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Waist-deep in handsome history, Shanxi (山西) is home to an impressive roll call of must-see, ancient sights. Most travellers start with the walled city of Pingyao. Basing yourself here and jumping to the town's surrounding sights is practically all you need: you'll encounter time-worn temples, sprawling Ming- or Qing-dynasty courtyard residences, and the opportunity for a day trip to the dizzying mountain cliffs and gorges of Mian Shan.

Travellers shouldn't overlook Datong, a forward-thinking city with a brand-new city wall and a great looking old town, but it's the astonishing cave sculptures at Yungang, outside town, that give expression to the province's other great source of magic: a rich vein of Silk Road Buddhist heritage, which splendidly litters the rolling mountain fastness of Wutai Shan with temples. Add the time-warp walled village, Guoyu, and the still-inhabited cave dwellings of Lijia Shan, and you could find yourself staying longer than planned.

Top attractions

These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Shanxi.