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Things to Do in China

China, the king of Asia, is simultaneously ancient and futuristic, rural and metropolitan, traditional and cosmopolitan. In a land of paradoxes, culture and cuisine project a distinct identity enhanced by vast landscapes and iconic landmarks. Tick off a New7Wonder of the World at the Great Wall of China; soak up Hong Kong’s unique island culture; and immerse yourself in attractions such as the Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, and Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of the endangered species. Each city, be it Shanghai, Beijing, or Xi’an, offers fine food, lively entertainment, and rich history.
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Mt. Huangshan (Yellow Mountain)
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Located in Anhui, Mt. Huangshan (aka Yellow Mountain) is considered one of China’s most beautiful mountains and is renowned for its four wonders: a sea of clouds, jagged granite peaks, odd-shaped pine trees, and hot springs. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the mountain is also one of the most visited scenic areas in the country.

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West Lake (Xi Hu)
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West Lake (Xi Hu) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a top attraction in the heart of old Hangzhou. With mountains on three sides and plenty of charming gardens, bridges, pagodas, temples, and islands, it’s easy to see why this scenic man-made lake has inspired so many poets and painters through the ages.

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Terracotta Warriors Museum (Emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum)
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The 1974 discovery of thousands of life-sized Terracotta Warriors near Xian was one of the archeological sensations of the 20th century. The figures date from 210 BC and were meant to guard the first emperor of China in the afterlife. Today the UNESCO-listed Terracotta Warriors Museum (Emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum) ranks among China’s top attractions.

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Yungang Grottoes (Yungang Shiku)
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The Yungang Grottoes (Yungang Shiku) are ancient Chinese Buddhist grottoes that reside in the north cliff of Wuzhou Mountain near the city of Datong in Shanxi Province. Listed as a World Heritage Site in 2001, the Yungang Grottoes are a brilliant display of Buddhist rock-cut architecture dating back to the fifth and sixth centuries.

The Yungang caves are divided into east, middle, and western sections. Pagodas dominate the eastern parts, while the west comprises small to medium sized caves. The caves in the middle section feature front and back chambers with Buddha statues at their center. In total, the complex comprises 252 grottoes with more than 51,000 stone Buddha statues.

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Mutianyu Great Wall
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The Mutianyu Great Wall was fully restored in the 1980s as an alternative to the increasingly popular Badaling section of the Great Wall of China. The Mutianyu section is farther away from Beijing (about an hour and a half by car) than more popular sections, but it's also significantly less busy and features some fun, modern amusements, such as a cable car, chairlift, and toboggan. The long, flat segment—the longest fully restored section open to travelers—winds along heavily forested hilltops with 23 ancient watchtowers dotting the landscape.

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Zhujiajiao
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Also known as the “Venice of Shanghai,” Zhujiajiao is the best preserved of the four ancient water towns in the Shanghai area. With a history dating back over 1,700 years, Zhujiajiao is full of lovely canals and waterways, small alleys, picturesque bridges, and ancient buildings, many from the Ming and Qing dynasties.

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Tianjin Eye
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When the Tianjin Eye was completed in 2008, it officially became the first and only observation wheel in the world to be built over a bridge. The 394-foot (120-meter) tall wheel straddles the Hai River above the Yongle Bridge, offering stellar views (on clear days or nights) of this city of some 7.5 million people.

The wheel features 48 passenger pods, each with an eight person capacity. One rotation around the wheel takes about 30 minutes. The best time to ride is at night, when the wheel is illuminated in colorful neon lights, visible from around Tianjin.

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Erhai (Lake Er)
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‘Erhai’ (Lake Er) is a 97-square-mile (250-square-kilometer) lake sandwiched between the town of Dali and the Cangshan Mountains in China’s Yunnan Province. Erhai is one of the seven biggest freshwater lakes in all of China and the second largest highland lake after Dianchi.

