Our top 25 UNESCO World Heritage sites
June 19, 2023
If you’ve never been to the Middle Kingdom before, you’ll want to see some of the ‘must-sees:’ the Great Wall and the Forbidden City – both in Beijing – and the Terracotta Warriors in Xian. These iconic sites are iconic with good reason – up there with the likes of the Pyramids, Angkor Wat and Machu Picchu. For many the highlight of their trip is the Great Wall.
Six or seven days is a good amount of time to spend in both Beijing and Xian, leaving first time visitors with the rest of their trip to dig a little deeper into China. Here’s our suggestions for what to see and do with the rest of your time.
The Guilin area is famous for its craggy limestone karst scenery and to many is the China of their imagination. It’s a fun area, great for families, but it is a well worn and popular route. The usual way to tackle it is to fly to Guilin and spend a night there before taking a scenic boat ride to the small town of Yangshuo. A lively place situated right amongst the craggy peaks, Yangshuo is a good place to hire bikes, enjoy some non-Chinese food and perhaps have a Chinese cookery lesson. Those with a little more time may like to also include the village of Longji (aka Longsheng) with it’s picturesque rice terraces. One night is sufficient but two is better if you enjoy walking.
Spend minimum 3 nights, maximum 5
A low key place, Pingyao is accessible from Beijing by high speed train. The old city is well preserved, and surrounded by a Ming Dynasty era city wall. There’s no ‘big ticket’ sites, but the city was home to China’s first bank and is pleasant to wander around.
Spend minimum 1 night, maximum 2
Bordering Tibet, Burma, Laos and Vietnam, this is a strikingly varied area – both culturally and scenically. The downside is that to get there usually necessitates taking two flights. There is a good range of accommodation, a lack of industry compared to the cities of China’s east, and unspoilt, timeless villages. Key destinations are Dali, Lijiang and the Tibetan town of Zhongdian (aka Shangri-la), as well as the village of Shaxi – but to see all of those would take a minimum of seven nights. There’s plenty more beyond that too – this area is worthy of a single visit.
Spend minimum 3 nights, maximum 10 or more
These three places combine easily but all are big, busy cities and in that respect don’t offer much contrast to Beijing and Xian. Shanghai is one of the world’s most pulsating cities, developing at breakneck speed. Suzhou is famous for its formal Chinese gardens and can be visited as a day trip from Shanghai. Hangzhou is a former capital which can also be visited as a day trip, or is worth a few nights to discover in more depth.
Spend minimum 2 nights, maximum 5
These two provinces are home to a number of different minorities. While the standard of accommodation is poor, there are some wonderful festivals if you come at the right time of year. Even if you don’t, untouched villages and bustling local markets make for a very different side of China.
Spend minimum 4 nights, maximum 7
Make it happen
Check out our China pages for further details of what do and see. All our trips are private and can be tailor-made to your requirements and dates; our local experts are ready and waiting to impart invaluable advice.