Beijing's crowning glory is the Forbidden City, officially the Palace Museum. The imperial palace of the Ming and Qing emperors for 500 years, it is China's greatest surviving historical site with fabulous halls, palaces and gardens.
As well as the Forbidden City, Beijing is home to a large number of first-rate attractions including Tiananmen Square, the world's largest public square; circular 15th-century Temple of Heaven; the Summer Palace imperial resort; the old city wall gates; traditional hutong alleys and courtyards; and beautiful Beihai Park.
Great Wall of China
The Great Wall, built over 2,000 years and stretching over 5,400km (3,375 miles), contrary to legend, cannot be seen from space! The restored stone and brick Badaling section stands 8m (26ft) high and 6m (20ft) wide, and is the closest to Beijing, 70km (44 miles) away. A slightly less touristy section lies a little further away at Mutianyu. Here, you can take a cable car up to the wall and bobsled down. As of 2010, the steep Simatai section is closed to the public for two years for restoration.
Xi'an's Terracotta Army is made up of 6,000 ancient life-sized warriors and horses. They were buried with Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di, who first united China in 200 BC. Also visit the Big and Small Wild Goose Pagodas and the old city walls.
13 of the dynasty's 16 emperors were buried in the Ming Tombs. They lie just outside Beijing and are an easy stopping off point on a day trip from Beijing to the Great Wall.
Shilin Stone Forest
Take a day trip from Yunnan capital Kunming to see one of southwest China's most celebrated natural attractions. The Shilin Stone Forest's limestone rock columns resemble petrified trees.
See the monumental carved Buddhist effigies of Yungang Caves, near Datong, or carved effigies and monuments in Luoyang's fifth-century Longmen Buddhist Caves. At Bingling Lamasery, near Lanzhou, you'll find 34 early Buddhist caves whilst Dunhuang's Mogao Caves have some of China's oldest Buddhist shrines.
China's scenic natural wonders make for fantastic hikes and views. One of the best is Tibet's Qomolangma Nature Reserve (around Everest). There are also a number of UNESCO World Heritage sites to explore, including Mount Taishan mountain park, Huangshan Mountain's fog-shrouded rocky precipices, Buddhist mountain Emei Shan and Jiuzhaigou Valley's lakes and waterfalls.
From Chengdu, you can visit the holy Buddhist mountain of Emei Shan and the spectacular Grand Buddha of Leshan, carved out of a cliff. At 71m (225ft) high, it is so enormous that 100 people can fit on its instep. There's also the panda breeding and research centre.
China's oldest wooden pagodas are the Yingxian Pagoda, Kaifeng's Iron Pagoda and Fan Bo Pagoda (AD 1049 and c. AD 977), Jinan's Square Four Gate Pagoda (China's oldest stone pagoda) and Guangzhou's Huaisheng Mosque (built by Arab merchants in AD 650).
Pay homage in Qufu at Confucius' Tomb, Temple and Mansion. Shenyang's North Imperial Tomb is where the Qing Dynasty's founding father is buried. Nanjing possesses the Xiaoling Tomb of Ming Dynasty founder Zhu Yuanzhang, and the mausoleum of China's first president, Dr Sun Yat-sen.
In the cosmopolitan atmosphere of economic powerhouse Shanghai, soaring skyscrapers contrast the European-style Bund waterfront, art deco laneways of the former French Concession and traditional delights like Yuyuan, an ancient Chinese garden surrounded by a touristy shopping bazaar, also home to the Temple of the City God.
2,500-year-old Suzhou is China's own Venice. Its streets lining the Grand Canal and famous water gardens are a delight. Gardens include the Humble Administrator's Garden and the Garden of the Master of the Nets. Buy exquisite Suzhou silk fabrics and embroidery.
Tibet's capital, Lhasa, stands at 3,700m (12,000ft). The iconic seventh-century Potala Palace, home to successive Dalai Lamas, houses exhibits including frescoes and gigantic bejewelled Buddhas. Also visit the Norbulingka (Summer Palace) and Jokhang Temple, with its golden Buddhas.
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