Things to Do in China
For a genuine experience that not only show you the history of China, but also showcase its beauty, try a visit to China’s great ancient water town known as Zhujiajiao. Formed over 1,700 years ago, this wonderful canal laden town that was once an important trading hub, has seen the days of both the Yuan, Qing and Ming dynasties, and has flourished today as a an up-and-coming bohemia of Asia.
In order to truly have an understanding of this beautiful place, one must visit the towns many bridges and canals. The Fangsheng Bridge is the biggest around, wonderfully engraved with eight dragons coiling around a shining pearl. Once you’ve done that, take a boat ride on the canal gondola, where you will experience wonderful views of this historic and well-preserved town. You can also take longer boat rides lakeside, experiencing the town from a different angle and perspective.
Xin Tian Di (Xintiandi) is a sleekly restored area of Shanghai, where the more successful of the city's young come to play. It's also a popular strolling area for tourists, who like to check out the 19th century architecture.
The district abounds in shikumen, stone houses that were a popular residential form in the late 19th century and early 20th century city. When the districts that contained these houses were being razed, developers stepped in to save and restore this area. Today the shikumen house galleries, bookshops, antique stores, upmarket boutiques, bars and restaurants. It's particularly ironic that this Westernized playground should be cheek-by-jowl with the Site of the First Conference of the Communist Party of China.
Located in the heart of Shanghai, People’s Square (Renmin Guang Chang) is the home to the city’s municipal government headquarters and, more importantly, serves as a major landmark and meeting point in Shanghai.
What was once an elite horse racing venue before the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 is today a hotspot of cultural attractions. Within People’s Square, you’ll find some of the best museums in Shanghai, including the excellent collection of Chinese art housed within the Shanghai Museum and the impressive Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall, where visitors are treated to a look at Shanghai’s past, present and future. The Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art, Shanghai Art Museum and the all-glass Shanghai Grand Theater are also worth a look. The park within People’s Square offers cultural insights of its own, especially early in the mornings and on weekends when locals come out to practice tai chi, exercise or play card games.
Have you ever wondered what's so forbidden about the Forbidden City? It's called that because it was closed to the outside world for 500 years. This was the seat of the Ming and the Qing emperors, and no one could enter - or leave - the imperial domain without their permission. These days, the Chinese mainly call it Gu Gong, or Former Palace.
The Forbidden City, or Beijing Imperial Palace, is BIG - you'll need to allow at least one day for your visit. UNESCO have listed it as the largest collection of ancient wooden structures in the world. There are nearly 1,000 rooms in over 800 buildings. However, because it's been ransacked by invaders and gutted by fire several times (wooden buildings, lanterns, you do the math) most of the structures date from the 18th century on. As you move around the gardens and palatial buildings, which have now been converted to museums, you'll start to get a feel for what it was like to live the imperial life.
In Hong Kong’s South of Hollywood (SoHo) neighborhood, you’ll find the largest network of outdoor covered escalators on earth, known simply as the Central Escalators (or Mid-Levels Escalators). The series of 20 escalators and three inclined walkways stretch 2,625 feet (800 meters) with a 443-foot (135-meter) total vertical rise. This unusual Hong Kong attraction ferries more than 50,000 commuters and tourists between Central and the Mid Levels each day, moving downhill for four hours in the morning then uphill for the rest of the day.
The ride takes about 25 minutes one way, but part of the fun is getting off at the various stops to explore these busy Hong Kong neighborhoods. The streets and alleys to either side of the escalators, particularly at the Staunton Street and Shelley Street stops, are lined with bars and restaurants serving cuisine from all over the world.
Hong Kong’s Central District is quite literally at the heart of Hong Kong Island — culturally, financially and geographically. During the 1840s British colonists founded the community of Victoria here, and it quickly expanded to become a world hub for trade and commerce. Sandwiched between Victoria Harbour and Victoria Peak, Central is a packed grid of innovative high rises, historic landmarks, restaurants, bars and high-end shopping malls. It’s an eclectic mishmash that somehow works, much like Hong Kong as a whole.
For travelers, Central District also houses some of Hong Kong’s most famous attractions. Visitors can ride the Peak Tram for views of Victoria Harbour from above, or take in this historic district at street level aboard one of the city’s historic trams. The Zoological and Botanical Gardens are also found in Central, as is Hong Kong Park.
Hong Kong’s public transportation system is one of the most modern and efficient in the world, but for an authentic, street-level tour of old Hong Kong Island, hop on the Ding Ding Tram. These double decker trams got their nickname from the dinging sound used to warn other traffic and pedestrians that the tram is approaching. The bell was replaced by a beeping sound in 2000, but the public vehemently opposed the change, and the “ding ding” sound was shortly reintroduced.
