History and culture on a dazzling scale
On a China holiday, experience the way world-renowned history, stunning natural beauty and thoroughly modern cities co-exist.
From the snowy peaks on the Tibetan border to the humid metropolis of Hong Kong, it’s fair to say that China has a lot going for it. That means that a China holiday can be exactly what you want it to be.
You could explore China’s fascinating history with a walk along the Great Wall or come face to face with an ancient army in terracotta form. You could immerse yourself in world-leading restaurants among the skyscrapers of China’s great cities, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. Or you could find tranquillity in the mountains, rivers and tea plantations of rural China.
With towering skyscrapers and forward-thinking Olympic Games venues, China's capital feels thoroughly modern. Dig a little deeper, however, and you'll soon discover that there's more culture to this sprawling metropolis than meets the eye. Hop on a rickshaw and glimpse history in the hutong alleyways. Explore the city's imperial past with a walk around the six UNESCO-protected sites the city lays claim to, the most celebrated of which is the incomparable Forbidden City. Indulge yourself in the world-renowned restaurant scene and relish the flavours of the city's favourite dish, Peking Duck.
Not for nothing is Shanghai known as the 'Pearl of the Orient'. Symbolising the exotic east, it's grown at a dizzying pace in recent decades. Exploring it on foot, you'll notice a mishmash of architectural styles: the grand colonial buildings of the Bund riverfront, the cutting-edge skyscrapers of Pudong, the intricate Jade Buddha Temple. With much to explore by day, leave the evenings free for sampling delicious local cuisine on the city's world-renowned restaurant scene.
No photograph can prepare you for the unforgettable experience of seeing the Terracotta Warriors for the first time. These thousands of life-size figurines are Xian's biggest claim to fame, even though they're actually housed just outside this Silk Road city. Thanks to the diversity of peoples who call Xian home, there's plenty of history in the city itself; highlights include the Ming-era city walls and the maze-like streets of the Muslim Quarter, best explored on foot or by bike.
The teahouses and riverside parks of Chengdu reveal a calmer side to this rapidly growing city. In the surrounding forests, delightful temples and tranquil monasteries lie waiting to be explored. Chief among the city's attractions, however, is the Giant Panda Research and Breeding Centre, where you can observe these shy and gentle creatures munching bamboo.
Feeling fit? You'll need to be if you're planning to scale the ancient paths of Emei Shan. At over 3,000m, it's the tallest of China's four sacred mountains. Experience the climb through dense fir forests in the company of monks and pilgrims, breathing in the fresh mountain air, discovering hidden temples and making your way up through ethereal clouds.
The peaceful sound of water running through the narrow canals of fairytale Lijiang epitomises the charm of the city's UNESCO-listed old town. A world away from the skyscrapers of Hong Kong, this enclave of old China nestles harmoniously below the evocatively-named Jade Dragon Snow Mountain range. As you wander its cobbled streets and stop for a steaming cup of tea at one of its cosy tea shops, you can't help noticing the traditional bright blue clothing of the matriarchal Naxi people, who've lived here for centuries.
Plunge yourself into the laidback atmosphere of Dali, a historic city on the banks of picturesque Erhai Lake. The Cangshan Mountains form a dramatic backdrop to this mellow city and its environs, where the many quaint fishing villages reflect the continuation of an older way of life. Wandering Dali's delightful cobbled streets in search of its famed handcraft shops, you'll come across cultural wonders such as the Three Pagodas. Venturing further afield, you'll discover the beautiful Butterfly Spring, where thousands of butterflies flutter about the ancient Butterfly Tree in late spring.
Famed for its pleasant climate and constantly blooming flowers, Kunming is also known as "City of Eternal Spring". That can only be a good thing when there's so much to discover in its eye-catching streets, starting with the colourful Bird and Flower Market for a glimpse of traditional China. Venture into the mythical Stone Forest, then ascend the Western Hills to discover peaceful temples looking out across the Dian Lake. After your explorations, you'll have earned a hearty bowl of Kunming's signature dish, 'Across-the-Bridge Noodles' - see if you can discover the popular local story it's named after.
