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The Best Cities to Visit in China are Bound to Enchant You

Best Cities to Visit in China
Think China, and what springs to mind is its magnificent rural and forested landscape. But this Vacayholics article has shifted focus to the cities that reflect the hippier, glitzier side of China. Take a closer look at the changing face of urban China, right here.
Renuka Savant
Last Updated: Aug 12, 2017
Not 'Forbidden' anymore
Despite being the origin of the ancient Silk Route, modern tourism in China only began in the late 1970s. With a mere 230,000 international tourists coming here in 1978, the number had risen to a massive 57.7 million in 2012.
China, especially after the culmination of the Beijing Olympics, has certainly seen an upswing in the number of international visitors. For years now, China was mostly seen as a business hub by most foreign travelers, considering its standing as the world's largest importer and exporter.

Most of China's millions of tourists are more or less interested in viewing its cultural heritage up close, which isn't surprising―the country is full of incredible historic treasures and stunning landscapes. Which is the reason why we're urging you to take a look at its cities. Vibrant, bustling, and full of life and character, one shouldn't just view them as gateways to China's ancient historical glory.

The best months to visit urban China are March/April and October/November as a result of good weather and marginally fewer crowds. May to October is the local and international tourist season in China, as the winter months from November to February can be distinctly chilly. The maximum crowds flock here in September and early October, which translates to jostling crowds and rate hikes for possibly everything. Chinese cities have gained notoriety for their sky-rocketing pollution levels; though the government is taking steps to keep things under control, you'll find almost all urban areas shrouded under a blanket of smog all year round.
Shanghai City
Shanghai is China's largest city, whose dazzling bright lights keep reminding visitors of the fact that this is where the real action is. A sprawling metropolis, Shanghai is not just about the sky scraping towers―it's got Art Deco structures, Buddhist temples, cathedrals, synagogues, shopping, street food, gardens, art galleries, street performances, and more.
Getting here and around
The Shanghai Pudong International Airport serves the city, whereas the Hongqiao Airport handles domestic traffic. Getting around in Shanghai is akin to traveling in any other major city of the world―the cabs are great, but too expensive, and you can never hail one during rush hour. The local bus service has nothing to tom-tom about, but can be quite crowded. Taking the subway is your best option, as they are efficient and affordable.
How to rock Shanghai
The Bund shanghai city
The Bund is Shanghai's premier haunt for both, tourists and locals alike. The area is home to the city's most exclusive retail stores, restaurants, and hotels. It is also a fabulous place to admire Shanghai's neon-blitz landscape at night.
Shanghai Museum
Shanghai Museum is the best place to experience the country's rich heritage come alive. The structure of the building itself resembles a Chinese ding vessel, and houses the Ancient Chinese Sculpture Gallery, Chinese Calligraphy Gallery, displays of ceramics in the Zande Lou Gallery, along with paintings, seals, jade, Ming and Qing furniture, ancient coins and costumes.
Yuyuan Garden Shanghai
The Yuyuan Garden is an excellent example of the Ming garden design. Summer and spring is the best time to be here, with the fragrant Magnolia grandiflora in full bloom. The gorgeous cherry blossoms also mark their presence in these seasons, with thousands flocking to the garden on weekends to witness the glorious sights. The Huxinting Teahouse, one of the most famous in Shanghai, is also in the vicinity.
Beijing City In China
Beijing is a mellifluous amalgam of the old and new, where the Forbidden City and the Olympic Village stand close, with hundreds of years separating them. It's amazing and exciting to be in a city that has a never-exhaustible supply of attractions for those who come to visit it.
Getting here and around
Beijing Capital International Airport is the main international airport serving the city, and is located 20 miles northeast of Beijing's city center. Beijing Subway and Beijing Bus (including the trolleybuses) bear the brunt of passenger traffic. These are a great way to move within the city, but be pre-warned about the massive crowds.
Unraveling Beijing's secrets
Forbidden City
The Forbidden City owes its name to the bizarre regal protocol which kept it sheltered from the bourgeois for no less than 500 years. Located in Beijing's city center, the complex was home to the mighty Qing Emperors. Inside you'll find China's largest complex of ancient buildings, replete with modern restaurants, ATM's, and cafes, all of it perfectly blended to suit the modern traveler's needs.
The Great Wall of China
Beijing's history can be traced back up to three millennia, and its many ancient structures stand testimony to this fact. The Great Wall of China passes through the city's northern periphery, and most tourists religiously make the trip from the city's urban center to view this magnificent marvel up close.
Beijing's other notable attractions include the Tiananmen Square, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China, the Monument to the People's Heroes, and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, along with several temples, and over a hundred museums.
Tianjin In China
As one of China's (internationally) lesser-known cities, visitors usually tend to give Tianjin a complete miss. In fact, it doesn't even show up on most tailored itineraries. Agreed, it does lack the punch of Shanghai, but isn't any less interesting. Tianjin's European fingerprint dates back to the 19th century, when the British established a naval base here to profit their opium trade. Then came the French, followed by the Germans, and finally the Italians, who stayed a little beyond the culmination of WWII.
Getting here and around
Tianjin is just an hour away by train from Beijing, located on the northern coast of China. Keeping with the European imprint, this was the first Chinese city to have a tram service, which was withdrawn for a while, but is operational now. There is a Metro line as well, but it is recommended that you rent a car to get around, or even explore the city on foot.
When in Tianjin ...
Liberation Bridge
... you have to learn to enjoy the subliminal. This is where you'll find the cityscape dotted with exemplary models of European colonial architecture. Yes, the skyscrapers are there too, since the city majorly pulled up its socks before the Olympians landed in Beijing.

