.

Shaanxi

Historic Sites

Museums

Mountains

Archaeological sites lie scattered across the plains surrounding Shaanxi’s magnificent walled capital, Xī’ān, where museums galore await. Blow off all that ancient dust with a trip to Huá Shān, one of China’s five holy Taoist peaks.

Anhui

Villages

Mountains

Outdoors

The charming Unesco-listed Hui villages of Hóngcūn and Xīdì are some of China’s best-preserved. But let’s not forget that astonishing mountain, Huáng Shān, whose soaring granite peaks and ethereal mist have inspired legions of poets and painters.

Henan

History

Temples

Mountains

Hénán’s overture of dynastic antiquity is balanced by some excellent mountain escapes and the quirky allure of Nánjiēcūn, China’s last Maoist collective. The province’s wǔshù (martial arts) credentials come no better: the Shàolín Temple is here.

Hubei

Scenic Wonders

History

Rivers

Slashed by the mighty Yangzi River, history-rich Húběi is one of the gateways to the Three Gorges, but Taoist martial artists may find themselves mustering on Wǔdāng Shān, home of taichi and scenic views.

Jiangxi

Scenery

Mountains

Ancient Villages

Communists herald it as the mythic starting point of the Long March, but it’s the spectacular mountain scenery and hiking trails past preserved villages and terraced fields that should pop Jiāngxī into your travel plans.

Hunan

Ancient Towns

Minority Villages

Mountains

Home to one of China’s most enjoyable ancient towns, Fènghuáng – beautifully illuminated come nightfall – as well as the sacred mountain of Héng Shān, the other-worldly karst peaks of Zhāngjiājiè, and secluded Miao and Dong villages.

Hong Kong

Food

Shopping

Scenery

This culinary capital offers the best of China and beyond, while a seductive mix of vintage and cutting-edge fashion attracts armies of shoppers. Meanwhile, leafy mountains, shimmering waters, skyscrapers and tenements make an unlikely but poetic match.

Macau

Food

Architecture

Casinos

Marrying flavours from five continents, Macanese cooking is as unique as the cityscape, where Taoist temples meet baroque churches on cobbled streets with Chinese names. It’s also a billionaire’s playground where casino-resorts and other luxuries vie for space.

Guangdong

Food

History

Architecture

A strong gastronomic culture offers travellers the chance to savour world-renowned Cantonese cuisine. Guǎngdōng’s seafaring temperament has brought the region diverse, exotic architectural styles, including the World Heritage–listed watchtowers of Kāipíng.

Hainan

Beaches

Cycling

Surfing

When it comes to golden-sand beaches and warm clear waters, this tropical island doesn’t disappoint. An ideal cycling destination, Hǎinán attracts in-the-know adventurers with its good roads, balmy winters and varied landscape.

Guangxi

Scenery

Outdoors

Cycling

Famed for the dreamy karst landscapes of Yángshuò, Guǎngxī also offers lush green valleys, charming folksy villages and countless walking, cycling and rafting opportunities, as well as Wéizhōu Island, a short trip from sleepy Běihǎi.

Guizhou

Festivals

Minority Villages

Waterfalls

With more folk festivals than anywhere else in China, you can party here with the locals year-round. For nature lovers, there’s an abundance of waterfalls; for old-town watchers, there’s lovely Zhènyuǎn.

Yunnan

Ancient Towns

Mountains

Minority Villages

Yúnnán has it all: towering Himalayan mountains, tropical jungle, sublime rice terraces and over half of China’s minority groups; plus historic, little-visited villages like Nuòdèng and Hēijǐng, gorgeous and ancient Lìjiāng, fantastic trekking and great food.

Sichuan

Mountains

Scenery

Cuisine

One province; three regions. Stay in central or southern Sìchuān for steamy bamboo forests and Ming dynasty villages. Head north for stunning lakes among alpine-like mountain scenery. Venture west for remote Tibetan plateau grasslands and towering peaks.

Chongqing

Cuisine

Ancient Villages

River Trips

A unique city with a unique location, hilly Chóngqìng hugs cliffs overlooking the Yangzi, bursts with old-China energy, offers some fascinating day trips and is home to hotpot – the spiciest dish on the planet.

Xinjiang

History

Minority Culture

Nature

Bazaars, kebabs and camels are just a few of the icons that hint at your arrival in Central Asia. Ancient Silk Road towns include Turpan, Kashgar and Hotan; hikers gravitate to Kanas Lake and the Tiān Shān range.

Gansu

Silk Road

Tibetan Culture

Buddhism

Gānsù is about diversity: colourful Tibetan regions in the southwest, Taklamakan dunes in the northwest, and a rich accumulation of Silk Road culture through the middle. Think deserts, mountains, Buddhist temples, camels, yaks, pilgrims and nomads.

Ningxia

History

Minority Culture

Activities

In the designated homeland of the Muslim Hui, visit the great tombs of the Xixia, nomadic rock art and the enormous Buddhas of Xūmí Shān. For camel trekking or sliding down sand dunes, head for the Tengger Desert.

Inner Mongolia

Remote Journeys

Food

Activities

Ride a famed Mongolian horse at a yurt camp near Hohhot and Hǎilā’ěr and sit down to a Mongolian hotpot. Further-flung western Inner Mongolia is a stunning landscape of towering sand dunes, desert lakes and ancient ruins.

Qinghai

Monasteries

Scenery

Culture

Vast and remote, the best parts of Qīnghǎi – way up on the Tibetan plateau – are for those who like their travel rough. Need a hot shower and a coffee every morning? Go somewhere else.

Tibet

Monasteries

Scenery

Culture

The ‘Roof of the World’ is a stunningly beautiful high plateau of turquoise lakes, desert valleys and Himalayan peaks, dotted with monasteries, yaks and sacred Buddhist sites. Tight and ever-changing travel regulations can easily derail travel plans.