Unveiling China’s Wonders: Top 10 Breathtaking Destinations (2024)

Zhangjiajies endless cascading mountains

Most of us know about the famous Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City in Beijing, and the Terracotta Army of Xi’an. But there’s so much more if you’re looking for the best places to visit in China.

China’s story is one of stunning beauty, woven from nature, history, and innovation. From the celestial mountains in the west to the serene lakes in the east, the country’s natural wonders captivate the imagination. Its long history tells tales of emperors, warriors, poets, and philosophers, spanning from the Xia Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty. Amidst this rich heritage, the futuristic skylines and impressive architecture of cities like Shanghai and Beijing showcase its continuous innovation.

Whether you’re drawn to natural wonders or modern marvels, here are the top 10 most beautiful places in China to add to your bucket list!

Best Places to Visit in China

1. Rainbow Mountains, Zhangye

The Rainbow Mountains in Zhangye China

The Rainbow Mountains in China are like a painting come to life, with colours stretching across the hills like a rainbow. Most of these hills glow fiery red under the bright sun, but as you move towards the edges, they shift into shades of yellow and grey, shimmering like crystals.

People from all over the world flock to this breathtaking location, which gained UNESCO World Heritage status in 2009 and has been hailed as one of the planet’s top natural wonders by National Geographic.

If you’re thinking of visiting, you’ll discover these enchanting mountains in the Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park, located in the northwest province of Gansu, China. To explore, simply hop on one of the sightseeing buses that shuttle between four different viewing spots. This eight-kilometre journey takes about two hours to complete.

Keep in mind, the optimal time to visit is during the warmer months from June to September, when the weather is pleasant for hiking and scenic walks, and the colours are at their most vibrant.

2. Fenghuang County, Hunan

The Fenghuang County in Hunan China 1

Ever heard of Fenghuang Ancient City? Also called Phoenix Ancient City, it is a 400-year-old town in China, with charming architecture. It got its name from Phoenix Mountain, which looks like the legendary bird. People often say it’s “the most beautiful town in China” and a “town in a picture.” With rich history and well-preserved buildings, it’s no wonder Fenghuang Ancient City received the highest rating given by China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) for a tourist attraction – which is “National AAAA Tourist Attraction.”

Now, if you’re planning a trip, aim for May to September. That’s when Fenghuang peaks, as the banks of the Tuojiang River come alive at night with locals singing and dancing, or the occasional bonfire parties you can participate in. While you’re there, make sure you also try the in-season fresh kiwifruit and wild chestnuts, and visit popular spots, such as Phoenix Hong Bridge, the East Gate, and the Former Residence of Shen Congwen.

This town is situated in the southwest of the Tujia-Miao Autonomous Prefecture in Xiangxi, Hunan province. Getting there is easy with high-speed trains to Fenghuang Gucheng Station or flights to Tongren Fenghuang Airport.

3. Temple of Heaven, Beijing

The Temple of Heaven in Beijing China

The Temple of Heaven, also known as Beijing Tian Tan, is a stunning ancient building in Beijing, China. Constructed by the Yongle Emperor during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), it served as a vital centre for rituals like the Winter Solstice Ceremony where the emperor prayed for bountiful harvest. With its grand size and rich traditions, it’s considered one of the biggest and most significant sacrificial sites globally. UNESCO even recognized its importance in 1998 by listing it as a World Heritage Site!

You can find this temple at 1 Tiantan E Rd, Dongcheng District, a mere 7-minute taxi ride away from the Forbidden City.

The best times to go are from March to May, where you’ll witness pretty flowers blooming in spring, and from September to November, where the fall sky is nice and clear. If you go early in the morning, you can also see (or join) locals as they practise tai chi or kung fu!

One of the most popular routes to explore the complex is to start from the South Gate, visiting the Huanqiu Altar, Danbi Bridge, Qinian Hall, Flower Garden, and Palace of Abstinence before leaving through the West Gate.

