On your first trip to China, you’ll want to see all the main attractions. After all, this might be a once in a lifetime experience, so you won’t want to miss out on anything. Well, if you’ve looked at map recently, you might have noticed that China is a pretty big place. While seeing everything you might want to see might not be possible (unless you had multiple weeks in the country), make sure to not miss these highlights.
If you can only go to one city, go to Beijing. China’s capital city has it all: history, culture, prestige, and even some decent scenery to the north around the Great Wall. Flying into the city will be easy as it is a major hub for many airlines. Staying here will offer the chance to see the amazing transformation China has undergone in the 21st century as, standing side-by-side with old Beijing’s crimson palace complexes, are the city’s impressive skylines.
Without question, the main reason Beijing is the perfect destination for first timers in China is that it offers the best attractions to visit:
- The Forbidden City. Located at the very heart of Beijing, the largest and best preserved ancient architectural complex in the world was off limits for 500 years. Now you can pay ¥40 ($6.50) for an automatically activated audio tours in more than 40 languages.
- Temple of Heaven. Considered the most holy of Beijing’s imperial temples, this is where Ming and Qing emperors performed solemn rituals for bountiful harvests. It is now listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Relic.
- Summer Palace. The emperors’ magnificent garden retreat offers a stark contrast to the overpowering flatland of the Forbidden City with its huge lake and hilltop views offering a pastoral escape into traditional Chinese landscapes.
- Ming Tombs. About 50 kilometers northwest of Beijing lies the majestic mausoleums of 13 Ming Dynasty emperors. The tombs have been nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- The Great Wall of China. Visiting the Great Wall on a trip to China goes without saying, but first timers should especially focus on the world-renowned Badaling section. Leave Beijing early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid crowds and have great light for photos. If you can, avoid going on weekends, especially in the summer months.
Other tips first timer should consider and be aware of are:
- Unless you want to take part in the celebrations, avoid traveling to China during their major holidays: Chinese New Year (early February), Labor Day week (May 1–7), and National Day week (October 1–7).
- Winter is the low season, so flights and accommodation will be cheaper. But it’s a trade off for warm weather.
- Tibet, the Muslim northwest, and Inner Mongolia are not recommended for a first visit, as they are not representative of China. The culture is vastly different and could be considered a separate country in these regions.
- Not speaking Mandarin or Cantonese won’t be that big of an issue. Many Chinese, especially in tourist areas and big cities, speak very good English.
- Crime against foreigners is very rare in China. You should not feel threatened or afraid.
- Pollution, both water and air, is a problem in China. Those with asthma or other respiratory problems might want to consider the risk. Bottled water is available everywhere and should always be drank over tap water.