When people think about China a few very famous attractions come to mind and with it the usual debate of: but are those top attractions in China really worth seeing? After all China is so big, hopping from one to the other will take time, and will quickly eat into your time in the country. While we mainly promote slow travel, we still want to help you decide if those attractions should be a part of your itinerary.
The Great Wall , Beijing
This is probably a big number one on everyone’s list if coming to China: visiting The Great Wall. We’ve heard so many stories about this incredible wall and it’s one of the biggest symbols of the country. Is it worth a trip? Of course, nobody can deny you this if you come in the China, but we would advise you to do some research beforehand and not just rely on any guide. Different parts of the wall offer different adventures. From crowds, to nature and ruins, you will want to choose wisely. If we could recommend one trip it’s probably camping on or near the Great Wall. You get to enjoy a sunset and a sunrise on one hell of a landscape and piece of history, it’s hard to say no to that!
Terracotta Army, Xi’an, Shaanxi
After 2.000 years under ground, the famous and impressive Terracotta Army has finally been revealed to the world. Part of an amazing (and fairly crazy) story of an Chinese Emperor wanting to keep the secret of his tomb by any means possible, the army is now open to tourism and while many soldiers are still being dug out, and the tomb of the Emperor itself stays hidden, you will get a chance to observe the warriors created out of terracotta (no, really? ) and the madness of the details. None of those faces are the same. If you don’t believe us you will need to go and have a look yourself! Now is it worth it? If you’re a fan of history it certainly is. The work of those men is certainly worth a look and the town of Xi’an is a great base. But beware of the many scams that surround the army.
The Forbidden City, Beijing
In the middle of the big, buzzing Beijing you will find the famous Forbidden City. I was dreaming of visiting this place for such a long time. When I was a kid I had this dream of a secret, quiet palace… The crowds weren’t a part of said dream.
With more than 8,000 rooms this Imperial City is clearly a big spot on the map and should be seen if you are spending time in Beijing because, after all, you are already in Beijing. Full of relics from the Ming and Qing Dinasty, it’s paradise for people trying to understand this period in China. But if I had the opportunity to go back well… I actually wouldn’t. I’d probably spend more time at the Summer Palace to enjoy the peace and quiet of the park. Or tour again the local markets.
The Bund, Shanghai
Between the Bund and Pudong facing it on the over side of the river, this place is a perfect explanation of the quick growth of China. It’s always hard to believe that the business district didn’t exist before the 1920s. The Bund itself is a collection of old and luxurious buildings that express the colonial eras of Shanghai. But is it worth going all the way to Shanghai just for that? I’d be tempted to say no. Maybe if you’re on your way to Hong-Kong or going to the town of Suzhou, Venice of China, then yes, stop in Shanghai and spend a day or two in this mad city and take in the Bund, hop on a ferry ride and join Pudong for a bit.
Shanghai stays a very modern town in China and is not the main point of focus for history lovers. It’s also fairly expensive by Chinese standards and if you’re on the budget then you should probably skip it.
Giant Pandas, Chengdu, Sichuan
The Giant Pandas are the symbol of China and can rarely be seen outside of the country due to their status of endangered species. Thankfully China has a few panda reserves, and two are located in Sichuan, their home. If you’ve always dreamed of spending time with those big lazy animals (that somehow are a great symbol for a region like Chengdu where things are slow and people take their time) then it’s your chance! But here is the problem: Chengdu is nowhere near the usual tourist sites on the East side of the country. You would need to opt for a long train ride from Shanghai or a flight to get there and if you’re limited on time this sounds a bit silly.
I’d only recommend coming to visit the pandas if you’re considering exploring the rest of Sichuan, discovering the local hot pot and the beautiful local sites that surround the region. A bit like Yunnan, Sichuan is a trip on its own. If you love pandas come to Sichuan for a few weeks, enjoy the surrounding nature and relax for a while.
So are all of those worth a trip? Certainly. But is it worth doing them all in your 2 to 4 weeks trip in China? I don’t think it is. When travelling in this country people forget to take in the size of this place and pushing yourself to do all those landmarks will, most likely, leave you tired and not wanting to see more. Pick a few in one area and focus on your surroundings. If in Beijing then visit the town for a few days, the Great Wall, get to Xi’an and pick some other attractions that you might enjoy, add a visit to a lesser known region like Helongjiang. If you’re picking Shanghai then couple it with Hong-Kong, Macau and Guilin and if in Chengdu focus on Sichuan and Yunnan if you have time.
Here is the map showing those 5 locations (note that The Great Wall has been added with Beijing and the Forbidden Palace). As you will see they are quite a way from each other:
There is a lesson you quickly learn in China: you will never see everything in the country. Try to get use to it.
What about you? Have you seen any of those places and which one was your favourite? Would you do them all in one trip?