4. Shangri-La, Tibet

Shangri La in Tibet China

If you’re not sold on paradise, it’s probably because you haven’t been to Shangri-La. No, it’s not the 5-star hotel chain. Once called Zhongdian County Town, Shangri-La is often hailed as the “Eden in dream.” This enchanting spot of breathtaking beauty, boasting snowy peaks, ancient forests, and skies sprinkled with stars – made popular in James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon – has since been linked with an otherworldly paradise.

In Tibetan, Shangri-La translates to “sun and moon in heart,” painting a picture of a perfect home only found in heaven. There’s a saying in Chinese that captures it well: “The earliest sunrise is seen in Shangri-La; and the most unique place is also there.” When you visit, that saying really hits home.

The prime time to visit is from May to October when wildflowers paint the landscape and visitors can explore the stunning landscapes without freezing.

Located where Tibet, Sichuan, and Yunnan meet in southern China, getting to this capital of Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture is pretty straightforward. Hop on a ride from Kunming to Lijiang and then catch a high-speed train or a 30-minute flight to Diqing Shangri-La Airport.

Once you arrive, visit attractions like Songzanlin Lamasery, one of the largest and most important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Yunnan Province, or Tiger Leaping Gorge, a scenic canyon on the Jinsha River. You can also soak up the lively Tibetan culture and festivals, such as their folk music and dance live performances!

5. The Bund, Shanghai

The Bund in Shanghai China

The Bund, also known as Waitan, is a famous waterfront area in Shanghai that showcases the city’s blend of old stories and modern vibes. It’s like flipping through a living history book where you can admire 52 stunning old buildings dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. Due to Shanghai’s historic role as a key international hub after losing the First Opium War, buildings here come in various styles, from elegant Gothic to timeless Renaissance.

Situated on the west side of the Huangpu River in Shanghai, the Bund is easily accessible. You can hop on a bus from Zhongshan Park, take a ferry from Pudong, or ride the metro to Nanjing Road East Station. The best time to visit is on a sunny day when you can enjoy the picturesque view across the river to Lujiazui, a dynamic and vibrant district famous for its impressive skyline dominated by towering skyscrapers, including the Shanghai Tower a.k.a the tallest building in China.

Once you’re there, take a leisurely stroll, hop on a river cruise, or relax in Huangpu Park. Remember to bring along your camera as there are plenty of iconic buildings to capture in the area, like the Bank of China building, which symbolises Shanghai’s economic prosperity and cultural diversity.

6. West Lake, Hangzhou

West Lake in Hangzhou China

Looking for a place in China you can enjoy any time of the year? Check out West Lake!

Also called Xi Hu, West Lake is like China’s natural beauty badge. Split into five parts by three causeways, it has spots like the Leifeng Pagoda and islands like Solitary Hill, the biggest natural one there. It’s listed as one of China’s ten most beautiful spots and received UNESCO World Heritage status in 2011.

West Lake is open to visitors all year round, and every season has its own special vibe. Spring brings lively scenes with willow and peach blossoms, while winter offers a peaceful sight with blooming plum flowers. No matter the weather, West Lake stays stunning. Here, you can wander around on foot, hop on a boat, bike around, or even cruise in a battery car, checking out cool spots like the Winery Yard and the charming Lotus Pool whose lotus flowers bloom during the summer months.

7. Yangshuo County, Guangxi

Yangshuo County in Guangxi China

Yangshuo, a charming county over 1,400 years old from the Sui Dynasty, is one of the most beautiful places in China. Nestled in the heart of scenic mountain ranges in southeastern Guilin, it’s about 65 kilometres from the city centre.

Known for its stunning karst scenery, tranquil Li River views, and vibrant cultural experiences – like the Impression Sanjie Liu outdoor performance, Yangshuo is often called the “heavenly hometown of travel on earth.” Visitors from all over the world are drawn to its breathtaking beauty, which is considered the best in Guilin.

The best time to visit Yangshuo is from April to November, when the winter has passed. During these months, you can enjoy bamboo rafting on the Li River, with its dreamlike mists and clear waters.

