China is a bit mind-boggling. It’s big, home to a lot of people and has millennia worth of history – where do you even begin? Not to worry, we’re here to help and to tell you that, as scary as it all seems, it’s definitely worth it.
For a China first-time, there are four places that cannot be missed; Beijing, Xian, Chengdu and Shanghai. Why? Well, they encompass all the things that we know and love about China – the Great Wall, the Terracotta Warriors, Giant Pandas and the future! Let’s delve a little deeper…
Although it was founded in 700BC, Beijing didn’t become China’s capital until the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), so as you can see, it’s been at the forefront of Chinese history for a long time. Today the centre of the city is still occupied by the magnificent Forbidden City, once home to emperors, eunuchs and concubines, and the huge expanse of Tiananmen Square, a much more recent but no less significant feature of the city. The rest is a huge mix of old and new, with towering skyscrapers sat next to age old temples and monuments – the Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace to name a few. Another fantastic thing about Beijing – it’s close to the Great Wall of China. One of the wonders of the world, you can reach several sections of it in not much more than an hour, and spend some time either gawking at or walking on a manmade miracle!
Xian is one of China’s most famous cities, mainly thanks to the fact that it’s close to the celebrated Terracotta Army. There’s a whole lot more to Xian though. Capital for 11 dynasties over 2,000 years, it has often been called the birthplace of Chinese civilisation. It was also the eastern terminus of the Silk Road, a route that not only brought goods for trading, but religions, ideas, philosophies and the influence of the world outside. This can be best seen in city’s atmospheric Muslim Quarter, which is close to the magnificent Ming dynasty city walls and old Bell and Drum Towers. The Terracotta Army lies just outside Xian and was created to guard Qin Shi Huang, the emperor who united China, in the afterlife. Housed in three huge hangars, the warriors you see today are just a fraction of those that still lie undisturbed beneath the ground.
There’s only one thing you need to know about Chengdu and that is that it’s the de facto panda capital of the world! Located in the heart of Sichuan, the province that makes up the majority of the giant pandas’ natural habitat, there is no better place to get up close to this beautiful bear than in one of the several sanctuary and centres that are dedicated to protecting them. The Chengdu Panda Base is in the city itself, and is a wonderfully easy way to observe the pandas doing what they do best – eating bamboo, mucking around and relaxing. As well as being a panda paradise, Chengdu is a lovely, laidback city with plenty to keep you entertained. It’s also a UNESCO City of Gastronomy thanks to its delicious Sichuan cuisine, so don’t forget to give that a try while you’re here.
Shanghai is China’s world city, the ultimate urban jungle of gleaming glass and towering skyscrapers. Positively contemporary in the grand scale of China’s history, Shanghai boomed into being from a small fishing village in the early 19th century when it’s perfect position on the mouth of the Yangtze was realised. It’s been a busy port ever since, but really became China’s financial powerhouse in the 1990s. A thoroughly modern city full of shopping malls, luxury hotels, bars and restaurants, you can still find some elements of the past here. The most famous is The Bund, the riverfront strip that is lined with beautiful Art Deco architecture from the 1920s and 30s, whilst in the old town, you’ll find atmospheric alleys and lovely temples. The best way to really see and appreciate the contrast of old and new, and the big, brash, bright lights is on a cruise on the Huangpu River.
There are so many more reasons to visit China, but as a place to start we think you’ll agree that those for are pretty impressive. So, what are you waiting for? Start planning your China adventure now!
Written by Wendy Wu Tours for Century Travel.
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