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China see + do

Most visitors enter China via its two main air gateways, Beijing and Shanghai, and most do the majority of their sightseeing in those two cities. There is certainly plenty to see and do: Beijing, the capital, is home to an array of imperial temples and palaces, plus Tiananmen Square, and affords easy access to the Great Wall. Overlaid on this historic setting is a portfolio of impressive new architecture commissioned to complement the 2008 Olympic Games. Shanghai is China's pulsing capital of entertainment, shopping, and nightlife, but it also has some of the nation's finest heritage and Art Deco architecture. Another must-see city is Xi'an, site of Emperor Shihuangdi's beguilingly lifelike terra-cotta warriors and handsome city walls. Other notable cities are Hangzhou, for its much-cherished West Lake and tea plantations, and Suzhou, for its UNESCO-listed Chinese gardens.

China's spectacular interior landscapes are worth exploring, particularly the less-visited alpine valleys of Guizhou province and, in normal circumstances, the soaring peaks of Sichuan province. However, following the earthquake that has ravaged the area, the U.S. State Department has advised visitors to avoid going to Sichuan. Yunnan province, with its verdant beauty and myriad ethnic minorities, is increasingly popular, particularly the attractive towns of Lijiang and Dali, and jungle hiking around Xishuangbanna.

Yangtse River cruises have long been popular, though increasingly less so as the famed Three Gorges is flooded to facilitate a controversial hydroelectric dam. More bucolic is the river cruise between Guilin and Yangshuo, which sails through picturesque countryside with limestone karst formations and pinnacles rising from the green pastures—a scene captured on China's 20 yuan currency note.

Beyond the mainland are two of China's principal attractions, the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau. The former British colony of Hong Kong struts its stuff as the self-styled "world city" of Asia, and offers the region's best shopping and finest hotels, as well as eclectic dining and nightlife. By contrast, the former Portuguese colony of Macau boasts fine Iberian plazas, cathedral ruins, and municipal buildings—and Asia's most dynamic casino scene.

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Yu Garden, Shanghai

A lot of history resides in this little garden and its City God Temple. They were commissioned in 1559, built over the course of 19 years, destroyed in 1842...more

see the Shanghai guide
Editors' Pick
Xintiandi, Shanghai

In the 1930s, Shanghai was covered with blocks of shikumen (traditional stone-gated structures). Today, most of these narrow middle-class houses, which...more

see the Shanghai guide
Editors' Pick
Victoria Peak, Hong Kong

At 1,810 feet tall, Victoria Peak is Hong Kong's highest and most notable landmark, as well as its ritziest residential area. Its well-heeled 19th-century...more

see the Hong Kong guide
Editors' Pick
Tours of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Hong Kong may have been called a barren rock by its first foreign visitors, but these days it's so packed with attractions that it's hard to get oriented. The...more

see the Hong Kong guide
Editors' Pick
Tiananmen Square

Named for the Gate of Heavenly Peace, an entrance to the Forbidden City that stands at the north end of the square, this vast concrete expanse (it covers more...more

see the Beijing guide
Editors' Pick
Temples, Beijing

Beijing has dozens of ancient temples, some chaotic complexes, others quiet jewels. There are far too many to visit in one trip—but Beijing's three most...more

see the Beijing guide
Editors' Pick
Tai Chi, Hong Kong

Limbering up and clearing your mind—Asian style—is a great way to start the day. Free tai chi lessons are given by English-speaking instructors near...more

see the Hong Kong guide
Editors' Pick
Symphony of Lights, Hong Kong

Every evening at 8 pm sharp, the world's largest light and sound show turns Hong Kong's urban jungle into a futuristic beauty pageant starring 44 of its...more

see the Hong Kong guide
Editors' Pick
Summer Palace, Beijing

Once a warm-weather retreat for the Qing dynasty's imperial court, the Summer Palace (just ten miles outside the city, but about a 40-minute taxi ride in...more

see the Beijing guide
Editors' Pick
Shanghai World Financial Center

Opened in 2008, mainland China's tallest tower stands 101 floors and 1,615 feet high. Owned and built by Japan's Mori Corporation, it has been dubbed the...more

see the Shanghai guide
Editors' Pick
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Information may have changed since date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.

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