China is a huge and diverse country, which can be overwhelming to travel through — especially if you have a limited timeframe or budget. There are cities full of skyscrapers and those will transport you back in time, but they all hold a uniqueness that will make you want to linger a little longer.
To help you plan your trip, I've narrowed down the huge list of cities in China to the ones that you absolutely must see as a first time (or repeat) visitor.
The Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Great Wall of China — you could spend your entire time in Beijing exploring all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, but some of the most interesting parts of this city can be found within its traditional narrow alleys.
A few of these alleyways are even protected to preserve them from future development, and you are definitely going to want to wander through them to capture a glimpse of what everyday life is like in this city. I recommend the alleyways near Nanluoguziang and Ping’anli to see and experience.
When it comes to art and culture, the 798 Art Zone, which used to be filled with Mao-era factories, is complete with contemporary art galleries, bookshops, and cafes. It is the perfect destination for a relaxing and people watching at any time of day.
Beijing may have a lot of cultural attractions, but Xi’an has its fair share as well.
The awe-inspiring Terracotta Army Museum was discovered in 1974 by local farmers, and this archaeological site contains a staggering collection of life-size terracotta sculptures that depict the army of Qin Shi Huang.
The Hanyangling Mausoleum also displays terracotta figures from two thousand years ago and it is not as crowded as the other museum.
While in Xi’an, you will also want to visit the Muslim Quarter and take a bike ride along the top of the impressive city wall.
Shanghai is fast-paced and glamorous but also has an undercurrent of history.
Walking down the Bund, which is the historic and glitzy walkway on the waterside, is necessary as is visiting the fabulous Yuyuan Gardens.
There are also a number of hip neighborhoods throughout the city, including Tianzifang, The Cool Docks, and M50, and you will want to wander through a couple of them to check-out what all the hype is about.
The food in Chengdu is amazing and you will love eating your way through this city.
Start with rice cakes and sesame sauce before diving into the spicy chicken on a stick, but do not forget to try the Sichuan hot pot. This infamous dish is a spicy broth that you can dip a number of different types of food into. You will be able to try any of these delicious dishes at any restaurant, market, or tea house in the city.
Once you've experienced all the food in Chengdu, you will find that the city is relaxed and low-key.
One of the more popular places to visit is the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, and once you've been there it is all about the local parks. The best park is People’s Park, where you can relax by the lake, practice calligraphy on the pavement, or join in on one of the many dance classes that are always on offer.
Nature abounds in Guilin with rolling green hills, beautiful water, deep dark caves, and jagged rocks.
Most people that visit cannot believe that this area is a city at all due to all the beauty that lies before them. Embrace the tranquility and enjoy the solitude that Guilin has to offer canoeing, kayaking, hiking, cycling, and spending time in nature.
This city has long been part of the famous Maritime Silk Road and one of the best times to visit is during the Canton Fair.
People do arrive in this city for more than business though, and you will love sites like the Ancestral Temple of the Chen Family and the Bright Filial Piety Temple. At nighttime, the city is best experienced by a cruise along the Pearl River.
Hong Kong really heats up after the sun goes down, and the best place to see it all is from Victoria Peak where you can capture magnificent panoramic views of the city well above the sprawling high-rises, while also catching a glimpse of the laser light displays and fireworks.
Kowloon and Lan Kwai Fong are the best places to head for a late-night meal and a night out on the town.
Sanya is not a traditional city in any way, and there are no fast-moving crowds to be found anywhere. Instead, you will find white sand that meets warm waters on the shoreline as well as people who want to spend their time either relaxing or out in the water.
Jet skiing, surfing, snorkeling, diving, and swimming are the most popular water sports in Sanya, and you will find that there is always something fun and exciting to do.
Located along the old Tea Horse Trail, what makes this city amazing is that it has been completely restored instead of rebuilt.
The original walled town and the Old Town Market Square are definite must-see destinations while you are in Shaxi, and then you can head out towards the mountains for some fantastic hiking.
"Technically" a part of China, Tibet is like a totally different world.
The attractions are breathtaking — three of the best places to visit in Tibet include the Potala Palace, the Jokhang Temple, and Barkhor Street.
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If you choose to visit one of these ten cities in China and there are numerous local tours that you can take to explore them in-depth. Just like a Halong Bay tour in Vietnam, any of the tours that you find in China will include great information about the places that you are seeing, as well as give you the opportunity to meet many of the locals that live there.
Meeting locals is the best way to experience and learn about not only a city but the culture and traditions as well. So, talk to as many locals as you can and listen to what they have to say. You will find that your time in China will be that much better because of it!
Meet The Author
Jessica Watson has been writing for websites and blogs for four years now. Currently, she is the editorial manager at Bhaya Cruises who are offering best cruising services in Vietnam