Think you know China’s hotspots well? Then you'd better think again. From learning Chinese calligraphy and kite-making in Beijing, watching the incredible face-changing shows in Chengdu and seeing the slow side of Shanghai, we’ve put together an off-the-beaten track guide of things to do in China, as recommended by our Asia expert Georgina.
Get creative in Beijing
China’s bustling capital is mostly renowned for the iconic Great Wall and crispy Peking duck - but there is more to it than that. Meander along narrow hutongs where you can see traditional houses and monasteries. Immerse yourself in the culture by learning the soothing art of Chinese calligraphy, perfecting your brush strokes and technique. If you’re feeling creative, you can also learn to make colourful Chinese kites, which is a great activity for families in particular. Of course, you’ll want to see the Great Wall while you’re there - but why not experience it in a slightly different way by tobogganing your way down it instead?
Go on a gastronomical tour and see a face-changing show in Chengdu
Pandas are treated like kings in Chengdu and many visitors head to Sichuan’s capital mainly to see these adorable bears, but it also isn’t a bad spot for a gastronomical tour. As well as visiting traditional teahouses and enjoying a ceremonial brew, you can sample some spicy Sichuan cuisine and visit the Sichuan Cuisine Museum where you can take a slow-cooking class and learn to make local delicacies. Another little-known attraction in Chengdu is the mind-bending face-changing show at the Sichuan Opera which involves highly-skilled dancers changing masks really fast seemingly without touching them.
Immerse yourself in Naxi culture in Lijiang
Lijiang is renowned for its UNESCO Heritage Old Town which boasts a unique array of ancient, rickety-looking wooden buildings. Slightly further away to the north of the Old Town is the relatively unknown Baisha village, far from the crowds, where you can immerse yourself in the Naxi culture, learn about Chinese needlework at the Embroidery School and take a look at the fascinating Baisha murals from the Ming and Qing dynasties, made by Han, Tibetan and Naxi painters.
See the slower side of Shanghai
Behind the modern face of Shanghai, epitomised by the futuristic skyscrapers of Pudong, lies the historic French Concession, where life goes at a slower pace. The charming tree-lined streets of this characterful Shanghai neighbourhood offers a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis. Take a stroll and discover shops, mansions and restaurants where you can sample pork buns or a hot pot. Of course, while in Shanghai you can’t forgo a visit to The Bund, right by the waterfront.
Go on lakeside hikes in Shangri-La
As soon you enter Shangri-La, you can taste its distinctively Tibetan and spiritual atmosphere, with plenty of gilded monasteries to visit, with one of the most well-known being the Songzanlin Monastery (also known as the Guihua Monastery). This magnificent building is located at the foot of Foping Mountain and houses a number of Buddhist frescoes. However, this isn’t just a place for art and architectural buffs and culture vultures. The temple is located near the Lamuyang Lake, with swathes of greenery on its banks, which is a scenic place for a gentle hike in nature.
Explore the Old Walls of Xi’an by bike
There is much talk about the terracotta warriors of Xi’an – and rightly so, as these life-sized clay soldiers are a sight to behold - but another historical treasure of the region is the old city walls that were built to protect a Ming dynasty emperor and have remained intact since then. Our favourite way of exploring this well-preserved 14th-century setting is by taking a bike ride around the city.
If you'd like to experience a different side to China or would like more unique ideas of things to do there, explore our China itineraries or call our experts on 020 7337 9010 or make an enquiry.