24+ Modern and Historical Places in China Besides the Great Wall
China is such a huge country and with a long and storied past, it’s no wonder that in modern days, historical places in China are all over the place mixed in with some modern marvels! Use this map and list to find some amazing places in China to visit and help you plan your China itinerary! Whether you have international data or a sim card, you’ll want some apps to ease your travel in China!
1. The Forbidden City
Nestled near Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City is huge and amazing. It is the most well-preserved wooden structure and is very royal and extravagant! The city has about ninety castles, so you probably will skip a few but make sure to at least look at the main buildings! I would also advise for you to look at the Treasure Halls because they have some amazing jewels as well.
2. Summer Palace
Yet another royal palace, but this time it is for the summer. The area has many little squares and so much history (read: DRAMA) happened in those very rooms. There is a big central temple where you can climb up to see the skyline; it was amazing up there! There also is one stretch of covered patios that have paintings all over the inside, and each one is different from historical scenes, stories, and still-lifes.
3. Beihai Park
Ahhhh! This was one of my favorite attractions in the whole trip! This park is perfect after a long stretch of sightseeing because you are surrounded by *beautiful* nature. What I love about this is that for every main path, there are tons of small little hikes that you can see. So definitely check out a little area–you might see something you didn’t expect! One of my highlights was renting a paddle boat and going around the lake.
4. Yu Yuan Garden
Another one of my favorite places! I like gardens and nature, so this was right up my alley. This was an area where a rich family lived and you can see Chinese architecture and landscaping at its finest. Also, if you like taking artsy nature photos or photos in general, go here! Nearly every corner is picturesque and it is a great place to relax!
5. Nanjing Road
This is one of the must-dos in Shanghai. This pedestrian-only road is teeming with shops, so if you want to shop, go ahead. If not, you can keep on walking and see the Shanghai skyline! I went at night, and IMHO, I think the night view is better!
6. Terracotta Warriors
This is another must-do! The pits are huge and sometimes you can see the archaeologists working at the statues while you walk! I would recommend knowing some prior knowledge before coming in since there are not *that* many signs around.
7. Hui Ming Street aka the Muslim Street
If you like food and are not vegetarian, this is for you! This street is super busy (try to catch less crowded times like when it’s not meal time) and is always bustling. There are also a ton of little shops and souvenirs you can get too! Here you can find all kinds of food from rolled ice cream to Xi’an’s famed lamb on a stick. There are soooooo many different kinds of food that it is mind-boggling (I want to try EVERYTHING!!)!
8. Xi’an City Wall
One of my favorites!! The Xi’an city wall surrounds the older parts of the city. Go around 9 pm because it is the best when it gets dark. Each building is outlined in gold neon lights and lanterns hang by every pillar. I rented a bike and that was probably the best decision I have ever made; my dad and I rode around the entire wall, and it was just so much fun!
There are many many more places to go and I encourage you all to go explore on your own.
That’s it from me for now though!
Hi! My name is Anna, and I’m actually one of Ms. Heyward’s (AKA Flight of the Educator’s) former students. I love animals, science, and traveling! As of now, I have been to eleven countries (including my own) and three continents, and I hope to travel to many more!
Back to Carly AKA Ms. Heyward AKA Flight of the Educator
Before we move on to more of the historical places in China, I wanted to do a quick shout out to Anna for writing the above portion of this article! Those are her pictures and words which were only slightly edited by me (Swoon, she even correctly placed her own semi-colon. I’m so proud).
I’ve tacked on the following spots because China is a huge country, and I like to make sure these lists have a ton of options! While the top was written, photographed, and curated by Anna, the rest is done by me. Thank you, Anna, for pitching and writing this article! And for all your help with tweaking designs on Canva 😀
9. Ming Dynasty Tombs
The Ming Tombs are a UNESCO Heritage site that houses the remains and treasures of 13 Ming Dynasty members. The first emperor is actually in Nanjing and not outside of Beijing. I swung by the tombs on the way to go see the Great Wall on a tour!
It’s akin to the Valley of the Kings in Egypt because where the Ming Tombs are located has the most amount of emperors in a single area in China. Not all of the tombs are open to the public, but it’s such a large area, you’d hardly have time anyway!
Since the tombs are underground, it’s a nice respite from the heat (or in my case, rain!) to let you wander the tombs in leisure. My favorite part was the “Underground Palace,” and I thought it was strange/sweet that one emperor was even buried with both his empresses.
10. Dragon Escalator
It’s pretty hard not to think about China when you think dragons, so would that make the most Chinese thing a giant dragon escalator? The dragon is the largest outdoor escalator, and it takes people to the top of a dam. And the fun doesn’t end there!
