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13 breathtaking things to do and see in China

21 January 2016 ( 07 March 2019 )

From the Great Wall to the rolling farmland of the southwest, you’ll find China is full of incredible sights to behold – get inspired with our pick of China's must-see attractions.

Sunset on the Li River, China
Sunset on the Li River, China

‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’, as Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said.

If you've been meaning to take a holiday to China for a while, perhaps this could be your year.

Whether you prefer to gaze upon mountains and river valleys, or at manmade marvels, China will surprise you at every turn. If this vast country is on your travel wish list, get inspired with our pick of China's must-see attractions …

Forbidden City, Beijing

Don’t miss some of the best-preserved monuments of Imperial China in Beijing’s Palace Museum, also known as the Forbidden City.

Representing the might of the Ming and Qing dynasties, this massive red-roofed complex of towers, palatial quarters and temples will need at least a day’s exploration – there are around 9000 rooms!

Browse our huge collection of holidays and cruises, including adventurous touring trips, relaxing beachfront getaways and luxury ocean cruises. Find out more here

Victoria Peak, Hong Kong

Ride up The Peak Tram and see the urban sprawl of Hong Kong from a lofty angle, with a visit to Victoria Peak.

Showcasing the very best of this autonomous region, the panorama takes in an awe-inspiring skyline, from the needle of Central Plaza to the shimmering curves of Exchange Square.

The Great Wall of China

This official Wonder of the Ancient World and spectacle of engineering twists and turns across Northern China for over 13000 miles. Lined by crumbling watchtowers and fortresses, parts of the wall date back to 770BC.

To see it at its most impressive, take a tour from Beijing or choose a quieter section such as Jiayuguan in Gansu Province.

Beijing and the Great Wall of China

The Terracotta Army, Xi’an

Designed to protect China’s first emperor even in death, these fearsome, life-sized warriors still stand today, numbering nearly 8000.

At Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s insistence, they were all modelled in clay individually, and seeing the workmanship of every bow, arrow and sword up close should definitely be on your itinerary.

10 unusual Chinese customs

Li River

Limestone karsts appear through the mist like the backbone of a giant beast, as you cruise gently along mirror-like waters in the heart of rural Guilin.

As far as breath-taking sights go, the Li River is a standout highlight of any China trip, particularly the tributary known as the Yulong or ‘Dragon Meeting River’.

This section is hikeable if you feel like getting a bit closer to the scenery!

The Bund, Shanghai

Shanghai boasts its fair share of astonishing sights, but to get a sense of the two sides to this ever-moving metropolis, head over to the Bund.

Once a bustling trading district before it was overshadowed by mega-skyscrapers like the Shanghai Tower, there’s an array of gorgeous Art Deco architecture here.

Climb up to the terrace at Bar Rouge to admire the rather more futuristic Pudong skyline back across the river.

Browse our huge collection of holidays and cruises, including adventurous touring trips, relaxing beachfront getaways and luxury ocean cruises. Find out more here

Yuanyang rice terraces

Cut into the hillside like contour lines, the rice terraces of Yuanyang are some of the world’s finest. These high-altitude fields in southwest China change colour according to season – come in July to October for the lush greens of the growing crop, or wait until the terraces are flooded from November to March, causing incredible reflections at sunrise.

Stay in Yuanyang town for tours to Duoyishu, Bada and many other rice-farming villages.

Qiandao Lake

Otherwise known as ‘Thousand Island Lake’, there are several ways to see this beautiful flooded valley in Zhejiang. Some people sail between tiny islets in a traditional boat, others fly over by helicopter and the more adventurous join a scuba-diving tour.

Discover the lost cities of Shi Cheng and He Cheng, submerged below the surface when the Xin’anjiang Reservoir was created, and it might just be the highlight of your holiday.

Temple of Heaven, Beijing

China’s capital warrants another entry on our list, purely because the Temple of Heaven has one of the most dramatic approaches of any building in the world.

Located in an immaculate landscaped park to the south of the city, this round, three-tiered structure is raised aloft towards the sky on flights of white steps. Formerly a sacrificial altar, it was of huge significance to the Medieval Ming emperors.

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Forget feeling breathless – Tiger Leaping Gorge will leave you utterly gobsmacked! Sheer mountain peaks rise on either side of the Jinsha River, while far below, a statue marks the spot where a tiger is said to have leapt across the rapids.

Whether or not you believe the legends, this is considered one of the very best hikes in China. The two-hour upper section is very accessible for those who don’t want to commit to a longer trek, and some viewpoints can be reached by car from either Lijiang or Shangri-La.

Potala Palace, Lhasa

High up on the Tibetan Plateau, Lhasa is the main hub of this beguiling region to the far west of China. Meaning ‘Place of the Gods’, you can truly believe it when you set eyes on the Potala Palace, framed by a backdrop of mountains and a landmark of Tibetan design and heritage.

The winter home of the Dalai Lama, you’ll find plenty of Buddhist pilgrims alongside you as you wander through the glittering maze of halls, stupas and golden tombs.


See a true slice of local life in China, at the village of Xiapu in Fujian. Not only is this the chance to see traditional Chinese farming and fishing, the town is also flanked by an enormous – and extremely photogenic – mudflat, which stretches along almost 250 miles of coastline.

Get up with the fishermen at dawn for the most unforgettable seascapes.

The Yellow Mountains

The mountain known as Huangshan (literally ‘Yellow Mountain’) is just one of many cloud-topped peaks in this area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in eastern China. Gravity-defying pine trees and unusual rock formations pepper the landscape, while at the foot of the mountains, you can sink into the outdoor hot springs!

If these stunning attractions whet your appetite, why not have a look at our holiday packages to China, there are even options for solo travellers!


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.