A tourist visit to the hotspots of the Chinese capital is akin to merely scratching the surface of a culturally rich and diverse country. Taking a voyage on the Trans-Siberian railway can show you much more than the conventional Chinese tourist package, making it the difference between a real oriental experience and a trip to what resembles a visit to London’s Chinatown. Here are some of the most famous places you can include on your epic journey through China, whether you’re travelling from Beijing to Hong Kong, Beijing to Shanghai or any other route!
This city was not always the capital of China, but since it is the most recent imperial capital, it retains the greatest number of imperial heritage sites which most tourists find delightful to see. Now with a population of over 20 million, Beijing is the centre of China’s government and economy.
The Forbidden City and other attractions
Beijing is also home to the Forbidden City, an enormous walled ‘city’ within a city to which access was formerly forbidden. It boasts palaces, temples and museums. The famous Summer Palace remains a beauty spot in which you can spend your afternoons. The Daoist Temple of Heaven, where emperors made offerings for a good harvest, is also a popular place to visit. The Lama Temple in Beijing remains one of the most important Buddhist sites and the Silk Market does what it says on the tin – an ideal place to pick up souvenirs which don’t weigh much.
The Great Wall
The Great Wall started off as several walls when warring kingdoms needed to protect their territories. After the first Emperor Qin Shihuang of the Qin Dynasty unified China in 221 BC, he decided to have the individual walls joined together. It took more than one million people and over 10 years to finish what became one of the greatest landmarks in the world.
Xi’an is the capital of Shaanxi province, located in the north-west of China. It is a wonderful example of how present day China is still linked to its ancient civilisation. Xi’an was one of the four great ancient capitals of China, having held the position under several of the most important dynasties in Chinese history. The city is the starting point of the Silk Road and home to the Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. The scope and scale of the city is breathtaking, with views of the daring projects undertaken by the imperial monarchs.
Be sure to make a visit to the market city of Guangzhou if you are en route to Hong Kong. Its main attraction is its sea of restaurants, where seafood is a popular choice. They will have all your favourites on the menu – freshly made and deliciously presented. Check out the wildlife at the Qing Ping market, which proves that there is gourmet potential in anything which can walk, slither, gallop, crawl… you can see just about everything on sale to eat! If you’re a vegetarian and prefer not to see your animals on a plate, there is the city’s zoo where you can marvel at both giant and red pandas on view.
If you’re keen to observe how Russian culture has impacted its southern neighbour, then this city in the north of China is the place to visit. Harbin was built by Russians who had fled the 1917 revolution. The main pedestrian street is a display of European art nouveau architecture and there is a small café called Russian Café, which has a small exhibition about the Russian community who founded Harbin and the history of the city’s buildings.
To experience an even more Russian feel, visit Harbin in the winter to catch the city’s Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, during which the most spectacular ice sculptures are put on display in a large park area. If ice sculptures aren’t your thing, there are still plenty of other cuturally signifiant sites in Harbin to go and visit.
One of China’s most popular tourist destinations, Guilin, is a city in the northeast of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, a coastal province which borders Hunan to the north. Its most popular site is the Limestone Cliffs, which represents some of the most spectacular and beautiful scenery in the country. A boat-trip along the River Li is a must. Guilin will give you a glimpse of traditional life in China that you wouldn’t find otherwise in Beijing or Shanghai, including that famous postcard image of the cormorant fisherman.