The Middle Kingdom
Awaken your senses with some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, enjoy the fascinating culture and explore historical legacies from one of the world’s oldest civilisations. Home to imperial palaces and gardens, exotic food and amazing cities, China is sure to provide you with memorable experiences found nowhere else on Earth.
China is a vast country, and it will be impossible to see everything without making multiple trips, but there are some cities and sights that must be on everyone’s travel list: The Great Wall, The Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven in Beijing, The Terracotta Army in Xi’an, The Yangtze River, and the Li River, the Huangshan Yellow Mountains, the Potala Palace in Tibet, the Bund in Shanghai and the Giant Pandas in Chengdu.
China has 48 UNESCO World Heritage Sites as well as over 5,000 years of history, arts and natural sights to be explored. The landscapes are incredibly diverse with high mountain ranges, frozen wastelands, warm tropics, breathtaking lakes and winding rivers. The cities are both ancient and vibrant, and the people warm and friendly.
The best time to visit China is during spring (April-May) and autumn (September-October) as this avoids the harsh, cold winters and the hot, humid summers.
Top Cities Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai Languages Mandarin is spoken by 70% of the population, and the rest speak several different dialects such as Cantonese (Yue) and Hunanese (Xiang). English is not widely spoken with the exception of the larger cities and tourist areas. Currency Renminbi (“people’s money”) and yuan. Renminbi is the exchange currency, and the yuan is used in accounting and finance. Confusingly, they can be referred to interchangeably. Time Zone Time zone is (GMT+8 hours), making China 8 hours ahead of London during the winter (GMT) and 7 hours ahead during British Summer Time. Drinks Imported beer: £2.00/$2.80 Domestic beer: £0.80/$2.20 Water: £0.25/$0.30
Meals Inexpensive restaurant: £2.25/$3.15 Meal for 2, mid-range, 3-course: £18.75/$26.10 Hostels The average cost of a shared room is around £5.00/$7.00 per night. Hotels Expect to pay around £47.00/$65.35 for a 3-star hotel and £125.00/$173.80 for a 5-star hotel. Tipping Tipping is not expected, and in some cases it may be seen as disrespectful. Taxi drivers do not expect a tip on top of the usual fare, but it is common to round up the fare to save everyone having to deal with small change
Taxi Taxis are usually found in ranks and side streets as they are not permitted to stop on busy streets. Note that very few drivers speak English so you should have your destination written down in Chinese and keep the phone number of your destination handy. Check that the meter is on before your journey starts and always request a receipt. Prices vary by city but, as an example, in Beijing, the first 3 km will cost around £1.45/$2.00. In some tourist areas, this could be up to £2.25/$3.15. It’s also possible to hire a taxi and negotiate a price for half-day or full-day trips. Public transport Getting around China does require a bit of planning due to the distances involved and availability of tickets. Air travel is the fastest but expect delays, as these are common. Train travel is efficient and reasonably priced while buses are slow, cheaper and sometimes the only option of reaching more remote locations. There are sleeper buses for long-distance routes although they are basic. Note that some roads are in poor condition and accidents or breakdowns are common. In the cities, one of the best ways to get around is by bicycle, and many hotels or hostels will rent them out to visitors. Alternatively, you can take a bus reasonably cheaply for less than £0.30/$0.40 but be prepared for the journey to be slow, packed and fairly chaotic. However, many of the larger cities are revamping their transportation networks, and the metro systems and light railways provide efficient ways of getting around. Highlights The Great Wall is probably China’s most iconic symbol. You can visit from Beijing, but there are many other sections worth hiking throughout northern China. Try the Henan province to see where it meets the sea or the Gansu province where you can enjoy incredible views of the Gobi desert. Take time in Beijing to visit both the Temple of Heaven and the Forbidden City: the latter houses the former imperial palaces and overlooks Tiananmen Square. Admire the million valuable art pieces in the museum and enjoy the traditional Chinese architecture. Head to Xi’an to see the Terracotta Army with its 8,000 warriors as well as hundreds of chariots and horses. Don’t miss the opportunity to cycle along the top of the old city walls for a fantastic view over the city. Visit the autonomous province of Tibet (this is best done with a tour group as you need a permit from the Chinese Government). Explore the Potala Palace or see the Rongbuk Monastery at the base of Mount Everest. Explore China’s biggest city, Shanghai, and its classical cityscape at the Bund. Stroll along the waterfront, enjoy a river cruise or take the Sightseeing Tunnel. Enjoy a view over the city from the Oriental Pearl TV Tower or from the Shanghai Tower and catch up on shopping on Nanjing Road. Huangshan means Yellow Mountain and the scenery at this UNESCO World Heritage Site is straight out of a painting. Take a few days to hike through the mountain area and enjoy the best views at sunrise. Take a trip on the Yangtze River and discover temples and archaeological sites (including one underwater), stunning gorges and pagodas. There are even hanging coffins and a ghost city! Enjoy a boat ride on Hangzhou’s famous West Lake which is just breathtaking, particularly at sunrise and sunset, or enjoy a cruise on the Li River in Guilin and admire the beauty of the karst mountains. No trip to China is complete without seeing the famous giant pandas at Chengdu’s breeding and research base. Here you can see them in their natural habitat and take a sneak peek at the newborns in the nursery.
China was known as the Middle Kingdom during the Zhou Dynasty when they believed they were the centre of all civilisation.
China shares borders with a total of 14 countries – it is the fourth-largest country in the world after Russia, Canada and the USA.
One-fifth of the world’s population lives in China; most people live on the Eastern side, as the west mostly comprises the Himalayan Mountains (the highest in the world).
The Shanghai Tower is the tallest building in China and the second-tallest in the world.
The Gobi desert is the largest in Asia and stretches over China and Mongolia.
The Great Wall of China is the longest in the world at over 8,850 km long and was once the border of the Chinese Empire.
The Yangtze River is the longest river in Asia at 6,300 kilometres long, and the third-longest in the world.
Fortune cookies did not originate in China but may have come from Japan or even California.
Red symbolises happiness in China, which is why you will see it everywhere and certainly at major festivals.
The national sport in China is table tennis.
Shanghai is home to a chopstick museum with some 2,000 pairs on display going as far back as the Tang Dynasty.