Explore Mainland China
Where to go and what to see in China
Whether you want to explore extraordinary landscapes, delve into the mysteries of ancient wonders or experience fast-evolving cities, your China trip is ready to deliver an immense travel experience that will stay with you forever. You can focus on just one destination or several, depending on your interests and appetite for adventure.
China's extraordinary natural places
As one of the biggest countries on the planet, there's plenty of space for scenery and natural wonders in China. And the diversity of landscapes is legendary - from lush river valleys terraced with rice fields to misty mountain peaks that appear to float in the air, it's the stuff dreams are made of.
Zhangjiajie National Park is directly to the west of Shanghai, an easy 2.5 hour flight. Here you can see the extraordinary rock pinnacle landscape from a cliff-hanging walkway and glass skywalk on the side of Tianmen Mountain. This huge park includes the pinnacle known as 'Avatar Hallelujah Mountain', which was inspiration for the floating mountains of Pandora in the movie Avatar.
This huge park includes the pinnacle known as Avatar Hallelujah Mountain, which was inspiration for the floating mountains of Pandora in the movie Avatar.
Another possibility is Chengdu, an absolute must-do if you love rare animals. The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, known as Panda Base for short, covers 330 acres and also looks after red pandas. While there's an emphasis on science here, visiting the pandas is a heart-melting exercise – especially if there are cubs rolling around.
Yunnan province should also be on your radar. Things to do here include the Stone Forest World Geopark, the amazing 15km Tiger Leaping Gorge and Shangri-La. Or opt for the classic Chinese scenery of Guilin, where you can cruise the Li River for 83km to Yangshou. It's about as far-removed from urban life as you can get.
Chasing China's captivating history
If discovering architecture and stories from the past are your main reasons for travelling to China, consider starting in Beijing so that you can explore a section or two of the Great Wall - Badaling, Mutianyu and Juyonguan are the most popular. Beijing is also where you'll find the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and the Summer Palace.
An easy domestic flight from Beijing is Xian, where you can meet the Terracotta Army and bike around the ancient city wall. Shaanxi Museum and the Great Mosque are two other Xian tourist attractions much-appreciated by those who love history.
Xiamen, on the coast in southeastern Fujian province, is an excellent base for discovering the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site of Gulangyu Island. Only 20,000 people live on the island and there are no petrol-driven vehicles. To really appreciate this historical haven, stay a couple of nights.
Another historical high-point in Fujian province is Chengqi Lou, a 17th-century circular earth dwelling (tulou) that used to house more than 600 people. An entire clan once lived here, sharing 400 rooms that open onto a vast central courtyard. There are hundreds of these round houses in Fujian province, some dating back to the 15th century, and many are still used as homes.
In the far north of China, up towards the Russian border, Harbin offers another fascinating slice of history where you will find orthodox churches and Russian-style manor homes. But winter is when this city really lights up - the Harbin Ice & Snow Festival features a sub-zero sculpture and amusement park made entirely from snow and ice. It's beyond amazing!
Best time to visit China
The best time to fly to China depends on what you want to see and do. For exploring nature, spring, summer or autumn are the recommended seasons. For historical China tours, any time is good. And if you have the Harbin Ice & Snow Festival in mind, winter is your season. If you're chasing the best fares to China from New Zealand, off-peak and shoulder seasons are the go.
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