Every travel guide to China advises you to visit the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, the Terra Cotta Army, and other similar places. Understandably so - these monuments are cultural and historical treasures. But there's so much more to do in China! Whether you're want to undertake a death-defying hike up a sheer mountainside, shop the open-air markets of Old Shanghai, take a cruise down the Yangtze River, or visit ancient Buddhist caves, China has something for everyone.
Located about thirty-five miles southwest of Datong in Shanxi province, this temple dates to the 5th century CE. And it's been built right into the side of a mountain! The temple celebrates Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism in a 40-room complex. Visitors are advised to buy tickets in advance and to note that the site is not recommended for those with mobility challenges.
For a little over two miles, mineral-laden water winds through this gorgeous valley in south China. The minerals built up unevenly over the eons, creating terraces and miniature waterfalls flowing over brilliantly-colored travertine. You might even catch a glimpse of the endangered giant panda or golden snub-nosed monkey. Visitors can cap off their valley walk with a visit to two ancient Chinese temples.
Once a small fishing village just south of Shanghai, the pressures of an evolving economy forced many fishermen to relocate elsewhere. After they left, Mother Nature moved in, and now many of the houses are covered by thick, verdant blankets of moss, ivy, and grass. The few remaining villagers will happily give you tours, or you can explore the reclaimed village on your own time.
This is absolutely not for those afraid of heights! The Heavenly Gate, or Tianmen, is a mountain in Zhangjiajie so named for the large hole that appears to form a portal into the heavens. Winding 200 feet around the mountain is the Skywalk, and what makes this bridge unique is that it's made entirely of glass. Located 4,700 feet directly above ground, the Skywalk offers stunning, if vertigo-inducing, views of a lush natural landscape.
Celebrating all things cold and icy, this festival runs every year from January 5th to February 15th - though the exhibits tend to last until they melt - generally in March. Teams from all over the world come to Harbin and compete in ice and snow sculpture. Lighting has become an integral part of the design, with each entry brilliantly illuminated. Along with viewing the sculptures on display, visitors are invited to participate in ice archery and an ice-lantern exhibition.
Over thirty operatic forms, some tracing their roots back millennia, are studied and performed across the country. One of the best opera houses is widely thought to be the one found in Shanghai's Fuxing Park, but you can find a show in any major Chinese city. The stories tend to focus on Chinese history, and while most are performed in Mandarin or Cantonese, some of the larger houses provide translations.
Founded at the start of the 20th century by German migrants to China, Tsingtao Beer in Quingdao is now thought to be some of the best beer China produces. The brewery conducts daily tours, costing just under $10 a ticket and lasting about two hours. Visitors are treated to a history of beer brewing in China, capped off with a six-beer tasting served in souvenir glasses.
The longest river in China, and third-longest in the world, the Yangtze winds for nearly four thousand miles across the continent. Tour companies abound, so take your pick of river adventure! Book a short three-day trip to Three Gorges, or plan for a more extensive cruise lasting up to twenty days. Many of the longer tour packages include hotel stays and planned events, such as circus or opera performances.
While the tea at Huashan is excellent, you'll have to take what's been described as 'the most dangerous hiking trail in the world' to get there. The trail starts with a set of extremely steep stairs and only gets more challenging from there. Several incautious hikers slip and fall to their deaths every year, so this journey isn't for the inexperienced. But for those who complete the trip, the monks living at the temple's peak offer tea and refreshments.
Built to showcase China's gardening traditions, admission to this park in the heart of Shanghai is only around eight dollars. It's small for a garden park, but every square foot is put to work. Take a selfie at the Bridge of Nine Turns or the Exquisite Jade Rock, then go to the tea house next door for some of Shanghai's famous soup dumplings.
This open-air market is a blend of old and new, as Starbucks coffee is sold from beneath venerable pagodas, and antique shops nestle next to a Dairy Queen. Take a taxi to get here, as many of the streets are blocked off. Then wander down Central Fangbang Road and shop for old curios, or have a cup of tea at the famous Huxingting Tea House. Every Chinese New Year, the streets come alive with lanterns.
This site, dating to the 5th Century CE, is nothing short of stunning. Over 51,000 carvings, many made directly into the mountain rock, showcase a unique blend of Indian, Persian, and Greek influences. Buddhists created the art, and you can see depictions of Buddha and the various bodhisattvas, many of which have been brightly painted. The caves are open daily, and reachable by either bus or taxi from the Datong train station.
For those not quite willing to risk their lives, Tiger Leaping Gorge is a bit easier but no less rewarding. Snow-capped mountains surround bucolic terraced farmland, defined by the Jinsha River flow through the cliffs. Trails range from beginner to advanced. You can reach the gorge by bus from Lijiang, and tickets cost around $10.