China travel guide: 14 things you need to know. Visit China, a country with ancient history and civilization dating all the way back to 21st century BCE. Traces of ancient civilizations are present and well preserved in almost every corner of the country so it is great place to visit for both relaxation and cultural enlightenment.
China is large (22 provinces and several autonomous regions and municipalities) and very populous country. About 1.4 billion people live there, which is one fifth of total Earth population. Having that in mind, it would be quite difficult to visit all the cultural sites and landmarks in one visit and unless you have weeks and months at hand, you will be coming back to China to explore more.
People travel to China to visit many world known landmarks, such as: Great Wall, Forbidden City and Terracotta Warriors, to name a few. There are also thousands of temples, some of them high in the mountains, the other carved in a rock, while many of them in a tranquil environment of well-maintained gardens, together with fish ponds and arched bridges.
Since 1970, China has undergone massive industrialization and modernization and it is considered today the second largest economy. This reflects quite a bit in tourism area where infrastructure is being upgraded daily with expanding of bullet train network and new airline routes are added regularly. New and high-end hotels are being opened very frequently to serve increased demand to visit China, so everyone is accommodated in the best way. We hope you will have great time when you decide to visit China.
1. Quick facts
- Official name: People’s Republic of China
- Capital: Beijing
- Population: 1.4 billion
- Area: 9.6 million sq km (3.7 million sq miles)
- Major language: Mandarin Chinese
- Major religion: Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism
- Life expectancy: 75 years (men), 78 years (women)
- Currency: Renminbi (yuan)
2. Where is China?
China is located in Asia and it has neighbors from 16 countries: Kazakhstan, Russia, North Korea, India, Mongolia, Burma, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Macao, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan and Tajikistan.
China is large country, it is 4th in the world by area size. Apart from mainland territory, China has two special administrative regions (SAR), Hong Kong and Macau, and there is also island nation of Taiwan.
3. Visa requirements
Do you need visa to travel to China? Most visitors require visa to visit China, but there are some exemptions for short term and transit visa. More info about this here. As with many countries, your passport must be valid for at least three months after you complete visit to China, so please plan ahead.
If you do need visa, you will need to check in this guide how to apply and what documents you need.
Regardless of your visa status, customs officer can still inquire about your return ticket, hotel bookings, travel agency reservation and/or sufficient funds during your stay in China, so please keep this information handy.
4. Getting to China
Assuming you are not traveling from some neighboring country, the best way to get to China is by flying. There are many international airports in China: Beijing (PEK), Shanghai (PVG), Xi’An (XIY), Chongqing (CKG), Wenzhou (WNZ), Shenyang (SHE), Kunming (KMG), Guangzhou (CAN), and Jinan (TNA).
Here are some instant offers for flights from the US:
- Los Angeles — Jinan from $212
- Los Angeles — Beijing from $219
- New York — Shanghai from $222
- San Francisco — Beijing from $227
- New York — Chongqing from $229
- New York — Wenzhou from $230
- Los Angeles — Shenyang from $240
- San Francisco — Shanghai from $262
- San Francisco — Kunming from $270
- San Francisco — Guangzhou from $282
More cheap flights and hotels in China:
If you are traveling from neighboring countries, you can also travel by train or by bus, and in some cases by boat. Traveling within china is mostly done by air (due to distances), but for regional travel there is well developed network of high speed trains and bus lines.
5. Where to stay in China
Depending on where you want to go in China, your options for accommodation vary from standard and high end hotels and Airbnbs to cheaper hotels and hostels.
It is important to note that China has very strict laws for registering foreigners, and it is advised to book hotel or Airbnb in advance and you are duly registered. That’s why it is not wise to go with some private or ad-hoc arrangements for lodging.
It is up to you and your budget and personal preferences to decide on where to stay in China. For budget (and young) travelers, there are plenty of cheap accommodation to choose from in hostels.
For latest offers on hotels from our providers use search form below:
6. Moving around China
China has comprehensive transport system throughout the country. Moving between cities can be done by plane, regular and speed trains, buses or cars. There is also network of waterways on rivers, lakes and in coastal regions where transport is done by ferries and boats.
For moving within large cities, you can use buses, metro or taxi and, if you are more confident, you can rent a bicycle and move around like a local. The important thing to know is that not many people speak English, so it is important to have your destination address written in Chinese, so you can show it to the driver or passengers and ask for help.
To move between cities you can also rent a car, which you can do online from our website or from many car rentals.
7. Food in China
Chinese cuisine is well known globally and there are Chinese or Asian/fusion restaurants in every city in the world. Food in China is delicious, rich in flavor and is made out of many fresh ingredients and mixed with spices to perfection. While visiting China you will be able to experience Chinese food in its origins. Since China is very large country, dishes and flavors vary quite a bit and some dishes would taste quite differently in the north or in the south or between east and west.
Sweet and sour pork (and variants with chicken and beef) is a signature dish in Chinese cuisine. Kung Pao Chicken is also one of most popular dishes, chicken marinated with chili and peanuts. Originated in Sichuan province. Ma Po Tofu is a dish from more than 100 years ago. It comes from Chuan cuisine and it is hot and spicy.
