As the world’s oldest civilization and combined with huge areas of gorgeous unspoiled natural beauty (and the more recent leaps into modernity), China is one seriously interesting travel destination. Its gigantic size makes a condensed list a very tall order, but here is my choice for the best and most beautiful places to visit in China…
1. Fenghuang, Hunan province – one of the most famous and striking old towns to visit in China
Situated in the Western Hunan Province, the small town of Fenghuang is comparatively difficult to reach. Road conditions and traffic can be hard to negotiate, so getting a bus may be the best option. Once you’re there you’ll want to explore the area by foot.
You can hike up to the Southern Great Wall and enjoy the striking views of the rice terraces. Fenghuang has a bustling feel to it and there are plenty of street vendors who sell local foods at great prices (make sure you try the Ginger Candy)!
Highlights of Fenghuang captured on film…
2. The Yellow Mountains (Huangshan) – the unique mountain range which is one of the most beautiful places to visit in China
This beautiful mountain range is known for its hot springs, dense pine forests, and mystical aura. It sits majestically with a misty sea of cloud at its feet but each season gives the mountains a different flavor. In springtime, it is scattered with pretty pink blossoms, bright flowers that illuminate the valleys and fill the air with their heady scent.
In the summer the mountains are densely green, and bubbling streams lap against the rock faces. The turning maples paint the mountains red and violet in autumn before winter turns everything icy white and tranquil.
The area is rich with flora and renowned for the monkeys, deer, goats, and rare birds that live there.
The mountain range has been celebrated in many ancient texts, paintings, and poems and this sense of spiritual reverence still remain.
3. Yuanyang Rice Terraces – a stunning and striking beauty spot to explore in China
The southern Ailao Mountains house these rice terraces, and the fields take up nearly 31,000 acres. At 6500 feet above sea level, the view is astounding. The Hani people have farmed these lands for centuries.
In fact, in their eyes, nothing has changed for hundreds of years, which means that when you watch them farm, you can get a true sense of how life in this part of the world has been for a very long time.
The rolling landscape is just as interesting as the rice terraces themselves, so you’ll never run out of gorgeous views to look at.
4. Yangtze River – the longest and most beautiful river in Asia
The longest river in Asia holds great historical, economic, and cultural importance to the country. It accommodates the controversial Three Gorges Dam which is the largest hydro-electric power station in the world.
It also thought by many to divide Northern and Southern China; both areas are immensely different in terms of climate, culture, economics, folk customs, and landscape. Along the river, there are many areas of historical interest, as well as much natural beauty.
Because of its vast size, one of the most relaxing ways to enjoy the river is by taking a cruise or a tour of the area. Independent Asia specialists Exotissimo offers a cruise that includes stops at the mysterious Fengdu Ghost City and the precious stone fortress, Shibaozhai.
5. Jiuzhaigou Valley – dreamlike scenery and gorgeous natural landscapes
This place with its waterfalls, lake groups and abundance of endangered flora and fauna isn’t short on natural beauty either.
It’s a nature reserve and national park located in northern Sichuan province of southwestern China and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This inspirational place has more than its fair share of legends attributed to it and is home to a small population of Tibetan and Qiang people who put on traditional performances and sell foodstuffs and local products – one of the highlights of a trip to this region.
6. Zhangye Danxia Landform – one of the most stunning places to explore in China
This is also known as the painted mountains of Danxia and consists of a part of the Gobi Desert with layers of different rock formations that took centuries to form, all of which come in many different colors and textures.
If you step back and view it, you can see numerous stripes of different widths and colors, making the scenery appear to be a puzzle that was put together to look just right.
It is gorgeous and hilly, and when you look at it, you quickly realize that only nature could create something so unique and beautiful.
7. Guilin City – a picturesque place to visit in China which is known for its dramatic landscape of limestone karst hills
Guilin is a prefecture-level city in the northeast of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The combination of natural beauty and historic treasures make Guilin a popular tourist spot.
Crystal clear waters, attractively formed karsts covered in lush bamboos and the deep caves also make the surrounding area a place not to be missed.
8. The Great Wall of China – one of the world’s most iconic and beautiful attractions
Easily one of the most famous landmarks in the world, The Great Wall of China winds through a huge array of scenery, taking in deserts, plateaus, mountains, and grasslands.
Although it’s not just the beautiful views that make The Great Wall a must-see site in China. The historical connotations and impressive architecture mean it is certainly worth a visit.
Although some sections are in ruins or have been removed altogether, this purely reminds you of its history that spans well over 2000 years.
9. Leshan Giant Buddha – a truly amazing place to visit in China
Known to be the tallest stone Buddha structure in the world, the statue is 230 feet tall and has toes that are 28 feet long and ears that are 23 feet long. It was built in 713 CE and carved into a cliff face overlooking three different rivers.
The statue took 90 years to complete and is definitely worth the trip to this part of China. The giant Buddha is colorful and eye-catching, not to mention alluring due to its sheer size, and it is the perfect attraction for Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.
10. Wuzhen Water Town – a stunning small town known as the Venice of China
This unusual little town is situated South of the Yangtze River. Its 2000-year-old history is reflected in the mysterious floating bridges, intricate wooden carvings and ancient stone pathways.
The beauty of this town is that it still maintains a strong traditional feel, and many of the ancient features are beautifully preserved.
11. Lijiang Ancient Town – a scenic well-preserved old city in which has a history of over 800 years
This ancient town is located between Lion Mountain – which is dense with vegetation – in the West and the sprawling Elephant and Golden Row Mountains in the North. The area is also fringed with rich verdant fields that cut through crystal clear waters.