This compact city of beautiful tree-lined streets is easily traversed on foot, which is the best mode of transport for appreciating its nuances and making unexpected discoveries. That said, it's the languid Li River and the dramatic limestone karsts of the surrounding landscape that give Guilin its deserving fame. Witness the limestone formations that grace the gargantuan underground caverns of the Reed Flute Cave and you'll soon understand why legends abound.
Limestone karsts jut dramatically from rice paddies around this charming town in southern China. Whether you're taking a gentle stroll around its numerous handicraft shops and colourful markets, or heading out of town by bike to explore the neighbouring villages, you'll find this a relaxing place to get to know this part of China. Cruise along the Li River and you might even notice fisherman using trained birds to bring in their catch. This is the ancient art of cormorant fishing, and it's just one of the discoveries waiting to be made in this intriguing town.
This isolated corner of Yunnan Province greatly rewards travellers looking for an altogether more remote China experience free from the crowds of other big Chinese cities. The air is thin yet pure in this high-altitude city on the Tibetan Plateau, and its breathtaking mountain scenery gives you real sense of being cut off from the outside world. Its alternative name, Shangri-La, means 'paradise' - see if you agree. Culture and religion here are shared with neighbouring Tibet, and an unmissable highlight is the treasure-filled, 300-year-old monastery of Songzanlin.
There's something ethereal about Lhasa, and it's not just because it's one of the highest cities in the world. Its name literally means 'Palace of the Gods', and religion is ever-present in the imposing edifice of the Potala Palace dominating the skyline. This former residence of the Dalai Lamas is just one of the unmissable highlights of a stay in magical Lhasa. As you absorb the sound of monks chanting in the candlelight of Jokhang Temple, or look out over the unforgettable scenery of the Kyi-chu valley, you'll truly feel as though you've been transported to another place.
On the face of it, Hong Kong appears as futuristic as you can get, its high-rise glass buildings, upmarket shopping malls and classy restaurants reflecting its status as a major financial centre. But look beyond the skyscrapers and you'll soon discover that the city has a cultural side that's so enormous that you'd need a lifetime of trips to uncover all its secrets. Don't leave without looking down on the city from the majestic heights of Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island.
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Discover the Great Wall
Travel a little further from Beijing to see the famous wall at a less-crowded stretch at Mutianyu, or drive to Jinshanling where even fewer tourists venture.
Feast on the varied cuisine
Whether you are dining at a famous Peking duck restaurant or eating in a local home, discover regional specialities from Sichuan spice to the weird and wonderful.
Explore Hong Kong’s neighbourhoods
Explore Stanley’s seaside sights and Central’s antique district, stroll through Kowloon’s backstreets and sample the local delicacy, dim sum (yum cha). Families are sure to enjoy Hong Kong’s Disneyland, or Portugal’s colonial history take the JetCat ferry to Macau.
The Army of Terracotta Warriors near Xian
Buried for over 2000 years, see the overwhelming number of intricately carved warriors and horses, as well as other characters at this important archaeological site.
Cruise the Yangtze
Watch the natural beauty of the Yangtze River float past from the comfort of your own private balcony.
Meet a Giant Panda in Chengdu
The giant Panda Research Base in Chengdu is the best place to do this, where the focus is on conservation.
Watch the famous Shanghai acrobats
The acrobatic arts have a long history in China, seeing a great revival with the advent of the People’s Republic. Modern performances of acrobats performing near impossible feats combine this tradition with modern effects.
Explore by bicycle
Cycle along the imperial fortifications at Xian or amidst the soaring karst scenery of Yangshuo, through the backroads, villages, fish farms and lotus fields.
Travel the Silk Road
One of the world's great trade routes, the exotic Silk Road has fascinated travellers for centuries. Board a donkey cart ride to the Gaochang ruins near Turpan and soak up the atmosphere as the sun rises over this magical site.
Villages of the Yunnan
Find villages and monasteries that are less frequented by tourists amongst the mountains around the towns of Lijiang and Dali.
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