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The Ultimate China Bucket List: 25 Things You Must Do In China

With ancient temples and giant pandas,  karst landscapes and mega cities, China has it all. If you’re visiting China for the first time or moving there to become an expat, you’ll no doubt know to do the Great Wall in Beijing and the Shanghai Bund – but there are even more hidden treasures you may have never heard.

After living in China for more than seven years, I’ve had the chance to travel to some incredible places in China. 

From riding horses in Inner Mongolia, camping on the Great Wall, to hiking in Zhangjiajie National Park, the famous mountains that inspired the movie Avatar. From seeing the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an and rafting on the Li River in Yangshuo, to eating spicy hotpot in the megacity of Chongqing and traveling to the far north of China to Harbin for the largest Ice Sculpture Festival in the world. 

It has definitely been an adventure beyond my wildest dreams. So, grab your tissue packs (check out my tips for traveling China), book your train tickets, and start crossing these items off your China bucket list!

Here’s my complete China Bucket List, including things I’ve already done and what I hope to do!

1. The Great Wall: Beijing, China

A trip to China isn’t complete without seeing the Great Wall. I’ve been to 6 sections of the Great Wall and have had a great experience at each part! Not sure which section to visit? Check out my blog: Which Section of the Great Wall Is Best To Visit?

You can also go camping on the Great Wall to catch sunrise! I camped on the wall with Great Wall Fresh and had an awesome time. 

Completed: 14 times so far

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2. Raft Down the Li River: Yangshuo, Guangxi

Head to Guilin and Yangshuo in the Guangxi Province for the most beautiful rafting trip of your life. You’ll see the stunning karst landscape and the famous location for the photo on the 20 RMB bill. 

Completed: June 2016, October 2017

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3. Go Hiking in Zhangjiajie: Hunan 

Zhangjiajie is the inspiration behind Avatar’s Hallelujah Mountain. You definitely need to spend a few days in the area to hike everywhere! For more information on hiking here, check out my Guide To Hiking The Avatar Mountains in Zhangjiajie.

Completed July 2018

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4. Visit Giant Pandas in Chengdu

The Giant Panda is a huge cultural icon for China! Take a trip to Chengdu to one of the research centers and see these giant pandas, as well as their cute babies!

Completed: February 2016

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5. The Forbidden City: Beijing, China

The Forbidden City is a must-see when visiting China. Ideally you need several hours to walk through this giant palace area, and make sure to buy your tickets ahead of time to make sure they are not sold out. If you’ve never been, I wrote a guide to help you find the best places to take photos of the Forbidden City.

Completed: February 2016, January 2019, August 2019

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6. Hike Huangshan, the Yellow Mountains of China

When you hike the Yellow Mountains in the Anhui Province it feels like you’re stepping into a postcard. These beautiful mountains can be done in a one or two day trip – check out my Itinerary for Hiking Huangshan for more information.

Completed: May 2019

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7. Walk on a Glass Bridge 

China has quite a few famous glass bridges. There’s a giant one in Zhangjiajie, and several glass walkways on Tianmen Mountain, as well as other places. In Beijing there is also a UFO Glass Platform which is a really neat structure!

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8. Relax in Hainan: the “Hawaii of China”

Hainan is known as China’s Hawaii. With beautiful sandy beaches and warm sunny weather, it’s the perfect tropical vacation for those not wanting to leave China.

Completed: November 2020

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9. World’s Largest Ice Festival in Harbin

The Ice and Snow World Festival is the biggest snow festival in the world in one of the coldest cities in China: Harbin. If you’re brave enough to survive the cold it’s worth seeing! I visited for the first time this year and was totally amazed by the giant ice sculptures.

Completed: January 2020

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10. The Bund in Shanghai

The Bund is one of the most iconic sites not just in Shanghai, but also in China! Day or night it’s an incredible site and looks especially cool if you take a cruise on the river.

Completed February 2016, August 2019, November 2019

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11. The Terracotta Warriors

Located in Xi’an, the Terracotta Warriors are a famous cultural site depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. There are three separate pits of warriors filled with more than 8,000 soldiers and countless horses and chariots.

