From pillar-like structures in lush jungles to temples and palaces on towering peaks, China is a country filled with enchanting surprises. With ancient cities dotted across the country, from Shanghai to Beijing, there are countless China landmarks to explore. If you’re not big on historical landmarks, the country is recognized for its natural and modern landmarks, too.
Enjoy some classic experiences like the Terracotta Warriors and the Great Wall of China, or walk the gobsmacking glass footpath at the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Bridge. Visit ancient temples that hold some of the country’s finest treasures and where emperors once lay their heads.
You’d truly need a lifetime, or what would feel like it, to explore all that China has to offer. So, take a squizz through this list at some of the country’s incredible remnants, some being the most famous landmarks in the world.
Table of Contents
- China Landmarks
- 1. The Forbidden City
- 2. The Great Wall of China
- 3. The Terracotta Army Museum
- 4. Dujiangyan Panda Base
- 5. Li River
- 6. Potala Palace
- 7. Leshan Giant Buddha
- 8. Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
- 9. Temple of Heaven
- 10. Mount Everest
- 11. Summer Palace
- 12. The Bund
- 13. Huanglong Pools
- A Footnote: China Landmarks
1. The Forbidden City
Located in Beijing, The Forbidden City is an ancient palace and architectural complex composed of over 90 palace compounds, making it the largest in the world. Built-in 1406 and officially occupied in 1420, the enormous imperial palace saw through both the Ming and Qing dynasties.
The complex consists of many buildings and a near 1,000 rooms, each containing well-preserved artefacts and furniture. It paints a detailed picture of what life was like 500 years ago (during the dynastic rule).
The imperial palace covers some 720,000 square meters of property and is protected by a 10-meter high wall with watchtowers. While it could take hours to explore these grounds, some highlights include:
- The Hall of Supreme Harmony, a 35-meter-tall building housing the royal throne
- The marble Golden River Bridges
- The Palace Museum, hosting a collection of art and artefacts
The grounds’ opening times may vary, from 8.30 am to 5 pm in April to October, and 8.30 am to 4.30 pm in November to March, and it’s closed on Mondays.
2. The Great Wall of China
What’s a visit to China without seeing the magnificent Great Wall of China? Also known as the ‘Long Wall’ or ‘Changcheng,’ it was constructed during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Located in northern China, the long structure stretches over 21,196 kilometres from the Shanhaiguan fortress in the east to Jiayuguan city in the west.
The historical landmark is the star attraction in China and is one of the country’s most visited places. If you are planning to visit the Great Wall of China, the best and most preserved section is at Mutianyu in Beijing.
This restored section provides its visitors with fewer crowds, stunning scenery, and comfortable walking paths. There are also cable cars leading visitors directly to this part of the wall, making it easily accessible. I highly suggest taking the Mutianyu Great Wall day tour to experience this bucket list experience.
3. The Terracotta Army Museum
During the 1970s, while digging wells on the outskirts of Xi’an, farmers stumbled across what was to be China’s most incredible archaeological find: the Terracotta warriors. Dating back over 2,200 years, this army was designed to guard the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty’s tomb.
The Emperor (Quin Shi Huang) built a mausoleum with 8,000 life-sized clay soldiers, 600 horses and chariots, each meticulously designed to ‘guard’ him in the afterlife. Take a walking tour and learn about the history of this eighth wonder of the world.
The Emperor Qinshihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum is open every day from 8.30 am to 5 pm. (Psst…it’s best to arrive early to avoid the crowds).
4. Dujiangyan Panda Base
China’s giant pandas have become one of the must-see attractions when visiting the country. Situated in Mt. Qingcheng Town, northwest of Chengdu, the Dujiangyan Panda Base is a wildlife preservation landmark. The centre is over 51 hectares and includes medical labs, monitoring enclosures, and an animal hospital.
Everybody loves cute and cuddly pandas, and the China Conservation and Research Center for Giant Pandas allows its visitors to get up close to these adorable bears.
Guests are welcome to join the volunteering program to help assist with these endangered animals. The program is from 9 am to 4 pm each day. Alternatively, take a private tour of this base to see these cute creatures at play.
5. Li River
China has some incredible natural landscape, lakes, and rivers, and The Li River is nothing short of spectacular. Located in Guilin, southern China, the river runs for 83 kilometres, starting in Xing’an and flows north into the Yangtze.
The famous landmark can also be seen printed at the back of the 20-yuan bill. The image was taken at the site near the Xingping Dock in Yangshuo.
It’s a popular place to take a riverboat cruise to admire the lush green scenery and glorious karst peaks. Visitors can also go hiking, bamboo rafting, or strolling along the river’s edge admiring the wildlife, such as the water buffalo.
6. Potala Palace
Located in the city of Lhasa, Tibet, Potala Palace is the highest ancient palace in the world, housing thousands of statues and shrines. It sits on top of the Moburi, or Red Hill. And for centuries, it was the centre of political and religious power and contained many treasures.
The dzong fortress, which was once the winter palace of successive Dalai Lamas from 1649 to 1959, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and museum.
The Red Palace, the first of the two palaces, was built in the 17th century and contained a series of important shrines. These can be located in the Enthronement Hall. Other highlights here include several halls devoted to the religious pilgrims and tombs for the Dalai Lamas.
Completed in 1648, the White Palace is equally grand. Here you’ll see the untouched sleeping quarters, reception rooms, and study areas of the Dalai Lamas before they fled Tibet.
Travellers come from around the world to see this centuries-old symbol of Buddhist belief and Tibetan history. Opening times are from 9.30 to 2 pm every day.
