Is China on your bucket list? It’s on mine! I’ve been dreaming of visiting China for a while.  Here are my top 5 must-see destinations in China:

Top 5 Must-See Destinations in China

The Great Wall

You haven’t been to China if you haven’t seen the Great Wall, right? Though the Wall is not visible from space with the naked eye (that’s a myth), it does span more than 13,000 miles across 15 regions of China. The Wall was constructed over the course of 2,000 years and has been called the longest cemetery in the world—according to some estimates, as many as a million workers died during its construction. The Mutianyu section, close to Beijing, is popular with visitors. It’s been fully restored and has 23 watchtowers. You can hike the 4,000 or so stairs to the wall if you’re up for a hike or take a cable car from the tourist center.

The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City served as the palace of 24 emperors over nearly 500 years from 1420 to 1912, the end of the Qing dynasty. The huge, walled complex spans 180 acres and includes nearly 1,000 buildings. The Inner Court housed the emperor and his family and includes structures with names such as the Palace of Heavenly Purity, the Hall of Mental Cultivation, and the Palace of Tranquil Longevity. The collections housed in the city include porcelain vases, rare books, paintings, jade pieces, and ceremonial items used by the emperor.

The Hanging Monastery

Originally built in the fifth century, the hanging monastery near Datong is an architectural and cultural wonder. It’s 40 rooms “hang” 200 feet off the ground thanks to wooden crossbeams secured into the cliffside. The temple rooms contain beautiful sculptures made of terracotta, copper, stone, and other metals. Interestingly, the temple is dedicated not to one, but to three different religions:  Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism were all practiced there.

Top 5 Must-See Destinations in China

The Terra Cotta Soldiers of Xi’an

As a little girl, I saw an exhibit featuring the terra cotta soldiers and since then, I’ve been fascinated with them. The life-sized figures are more than 2,000 years old, and the collection includes not just soldiers, but horses for the cavalry, scribes, entertainers, including musicians and jesters, and even concubines. And no two figures are alike—they each have their own distinct facial features! Only about a fourth of the estimated 8,000 terra cotta soldiers have been excavated.


Shanghai is a bustling modern city, the largest in China. Exploring on foot is the way to go! Walk the waterfront Bund to view architecture from Baroque Revival to Art Deco. The French Concession residential district features tree-lined streets, outdoor cafes and restaurants, and historic buildings. The beautiful Yuyuan Garden, a classic Chinese garden, features pavilions, pools, and pagodas, and is right next to the Yuyuan Bazaar, a popular tourist area. Shanghai Museum, located in the People’s Square, houses more than 120,000 pieces, bronzes, calligraphy, and furniture. And you’ll definitely want to explore Shanghai’s food scene. The city is known for its xiao long bao (soup dumplings) and amazing street food, including cong you bing (fried crepes/pancakes with scallions), baozi (steamed pork buns), and popular breakfast item ci fan tuan (rice balls with a variety of delicious fillings).

If you’re visiting China soon and need help obtaining a passport or navigating China’s visa requirements for foreign travelers you can contact a company such as San Francisco based Travel Visa Pro to do the work for you.

Do you want to visit China?  Which destination tops your list?

cc images from Flickr: great wall of china by mariusz kluzniak and xi’an terra cotta army (15) by adam.

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