Conquer this vast nation and all that it holds with this expert guide on what to see and do when visiting China.
Look carefully at China and you’ll find there’s much beauty within, far beyond the crowded, bustling cities.
Its countryside hosts a haven of tranquility, with rolling plains, paddy fields carved into mountains and lakes and deserts that blend seamlessly into the horizon. It’s 14,000 kilometres of coastline features cliffside drops, port towns and sandy beaches.
Even within major city centres, historical spaces, monuments and awe-inspiring temples wheedle their way out of the woodwork.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Read on to discover what else China hides behind its cityscape guise.
- Main airports: Beijing Capital International (PEK), Shanghai Pudong International (PVG), Guangzhou Baiyun International (CAN), Chengdu Shuangliu International (CTU) and Xi’an Xianyang International Airport (XIY).
- Ground transport: Buses and trains operate throughout the country. Many major city centres have subway, metro and Maglev trains.
- Weather: China experiences all four seasons. Expect cold and snow in the winter and heat and humidity during the summer. The country is so vast, temperatures will vary greatly from city to city depending on location and elevation.
- Visas: Required for Australians and must be obtained prior to arrival.
- Top 10 must see locations: The Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, the Terracotta Army, the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven, The Bund, the Yellow Mountains, Yangtze River, Potala Palace and the Yungang Grottoes.
- Power point plugs: Type A (two flat blades), I (two flat inverted blades with ground) and C (two circular prongs).
- Currency: Yuan (CNY)/Renminbi (RMB). Both are the same currency.
Best places to stay in China
Each of these territories offers a unique experience: Hong Kong is an economic hub of lights, skyscrapers and non-stop action with a British influence; Macau is often called the Las Vegas of Asia and overflows with casinos, nightclubs, drinks and debauchery; and Tibet is an extraordinary mountainous wonder on the northern side of the Himalayas that was once the winter residence of the Dalai Lama.
- Beijing: China’s capital is an imposing metropolis of skyscraper buildings and non-stop action. It’s the place to go for historic sites like the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, The Great Wall, the Summer Palace, Mao Zedong’s mausoleum, the Temple of Heaven and the Ming tombs.
- Shanghai: The coastal city of Shanghai is East China’s financial hub and transport centre. With 24 million inhabitants and growing, it’s also the nation’s most populated city. Sky-high buildings line the waterways creating the iconic Lujiazui skyline. Within its borders you’ll find the The Bund, Nanjing Road, the Jade Buddha Temple, Zhujiajiao water town, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower and Disneyland Park.
- Chengdu: Chengdu is the attractive capital of Sichuan province. A mix of pagoda temples and high rise buildings line the banks of this economic centre. It’s the fifth-largest city in China and, while it has been privy to development, holds a wealth of natural beauty including Mount Qingcheng and the Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuary.
- Xi’an: The city of Xi’an is rich in history and archeological discovery. Located in central China and surrounded by a well-preserved city wall, it’s perhaps most famously known as the site of the Terracotta Army. This is a series of detailed, life-sized terracotta statues that date back more than 2,000 years. Other highlights include Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, Small Wild Goose Pagoda, Stele Forest and Daming Palace National Heritage Park.
- Hong Kong, Macau and Tibet: The autonomous territories of Hong Kong, Macau and Tibet belong to the People’s Republic of China. While they’re destinations in their own right, they should not be missed if you’re visiting China.
Check out what accommodation is like in these areas:
Top things to do in China
- Walk The Great Wall: The majority of what remains of The Great Wall of China was built during the Ming Dynasty in the 14th and 15th centuries. Made of brick, earth, wood and stone, it stretches east to west from Dandong to Lop Lake and is the longest wall in the world. It’s commonly accessed from Beijing.
- See the Forbidden City: This well-preserved imperial palace dates back to the Ming and Qing dynasty eras. It is bordered by a 10-metre high wall and has imposing watchtowers on every corner. Within the walls are 90 palaces and courtyards, 980 buildings and over 8,000 rooms. It’s located in the centre of Beijing.
- See the Terracotta Army: These life-sized terracotta statues were only unearthed in 1974 but have quickly become an icon of the country. Dating back more than 2,000 years, the terracotta statues are dressed in the armory of the Warring States Period of 475-221 BC. Mystery still surrounds these statues and their purpose. The Army is best accessed from Xi’an.
- Visit a temple: Buddhism is the main religion in China and you’ll be hard pressed to visit this country without setting eyes on at least one temple. Some of the most highly lauded and tourist-friendly are: Jade Buddha Temple, Temple of Heaven, Nanshan Temple, Lama Temple, Famen Temple and South Putuo Temple.
- Eat a Chinese banquet: Or, at least check out the street food:. The Chinese are renowned for their banquets. It’s a place of pride, abundance and tradition, so eat up!
- Visit the countryside: The natural landscape of China alternates between grassy hills, mountain regions, lakes and coastal cities. Cruise down the Li River in Guilin, scale the Yellow Mountains in Shanghai and visit West Lake in Hangzhou.
- See the Summer Palace: Like Central Park in New York City, the Summer Palace is a hidden gem in the heart of a busy metropolitan centre. Located in Beijing it’s the largest royal park in the country and features palaces, lakes and gardens.
- Play with pandas: “Aww” over Giant Pandas in their natural habitat in the Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuary.
- Climb Victoria Peak: Day or night, the city of Hong Kong is a sight to see from the nearby Victoria Peak. The hike takes from 45 minutes to 3 hours depending the trail. A tram is also available.
- Walk The Bund: Shanghai’s The Bund is a waterfront street with a unique architectural landscape of baroque, gothic, romanesque, classic and renaissance buildings that merges into modern bridges and imposing skyscrapers.
Best events to attend in the year:
- Chinese New Year: This is the biggest date on the calendar. During Chinese New Year everything closes, giving way to celebrations that last for a fortnight. 28 January - 11 February 2017
- Lantern Festival: This marks the final day of the Chinese New Year festivities and is celebrated with the lighting and flying of lanterns. Fireworks displays, parades and lion dances are also part of the celebrations. The biggest Lantern Festival in China is in Nanjing. 11 February 2017
- Dragon Boat Festival: Falling in line with the summer solstice, the Dragon Boat Festival is a national holiday of eating, drinking and dragon boat racing. 30 May 2017
How much will a trip to China cost?
Prices in Beijing have been used to give you an idea of the cost of your trip.
- Budget: Hostels and budget hotels from $13 per person/per night.
- Moderate: Moderate hotels from $39 per room/per night.
- Luxury: 5-star hotels and luxury retreats from $69 per room/per night.
- Main: CNY20-30 for a basic rice or noodle dish.
- Beer: From CNY7 for a bottle of Snow lager.
- Water: From CNY2 for a bottle of water.
- Didi Chuxing: Similar to Uber, Didi Chuxing is the ride-share service of choice in China. It provides a network of taxi hailing, private car hailing, social ride-sharing, bus and car rental solutions across the country.
- Taxis from the airport: Chinese taxis are metered. A taxi from Beijing Airport to the city should cost around CNY120.
- Local transport from the airport: Shuttle buses and trains operate between Beijing Airport and the city centre. Shuttles start from CNY15 while the express train is CNY25.