The People's Republic of China is home to some of the longest history in mankind. Travelers to China with a passion for art and theology will find much to appreciate, with plenty of Buddhist sites and shrines open to the public, while nature lovers will find peace in the tranquil traditional gardens like Beihai Park or the Temple of Heaven. History buffs will revel at the sight of the Terracotta Army and the Forbidden City and, of course, sights like the Great Wall of China, which extends across the country for over 5,000 miles, will floor any visitor with its history and magnificence.
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Located in Beijing, the Forbidden City served as the imperial palace for Chinese rulers for almost 500 years. The name of the Forbidden City was given due to the fact that no one could enter or leave the palace without the emperor’s express permission. Today, the Forbidden City houses the Palace Museum, where visitors can explore some of the rooms of the palace and learn about some of the fine works in the museum’s collection, such as pieces of art, clocks, fans, calligraphy, and other artifacts from China’s long history.
4 Jingshan Front St, Dongcheng Qu, Beijing Shi, China, 100006, Phone: +86-10-85-00-74-21
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This Summer Palace, located in Beijing and not to be confused with the ruins of the Old Summer Palace, is the largest royal park in China, and the most well preserved. Well known for its examples of royal gardens, the Summer Palace is a beautiful green spot that was built in the 18th century as a royal garden and palace. Today, visitors can explore the court area and the front hall to see pavilions, halls, and buildings where Chinese royals and courtiers once lived and relaxed. In front of it all is the beautiful and reflective Kunming Lake, which provides a lovely and peaceful backdrop to the gardens, with walking paths that lead around it.
19 Xinjiangongmen Rd, Haidian Qu, China, 100000, Phone: +86-10-62-88-11-44
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Beihai Park is also known as Northern Sea Park and is one of the oldest and best-preserved ancient gardens in China. Located directly in the center of Beijing, Beihai Park is over 1,000 years old, and was built to represent an ancient legend about three magic mountains that would grant eternal life. Like many other traditional Chinese gardens, Beihai Park contains three small hills above the pool of water, which signify the three mountains of legend. Visitors to Beihai Park can explore the beautiful gardens, take a stroll around the lake, visit the Jingxin Studio and Circular City, and see the immense Nine Dragon Screen.
1 Wenjin St, Xicheng Qu, China, 100034, Phone: +86-10-64-03-32-25
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4.Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
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The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is a non-profit organization committed to the preservation and growth of that most adorable creature, the giant panda. Visitors to the Chengdu Panda Base can walk the scenic paths within and see the gardens and hedges trimmed to look like pandas or the areas designed to mimic the giant panda’s natural habitat. They can witness first-hand the pandas in the base, and watch them rest, eat, or play together. The Chengdu Panda Base is also home to a number of other species that are on display, including red pandas, peacocks, swans, and butterflies.
China, Sichuan Sheng, Chengdu Shi, Chenghua Qu
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5.Giant Wild Goose Pagoda
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Big Wild Goose Pagoda, located near Xian City, is a remarkably preserved 7th-century pagoda that is a sacred place for followers of the Buddhist religion. It stands within the Da Ci’en Temple, and was named in reference to a Buddhist story about why Buddhists don’t eat meat. Originally, Big Wild Goose Pagoda was built to house Buddhist statues and relics that were taken from India. The pagoda is seven stories tall, and inside is a twisting staircase where visitors can find engraved statues of Buddha and, at the top, a beautiful panoramic view of Xian City.
Yanta W Rd, XiaoZhai ShangYeJie, Yanta Qu, Xian Shi, China, Phone: +86-29-85-52-79-58
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6.Grand Buddha at Ling Shan
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This park, located just west of Wuxi and on the coast of Taihu Lake, is home to a statue of Buddha that is 289 feet tall. This makes it largest bronze statue of Buddha in the world. The impressive piece of religious art is situated within Ling Shan Park, which also is home to many other attractions, including a huge screen wall, five Learning Bridges, an altar containing two giant footprints of Buddha, and a beautiful fountain that depicts with music the story of a famous Buddhist sutra being “born” from the leaves of a giant lotus flower.
China, Jiangsu Sheng, Wuxi Shi, Binhu Qu, Phone: +86-40-01-68-03-03
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7.Great Wall of China
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This entry needs little introduction, as the Great Wall of China is one of the most famous tourist attractions in the world. The history of the Great Wall began when the first emperor of China combined two smaller walls in 221 BC in order to protect China from invasion. The wall grew taller, stronger, and longer over the years, and the newest parts of the Great Wall were completed in the early 17th century. It stretches for 5,500 miles across China, and is the only manmade structure visible from space. Because of this distance, there are many places where it is possible to visit the Great Wall of China, but one of the most popular is in Beijing.
