China: The best of UNESCO
Here’s our guide to some of the best China has to offer, including where to stay and how to include them in your trip.
From brilliantly preserved ancient towns that date back to Imperial China, to soaring temples that rise from the cities, there are an incredible 48 cultural and natural UNESCO World Heritage sites in China that even include panda sanctuaries and wild rivers.
Summer Palace, an Imperial Garden in Beijing
One of China’s greatest symbols, Beijing’s Summer Palace was built in 1750 and remains a masterpiece of Chinese landscape design. We believe it merits a full day exploring if you have time, with numerous intricate halls and pavilions that lead into the Imperial Garden. The Summer Palace was actually vandalised by Anglo-French troops during the second Opium war but it since has had no expense spared in resorting it into what is now an incredible marvel. Take a look at our The Summer Palace and Imperial Garden guided experience for more information.
Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries
Home to more than 30% of the world’s pandas, Sichauan’s Giant Panda Sanctuaries cover seven nature reserves and nine scenic parks. These are the most important sites for captive breeding and are essential for this highly endangered species to survive. Head a few hours out of Chengdu to one of the panda sanctuaries, and get close to one of these incredible creatures. We recommend Bisheng Gorge Panda Sanctuary for something truly natural and authentic.
Old Town of Lijiang (1997)
The old town of Lijang is one of China’s best preserved historic landscapes with a network of cobbled streets, canals, wells and pools that were built to provide water for drinking, washing clothes and washing food. The town is brimming with charm and sits beneath the snowy peaks of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and represents a sophisticated fusion of architectural styles. UNESCO argue that it offers an ‘urban landscape of outstanding quality’ and we don’t disagree. It’s one of our favourite destinations in China and we have carefully crafted a guided experience, Old Town of Lijang, to get the most out of it.
The Temple of Heaven
One of Asia’s most unique and ancient complexes, the Temple of Heaven symbolises the relationship between earth and heaven and is in fact an altar. It’s a phenomenal medieval site that dates back to the 15th century. Due to its popularity it can get crowded, so we definitely recommend seeing it with one of our expert guides, as walking around aimlessly doesn’t do it justice. Take a look at our guided experience, The Temple of Heaven, for more information.
Ancient City of Ping Yao
The beguiling ancient city of Ping Yao is an exceptionally well preserved and utterly charming walled town that dates back to the 14th century. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997, Ping Yao has escaped distasteful modern development found in some other parts of China. It offers the most wonderful display of architectural styles that changed through Imperial China over the course of five centuries. We particularly love the ancient walls, streets, lanes, shops, temples, dwellings and the imposing buildings that were once used for banking. We’ve designed a guided tour with an expert, Pingyao’s Ancient City Walls, so that you get the most out of it.
The Great Wall
Known as the ‘Long Wall of Ten Thousand Li’ in China and ‘The Great Wall of China’ to English speakers, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of China’s most iconic, attracting thousands of visitors each year. The wall was built continuously from the 3rd century BC to the 17th century AD as a great military defence project of successive Chinese empires. It stretches from Shanhaiguan by the yellow sea to Jiayugan Fortunately some of the best preserved parts are within a day trip from Beijing. We highly recommend our walk along the Great Wall to get the most from it.
West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou
Inspiring poets, artists and scholars since the 9th century, The West Lake and its dreamy surrounding hills were designated a UNESCO Work Heritage site in 2011 due its unparalleled scenic beauty but also the profound influence the area has had on garden design in China, Japan and Korea over several centuries. The area is peppered with temples, pagodas, pavilions, ornamental trees and gardens.
The Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor
Undiscovered until 1974, the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor is the burial site of the first unifier of China; he is buried surrounded by the famous terracotta warriors. This is one of the greatest archaeological finds of our time and not to be missed. Nearby you’ll also find the terracotta warriors of the Han dynasty that are a little smaller in size.