Once you get to the top of the dam, there are opportunities to ride a boat, ride a cable car, or even bungee jump!
While dragons may be mythical creatures, the closest thing Earth has seen to them are… dinosaurs! Check out these two amazing places in China to see some dinos.
11A. Dinosaurs Fairyland
If you’re looking for the only place in China that’s not crowded, then this is a great bet! Dinosaur Fairyland is written across the landscape a la the Hollywood sign and sets the stage for a journey back in time.
Dinosaurs Fairyland is a park filled with both real and fake remains of the largest animals to ever roam the planet. It’s staggering, really, how big some of those creatures were! It’s a nice mixture of both real and fake bones, great photo opportunities with some critters, and it’s close to Mongolia if you’re heading that way!
11B. Kissing Dinosaurs
You’re probably wondering what the deal with all the dinos on the outskirts of China is, but it’s simply just because there’s a salt lake nearby where many bones were discovered. So, what better way to mark that amazing find with two giant dinos making out over a highway? I mean, it’s just logic.
12. Ancient City of Jiaohe
Jiaohe means River Junction since it was built on an island with the river forming a natural defense on all sides. It’s kinda like the island in Paris with Notre Dam on it! It was an important stop on the old Silk Road, is over 2000 years old, and has earned its spot on the World Heritage Site List.
The city itself was slowly abandoned over a long period of time as it was being harassed by several ruling parties including the Mongols. Although for its age and building material, it’s still largely intact due to the dryness of the air.
13. Hanging Temple of Hengshan
The Hanging Temple AKA the Hanging Monastery is famous for two main things: being on a cliff almost 250 ft above the ground and for being a combination of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. How many other structures can you say that about?
14. Tianjin Library
I’ve always enjoyed a good look through a library, but that’s because normally the building houses the treasures. But in the Tianjin Library, the building itself is the treasure. Something out of a Science Fiction movie, the walls and even ceilings of the library are all terraced to maximize the anumberof books. Belle from Beauty and the Beast could easily live here. It’s relatively new, and it only opened up in Fall of 2017.
15. Shaolin Temple
I feel like my biggest association with Shaolin monks are Flying Shaolin monks. When I found out about this place, I realized I wasn’t as far off the mark, as you would think.
A recent addition to a Shaolin Monastery is the Shaolin Flying Monks Theater. It’s literally an amphitheater of seats surrounding a large wind tunnel. I’ve been in a small wind tunnel when I’ve done indoor skydiving, so it’s like a massive version of one of those.
Because of incredible planning, the sound isn’t quite as loud as you’d imagine, so it affords the monks the ability to serenely pray as they float as one with nature…with an audience. Sign me up! (There are certain times civilians are able to go too!).
16. Chinese Pyramids of Xian
This next one is sort of an “El Dorado” of China in that a few non-Chinese pilots have insisted that they’ve seen a giant White Pyramid in China (twice the height of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt), although it hasn’t been found to truly corroborate those claims. It’s almost a conspiracy theory now!
However, there have been tons of Chinese pyramids spotted around China, which is amazing since you only really expect them in Egypt. The ones that have been found are mostly either covered in trees and grass (conspiracy to cover up?) or the more traditional step pyramids.
The largest one is associated with Emperor Qin, who is also credited with the Terracotta Army that Anna mentioned above.
Crazy Instagram Spots
17A. Zhongshuge Mirrored Floor
I know we already talked about the wild library in Tianjin, but the Zhongshuge Library has gone an extra step further with mirrored floors. Talk about wild angles that make this library look almost like it’s a fractal! I can see those Instagram girls with their long flowy dresses and hats looking off into the distance. You too can get an “Extra” Instagram worthy picture here. While you’re there, pick up a book and learn something!
17B. Bund Sightseeing Tunnel
Shanghai’s area called the Bund is connected to the Pudong district of Shanghai by a mag-lev (magnetic levitation train) under a river. Was that sentence not cool enough for you? Because the tunnel itself isn’t just a journey, it’s a destination.
It’s less than 5 minutes to take the journey, but you’ll be on a multimedia thrill ride while you’re on it. My favorite quote about it is from Atlas Obscura (another super fave site of mine), “This psychedelic tourist trap is a leisurely descent into madness.” Sounds like all you need is a cup of tea with the Mad Hatter, and you’re basically in Alice in Wonderland.
18. Quarry Hotel
Most hotels would be very upset to learn that their bottom two floors are underwater, but not Shanghai’s hotel being built in an abandoned quarry! The only use for a quarry for me so far has been for Walking Dead and Stranger Things set, but a visionary decided to make it into a grand hotel!
