China has long-fascinated the Western world. And with its stunning natural scenery, ancient culture and fast-modernising cities – China offers its foreign visitors a travel experience like no other.
However, visitors to Asia tend to be drawn to the sights of India or the beaches of Thailand rather than China’s oriental lands. So from UNESCO World Heritage Sites to its iconic national animal, here’s our top eight attractions worth visiting China for.
Leshan Giant Buddha
Considered to be the tallest stone Buddha statue in the world, the Leshan Giant Buddha is 71 metres tall. Its ears alone are 7 metres long and big enough to hold two people inside. Carved out of a cliff on Lingyun Mountain, this statue is undeniably worthy of its World Heritage-listed status.
The Giant Buddha lies at the confluence of the Minjiang, Qingyi and Dadu rivers. Its construction began during the 8th century AD and was the idea of a Chinese monk named Haitong. He hoped that the Buddha would calm the rivers to make passage easier for shipping vessels. And, interestingly enough, the rock that was excavated from the cliff filled the riverbed and did calm the water’s flow.
Believed to be a Maitreya Buddha, the statue is seated with the rivers flowing beneath his feet. Facing the sacred Mount Emei, it’s little wonder both tourists and Buddhist pilgrims are drawn here.
With its pristine rivers, lush vegetation and surreal karst landscape, Yangshuo has long-inspired Chinese paintings and poetry. Nowadays, word of Yangshuo’s beauty has spread much further and this other-worldly landscape is one of China’s top attractions.
Covering 1,400 square kilometres, Yangshuo is not only home to beautiful scenery but numerous Zhuang villages. Here, traditional customs are maintained and farmers still work their terraced paddy fields.
Visitors to Yangshuo can cycle through its dreamy valleys or take a bamboo raft-ride along the Li River. The section between Guilin and Yangshuo is the most spectacular, with the limestone crags reflecting on the water’s surface.
The Great Wall
There’s a reason why the Great Wall is one of China’s most famous attractions. Spanning over 6,000 kilometres across the country, this UNESCO-listed wall is both the world’s longest wall and the largest military structure.
Built over some 2,000 years, the wall was constructed by different dynasties and states to protect their different territories. It snakes through some of China’s most breathtaking scenery, including lush mountains, barren hills and even the Gobi Desert.
More than 300 world celebrities have visited the Great Wall over the years, including national leaders, famous athletes and movie stars. Badaling is the most popular section to visit, owing to its ease of access, whereas Juyongguan boasts one of the greatest forts to have defended ancient Beijing.
The Terracotta Warriors
This underground army was hidden from the world for over 2,000 years before a chance discovery in 1974. Found outside the city of Xi’an by workers digging a well, the Terracotta Warriors are considered one of the greatest archaeological sites in the world.
The army consists of over 8,000 soldiers, horses and chariots standing in battle-ready formation. Each solider is life-size and positioned according to rank. However, what astounded archaeologists the most was the unique facial expressions of each individual warrior.
Built to guard the tomb of China’s First Emperor, the Terracotta Warriors took around 40 years to complete. And it’s possible to get up close to five figures to admire their exceptional detail for yourself.
The Lingering Garden
Situated outside the Changmen Gate in Suzhou, the Lingering Garden is one of China’s most famous gardens. Inscribed on the World Heritage List, it was originally a classical private garden and opened to the public in the 1930s.
Occupying over 23,000 square metres, the garden boasts beautiful ancestral temples blending with the natural landscape. It’s generally dived into four sections – the eastern, western, central and northern parts. However, as the central area is the oldest section, this part captures the garden’s true essence.
Spring is the best time to visit the Lingering Garden. With warm weather and the flowers in bloom, this garden becomes a true inner city haven.
China’s national animal and one of the world’s most iconic creatures? It can only be the Giant Panda. With their distinctive black and white coats, these lovable bears live nowhere else in the world outside of captivity and are, without doubt, an attraction worth visiting China for.
With just over 1,800 left in the wild, these bears are classified as vulnerable by the IUCN. Habitat loss and poaching threaten the remaining wild populations though, thankfully, many conservation projects are working to protect this adorable species.
If you’re looking to visit pandas in China, the best place to base yourself is Chengdu. Known as the ‘panda capital of the world’, this city is home to important conservation centres including the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.
With traditional buildings standing alongside soaring skyscrapers, Shanghai is an exciting fusion of old meets new. And as this city has continued to develop, so its ever-changing skyline has continued to amaze international visitors.
One of the best places to experience this dynamic cityscape is from The Bund. This waterfront offers a quintessential view of the city, including recognisable landmarks such as the Orient Pearl TV Tower. The skyline also boasts the Shanghai Tower, which is the tallest building in China.
Travellers can admire the views from the ground, take a cruise along the Huangpu River or head to one of the building’s observation decks. The Jinmao Tower offers magnificent 360 degree views of the city from its bar on the 87th floor.
The Forbidden City
Lying in the centre of Beijing, the Forbidden City is the world’s largest palace complex. Rectangular in shape, the complex covers 74 hectares and contains more than 8,700 rooms. A 10-metre-high wall and 52-metre-wide moat then surround this architectural wonder.
Built during the Ming Dynasty, the complex went on to serve as an imperial palace for 24 emperors during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Nowadays, the palace draws both Chinese and international tourists to marvel at its splendid decoration, grand halls and imposing walls.
Recognised as one of the five most important palaces in the world, the Forbidden City is a must-see for all visitors to the country’s capital. A fine example of traditional Chinese architecture, the palace appears timeless in a city that’s surging into the future.
Whilst these are our top eight, there are plenty more attractions worth visiting China for. So why not check out our group tours?