Wontons is a dish originated from Tang Dynasty (7th-10th century), so it must be good as it is still very popular. It’s basically dumplings in a soup, filled with minced pork or shrimp. Dumplings in general are even older in their origin – about 1,800 ago. They come in meat or vegetable variety fillings. Chow Mein is stir fried noodles, mixed with meat (chicken, beef), shrimp and vegetables. Very popular as a starter or a main dish, around the world.
Peking Roasted Duck, originating from Beijing, is another word known dish. Thinly sliced with crispy skin marinated with spices is slow cooked, sometimes for days. Spring Rolls is another appetizer dish and it also comes in variety with eat or vegetable, sweet and savory.
From sweet side of Chinese cuisine menu we recommend: Sticky Rice Cakes, Water Chestnut Cake, Sesame Fritters and Eight Treasure Rice. Don’t forget to try some tea while in China, this is a must! For more click here.
8. Is China a safe country?
How safe is Chine for tourists and to move around? China is quite safe for tourists and some attention should be given to certain things. Tourist areas are generally safe, both for single tourists and groups or families, but extra caution for pickpocketers is advised. Being scammed with counterfeit currency or with taxi drivers not using meter is common. More details about safety in China you can find here.
As a general rule, be observant of your environment and take care of your valuable belongings (passports, cash, credit cards) and try to avoid very crowded places.
9. How much money do you need for travel to China?
If we exclude plane ticket (which would be most expensive part of your vacation), China is not that costly for tourists, and you can always find great deals on accommodation, meals and attraction tickets. Accommodation, meals, transport and attraction tickets would average to $100 per person. This is, of course, calculated based on average travelers. You can always spend less, but you can also spend much, much more.
If you are visiting from the US or Europe, the biggest expense will be airline tickets.
Prices throughout China vary quite a bit, and largest cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Xi’an are the most expensive for general tourism, in comparison with rest of te country.
China climate varies from region to region since country is quite big, so northeast has big difference in temperature between summer and winter; summer can be very hot and winter very cold; central China has more moderate weather, while southeast is more tropical. You should pay attention on weather condition depending on where are you planning to go and when.
11. Best time to visit China
Best time to visit China in relation to weather is March-April and September-October. Some other factors need to be considered, especially local holidays, such as New Year or public holidays, when there is a massive movement of people going for a trip locally, which can spike hotel and airplane ticket prices.
If you don’t mind weather, you can then visit in off peak times with less tourists and less crowds.
12. Money in China
Official currency of China is Renminbi (yuan). Foreign currency is not accepted so you have to have local currency exchanged immediately at the airport or do it back home, before the trip. Major credit cards are accepted in bigger and more established restaurants and shops, so having cash on you is essential. Tipping is not customary. There are ATMs and banks everywhere and especially in tourists area.
13. What to see in China?
As we mentioned above, China is very large country and exploring it even superficially would take weeks and even months. We are covering just a few most important attractions and landmarks and we will add more when we do city spotlight articles for several most prominent cities in China. You can make your own list of what to see in China when you decide to visit this amazing country.
Great Wall of China. Ancient fortification structure stretching over more than 5,500 miles across China. Featuring with towers, walkways and guided tours.
Forbidden City. Now a Palace Museum, this massive palace in Beijing served as a seat of Ming Dynasty from early 15th century.
Terracotta Army. Attraction famous for lifelike sculptures of terracotta warriors built around the 3rd century BC for Emperor Qin Shi Huang burial site. Located in Xi’an.
Potala Palace. Located in Lhasa, Tibet, this 17th century palace was a seat of Dalai Lama until 1959. Now it is a museum and World Heritage Site.
Badaling. A section of Great Wall very popular with tourists due to iconic views. It is located 80km northwest from Beijing and climbs to a mountain up to 3,282 feet.
Temple of Heaven. Famous temple complex from 15th century featuring unique circular buildings. It was regularly visited by Emperors of Ming and Qing dynasties for religious ceremonies. Located in Beijing.
Jiuzhaigou. Mountainous national park famous for colorful lakes, waterfalls and Tibetan villages, located in Sichuan province.
Mount Kailash. Mountain summit popular with advanced climbers, rising up to 6,638 meters. Located in southwest of Tibet and part of Transhimalaya.
The Bund. Famous waterside promenade with city views in Shanghai.
Tiananmen Square. Historic, massive, one of the world’s largest city square in Beijing. Tiananmen means ‘Gate of Heavenly Peace’.
Tianmen Mountain. A mountain located within Tianmen Mountain National Park, Zhangjiajie, in the northwestern of Hunan Province, China.
West Lake. A freshwater lake in Hangzhou, east China. Featuring numerous temples, pagodas, gardens, and artificial islands within the lake.
Mount Hua. Famous peak with dangerous plank walk and cable car, located 120 km east from Xi’an and at height of 2,155 meter.
