5 Chinese Cities To Visit That Don’t Include Beijing Or Shanghai
China is a huge country with more than one billion people and over 700 cities!
Whilst Beijing and Shanghai are usually the top choice for most travellers visiting the Chinese mainland, there are so many more cities which you should consider visiting.
Although these cities are lesser known, and some off the beaten track, they really offer some amazing tourist attractions and places to see.
Here are my pick of 5 other great cities worth adding to your itinerary.
Guilin is a beautiful city in the south-eastern area of the Guanxi province.
It's worth staying in one of the hostels actually on the Longji Village Rice Terraces for at least one night, as this will give you beautiful views and a break from the hustle and bustle of city noise.
Horse and donkeys are used as means of transport here, so take in the tranquillity as you walk through the rice terrace fields during the day. It’s both relaxing and you feel a sense of achievement as you reach its highest point.
You can see the stars at night and feel the fresh air which is a rarity in China! Back in the city, stay at Wada hostel, a 10RMB tuk-tuk ride from the train station.
Guilin has so much to offer for the curious backpacker- there's Elephant Trunk Hill, the Reed Flute Caves, Li River, Moon Hill, and the Sun and Moon pagodas to name a few. This is one of the places I will definitely re-visit if I return to China.
- Ideal length of stay: 2-3 nights
Chengdu is growing in popularity with backpackers, so although it’s not a complete tourist spot you should get by just fine.
It also conveniently hosts an airport to make things easier, too. The city, located in China's south-west Sichuan province, is largely known for being home to the Giant Panda Sanctuary. It's a really ethical site, and costs around 60RMB to enter.
Many hostels, such as Mix, Traffic Inn, and Lazybones, offer organised day trips with a guided tour to the site. Or if you're running late (i.e. hungover), then you can take the bus or a taxi in your own time instead. It's also worth watching a Sichuan Opera show during your stay.
As you're served tea and snack on nibbles, you will watch different acts during the hour-long show, ranging from hand silhouettes (cooler than it sounds) to comedy sketches, and ending with the famous Mask Changing. Basically, the performers wear colourful masks that can instantly change and it’s a ‘mystery’ as to how it’s done.
Shopping wise, head straight to Chunxi Market which hosts over 3 floors of market stalls jam-packed with clothes, shoes, bags, jewellery, wigs, homeware, nightware...pretty much anything you can think of. It's a perfect spot to practice your haggling skills, but if it all gets too much, then take a break in the shopping centre just across the road. Missing home?
No problem. For a taste of familiarity, visit Bar Street, Helen's Bar, Shamrocks, and Pete's Tex Mex, all of which are popular amongst expats.
- Ideal length of stay: 3 nights
There isn’t an awful lot to see in Hangzhou but it’s interesting enough to visit and not far from Shanghai.
Because of this Hangzhou is quite an affluent area, so Lamborghinis and Aston Martins will frequent the streets. The city’s most breathtaking excursion has to be West Lake. It’s a beautiful afternoon walk, where you will pass by food stalls, locals performing dances or musical instruments, and many cafes.
You can hire bikes to cycle around the lake, or if you’re with friends you can go on a small boat cruise for an hour (150RMB) to relax on the lake with some stunning scenery. Make sure you pay Wushan Square a visit, too.
There are tons of market stalls and interesting shops to look around, and a couple of well-located hostels there as well. When you need a break, wander down the narrow food alley, which is full of friendly characters selling the weird and wonderful dishes of Chinese cuisine.
- Ideal length of stay: 1 night
The perfect pit-stop between Shanghai and Beijing, Qingdao is a sea-side city in the Shandong province.
Qingdao is where the famous Chinese beer Tsingtao is brewed, so make sure you pay the Beer Museum a visit, conveniently located on Beer Street. You'll learn all about its history and production (the Germans were heavily involved and this is represented in the European-style architecture throughout the city), and alongside 2 beer samples costs around 60RMB to enter.
There is a saying about the Qingdao people; they eat seafood, drink beer, and flock to the beach. Try to tick all 3 off by eating seafood and drinking Tsingtao in the local restaurants amongst the scrap packaging and giant beer kegs, and go for a dip (if you can find a space) at the beach, where the men wear speedos and women colourful costumes.
Make sure you pay this city a visit, as it’s not the stereotypical Chinese city you might’ve imagined, what with the European architecture and sea-side resort feel to it.
- Ideal length of stay: 2-3 nights
Xian, once China’s capital city, is popular for being home to the impressive Terracotta Army which is one of the must see places in China.
Make sure you put this at the top of your list, with return bus journeys from 8RMB departing from near the train station. Tickets cost 150RMB to enter or half price if you show a student card (I blagged it with my drivers licence).
You should also get a tour guide as they will talk you through the fascinating history of the site, which comes in handy when most of the information is written solely in Chinese!
Once you’ve visited the Terracotta Army, return to the city centre and hire bikes to cycle around the city walls. Visit the Muslim Quarters, just opposite the Bell Tower, for an intriguing market experience.
It is a busy and bustling place full of great food to try, items to haggle down, fish pedicure shops, and smells which infuse something deep within you or simply repulse you (stinky tofu, anyone?).
The city is popular amongst both the locals and visitors who are itching to discover more behind this fascinating city.
- Ideal length of stay: 2 nights.
Discover China's Lesser-known Cities
Although Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong are essential places to visit on any first time trip to China, the places featured on my list will really surprise you. If you are keen to see as much as possible search China tours.
By Aimee White