Planning a trip to China and don’t know where to start ?

Planning trip to china, China, travelblogger

Planning on a trip to China and don’t know where to start?  I hope I can help you.   As part of my job before I lived in Norway, I have been to China countless times and have been to several of its cities.  China is huge. And I mean HUGE!   It also spans 5,000 years of culture and history.   If you haven’t been there before and want to visit the most popular places first, then you can choose from one of these six cities.  These are the most visited places in China, according to their tourism board.

  1. Beijing
  2. Shanghai
  3. Xi’an
  4. Guilin
  5. Chengdu
  6. Zhangjiajie

Now let’s look at each of these cities, one by by one.


Tiananmen Square, China, Beijing, travelblogger
Tiananmen Square can hold 500,000 people.

This is the current capital of China, and has been for the last 700 years.  Some people know it more by its english name, Peking.  You have probably heard of or even better, tasted Peking Duck?  Guess where that dish came from.  Beijing has the country’s biggest airports and for many, this is their gateway to the rest of China.  Beijing is a megacity, no doubt about it.  Visiting this city will give you a good combination of culture and history of China’s past, and a glimpse of how the city is coming to be in the future.  Impressively modern and unapologetic for its wealth.

Must-sees for first-time visitors:

Great Wall of China – I went to the one in Badung as this is the one nearest the city center, but there are a lot of entries to the great wall which you can visit.  Use good walking shoes, bring lots of water, take some snacks, and don’t forget your wet wipes and toilet paper.

Tiananmen Square –  A huge square which can fit 500,000 people.   This place is of great significance to Beijing and China, both culturally and politically.  I would suggest that you reserve at least one whole day, or if you have time, two whole days for Tiananmen Square.  When you are here, you can also visit Tiananmen (or the Gate of Heavenly Peace), Forbidden City, National Museum of China, Maousoleum og Mao Zedong, the Great Hall of the People, and Monument to the People’s Heroes.

Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium – This stadium is where the summer Olympics of 2008 was held.  It is called the bird’s nest because of how it looks like.



Shanghai, China, travelblogger
Shanghai’s skyline

This is China’s largest city.   This is also another major gateway to China.  Some people visiting China for the first time are surprised at the modernity of Shanghai.  A technologically advanced city, this is probably the least “cultural” place you can visit if you want to visit the old, authentic China.   Shanghai is China’s most prosperous city and they love to show it.

Must-sees for first-time visitors:

Oriental Pearl TV Tower –  on the picture above, it is the one that has a needle-like tower on the left.  This is the second highest structure in China, surpassed only by the Shanghai World Financial Center. You can see this also in the above picture.  Inside, you can get a glimpse of Shangai’s past with 1, 300 relics from its past.

Huangpu River – revered by the locals, a cruise along this river at night gives you magnificent views of Shanghai from the water. You can take a 50-minute cruise or a three-hour cruise from Huangpu to the delta of the mighty Yangtze river. 

The Bund – this place symbolizes modern Shanghai.  Great architecture, beautiful lighting, some historical buildings, and a view of the Huangpu River. When you are here, you get to also visit among others: Shanghai City Hall,  Shanghai Museum, Shanghai Grand Theater, People’s Park, Shanghai Art Museum, and Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center.

Xintiandi – the prices in this area is high, even by international standards.  This is Shanghai’s lifestyle center with several cafes, bookstores and restaurants. It has a romantic feeling to it due to some restored structures.



Xi'An, China, travelblogger
Xi’An is more known for the terracotta warriors exhibition.

Xi’An is China’s window to its ancient civilization.  This city served as China’s capital in 13 dynasties from 221 B.C., a period of about 1,100 years.  The city itself has a history of more than 3,000 years and is seen by many scholars as the birthplace of Chinese civilization.  This is also the eastern terminus of the Silk Road.  Xi’An is located in Northern Central China.  Six of its 700 historical sites are on the UNESCO World Heritage list.  In addition, they have 72 imperial tombs.  If you are a lover of ancient history and culture, then Xi’An should be at the top of your list when visiting China for the first time.

Must-sees for first-time visitors:

Terracotta warriors and horses – I would suggest getting the services of an expert guide here.   The statues are 175-190 cm tall and no two warriors are alike.  They are supposed to be an afterlife army of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang.   This is said to be the one of the top archeological finds in the 20th century.

Big Wild Goose Pagoda – located about 4 kilometers from the city center, this pagoda is one of the famous Buddhist pagodas in China.  This used to have 10 floors between 701 to 704 AD.  Due to war, decay through time, and earthquake, in now stands at 7 storys today.

Snack time at the Muslim Quarter – Huimin Street, or the Muslim Quarter is probably the last thing you would think of when visiting Xi’An.  But remember that it is in this city that the Silk Road started in the Western Han Dynasty, about a thousand years ago.  There were then a lot of merchants and students from Persia and Arabic countries who visited Xi’An.  Some of them settled and their food, snacks, and culture became incorporated in the local cuisine.  Their descendants are called Hui I recommend trying cold noodles.