Yu Garden. Famous large garden from 16th century Ming dynasty era with ponds, rockeries and arched bridges. Located in Shaghai.
Three Gorges. Three adjacent gorges on Yangtze River, Qutang, Wu and Xiling in between mountains. Featuring boat rides and scenic views.
Oriental Pearl Tower. High rise TV tower (468 meters tall) in Shanghai, offering city vistas, a history museum and a revolving restaurant.
Stone Forest. Also known as Shilin, this is large area with unique limestone formations of about 500 km², located in Yunnan Province.
Huanglong. Scenic and picturesque area with colorful pools, hot springs, waterfalls and preserved wildlife.
Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. A mountain massif in Yulong Naxi Autonomous County, Lijiang, in Yunnan province. Its highest peak is, Shanzidou, is 5,596 m high.
Tiger Leaping Gorge. Large natural gorge, one of the deepest in the world, located on Jinsha River, a primary tributary of the upper Yangtze River.
Lake Manasarovar. High altitude fresh water lake, sacred place for pilgrimages. Located in Tibet area.
Mount Emei. Located in Sichuan province, this mountain is one of the four Sacred Mountains of Buddhism, with an ancient temple and monasteries near the peak.
Tiananmen. Also knows as ‘Gate of Heavenly Peace’, this monumental entrance to Forbidden City is dating from the 15th century and it was rebuilt many times.
Giant Wild Goose Pagoda. Located in Xi’an, this 7th century built Buddhist pagoda was built to host sacred scriptures.
Ming tombs. A massive complex of emperors’ tombs from Ming Dynasty, located north of Beijing.
Gulangyu. A unique, pedestrian-only isle, off the coast from Xiamen in east China. Featuring 19th century colonial building and a piano museum.
Leshan Giant Buddha. Massive, ancient stone statue carved into a mountain cliff, located in Sichan province.
Wangfujing. Primarily designed for pedestrians, this central Beijing street is popular for shopping, snacks and night market.
Old Summer Palace. Known in Chinese as Yuanming Yuan, located in Beijing, these are remains of palace located in a scenic park.
Longmen Grottoes. Massive, UNESCO–listed site with thousands of statues of Buddha carved in caves excavated from cliffs. Located just south of Luoyang in Henan province.
Erhai Lake. High altitude, alpine lake with several islands and hiking trails. The name literally translates into “Ear-shaped Sea”. Located in Yunnan province.
Nanjing Road. A century old shopping street in Shanghai. Over 5 km long.
Shaolin Monastery. Buddhist temple famed for foundation and promotion of kung fu for centuries. Located in Henan province.
Yungang Grottoes. Buddha statues carved out of the rock, started from year 460 AD, over the period of 64 years. Located in Shanxi province.
Jingshan Park. Massive, historic park located on a hill north from the Forbidden City in Beijing. Offering stunning views.
Mogao Caves. A massive complex of 492 cave temples with Buddhist artwork, originating between 4th and 14th centuries. Located in Gansu province.
Jokhang. Place of pilgrimage, located in Lhasa, Tibet. Housing a statue of young Buddha, this ancient Buddhist temple is listed as UNESCO heritage site.
Lugu Lake. An alpine lake with mountain views, with picturesque surrounding villages, inhabited by minority ethnic groups, such as the Mosuo. Shaped like horse hoof.
Yonghe Temple. Also known as Harmony and Peace Palace Lamasery, this Tibetan Buddhist temple complex dates back from 17th century. Located in Beijing.
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. Established in 1982, this is first registered national park in China. Featuring cliff-hanging walkway and glass skywalk at a height of 1,400 m (4,600 ft) on the side of Tianmen mountain.
Mount Wutai. Known globally as one of the five top Buddhist sacred areas, it is characterized by several peaks and temples. Located in Shanxi Province.
Humble Administrator’s Garden. Large, Ming-era garden with three individual areas, located in Suzhou, east China.
Beijing National Stadium. Uniquely designed stadium with modern design, also known as the Bird’s Nest was built for the Olympics of 2008 and is now hosting concerts and sports events.
Old Town of Lijiang. Historic, 800 years old preserved area in Lijiang, Yunnan province. Featuring cobblestone streets, streams, bridges and traditional Naxi houses.
Jinshanling. Natural area containing large section of the Great Wall of China and striking views. Located north from Beijing.
Elephant Trunk Hill. A unique, naturally elephant-shaped hill along the river. Located in Guilin, Guangxi Province.
Simatai. Another popular section of the Great Wall, located northeast from Beijing. Featuring rustic appearance, sentry towers and steep climbs.
Qinghai Lake. The largest lake in China. Known for its blue water and scenic views. Located in Qinghai province and standing at 3,260 m elevation.
14. Interesting facts about China
There are probably hundreds (or thousands) interesting facts about this amazing country, but here are three for you:
- Fortune cookies are not from China, they were invented in San Francisco.
- Football (soccer) was in invented in China.
- China is very large country, but it has only one time zone.
We hope you enjoyed reading about China!
China travel guide: 14 things you need to know.