The local Bai people — one of China’s 56 recognized ethnic minority groups — have long used the waters of the lake for fishing using a rather unusual method. Fisherman train cormorants to catch fish (mostly carp) and return them to the fishing boat. Parks along the banks of the lake offer hiking and cycling opportunities, but most visitors choose to explore the lake by boat. These tours allow visitors to see cormorant fishing in action as well as visit some of the lake’s many islands and temples.

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Hong Kong Disneyland®
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The blend of Chinese culture and classic Disney®at Hong Kong Disneyland®separates it from its sister parks throughout the world. Explore Hong Kong’s largest theme park to discover rides, shows, and restaurants that bring famous Disney®characters to life to life, including Mickey Mouse, Frozen’s Elsa, and more.

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Hanging Temple (Xuankong Si)
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Sometimes known as the Hanging Monastery, the Hanging Temple (Xuankong Si) is built into the cliff-side of the mighty Hengshan (Mt. Heng) near Datong city in Shanxi Province. Held up by oak stilts slotted into holes chiselled out from the rock, the rest of the structure that supports the temple is hidden inside the bedrock. Built in 491, the Hanging Temple has survived more than 1,500 years. The face of the building hangs from the middle of the cliff under the summit, which has protected it from the elements over all the years.

The Hengshan Hanging Temple is the only temple that incorporates all of China’s traditional religions: Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. Visitors to the temple come in their droves to marvel at this architectural feat for themselves, and to peer over the railings onto the rocks 50 meters below.

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More Things to Do in China

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park (Zhangjiajie Guojia Senlin Gongyuan)

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park (Zhangjiajie Guojia Senlin Gongyuan)

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If you’ve seen the James Cameron filmAvatar, the scenery at China’s majestic Zhangjiajie National Forest Park (Zhangjiajie Guojia Senlin Gongyuan) might look familiar. Yuanjiajie, the most popular spot in the park, is where you’ll find the Avatar Hallelujah Mountains, while the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon area is home to one of the highest and longest glass bridges in the world.

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Little Li River (Yulong River)

Little Li River (Yulong River)

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The Yulong River, also known as the Little Li River, is the largest tributary of the Li River, and it runs 26 miles (43 kilometers) across Yangshuo county. The river flows past limestone karsts, bamboo forests, rice paddies, ancient villages, and stone bridges. Floating down the river, or hiking or biking next to it, provides up-close views.

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Lingyin Temple

Lingyin Temple

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Lingyin Temple is one of the oldest and most famous Buddhist temples in China and a top attraction in Hangzhou. Situated at the foot of Lingyin Mountain and surrounded by forest, Lingyin Temple is known for its tranquil setting, spiritual atmosphere, and numerous pagodas, grottoes, and Buddhist relics.

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Chongqing Zoo (Chongqing Dongwuyuan)

Chongqing Zoo (Chongqing Dongwuyuan)

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Travelers don’t have to venture out into nature to get an up close look at one of China’s top wildlife attractions. That’s because since 1955 Chongqing Zoo has been showcasing the country’s most rare and most beloved animals—like giant pandas and the South China Tiger—to visitors. This destination is stationed along the Yangtze River and serves as a hub for both research and conservation. It’s home to some 230 species and more than 4,000 animals.

In addition to natural landscapes, protected areas and animal exhibitions, families will find an amusement park, outdoor stage, restaurant and even a dry skating rink. The Chongqing Zoo is the perfect place to spend an afternoon—or even an entire day—getting a unique look at nature without ever leaving the city.

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Yuyuan Garden (Yu Garden)

Yuyuan Garden (Yu Garden)

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Dating from the Ming Dynasty, Yuyuan Garden—or simply, Yu Garden—in the middle of the Old Town (Nanshi) Shanghai, is one of China’s best-preserved classical gardens. Covering an area of 5 acres (2 hectares), Yuyuan Garden is known for its beautiful scenery, elegant layout, and delightful pavilions, pagodas, pools, bridges, and rockeries.