Guilin, China, travelblogger
Rice terraces in Guilin

The Chinese say that Guilin is their most picturesque city and consider it the most beautiful place on earth.   You see spectacular limestone hills located on paddy fields and winding rivers.  There are two winding rivers in Guilin encircled by mountains with unique rock formations.  Providing mysterious and beautiful contrast are the rice terraces in the background.   The city is about 2000 years old.  To this day, there are still preserved ancient villages where the people still live as in the olden days.

Must-sees for first-time visitors:

Yangshuo Rock Climbing – Guilin is a perfect place to either learn, or discover new rocks to climb.   It is also a great place for cave exploring.   The city is known for its karst mountains, a type og topography formed by dissolution of mainly carbonate rocks (limestone, dolomite, gypsum).  Some of the karst mountains and caves you can check out are Nine Horse Nine Fresco Hill, Elephant Trunk Hill, Fubo Hill, and Crown Cave.  Yangshuo is a county in Guilin.

Taichi lessons in Yangshuo Park – You have of course heard of Taichi.  You may have done it, too.  But think of doing it with spectacular scenery in the background. Looks like a movie with those slow-motion movements.  For those who are new to Taichi, this is a form of martial arts that focuses on strengthening and controlling one’s Chi energy (consciousness).  Best to do this in the morning when your mind is clear of your daily stress.

Hiking and Photography – The hike is along the Li River and takes about 5 hours.  The length is 5 kilometers so this is a pace that is not stressful and gives you ample time to stop and take pictures of Guilin’s beautiful nature.



travelblogger, China, Chengdu
See pandas in their natural habitat in Chengdu

Forget about seeing pandas in zoos and parks.  Visit them in their natural habitat in Chengdu.  There is a Chinese saying that goes “the best cuisine is from China, while the richest flavor comes from Chengdu”.   Pandas and the rich flavor of Chinese cuisine.  Nothing can go wrong here.  Whatever time of year you visit, there is for sure some form of a gastronomic event.  They have around 63,000 catering companies.  The most famous is the Chengdu International Food and Tourism Festival.

Must-sees for first-time visitors:

Giant Panda Breeding Research Base (Xiongmao Jidi) – Giant pandas are one of the rarest creatures on earth and are so revered that they are called China’s national treasures.  This is a huge research facility that simulates the giant panda’s habitat.  Aside from giant pandas, the facility also does research into other endangered species.  As of today, there are about 100 giant pandas living here.

Du Fu Cottage – If you love poetry, then you must have heard of Du Fu, one of China’s most outstanding poets.  He is also called China’s Shakespeare. This cottage is his former residence.  You get to read some of his works and the place is also a sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Wangjianglou Park and River Watching Tower – previous residence of another know Chinese poetess, Xue Tao, who lived from 769 – 834 A.D.  This park has 140 different species of bamboo.   There is an old fountain here said to be where she sourced her water that made the unique red paper on which she wrote her poems.


Zhangjiajie — Pandora’s Hallelujah Mountains

China, Zhangjiale, travelblogger
The Zhangjiajie National forest parks has 80 kilometers of tropical forest.

Thanks to the movie Avatar, Zhangjiajie became a destination a lot of travelers want to visit. It is also home to endangered species such as the Chinese giant salamander and the Chinese water deer.

Must-sees for first time visitors:

Zhangjiaje National Forest Park -they claim to be the first national park of China.  Within this park, you see a lot of classic sandstone formations. It has 143 mountain peaks and about 3,000 pinnacle karsts.  This is a UNESCO – protected park and was once the home of Tujia, Miao and Bai local tribes.  What was shown in the movie Avatar are the Heavenly Pillars which they called in the movie as Hallelujah Mountains.

Fenghuang Ancient City  – also known to foreigners as Phoenix Ancient City.  This city was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List in 2008.  Fenghuang was built in 1704 in the Qing dynasty and has 300 years of history. It has kept its original appearance from that time.  Think wooden houses and stone brick roads.

Tiananmen Mountain and its glass skywalk – Already impressed by the skywalk in Las Vegas?  This one is jaw-dropping!   Tiananmen means “heaven’s door” and a trip to this mountain range with 40 peaks and 1500 meters above sea-level feels like it.  The main attraction is the glass skywalk.

Tiananmen Mountain, China, Zhangjiaje, travelblogger
The glass bridge is the highlight of the Tiananmen Mountain.

And that’s it.  I hope you visit China at least once.  I am sure you will be coming back for more as it has so much to offer.  Reach out to me if you need help building your itinerary.

Until next trip. Keep on traveling!

Would you like to see a video of China?  Click here. 

Planning on a trip to China and don't know where to start ?
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Planning on a trip to China and don't know where to start ?
Planning a trip ti China can be daunting. If you will most probably just visit the place 1-2 times, here are the top six most visited destinations.

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