Famous for landmarks like the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden Palace, China is a massive country home to high-tech cities that date back thousands of years. Boasting almost 9000 miles of coastline as well as grasslands, deserts, mountains, and rivers, the country provides visitors with countless places to explore.
China is an ancient world where you can step into the past and experience a bygone era as you walk through imperial palaces or sacred temples. The country is also known for having the largest population in the world, with just over 1.4 billion people (as of 2020) who are proud of their nation and eagerly welcome visitors into their world.
欢迎 – Welcome to China!
Beijing is the modern-day name for the capital of China, however, the city has been central to the government for the last 3 dynasties. With over 3,000 years of written history, Beijing is an ancient city that has been transformed into a modern metropolis, which has its own culture and cuisine.
Amongst the modern skyline, visitors can see traces of the past at sites like the aforementioned Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City as well as the Summer Palace.
- Culture and Language
- Spending Budget
- How to Get Around
- Top Cities to Visit
- Points of Interest
Culture and Language
China is thought to be the cradle of human civilization because it has a written history that began in 1250 BC, during the Shang dynasty. The country is often given the title of having the oldest continuous civilization because it has dominated and shaped the world for thousands of years.
Ancient China was ruled by dynasties, and throughout time, there have been 18 large dynasties that have each had their turn in power. Each dynasty had its own set of emperors and lasted for hundreds of years.
The Xia dynasty was the first to conquer, and they used to have an abdication system where emperors were chosen for their abilities. The system changed and began the hereditary system where sons would take over the throne from their fathers.
The Han, Tang, and Qing dynasties are considered to have been the three most powerful, with the Qing also being the last dynasty. In 1911 the Xinhai Revolution overthrew the Qing dynasty and began the Republic of China, which existed until 1949. In 1945, the Chinese Communist Revolution began, and Chairman Mao Zedong took power in 1949.
Since Chairman Mao, China has often been regarded to be a Communist state with strict control over its citizens through censorship and military power. In 1989, the Tiananmen Square protests began, which were student-led demonstrations calling for democracy.
The government enforced martial law to maintain power, and the Tiananmen Square Massacre killed hundreds to thousands of people. Even with grim moments in history, China has emerged as a world leader with a strong economy and rich culture.
Mandarin Chinese is the official language of the country, and it’s spoken by 70% of the population. Many people in China may speak multiple languages, with the other popular languages being Cantonese, Hunanese, and various dialects.
With such a large population, China is also diverse, and there are officially 56 ethnic groups recognized by the government. However, you will find that southern China tends to be the most diverse area with people from neighboring countries as well as travelers from Europe or the Americas.
The influence of international business and tourism in China also means that English is becoming more widely spoken and commonly heard in urban cities.
In Chinese culture, you will find that religion, family, and ancestors are upheld above all else. Chinese principles value wisdom, honor, loyalty, and courtesy. You will also find that they prioritize symbolism to represent hidden meanings.
Jade is one of the most important Chinese symbols, which was established with the old dynasties. But other elements of nature and animals also have their own meanings. The most familiar symbols are the Chinese zodiac, which uses 12 animals to represent a repeating cycle of 12 years.
It’s important that you consider your spending budget while you are planning your trip, so you can be prepared for your journey. The most important parts of your budget include airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation.
Flights to China are very expensive, with a round-trip economy ticket costing a few thousand dollars, depending on when you are traveling, where you are going, and how early you booked. The earlier you book your flight, the better.
Traveling to China during peak tourist season will also increase the flight cost. Spring and autumn are the most common times to visit China, so you should expect to pay more during those months. Airlines may also have discounts or deals on tickets, which could reduce the price.
Traveling in the tourist off-season is also likely to drastically reduce prices. While some flights can be found for as low as a few hundred dollars, you should always expect to pay a little more for the best experience. The good thing is that if you are looking to travel on a moderate budget, your flight will be the most expensive purchase you’ll make.
Accommodation in China can be expensive, with many luxury options costing thousands of dollars per night. For the average traveler, you should expect to pay a fair amount per night for a good hotel in a big city. You may be able to find cheaper hotels or hostels, which would lower the price.