Trams have been ferrying passengers along the streets of Hong Kong since 1904, but the iconic double deckers didn’t show up on the scene until 1912. The modern line makes a loop from Kennedy Town in the west to Shau Kei Wan in the east, passing through some of the island’s oldest neighborhoods. Hong Kong maintains the largest fleet of double decker trams in the world, so you’ll only have to wait a minute or two, and you can pay the inexpensive fare with your octopus card.
More Things to Do in China
The Ming Dynasty Tombs, or Ming Shisan Ling, are located outside of central Beijing and are home to the tombs and mausoleums of the Yongle Emperor. Currently, these tombs are a UNESCO World Heritage site, and are listed as part of the World Heritage object, Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
The Emperor, who built the Forbidden City, also chose the site for these Ming Tombs mausoleums according to the art of Feng Shui. Back in the Ming era, this secluded valley north of Beijing was closed to visitors and heavily guarded. The ground was considered so sacred that not even an emperor could ride a horse there. Three tombs are open to the public; only one, the Dingling, has been excavated (sadly, with artifacts being badly damaged). The other two tombs are more atmospheric. The highlight of the experience is probably the Spirit Way, the long approach to the mausoleums.
Few bucket lists are complete without a walk along the Great Wall of China, famously one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1988, and undoubtedly the most visited section is the Great Wall at Badaling. Often visited on a day trip from Beijing, Badaling was the first part of the wall to open to tourists back in 1958 and now draws up to 10 million annual visitors. Built in 1502 during the Ming Dynasty, the wall at Badaling runs for 2.3 miles around the Jundu mountain, reaching an altitude of over 1,000 meters and spanning almost 6 meters at its widest point – wide enough for 5 horses to gallop abreast. The popularity of Badaling means that it is often overrun with tour groups, but there are still many good reasons to visit - not only is Badaling the most thoroughly restored section of the wall and offers magnificent views, but it’s the most accessible, with a cable car and pulley train available for those who don’t want to walk to the top.
The Summer Palace - also known as Yiheyuan - was built in 1750. In those days, it was called the Garden of Clear Ripples, and was a lakeside oasis where the royal court could escape the dust and heat of the Forbidden City in summer.
It was razed twice by foreign armies and completely rebuilt, most extensively by Empress Dowager Cixi in the 19th century. To fund her projects, she's said to have diverted a bunch of money destined for the Chinese navy. Ironically, one of her grand schemes was a marble boat that sits at the edge of the lake.
The grounds were declared a public park in 1924. These days, the 290 hectares (716 acres) of the 'Gardens of Nurtured Harmony' are madly popular with both tourists and locals.
The gardens are liberally scattered with temples, covered walkways, pavilions and bridges. Longevity Hill, one of the garden's main features, was constructed from the earth excavated when the lake was extended.
A Ming temple, Temple of Heaven or Tian tan was built by the Yongle Emperor, who also built the Forbidden City, as a stage for the important rituals performed by the emperor, or Son of Heaven. Chief among these were the supplication to the heavens for a good harvest and the Winter Solstice ceremony, which was supposed to ensure a favorable year for the entire kingdom.
In those days it was believed that heaven was round and earth was square, so the architecture of the buildings (round, set on square bases) and the layout of the park (squared off at the Temple of the Earth end, rounded at the Temple of Heaven end) reflect this belief. The buildings are rich in symbolic detail - variations on the number nine, which represented the emperor; coloured glazes which represent heaven and earth; and pillars which represent the months of the year, the seasons and time. There are also echo stones where you can stand to hear your voice reverberate.
As the tallest structure in China and the fourth tallest freestanding structure in the world, the Canton Tower dominates Guangzhou’s modern skyline. The twisted, tapering tower rising just over 2,000 feet (609.6 meters) is home to the world’s highest and largest outdoor observatory at 1,601 feet (488 meters) above the ground. Sixteen transparent cabins carry passengers around the slanting, elliptical rooftop, offering views that extend as far as Hong Kong and Macau.
Thrill seekers can plummet from a height of 1,600 feet (488 meters) down the side of the tower with the Mega Drop. For a milder thrill, take on the Spider Walk, the world’s longest sky stairs with 1,028 steps, some of which have transparent glass flooring with views of the ground far below. For the tame of heart, the Canton Tower houses a rotating restaurant on the 106th floor as well as a 4D cinema, wine bar and science exhibition center highlighting the engineering technology behind the tower.