7. Leshan Giant Buddha
Carved from stone and standing 71 meters tall, the Leshan Giant Buddha sits cosily in the injunction of two rivers – the Dadu and Min River – near Leshan. Development began in the 8th century by a monk named Hai Tong, and today it’s the largest and highest stone Buddha statue in the world.
The statue was sculpted over 90 years ago and was believed to bring safety and peace to the area.
The enormous Buddha is easily accessible from Chengdu.
8. Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
It’s not difficult to see how filmmaker James Cameron drew inspiration for his box office hit, “Avatar,” from the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in the Hunan province. Forming part of the Wulingyuan Scenic Area, this park is China’s first national forest park, and in 1992 it was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Feast your eyes on astounding natural beauty, like the many unique pillar-like rock formations that look straight out of a sci-fi movie. One of the most recognizable pillars – the Avatar Hallelujah Mountain – stands at an impressive 1,080 meters high.
There are plenty of organized tours showcasing the park and a number of its new attractions. A notable highlight is the Bailong Elevator or the ‘Hundred Dragons Sky Lift.’ It’s a glass elevator built alongside a cliff face that elevates groups of up to 50 people 326 meters into the air – in under two minutes!
Another star attraction is the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge. The glass footpath opened in 2016 and is the world’s longest and tallest pedestrian glass bridge. It stands at a faint 300 meters above the ground and extends 430 meters along the cliff face.
The park’s visiting times vary according to which attraction you’re visiting. So, make sure to call ahead before you visit.
9. Temple of Heaven
Located in Dongcheng, southeast of Beijing, The Temple of Heaven was, historically, the most important imperial temple in China. The beautiful complex was built from 1406 to 1420, during the reign of the Ming and Qing dynasties, who were also responsible for the construction of the Forbidden City.
The dynastic rulers used the complex to hold ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for good harvests. In 1998, the temple was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and described as a “masterpiece of architecture and landscape design..”
I highly suggest visiting the Temple of Heaven to see its standing glory for yourself. The gates are open Monday to Sunday, from 6 am to 8 pm.
10. Mount Everest
Mount Everest is the highest mountain in the Himalayan mountain range and the highest point on earth. With its peak standing at 8,848 meters above sea level, every year thousands of visitors are drawn to Mount Everest. For most, their goal is to successfully climb to its summit, crossing the China-Nepal border.
It’s a famous landmark for both China and Nepal. While Mount Everest Base Camp is located on the Nepal side, many argue the best view of the towering mountain is from the Shigatse Prefecture in Tibet. At the base camp, you can see Everest 8 km from the Rongbuk Monastery. It’s the highest monastery in the world, sitting 5,009 meters above sea level in the Dzakar Chu valley.
The weather is essential for mountaineers, and the best time to hike and camp is from May to October when there is a good chance of clear days and starry nights. If you’re not an avid hiker, there are plenty of helicopter tours to see Mount Everest and its majestic landscape.
If you do decide to visit Mount Everest on China’s side, be prepared to be awed by the spectacular scenery and experience of the Tibetan culture.
11. Summer Palace
Located in northwestern Beijing, the Summer Palace is one of the best-preserved gardens in the world. Over 270 years old, the palace was the summer home to imperial families. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the palace gardens are said to have the most stunning landscape design.
There are plenty of activities to do and things to see in these beautiful gardens. Some highlights include walking along the Long Corridor, boating on Kunming Lake, and enjoying some traditional Chinese performances in the ancient theatre.
When visiting the Summer Palace gardens and pavilions, you’ll find outstanding serenity and beauty. The palace opens from 7 am to 6 pm, and it’s recommended to put aside 3-6 hours to explore these gardens.
12. The Bund
The Bund is located along the Huangpu River and is considered one of Shanghai’s most scenic landmarks. Also known as Zhongshan Dong Yi Road, it’s a 1.5-kilometre-long street that stretches from Yan’an to the Garden Bridge on the Suzhou River in the north and to the east the Huangpu River.
The street presents itself as a cluster of old Shanghai institutions, boasting a colourful 100-year-old display of colonial history. Walk along the waterfront promenade and observe buildings in an array of architectural styles and some stunning vistas of skyscrapers. If you’re a history or photography enthusiast, this place is a must-visit when exploring China’s landmarks.
The street is incredible during the day, and even more so at night with the buildings lit up. Some highlights to look out for along this street include:
- The museum in Astor House Hotel
- The mosaic ceiling of the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank
- The movie poster gallery in the Peace Hotel
- The Lovers’ Wall
I highly suggest booking a tour to catch the best places along this street.
13. Huanglong Pools
The Huanglong Pools is a historic interest area in Minshan Mountain Range, in northwest Sichuan. It’s a stunningly scenic area located in the Huanglong National Park. The park is famous for beautiful valleys, colourful lakes, mountains, and virgin forests dotted with snowfall, and of course, its crystal clear pools.
The area got its name – yellow dragon – from looking, at a distance, like a golden dragon from its special geographical features formed from travertine and stretching across the valley.
The area is incredibly beautiful and sacred. The park is open from 8 am to 5 pm, and the best months to visit Huanglong is between April to November.
A Footnote: China Landmarks
China is one of the world’s top bucket list destinations with thousands of exciting landmarks to explore. From amusement parks and natural gardens to ancient temples and historical monuments, the country has it all.
So, now that we’ve scratched the surface of China’s landmarks, it’s best to find your top places to visit and get packing. Discover the land of glittering lakes, ancient cities, and rugged mountains.
You might enjoy reading my article on the landmarks of Russia.
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