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Jiuzhaigou National Park, located in China’s Sichuan province, is made up of 218 square miles of beautiful lakes, waterfalls, and forests. Visitors will be enchanted by Jiuzhaigou National Park and the gorgeous nature within it, from the green trunks of fallen trees that lie beneath the deep blue surface of Five Flower Lake to the terraced pools of Multi-Color Pond. A visit to Jiuzhaigou is a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of some of China’s major cities, and several days spent in this peaceful place are sure to rejuvenate any vacation goer.
Jiuzhaigou, Aba, Sichuan, China, 623400, Phone: +86-83-77-73-97-53
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9.Leshan Giant Buddha
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It took 90 years to carve this 233-foot-tall statue of Buddha from the rocks where three rivers meet. Begun in the year 713 by a monk who wished for Buddha to keep an eye on a particularly dangerous part of the river, where boat accidents and fatalities regularly occurred, this Giant Buddha was carved from rock and wood in hopes that the spirit of the god would calm the waters of the three rivers it watched over. The sculpture is incredibly detailed, with over a thousand buns in Buddha’s hair and a drainage system inside the statue that displaces any rainwater that might otherwise damage the ancient piece of art.
Shizhong, Leshan, Sichuan, China, Phone: +86-83-32-30-22-96
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The Longmen Grottoes are home to over 110,000 Buddhist statues in addition to stupas and inscribed steles, all tucked back into a series of carved caves and grottoes. The oldest of the caves date back to the 5th century, and some of them, like Yaofangdong Cave, contain inscriptions and carvings about a number of topics such as science and medicine. As time went on, the style of the statues changed, and looking at them is like looking at a timeline of historical style. These caves have all been remarkably well preserved and are open daily to the public.
13 Long Men Zhong Jie, Luolong Qu, Luoyang Shi, Henan Sheng, China, Phone: +86-3-79-65-98-09-72
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11.Mausoleum of Mao Zedong
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Chairman Mao Zedong was a Chinese revolutionary who headed the Communist Party of China and founded the People’s Republic of China as we know it today. He died in 1976 and was buried at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The Memorial Hall of Chairman Mao, or the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong as it is also known, was built on the former site of the Gate of China, and Chairman Mao’s remains are on display for members of the public who wish to pay their respects. Visitors to the hall can also learn about and view some of Mao Zedong’s achievements via photos, literature, and a movie hall.
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The emperors of the Ming Dynasty are buried about 30 miles from the modern city of Beijing in a collection of tombs that spans for almost 50 square miles. Thirteen ancient Chinese rulers are buried here in independent mausoleums, each laid out to be purposely in tune with nature and the surrounding area. Several of the tombs, including the famous Changling Tomb, which is the oldest on the site, are open to the public, and visitors can explore the courtyards of the massive temple-like mausoleums and view some of the treasures that were buried with these members of the royal house.
Changchi Rd, Changping Qu, China, Phone: +86-10-60-76-14-22
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The Mogao Caves comprise almost 500 caves, grottoes, and cells that serve as temples to Buddha, located on the Silk Road in the Gansu province of China. Inside the caves, visitors can find statues, carvings, and wall paintings of Buddha and in reverence of Buddha, some of which date back over 1,000 years. Some of the art also depicts life along the famous trade route or lines of warriors off to fight in ancient wars. No one knows exactly when construction of the caves began, but historians believe that some of these temples may be as old as the 4th century.
Dunhuang, Jiuquan, Gansu, China, Phone: +86-93-78-86-90-60
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14.Old Summer Palace
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The Old Summer Palace in Beijing is called Yuanmingyuan in Chinese, a name that means Garden of Perfect Brightness, and once it was a place with beautiful, massive palaces and other buildings for the royal families of China. However, in the 19th century it was destroyed by French and British troops during the Opium Wars. Priceless paintings, porcelain, ancient texts, and silks were looted, and in retaliation the Chinese took some British reporters prisoner and tortured them. Outraged when several of the men died, the British destroyed the Old Summer Palace, so all that stands today are its ruins. It is a popular site among the Chinese, who have never forgotten the loss of so many of their treasures and work hard even today to reclaim what was stolen from them.