Shamian Island (literally translated as “Sandbar” Island), a 44-acre sandbank separated from Guangzhou by a canal, was given as a concession to the French and British governments after the First Opium War in 1841. The island quickly grew into a prosperous expat enclave where trading companies from Europe, the United States and Japan came to do business.
The stone mansions, churches, yacht club and sporting venues drew the envy of Guangzhou residents, who didn’t even have paved roads until the early 1900s. Local Chinese authorities restricted traders to the small area and forbade them from learning Chinese or bringing over their children and wives.
Today, many of the colonial mansions have been restored to their former glory, and the island, now partly pedestrianized, is home to a series of bars, cafes and boutique shops. The neo-gothic Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church has reopened for worshippers in recent years and is worth a visit.
Travelers to Guangzhou looking to gain a deeper understanding of the culture, traditions and people of this southern China city will find what they are looking for at the Guangzhou Museum. This popular landmark is jam-packed with ceramics, bronze work, woodcarvings and precious stones that showcase the best of the Chinese province.
Touring the museum's well-kept halls is an ideal way to spend a rainy afternoon or an unbearably hot day. Audio guides are available for those who want to learn even more about ancient cultures and traditions, and two souvenir shops sell authentic trinkets. The museum's proximity to the main library, parks and IFC make it a convenient stop on any city tour.
As you walk along the north-south axis of the Forbidden City, you’ll eventually walk through the Gate of Terrestrial Tranquility and into the Imperial Garden of the Palace Museum, the final section of the palace before the north gate exit. Built in 1417 during the Ming Dynasty, the 3-acre (12,000-square-meter) traditional Chinese garden served as a private green space for the imperial family living within the palace.
Unlike gardens in the West, Chinese gardens typically contain various structures, ponds and pavilions with pathways winding between, and the Imperial Garden is no exception. You’ll find around 20 structures within the garden, including the Hall of Imperial Peace in the center. Just in front of the hall, you’ll notice a pair of trees that appear as if embracing. These 400-year-old consort pines are thought to symbolize harmony between the emperor and empress. Pavilions at the four corners of the garden represent the four seasons.
The Meridian Gate of the Palace Museum is perhaps the most recognizable landmark of the Forbidden City. Built in 1420 and renovated in 1801, the Meridian Gate is the largest and southernmost of the Palace Museum’s gates; currently, it’s the sole entrance into the Forbidden City. When the imperial family occupied the palace, the emperor would sit at the top of the Meridian Gate to proclaim sentences on prisoners of war brought before him.
The structure is made up of five towers, meant to resemble a phoenix in flight when viewed from above. The doorway through the central tower was for the Ming and Qing Dynasty emperors exclusively, though the empress was allowed to pass through this central gate on her wedding day. The door directly to the west was for the royal family, while the one to the east was for imperial officials. The final two doors were only used during ceremonies at the palace.
You’ll probably smell Man Mo Temple before you get there, as worshippers light enough giant incense coils within to turn the air an odd shade of blue and ensure everyone who enters leaves with a distinctive but pleasant Taoist perfume. Originally built in 1847, Man Mo is Hong Kong’s most famous temple, dedicated to the gods of literature and war. Students make up a significant portion of devotees who come seeking divine aid in their studies.
Within the temple, look for a statue of a man in green robes with a writing brush. This is one of the gods for which the temple is named -- Man Chung, the god of literature. Statues of Kwan Yu, the Chinese god of war, flank the main alter. As a famous general known for his martial successes, Kwan Yu is sometimes considered the deity of both the police force and the Chinese triads.
Aberdeen Harbour is a busy harbor with floating restaurants, brilliantly illuminated at night. Jumbo is the most famous of these floating restaurants, along with its neighbor Tai Pak. Recently refurbished, and outlined in colored lights, the double-storied Jumbo serves up a huge array of gourmet delights, highlighting fresh seafood and traditional Cantonese dim sum.
While you’re here, take a sampan tour of the harbor and its famous ‘floating village’ of junks, used for fishing, restaurants, sightseeing and also the home of Aberdeen’s boat-dwellers.
Things to do near China
- Things to do in Beijing
- Things to do in Shanghai
- Things to do in Xian
- Things to do in Chengdu
- Things to do in Guilin
- Things to do in Tianjin
- Things to do in Suzhou
- Things to do in Luoyang
- Things to do in Zhengzhou
- Things to do in Nanjing
- Things to do in Taiwan
- Things to do in Vietnam
- Things to do in Eastern China
- Things to do in Northwest China
- Things to do in Southwest China