The Italian Concession is the Italian version of the western Chinatown. The locals tend to throng here, feasting on European fare, and probably imagining they're actually in Europe.

The Treaty Port area was the erstwhile British Concession. This is where you'll get some sterling views of the city's skyline reflecting in the waterfront. Take an evening stroll on the Liberation Bridge to enjoy it best.
Chongqing sits pretty, mostly under a thick blanket of fog, on the steep hills overlooking the confluence of the Yangtze and Jialing River. But the urban Chinese trademark of neon-blingyskyscrapers lights up the evenings, and slips you back into reality. Its proximity to Sichuan means that the spicy cuisine culture has seeped into the city. Chongqing is where most tourists begin their Three Gorges cruise from, and inevitable bypass exploring the city. Here's what they miss.
Getting here and around
Chongqing is central China's urban hub, located at a distance of around 1000 miles south west from Beijing. Jiangbei Airport is the airport closest to the city. Internal transport in the city is fairly good, with most tourists preferring to rent cars to get around. While there are 10 bridges that help you cross the Jialing and Yangtze rivers, you'll also find cable car lines that serve the purpose.
Checking out Chongqing
The Chongqing Museum is China's premier underwater museum. Tourists coming here can go down to the underwater channel which has sight-seeing windows and enjoy the Baiheliang inscriptions through the glass porthole.
Great Hall of the People
The Great Hall of the People is a large complex that encompasses a grand auditorium, the People's Square, and the People's Hotel―all of which are inspired by the traditional Chinese architecture of the Ming and Qing dynasty. Besides being a central attraction in Chongqing, it is a venue for political conferences and traditional operas.
Xian is a symbol of China's fairy tale past; much before the spotlight shifted to the starker Beijing. The Xian of yore was all about kings and courtesans, poets and monks, caravans and trade―and speaking of trade, it was the starting point of the Silk Route. Today's Xian has a few bearings left from its glorious past; from the Terracotta Army to its Muslim Quarters.
Getting here and around
Xian is located in northwestern China, about 440 miles from Chongqing and 670 miles from Beijing. Xian Xianyang International Airport is the largest in the region, located 25 miles from the city center. Locals prefer traveling by buses within the city, and electric bikes are a popular option among the youth. Xian's Metro service began in 2011, and is currently being built.
Xian takes you back in time
Terracotta Army
Xian's biggest attraction is obviously the Terracotta Army, along with the First Emperor's Tomb. It is believed that the vast nation of China was unified under the reign of Emperor Qin, whose capital city was Xian. The Emperor's tomb lies alongside his massive army of soldiers, and remains China's biggest attraction after the Great Wall.
Guangzhou bridge
You may know it as Canton, home of the delicious Cantonese cuisine. True to its name, Guangzhou has the most number of restaurants per capita in the entire nation. But the city is not just about its lip-smacking food culture. It also happens to be one of China's biggest center of industrial and foreign trade.
Getting here and around
Guangzhou is southern China's largest city, about 1340 miles from Beijing, and 100 miles northwest of Hong Kong. Also known as the 'mask city', its hot and humid weather is conducive to mutations that cause viral infections each year. The Baiyun International Airport that serves the city is the second busiest in China. Internal transport is quick and easy, with an expansive metro and bus service. Around 85% of buses and taxis in Guangzhou are LPG-fueled, making it the highest number in the world.
Making the most of Guangzhou
Guangzhou's humid climate is conducive to the growth of flowering plants that bloom here, all year round. No wonder then, that the city was bestowed the fitting epithet of the City of Flowers.

The Temple of Six Banyan Trees is another favored attraction in Guangzhou, with the complex including a towering pagoda, lush green trees, and other historical relics.
As one of China's most livable cities, Chengdu has a lot going for it. And like most other cities in China, it is in the throes of a major makeover. Currently stuck in a pimply-teenager phase, you'll find sparkling high-rises amidst traditional wooden houses; a weird mish-mash indeed. But we aren't really here to gawk at the city, are we? No we're not.
Getting here and around
Chengdu is about 1200 miles from Beijing and 300 miles northwest of Chongqing. Its airport, the Chengdu Shuangliu International, is located 10 miles southwest of the city center. The city is bicycle-friendly to a great extent, as the flat terrain makes for some easy routes. Besides, there is a decent bus service in place, and you always have the option of renting a car.
Discover Chengdu's charms
Giant Panda
The Giant Panda Breeding and Research Base is located further north from the city center. This is the residence of China's most precious treasure―giant and red pandas. The purpose of the center is to "encourage" breeding among these famously reclusive creatures, along with providing top-notch care for these endangered beauties.
As vast as China is, you ought to make multiple visits in order to completely experience what the country has on offer. So when do you make a visit? Well, China is a country for all seasons, so right about now seems like a good time.