Beijing - Capital beauty
It is hard to make a list of the hotspots in Beijing because apart from being the capital and the political centre of China, traditionally hosting the Emperor, there are too many enchanting places worth seeing in Beijing, and thus a mere list is just not enough.
However, there is a short list of places which should definitely not be missed. It includes the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven, the Lama Temple, and Mao Zedong Mausoleum (the Mao-soleum!!)
The Great Wall is very near by (no more than 70 km if you go to Badaling!) but you need to choose which scenic spot of the Wall you intend to visit. Be careful, some parts are just for true hikers.
A suggestion to keep in mind is to avoid National Holidays unless you love to share a cheek to cheek visit to the Harmony Pavillion with thousands of tourists. Try to be an early bird!
Charming Shanghai and its environs
Shanghai has always been considered China’s business capital. The Shanghainese are known worldwide for their ability in doing business. Nevertheless, Shanghai is a very glamorous city. Shanghai has different hotspots to be seen, both in the city centre such as the Bund, Shanghai Museum, Yu Garden, as well as outside the city (just like Zhouzhuang). Even if the hub for contemporary Chinese artists remains Beijing, you may enjoy very interesting galleries of contemporary art in Shanghai. It is not to be forgotten that Shanghai has many modern buildings which have been designed by the most famous architects in the world, especially in the New Pudong Area. Last but not least, in 2010 Shanghai hosted the World Expo exhibition, and there are still some pavilions which can be visited.
It is also worthwhile to spend few days in cities which might be reached by train from Shanghai in a few hours. Cities such as Suzhou (the Venice of East) and Hangzhou are well known in Chinese popular tradition as being the paradise on Earth according to the Chinese proverb “上说天堂，下说苏杭”. Moreover, there are small villages in the surroundings such as Tongli, Zhouzhuang, Zhujiajiao you should keep in mind!
Central China: tradition vs. modernity
It is pretty hard to choose among many fascinating Chinese traditional and modern cities, but as for the central part of China, we preferred to propose an interesting confrontation between two big cities well known also to Europeans: Xi’An and Chongqing.
Xi’An is definitely one of the biggest ancient art discoveries in the whole world: the terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi. Discovered in 1974 by a farmer, the museum shows only a part of the soldier formations that look after the eternal rest of the first Chinese emperor during imperial dynasties. But Xi’An is also a city which manifests a melting pot culture in the heart of China: besides churches, you will find a pretty ancient mosque (from the 8th century and still a place of worship) and at least two pagodas which date back to from the 7th century.
On the other hand, 700 km south of Xi’An, there is a city which is experiencing a real progress from many points of view. Chongqing’s reputation for tourism relies on the Chang Jiang (Yangze river) and its three Gorges. In the past, the Chang Jiang Three Gorges Cruise was always a must for Chinese and foreigner tourists who wanted to spend time enjoying the amazing landscape. Right now after the construction of the dam, the Three Gorges are still a huge attraction mostly because they represent one of the most enormous human architectural projects with a tremendous impact on the landscape and environment.
Moreover, being one of five municipalities and a very important centre for economic development, Chongqing is a pretty modern city with amazing night views with its skyscrapers and hilly landscapes.
Guangzhou and its surrounding is one of the most important industrial centres in China.
For those who will spend their entire time in China there, Guangzhou offers a good taste of what real China is, with all its contradictions.
You will enjoy the modernity of this city well known for its famous fair, being a hub for many foreign companies, and you will have a taste of Chinese culture by visiting the Six Banyan Trees Temple, a cruise on the Pearl river and Yuexu park.
Do not forget that Guangzhou is a perfect point to reach Shenzhen and Hong Kong in a couple of hours.
China... what else?
China has 47 sites included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, and 55 sites submitted as tentatively being included in the World heritage Sites.
This is the reason why it is very complex to identify the most important hotspots: the list will always miss some delightful landscapes or sites which are worth visiting.
Just to mention a few:
Yugang Grottoes; Longmen Grottoes, Wutai Mountain, Old Town of Lijiang, Potala Palace.
Keep in mind
As general suggestion, it is fundamental to consider that during the national holidays the Chinese are used to travel all around China and you may find yourself get caught in endless lines, and when inside a museum, pavilion or pagoda, you will risk not enjoying the moment at all.
It can be a good idea also to hire an official personal guide which will help you discovering the deepest corners of Chinese culture, art and beauty. In the major cities, it is pretty common to find a guide who can speak your native language: just make sure that you reserve this service on time since the guides speaking less spoken languages may already be hired.
If you book a tour, the guide will be in charge of finding the tickets for you and you are supposed to pay for his/her admission when the tour is booked.
If you intend to buy a ticket by yourself, you just have to bring cash with you, and be ready to wait in a line.
Last but not least, check if in the city you are planning to visit there is a pass for entering different attractions available, for example the Beijing Museum pass.