Outside of the big cities, visitors can expect to pay less, but if you’re looking for anything in the 4 to 5-star range, you should be prepared to pay almost double.
Airbnb is also an option in China, but it can be more expensive than a hotel, depending on the style of accommodation you choose. In big cities, Airbnb can be quite costly, so it’s best to book in advance and make sure you find a place that suits your needs.
After accommodation, food is important for your trip, and Chinese cuisine isn’t quite the same flavor of dishes that you’ll find in take-out locations. There are a lot of different Chinese foods, and you can’t lump them all into one category. Many are based on your location or area, where dishes are prepared with their own unique variety.
Cantonese, Szechuan, and Sichuan are some of the most popular cuisines you’ll find in China. Traditional Chinese food usually features meat or poultry in a sauce with vegetables and served with rice. Pork is common throughout the country, though Peking duck is the infamous poultry dish that foreigners are eager to try.
Tofu is also a staple to various cuisines, and it is treated like meat – fried with vegetables and covered in a tasty sauce. Dumplings are traditional to Chinese cuisine and culture, with a history that dates back thousands of years ago. Dumplings may be featured in a soup or as a dish of their own.
Street food in China is extremely popular, and you may come across a variety of sea creatures and insects being fried and served on sticks.
With a long coastline, seafood is also featured in Chinese dishes. Crab, shrimp, and various types of fish are incorporated as the main feature of many dishes like crab roe, baked crab shells, or fried rice with shrimp.
Noodles are also the main portion of dishes like chow mein. Hong Kong makes a famous dish called bamboo pole noodles, while dan dan mian is a Szechuan noodle dish with pork and peppercorns.
No matter what your taste buds desire, you shouldn’t have to spend a fortune dining out. A nice meal at a restaurant will often have portions that are large enough to serve two people.
The cost of dining out increases in coastal areas and big cities, also visitors should expect to pay more for a dish for two. If you are dining away from the coast and are traveling the interior, a nice restaurant will be pricier than some other Asian countries, but still not as much as touristy areas.
Street food is extremely affordable in China, with most dishes costing a few dollars. While you may not get all the extra sides like rice, which you would normally see in restaurants, street food has plenty of tasty dishes that will curb your appetite. Street barbeque, steamed buns, and Chinese hamburgers are all tasty dishes.
China also has its own drinking culture, and you’ll likely find that there are a variety of wines, beers, and cocktails for you to try. Sorghum is a strong drink that has an old culture, which is called white wine. Baijiu is the most common brand of sorghum, but be warned, it’s not only the world’s oldest hard liquor but also a strong one.
Contrary to white wine, yellow wine is more popular in Shanghai. Huangjiu is made from rice or wheat and is also used to cook a variety of dishes. Alongside wine, beer, and cocktails are immensely popular in China, just expect them to be pricey.
Counterfeit alcohol is also a problem throughout the country, so you should always try to taste-test your drinks before finishing the entire glass. Most counterfeit alcohols will have an off flavor from the normal product.
How to Get Around
China is big. Really big. So, don’t expect to be able to visit the entire country in one trip. In fact, unless you have the time to take an extended vacation, you probably won’t be traveling outside of the major cities.
The areas just around Shanghai, Beijing, and Hong Kong have full itineraries that can keep you quite busy for a couple of weeks. But, if you do choose to explore more of China, the best way to travel long distances is to take a domestic flight.
While they’re more expensive than other modes of travel, it can take too long for other transportation methods to travel from destination to destination. Most domestic flights will cost a few hundred dollars.
If you are wanting to travel but don’t quite have the budget for domestic flights, high-speed trains are a popular mode of travel, and they have reliable service between most of the larger cities.
Ticket prices vary on the distance traveled, going anywhere from a few dollars to a couple hundred. While some flights are about the same price, you’ll have to decide which mode of travel suits you best.
Many of the large cities like Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing also have a reliable metro system, which you can use to travel to different destinations. The metro is the best way to get around a single city and will often cost under a dollar per trip.
Taxis and Car Rentals
Taxis are also a great way to get around the city and allow riders to sit back and take in the views. While the cost depends on the distance, they are decently priced. Car rentals can be an option, though most people choose to skip a rental because of the large distances between city destinations.
