It is impossible to summarise the vast choice of things to see and do in China, but we have tried to pick our favourites! In one whirlwind visit you are able to see the many sides that China has to offer. If you are interested in exploring China’s fascinating blend of old and new, why not explore one of the world’s greatest archaeological discoveries, the Terracotta Warriors, dating from 210BC or the colossal Three Gorges Dam, a monument of modern engineering.
Exploring China’s juxtapositions doesn’t just stop at old vs new, the vibrant, busy, modern mega cities the country has to offer vastly contrasts with it’s stunning and traditional rural areas. China’s highlights could mean that at one moment you are sailing along the Yangtze river taking in the breath-taking views and the next you are Shanghai’s six storey Urban Planning Exhibition, to see how this giant city has evolved and its planned developments for the future.
Take a look at the top 20 highlights we believe are essential to consider including in your amazing trip to China!
Remember: Our recommended China combinations mean that you don’t have to just experience one side of China – combine many of these highlights for the ultimate school trip!
Our top twenty activities
1. Wander in the gardens and by the lake of the stunning Summer Palace
Exquisite gardens, magnificent buildings and wonderful views. An extraordinary example of landscaping within the megacity of Beijing.
2. Spend a morning with locals at the Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is among the best known religious sites in Beijing. Described as a ‘masterpiece of architectural and landscape design’, one of our favourite things to do is visit the temple in the morning when local people gather in the park to practice Tai Chi and ballroom dancing.
3. Walk in the footsteps of important cultural and political events at Tiananmen Square
Located in the centre of Beijing, this is the world’s third largest city square and the site of many important cultural and political events in Chinese history.
4. Enter the Forbidden City
The Imperial Palace, constructed during the Ming and Qing dynasties, is an architectural wonder. It is the world’s largest palace complex and covers an area of 178 acres, surrounded by walls almost 8 metres high and a 52-metre-wide moat.
5. Walk on the Great Wall of China
One of the greatest man-made wonders of the world, it stretches over 8,850 km (5,500 miles) and snakes across deserts and grasslands and over mountains and plateaus. A great one to tick off your bucket list.
6. Stare into the cold faces of the Terracotta Army
One of the world’s greatest archaeological discoveries, the three vast pits, around 7m deep, house thousands of life-size terracotta figures of warriors, horses and chariots dating from 210 BC.
7. Observe the religious and historical significance of the Wild Goose Pagoda
Also known as the Dayan Pagoda, this is a well-preserved ancient pagoda built and rebuilt by many dynasties to house Buddhist artefacts from India, a sacred place for Buddhists. This a great stop for those cross curricular trips with Religious Studies or English departments.
8. Bike ride on the ancient city walls
Xi’an’s walls date back well over 1,000 years, but were expanded and strengthened in the 14th century and now measure 14km in circumference. The most complete and best-preserved city walls in China, they offer a fascinating contrast with the modern city around. One of the best ways to see the walls is by bike, riding around the wide pedestrianised pathway.
9. Bring the classic case study to life at the Three Gorges Dam
Long-planned and much-debated, there’s no doubt that the colossal dam is a monument of modern engineering. Accommodated on our river cruise boat, you’ll even journey through the ship locks, which is a unique and memorable experience.
10. Climb the Red Pagoda
Considered one of the architectural highlights of the Yangtze River, the wooden 12-storey Shibao pagoda towers 200m tall, and was built entirely without nails. It is said that the higher one climbs, the more likely your dreams are to come true. When our Travel Specialist Bev visited the pagoda, she saw a man carry his grandmother to the top of the pagoda to promote longevity!
11. Spot the contrasting architecture at The Bund
Shanghai’s waterfront, its buildings and wharves have been regarded as a symbol of the city for hundreds of years. The buildings have european colonial influences which starkly contrast the skyscrapers across the river. This architectural mix of styles makes for an impressive sight, especially at night.
12. Get a new perspective at the astounding scale model of Shanghai
See how this giant city has evolved and its planned developments for the future. Visit Shanghai’s six storey Urban Planning Exhibition and see to-scale models of this sprawling metropolis’ current and future plans.
13. Visit the shops and restaurants in the beautiful Yu Gardens
Designed as a tranquil spot in the busy city, the City God Temple complex consists of the temple itself and a traditional commercial district – now a popular tourist shopping area for souvenirs, housed in century-old buildings.
14. Learn more about China’s religious traditions at the Jade Buddha Temple
Home to two precious jade Buddhas (one weighing 3 tonnes), and a large reclining Buddha made of marble, this temple is extremely photogenic like so many beautiful structures in China.
15. Brave the 259 metre high glass bottomed corridor at the Oriental Pearl TV Tower
Mainland China’s tallest building from 1994 – 2007, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower remains one of Shanghai’s most iconic buildings. Located on the waterfront, its spheres and columns are brightly lit at night by colourful LEDs. The viewing platform offers panoramic views of the Lujiazui financial district and the Bund, and further across the whole city including a glass floor that lets brave visitors see 259m straight down.
16. Travel through the harbour by the famous Star Ferry
Loved by tourists and locals alike, the Star Ferry is the essential way to see the harbour. The Star Ferry crossing is over a hundred years old and rated by National Geographic as one of 50 ‘places of a lifetime’.
17. Enter a fairy-tale in Hong Kong Disneyland
Explore a magical kingdom as you venture through 7 different themed lands – Adventureland, Grizzly Gulch, Mystic Point, Toy Story Land, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland and Main Street USA. If you’ve been to Disneyland before you’ll enjoy noting how Chinese culture and customs such as feng shui have been incorporated into one of the world’s strongest brands.
18. Ride the tram to Victoria Peak for spectacular views
The Peak Team has been running for over 120 years and takes residents and tourists to the upper levels of Hong Kong island.
19. Meet some of China’s most iconic inhabitants
The Chengdu Panda Base’s goal is to become ‘a world-class research facility, conservation education centre and international educational tourism destination’. Learn about the history of the base, how they help protect this endangered species and of course, meet its famous inhabitants for yourself.
20. Marvel at the ancient engineering behind the world’s oldest working irrigation system
Built from bamboo and wood in the 3rd century BC this is the oldest dam-less irrigation system in the world and a wonder of ancient engineering. It was designed to prevent annual flooding by automatically controlling the flow of water from the mountains to the plains and transformed the Chengdu Plain into one of China’s most productive agricultural regions.