Haidian, China, Phone: +86-10-62-62-85-01
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15.Oriental Pearl Tower
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The Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai is not an ancient structure built by emperors, it is a TV and radio tower that was completed in 1994. But, at 1,536 feet tall, it is the second tallest TV tower in China, and the sixth tallest in the world, and its unique design, with three colorful spheres connected by a ladder-like shaft, makes it a quite attractive and iconic part of Shanghai. The tower is open for visitors, who can take an elevator to the top for a look at the city of Shanghai from above. But the thrills don’t stop there, because inside the spheres of the Pearl Tower are restaurants, bars, and shops, including a restaurant that rotates so visitors can get a 360-degree view.
1 Century Ave, LuJiaZui, Pudong Xinqu, Shanghai Shi, China, 200000, Phone: +86-21-58-79-18-88
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Since the 7th century, Potala Palace was the winter home of the Dalai Lama, until in the 1950s, when the 14th Dalai Lama was forced to flee to India. Potala Palace is an icon of Tibetan Buddhism, and is located at an elevation of over 12,000 feet, atop Red Mountain in the Lhasa Valley. Today, this impressive red and white palace is a museum, and exploration of the palace’s 1,000 rooms and chapels, which include jewel-encrusted stupas and the tombs of the first 13 Dalai Lamas, is sure to drop the jaws of visitors from far and wide.
35 Beijing Middle Rd, Chengguan, Lasa Shi, Xizang Zizhiqu, China, 850000
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17.Shanghai Science and Technology Museum
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The city of Shanghai is home to this large museum, which focuses on the themes of nature, mankind, and technology to teach its visitors about science and innovation. Within the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum visitors can experience a number of educational and interactive exhibits, including ones about spiders, the exploration of the Earth, the animal kingdom, robots, the information age, and space as well as many more. Special exhibits for children are also on display, where kids can learn about science and technology in an interactive and fun setting. There are also four IMAX theaters within the museum, which show educational documentaries and movies on a rotating basis.
2000 Century Ave, Pudong Xinqu, Shanghai Shi, China, 200135, Phone: +86-21-68-54-20-00
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The Shaolin Monastery lies at the foot of Shaoshi Mountain, surrounded by hills and forests as a strong natural defense. It was established in 495 AD and has a long history as the birthplace of Chan Buddhism. It has another claim to fame as well, one later perpetuated by famous martial artists such as Bruce Lee, Jet Lee, and Jackie Chan. Shaolin is well known as the birthplace of kung fu, a martial fighting style based on the movements of animals. As such, Shaolin is a busy tourist location, full of kung fu fans and practicing kung fu artists who wish to pay homage to their art.
Dengfeng Ave, Dengfeng Shi, Zhengzhou Shi, Henan Sheng, China, Phone: +86-3-71-62-74-51-66
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19.Temple of Heaven
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Built in 1420, the Temple of Heaven in Southern Beijing was historically the place where Chinese emperors from the Ming and Qing dynasties would go to pray for good harvests and other favors. This massive piece of religious architecture was turned into a park in 1918, and visitors will feel a sense of serenity and quiet within its deeply forested boundaries. While exploring the temple, visitors can learn about each of the rooms and the rituals that were once performed there, from the burning of incense to animal sacrifice in exchange for good crops that season.
1 Tiantan E Rd, Dongcheng Qu, Beijing Shi, China, website, Phone: +86-10-67-02-88-66
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Emperor Qin Shi Huang was a young ruler thousands of years ago, who standardized currency and measurements and is given credit for beginning construction on the Great Wall of China. When he died in the year 208 BC, he was put to rest like the royal ruler he was and he did not go into the afterlife unprotected. Thousands of terracotta soldiers in full battle dress were buried with the emperor, along with clay horses, wooden chariots, and weaponry. Discovered only recently in the 1970s, the Terracotta Army has not been fully excavated to this day, although historians estimate that there are as many 8,000 members of this clay platoon, each one with unique and lifelike facial expressions.
Lintong, Xi'an, Shaanxi, China, Phone: +86-29-81-39-90-01
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The waterfront of Shanghai is an iconic part of the city that overlooks the distinctive skyline of Shanghai, with its drastically different examples of historic and modern architecture. Until the mid-19th century, the Bund was just a muddy stretch of land that was eventually turned into a street and then a settlement. From there, it turned into the center of commerce in Shanghai, until the rise of communism, when it began to lose its livelihood. Today, the Bund is known as an open-air museum depicting international architecture styles, but it is still definitely worth a visit, if only for the views and the unique sculptures that line the walk.