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Li River (Li Jiang)

Li River (Li Jiang)

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Along the banks of the Li River (Li Jiang) as it winds south from Guilin, dramatic karst peaks, dense vegetation, and the winding river itself create magical vistas that loom large in the Chinese imagination, having inspired art and verse for centuries. From Guilin to Yangshuo, there’s never a dull stretch along China’s most beautiful river.

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Shaolin Temple (Shaolin Monastery)

Shaolin Temple (Shaolin Monastery)

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The original home ofwushu (Chinese kung fu) and base of the Shaolin warrior monks, Dengfeng’s Shaolin Temple nestles in the shadow of Mt. Song. Monks perform live kung fu shows, while aspiring students come from around the world to train. A warlord burned the temple down in 1928, so most structures are recently built.

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Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding

Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding

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Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is considered a Chinese national treasure. Opened in 1987 to care for rescued wild pandas, the 165-acre (67-hectare), open-air sanctuary is now one of southern China’s most popular destinations due to its focus on breeding, conservation, and introducing new pandas into wild populations.

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Qufu Temple of Confucius (Kong Miao)

Qufu Temple of Confucius (Kong Miao)

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The Qufu Temple of Confucius (Kong Miao), located in the heart of Qufu city, is the oldest and largest temple of its kind within China. Along with the Cemetery of Confucius and the Kong Family Mansion, the temple forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site collectively known as San Kong (meaning ‘The Three Confucian Sites’).

Built in 479 BC, shortly after Confucius’ death, the temple features an impressive 466 halls, pavilions, and other rooms that are surprisingly still intact. Over the years, alterations and expansions on the temple building have transformed it into a sprawling complex with nine rows of courtyards leading up to a statue of Confucius before the temple entrance.

The Great Accomplishment Hall forms the main basis of the building, which features another statue of Confucius and a stone inscription of the Ming Dynasty, with various images depicting the story of Confucius.

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Tsingtao Beer Museum

Tsingtao Beer Museum

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The Tsingtao Beer Museum was built in 2003 and commemorates some 100 years of German brewing history and heritage in China. Visitors to this top attraction can wander the halls of the two-story structure and learn about the traditions developed and perfected here, thanks to photo galleries and exhibits where brewing tools from the trade are on display. And while an up close look at the nation’s deep roots in hop history makes this place worth a stop, it’s cold and crisp samples straight from the production line that make a tour of the oldest working brewery worth a visit.

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Forbidden City (Palace Museum)

Forbidden City (Palace Museum)

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The Forbidden City, or Palace Museum, is the world’s largest palace complex, with more than 800 buildings and some 8,000 rooms set in the heart of Beijing. Deemed off-limits to visitors for some five centuries, today this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the city’s most popular attractions.

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West Street (Xi Jie)

West Street (Xi Jie)

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Nearly a kilometer long, lively West Street (Xi Jie) is the most famous street in Yangshuo, and often referred to as the town’s heart. It’s also Yangshuo’s oldest street, lined with restored buildings from the Qing Dynasty that today house a vibrant mix of cafés, restaurants, bars, hostels, hotels, and shops selling a vast array of goods.

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Impression Sanjie Liu

Impression Sanjie Liu

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Impression Sanjie Liu is a unique outdoor night show directed by renowned filmmaker Zhang Yimou and staged at the Li River in Yangshuo. In the world’s largest natural theater, Yimou uses the river as a stage and the mist-shrouded karsts as a backdrop for a spectacle of light, sound, and intricate choreography.

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Big Wild Goose Pagoda (Dayanta)

Big Wild Goose Pagoda (Dayanta)

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Built in 652, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda (Dayanta) is one of Xi’an’s oldest structures. While its form follows the typical pagoda style of several successive levels, it lacks the decorative frills typically associated with such buildings in China. Within you’ll find Buddha statues and religious relics brought from India along the Silk Road.

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