It’s supposed to be done sometime in 2018, so it’s getting close! It’ll have 2 floors underwater, 16 floors underground (well, below the main level of the ground, anyway), and an underwater restaurant!
19. Propaganda Poster Art Center
I was drawn to the Propaganda Center predominantly because of the Dystopian Unit that I teach in my class. Propaganda has two main purposes: either to create support for a cause or to scare or threaten for a different cause. They are thusly inherently positive (Yay Us!) or negative (Boo Them!). I think it’s very topical to be able to discern when you’re being “handled” by the media… especially when it attempts to “other” a group of people.
You’re actually even able to take home a bit of history and buy some real propaganda! Please don’t be like that American student and try and steal some in North Korea.
20. Fengdu City of Ghosts
While its name might suggest a city filled with actual ghosts, that’s not the case. It’s called the City of Ghosts because it was named after a “Celeb Couple name” that loosely translated to King of Hell. So since then, the town was decorated and known for ghosts, demons, the afterlife and whatnot.
There is a bridge that only the “good” can cross while the “bad” fall below. Sometimes there are even “demon” performers that will guard the bridge from tourists (although they do let them pass).
If you’re really into the macabre, this might be the place for you!
Crazy Bridges and Walkways
21A. Brave Men’s Bridge
The first time I saw this bridge was when a man was crawling across it and basically crying. While I too have a serious fear of heights, I THINK I’d be able to survive this bridge since I’d have something solid underneath my feet.
As if it’s not fearsome enough to cross a chasm on a narrow wooden bridge, the park decided to take a page out of Indiana Jones and make that once wooden bridge invisible. Well, as invisible as glass can be. Just a short jaunt across a glass bridge would be enough to test someone’s mettle, but this one is almost 1000 ft across! It was the longest bridge until the next bridge (below) was completed.
21B. Zhangjiaje Glass Bridge
China decided to one-up themselves and build yet another glass bridge spanning not just 1000 feet, but 1400! The Zhangjiaje bridge is by China’s Grand Canyon, and you can do both as a trip together!
Just make sure that you have the appropriate footwear. They’ll also make you wear shoe coverings to keep that glass spic and span.
21C. Tianmen Skywalk
The two bridges above cross a vast emptiness, but the Tianmen Skywalk is slightly different. It’s still WAY high up (up to almost 5000 ft!), but instead of connecting two points, it winds around a mountain.
What it still has in common with the other bridges is that it has that same glass bottom to really throw your adrenaline into overdrive. There are a whole bunch of activities to do in the area, and this map will help you plan your trip!
22. Mao Zedong’s Giant Head
Mao Zedong (more commonly known as Chairman Mao) was the founding member of the Communist Party of China. His legacy could be debated for its pros and cons, but what can’t be debated is how cool a giant head in the middle of nowhere is.
And I gotta say… his hair looks fly.
23A. World Park
Beijing was home to the Olympics in 2008, but even before that, it set a global stage with the World Park. Much like Epcot in the US, the World Park has recreations of major landmarks all around the world!
They are separated by zones and water to represent the oceans! And also like Epcot, there are several performances during the day!
23B. Window of the World
The Window of the World is similar, but just not in Beijing. It is instead built past Guangzhou near Hong Kong (while you’re there, there are actually a lot of really cool things to do in Guangzhou!). It seems to be built under the same sort of premise of just a park with lots of replicas of famous landmarks from around the world!
Exotic Great Wall Spots
Now I know this article is about historical places in China besides the Great Wall, but that’s the normal sections of the Wall! I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least point out that there were some more interesting places to check out!
24A. Underwater Great Wall
Even without being able to dive this section of the wall, you’d still be able to witness the wall first descending down into the water, climbing back out onto an island before disappearing down into the water again. That alone is worth the trip.
It is actually possible to dive there, however the visibility isn’t too great, and you have to go a long distance with the gear. This dive might require more gear than normal since it’s generally a pretty chilly site. It should be done by advanced divers, for sure. However, how cool to dive between this amazing wonder! And to swim in, around, and through it!
The wall didn’t sink into the water or anything, though. The area was flooded to make a reservoir.
24B. Great Wall Meets the Sea
I mean, it’s gotta end somewhere, right? It’s also known as the Old Dragon’s Head because it looks like a dragon is resting and drinking out of the water. I’m not sure how helpful this area of the wall is because wouldn’t invaders just go around? I’m not sure; I’m not a doctor.
24C. Wild Wall
The main parts of the Great Wall that the tourists visit are rebuilt and well kept to keep the tourists happy. However, there are sections of the wall (vast swaths of them!) that are not kept to such a standard and are deemed the Wild Wall. These parts of the wall are how nature intended them to look, and they are still pretty amazing to be seen.