Zhongshan East 1st Rd, WaiTan, Huangpu Qu, Shanghai Shi, China, 200000
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Three Gorges Dam is located in Hubei Province and is the largest hydroelectric dam in the world. Despite a number of disasters in its construction and operation, including corruption, environmental concerns, and human rights violations, not to mention costs that were way above estimates, the Chinese government has continued to try and replicate this dam in other locations. Widely lauded as an environmental disaster, the Three Gorges Dam is still worth a look, if only for its sheer size and impressiveness, and there are viewing platforms to the north of the dam.
China, Hubei Sheng, Yichang Shi, Yiling, Phone: +86-71-76-76-34-98
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The world-famous Tiananmen Square Protests, which were led by students in 1989 in protest of communism, were held in Tiananmen Square, Beijing. But this massive and illustrious square is home to so much more history as well. It is filled with memorials and monuments to the People’s Republic of China and its leaders, including the Mausoleum of Chairman Mao Zedong, Tiananmen Tower, and the Great Hall of the People. The National Museum of China is also located in Tiananmen Square, and there visitors can learn about the long and illustrious history of China.
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24.Window of the World
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The Shenzhen Window of the World is an amusement park located near Hong Kong. It contains reproductions of some of the most famous tourist sites in the world, including American and Canadian Niagara Falls, the French Eiffel Tower, the Indian Taj Mahal, and the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. But instead of spending a lifetime touring the Earth to see these wonders, Window of the World squeezes them all into a 118-acre property. It’s a great place for selfies, especially ones that convince friends back home that your vacation was much more expansive than anyone thought it was.
9037 Shennan Ave, HuaQiaoCheng, Nanshan Qu, Shenzhen Shi, Guangdong Sheng, China, 518053, Phone: +8-67-55-26-60-80-00
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The Yu Garden is a stunning piece of traditional China tucked against the bustling modern metropolis of Shanghai. This classical garden was completed in 1577, and in the 400 years since, it has changed hands a number of times, been partially destroyed in the Opium Wars, and restored once again to its former glory in the 1950s. Inside these beautiful gardens, visitors will find pavilions and halls, ponds and bridges, all expertly woven together to create a peaceful setting for anyone who sets foot inside. Yu Garden is also home to the Exquisite Jade Rock, a 10-foot-high rock that is famous for the holes it contains. If a joss stick is burned just below the rock, then smoke will billow from all of the holes, and if water is poured in from the top, it will spray out of all the holes like a fountain.
218 Anren St, Huangpu Qu, Shanghai Shi, China, 200000, Phone: +86-21-63-26-08-30
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25 Best Things to Do in China
- Forbidden City, Photo: Courtesy of zjk - Fotolia.com
- Summer Palace, Photo: Courtesy of Fokussiert - Fotolia.com
- Beihai Park, Photo: Courtesy of amenohi - Fotolia.com
- Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, Photo: Courtesy of David Davis - Fotolia.com
- Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, Photo: Courtesy of Sieghartatelier - Fotolia.com
- Grand Buddha at Ling Shan, Photo: Courtesy of MK - Fotolia.com
- Great Wall of China, Photo: Courtesy of powerstock - Fotolia.com
- Jiuzhaigou, Photo: Courtesy of serjiob74 - Fotolia.com
- Leshan Giant Buddha, Photo: Courtesy of jiawangkun - Fotolia.com
- Longmen Grottoes, Photo: Courtesy of kennytong - Fotolia.com
- Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, Photo: Courtesy of BRIAN_KINNEY - Fotolia.com
- Ming Tombs, Photo: Courtesy of awalls - Fotolia.com
- Mogao Caves, Photo: Courtesy of hxdyl - Fotolia.com
- Old Summer Palace, Photo: Courtesy of cindyxiong - Fotolia.com
- Oriental Pearl Tower, Photo: Courtesy of Leonid Andronov - Fotolia.com
- Potala Palace, Photo: Courtesy of wusuowei - Fotolia.com
- Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, Photo: Courtesy of viktormugli - Fotolia.com
- Shaolin Monastery, Photo: Courtesy of kennytong - Fotolia.com
- Temple of Heaven, Photo: Courtesy of orpheus26 - Fotolia.com
- Terracotta Army, Photo: Courtesy of efired - Fotolia.com
- The Bund, Photo: Courtesy of chungking - Fotolia.com
- Three Gorges, Photo: Courtesy of gui yong nian - Fotolia.com
- Tiananmen Square, Photo: Courtesy of nyiragongo - Fotolia.com
- Window of the World, Photo: Courtesy of bvh2228 - Fotolia.com
- Yu Garden, Photo: Courtesy of lapas77 - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Richie Chan - Fotolia.com