Plus, in the city, it can be more frustrating to have to drive and park a car than simply take the metro. Finally, walking is a great way to see the streets in action, and in many places, it is safe to walk around. You should always keep your belongings close, be aware of your surroundings, and don’t walk alone at night.
Top Cities to Visit
Being that China is a massive country taking up a large portion of Asia, there are a lot of cities for you to visit. Host to a myriad of attractions, taking your time to venture from region to region is worth the journey.
Home to skyscrapers, ancient relics from the past, and the famous Great Wall, there are plenty of places to add to your itinerary. Here are some of the top city destinations in China.
As the capital of China, Beijing has a long history that highlights the imperial and modern eras. Beijing is famous for being a city that has some of China’s most visited landmarks like the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, and the Temple of Heaven.
Art is also central to the city’s culture with opera, theater, and other live performances. Hutongs are also a big tourist hit, which is old medieval alleys.
Shanghai is China’s largest city, which is central to its economy and business negotiations. A more modern city than Beijing, there are not as many ancient attractions to visit. Still, the bustle of Shanghai is enough to attract tourists, and the impressive skyline is picture ready.
Hong Kong is a unique city because while it’s technically part of China, it seems to rule itself as separate from the mainland. The city was once a British colony and has always had an important role as a major port.
The modernity of Hong Kong makes it unlike other Chinese cities and more Westernized than the rest of China. Tourists are eager to experience fine dining, shopping, and the Temple Street Night Market.
Tourists visit Xi’an to see into the past. This city was once the capital of China and still has numerous ancient and historical relics. It was also the starting point of the Silk Road trade route and had an important position between the western and eastern economic exchanges.
Now, the city is famous for housing the Terracotta Army and its ancient city wall. The Big Wild Goose Pagoda is also one of the oldest Buddhist temples in China and a must-see.
Surrounded by stunning limestone formations, Guilin is often regarded to be one of the most beautiful places to visit. The Li River is a major hit amongst tourists who are eager to take a stroll along the bank or hop on a boat for a leisurely cruise.
Famous for its Sichuan food, Chengdu is also central to Chinese culture because there is a large panda research center. Pandas are the national symbol of China and are fiercely protected by the government. Chengdu is the best place in China for tourists to interact with and view pandas.
Points of Interest
While cities are a big attraction, there are also many points of interest in China that draw in curious tourists. Ranging from world heritage sites and natural attractions to rivers and bustling streets, there is something for everyone within this mighty country.
Discover the best of China’s thermal springs to add to your itinerary, on our sister site, Top Hot Springs.
Located in Shanghai, The Bund is the city’s popular promenade that is filled with European-style buildings. The area is well-known for its shopping, dining, and hotels. The Yu Garden is a popular attraction, which is also known as the Garden of Happiness.
The Yellow Mountains
Listed as a World Heritage Site, the Yellow Mountains are stunning rocky mountains that have jagged peaks lined with lush greenery. The mountains are located in the Anhui province and have been depicted in paintings for hundreds of years.
One of the more tranquil locations on this list, the West Lake, is a getaway destination from the hustle and bustle of the city. Located in Hangzhou, the banks of the lake feature pagodas, gardens, and temples.
The Yangtze River is the longest river in Asia, and it flows from Tibet to the East China Sea. While the river is large, there are many different sections where people are eager to experience the beauty of the landscape.
The Three Gorges Dam is one of the most popular sites because it is one of the largest hydroelectric power stations.
Zhangjiajie National Park
Zhangjiajie National Park more recently became internationally famous thanks to the work of James Cameron and his Oscar-winning movie, Avatar. The large rock formations inspired the “floating” mountains of the film.
Even though the mountains don’t float in real life, the pillar-like construction that is spattered with green vegetation still makes for a breathtaking sight. Popular attractions in the park include the Hundred Dragons Sky Lift and the glass bridge.
Get Out and Go
With such a vast and diverse landscape, China will surely pique your curiosity. With an ancient history and beautiful views, many are eager to experience the country for themselves. Whether you’re navigating the city streets or relaxing in the countryside, China will likely be a country that has you booking a return trip, so you can experience even more.