The scenic journey downstream from Guilin to Yangshuo reveals why the Li River is called “A Hundred Mile Gallery.” Here, you can also witness the vivid countryside life by strolling around West Street – the oldest street in the area. If you’re more of an adventurous tourist, there are also outdoor activities like biking, scooting, bamboo rafting, and hiking to try!

8. Potala Palace, Tibet

Potala Palace in Tibet China

If you’re into checking out palaces, you can’t skip The Potala Palace. It’s the highest one in the world!

The Potala Palace, built as a gesture of love by Tibetan king Songtsen Gambo for his marriage to Princess Wencheng, is now a symbol of Tibetan Buddhism. Divided into the White Palace and the Red Palace, it is also home to several Dalai Lamas, including the 14th and current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. The White Palace is where the Dalai Lama lives, while the Red Palace holds the graves of past Dalai Lamas.

Sitting up high on Marpo Ri, the Potala Palace stands tall over Lhasa, making it a real sight to see. Your best bet for a visit is between March and October, avoiding the wet and snowy months from November to January.

While you’re there, follow the classic route to fully immerse yourself in the rich history and breathtaking views without skipping a beat. Start by ascending the zigzag steps up to the White Palace to explore the Dalai Lama’s former residence and offices, then make your way to the Red Palace to explore its chapels from top to bottom before exiting through the back door.

9. Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Hunan

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in Hunan China

Do you remember the majestic “floating” mountains in the fictional world of Pandora from the movie “Avatar”? Well guess what, it’s a real place you can visit!

Named Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, it’s a truly stunning spot in China’s Hunan Province, with its tall rock formations and lush greenery. It’s not just any park; it’s part of a special UNESCO World Heritage Site called Wulingyuan. The best time to go is from April to June, when the rainy season makes it more likely to see the amazing ‘yun hai’ or sea of clouds.

To really soak in the beauty, lace up your hiking boots and hit the trails that wind through the thick forests. You’ll get awesome views of those famous tall pillars, like the super cool Avatar Hallelujah Mountain. Feeling adventurous? Try walking across the Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge that can even make adults cry, or hop on a cable car for an exciting ride to see the park from above.

Just remember, the park gets pretty busy with local tour groups, especially on public holidays like Labor Day (May 1–3). That means you might have to wait a bit, maybe 1-2 hours, for an elevator. So, it’s a good idea to get there early when it opens at 8am, especially on weekdays.

10. Leshan Giant Buddha, Sichuan

Leshan Giant Buddha in Sichuan China

Did you know the world’s biggest carved stone Buddha is in China?

The Leshan Giant Buddha is a huge statue of a smiling monk named Maitreya. It’s been sitting there since the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), taking over 90 years to carve! This Buddha inspires poems, songs, and stories all over the world, and it’s also declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO.

Located to the east of Leshan City in Sichuan Province, you’ll discover this giant Buddha statue where three rivers of Min, Dadu, and Qingyi meet. For those journeying from Chengdu, which is the case for most travellers, hopping on a train to Leshan offers the most convenient option. Additionally, consider planning your visit during spring or autumn for an optimal experience.

You’ve got a few options to see the carved stone. You can hike up Lingyun Mountain for a close-up view, or take it easy with a boat tour for a panoramic experience. And hey, the Leshan Giant Buddha Scenic Area isn’t just about the Buddha. There are loads more to see, like Lingyun Temple, the Nine Bends Plank Road, and even a Giant Sleeping Buddha!

Stay Connected During Your Visit to China

Trying to find great places to eat close to the Temple of Heaven? Need to take a quick business call while you’re in Hangzhou? Or thinking of booking a hotel in Hunan to explore Zhangjiajie National Forest Park longer? Don’t worry about staying connected – grab China eSIMs or SIM cards from TravelKon. With a built-in VPN, they provide a seamless way to access your email, Google, YouTube, Facebook, WhatsApp and other services in China.

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