Kubla Khan the first Emperor of the Yuan dynasty set his reign here and the air of importance, prosperity and celebration still remains.
12. Qiandao Lake – famous for its crystal-clear water and picturesque scenery and otherwise known as the Thousand Island Lake
The Thousand Island Lake (or Qiandao Lake) is a manmade lake dotted with numerous small islands (hence the name). The waters are intensely azure and each island is thick with rich green foliage.
Several of the islands are now themed, to cater for the ever-growing number of tourists who frequent the area. The area was initially created to provide a new hydroelectric power station and reservoir to feed the residents of Hangzhou.
To do this several ancient city were flooded and the remains of these cities still lurk below the waters of the lake. The architecture of which is still eerily preserved, adding extra intrigue to this beautiful area.
13. Brahm? Palace, Jiangsu – a luxurious Buddhist palace standing next to the Lingshan Giant Buddha
This beautiful sprawling man-made structure lies beneath the foot of Little Lingshan Mountain. Very near you’ll also find Taihu Lake and the 88-metre-tall Lingshan Giant Buddha – also significant tourist attractions.
It’s a hugely spiritual place it’s almost like a Buddhist theme park and was built specifically for the Second World Buddhism Forum in 2009.
14. Dongchuan Red Land – 0ffers some of the beautiful scenery in China
Located southwest of Kunming City, these 77,000 square miles are very colorful and hilly. Because of the oxidation of iron in the soil, it is a gorgeous shade of eye-catching red.
When you place this soil next to strips of green barley, white flowers, and yellow buckwheat, the landscape becomes striped with all types of beautiful colors, especially when contrasted against a bright blue sky.
And if you want to catch the area when it’s the most colorful, try visiting it either in May to June or September to November to get the most extraordinary results.
15. Echoing Sand Mountain and Crescent Lake – a gorgeous scenic spot to explore in China
This is part of the Gobi Desert in northwest China and consists of huge dunes that are 25 miles long and 12 miles wide. They reach 800 feet at their peak and have both interesting shapes and a rather eerie sound that occurs whenever there are strong winds in the area.
In the middle of the dunes is Crescent Lake, shaped in a half-moon and offering a great contrast to the beautiful whitish-grey sand dunes. The dunes are located along Silk Road, and it’s worth a visit to this area of the desert just to take a look at these amazing structures.
16. Guanyin Statue – an interesting place to visit in China
Known as the Chinese Buddhist goddess of mercy, Guanyin now has her own statue at the Nanshan Temple Complex and it is nothing short of spectacular.
It is an eye-catching statue that stands at 354 feet, so it towers over the area and definitely demands attention. The statue has three faces; one faces the land and the other two face the South China Sea.
The best part is that you can walk the pier leading to the statue and get very close to it, which is, in fact, the best way to realize just how amazing it truly is.
17. Hongcun Ancient Village – one of the most beautiful villages to visit in China
Part of the Huangshan Mountain Range, little has changed in this village in the past 1000 years, so if culture and history are what you crave, this is the place to visit.
It consists of more than 140 traditional homes as well as serene lakes, iconic bridges, and old-fashioned clan halls, among other things.
The houses are unique and the mountains are gorgeous; if you spend some time enjoying this quaint little village, it will be time well spent. In fact, if you want to see how the Chinese lived long ago, you can come here and find out.
18. Saint Sophia Cathedral – a striking tourist attraction to explore in China
Built in 1907, this 177-foot-high cathedral is the largest Orthodox church in East and Southeast Asia. Even during the Cultural Revolution when most other Orthodox churches were destroyed, this one remained intact.
Its beauty is due to the green dome tops and yellow crosses.
Inside the church is a museum that is dedicated to the city. In fact, locals often gather in its front square to visit and have a good time. It is located in Harbin and is one of its most noteworthy landmarks, so it is definitely worth visiting when you’re in this part of the world.
19. Yalong Bay – a pretty, scenic and photogenic spot in China
One of China’s most beautiful beaches, this bay stretches a full five miles and has a coastline that is dotted with palm trees. It is located along the coast of Hainan and offers opportunities for swimming, snorkeling, jet-skiing, and diving.
You can also enjoy the beautiful sandy beach and work on your tan if you like. If you’d like to stay in the area for a night or two, you can take advantage of one of the many inns, resorts, and hotels that line the beach itself.
It is among some of the most beautiful places to visit in China, that’s for sure.
20. Yungang Grottoes – a popular tourist spot to explore in China
Located in the Shanxi Province, this collection of 53 grottoes consists of more than 51,000 sandstone structures of both Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. In fact, it is considered a very important landmark for Buddhists and it’s been around since the fifth and sixth centuries. The statues range from just a few inches in size to 55 feet high.
There are even five Buddhas sculpted from five different emperors to enjoy. These sculptures are kept in grottoes 16 to 20, which most people agree are the most well-preserved caves in this area.
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Emma-Clair Ni Clearaigh – writer and photographer
With itchy feet, an inquisitive nature and an ardent wanderlust, Emma Clair has always been a traveller at heart. Hailing from the Emerald Isle she calls a small coastal town near Dublin home, but has lived in a few countries including Saigon, Vietnam where she resided for over a year, now she balances travel and travel writing with teaching and a passion for vintage interior design. She counts supping on Bloody Marys on a rooftop in Manhattan, downing Singapore slings at the Raffles Hotel, daring a paraglide on the Grand Cayman, spending an exotic Christmas in Malaysia and exploring the Angkor Wat, Cambodia as her all time favourite travel moments. Although, she’ll always have a special place in her heart for the city where she makes her annual pilgrimages – Paris, her true city of lights. Find Emma-Clair on Instagram or Facebook.