Completed February 2016, July 2020

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12. Drink Tsingtao Beer in Qingdao

If you travel to China, drinking a Tsingtao beer is a must! It’s an even cooler experience if you go to the Tsingtao Brewery in Qingdao, Shandong Province. You can tour the brewery and sample the freshly made beer, or grab a few bottles with friends and take it to the beach.

Completed: June 2019, August 2020

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13. Stay in a Yurt in Inner Mongolia 

Inner Mongolia has deserts, grasslands, horses, camels, and YURTS. You’ve gotta stay in one if you visit Inner Mongolia – it’s all part of the experience.

Completed: October 2018

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14. Longsheng Rice Terrace

The Longsheng Rice Terrace is located in Longsheng county, about 100 km north of Guilin. These vast terraces are a stunning scenic area.

Completed: Not yet!

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15. Visit the Canton Tower in Guangzhou

The iconic tower in Guangzhou lights up the skyline at night and can be seen all around the city. If you’re in the Guangdong Province, the Canton Tower is must visit. Head to Zhujiang New Town metro station for a close look at it. While you’re in the city, make sure you also try some famous Cantonese dim sum and these 20 Things You Must Do In Guangzhou

Completed: December 2015, October 2016, August 2017, November 2020. I actually lived in Guangzhou for a year, so actually frequently saw it from 2017-2018 😉

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16. Tiger Leaping Gorge

Tiger Leaping Gorge is a famous hiking route in the northern Yunnan Province. You can hike through the Upper, Middle, and Lower Gorge depending on how long you have to hike. To this day it’s honestly the best, most natural hike I’ve done in China. You won’t run into big tour groups on the upper and middle part. I spent 2 days basically hiking by myself with no one else around besides the homestays.

Completed August 2019

17. Visit Potala Palace

Tibet’s glorious Potala Palace is located in Llasa, Tibet and was the winter palace of the Dalai Lamas from 1649 to 1959.

Completed: Not yet!

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18. West Lake in Hangzhou

When thinking about Hangzhou Marco Polo wrote, “it is without a doubt the finest and most splendid city in the world.” West Lake is a beautiful and famous lake in Hangzhou you must visit in China!

Completed: February 2016

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19. Visit the Canals in Suzhou

Suzhou is often called the “Venice of the East” because of it’s famous water canals running through the city buildings.

Completed: February 2016, September 2020

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20. Visit Lijiang Old Town

With winding streets filled with colorful umbrellas and glowing lanterns, Lijiang Old Town feels like a dream! Located in the northern Yunnan Province, Lijiang is a fantastic destination to visit if you want to experience local Yunnan culture and cuisine.

Completed: September 2019

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21. Hike Huashan Mountain

Huashan is perfect for daredevils and risk lovers. Often considered China’s most dangerous hike because of it’s plank walk along a narrow cliff. It’s also one of the Five Great Mountains of China and offers stunning mountain views.

Completed: Not yet!

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22. See the Yangtze River 

The mighty Yangtze River is the longest river in Asia and the third longest river in the world. It plays a major role in China’s economy, culture, and history. Many people will take a Yangtze River cruise from Chongqing to Shanghai, or take a shorter day trip.

Completed: January 2020, October 2021

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23. Hiking or Biking in Yangshuo

Yangshuo without a doubt has some of the most stunning karst landscapes in all of China. It’s perfect for outdoor lovers and those wanting to escape the big city scene.

Completed: June 2016, October 2017

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24. Everest Base Camp in Tibet

The North Base Camp for Mount Everest is located in Tibet and is a popular starting point for those wanting to make the big trek up Everest, or those just wanting a closer view of the mighty mountain.

Completed: Not yet!

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25. Eat Hotpot in Chongqing or Chengdu

Both Chongqing and Chengdu are famous for their spicy Sichuan huoguo, or hot pot. This is a culinary experience you can’t miss! Make sure to drink it with a cold bottle of pijiu (beer). Of course, exploring the rest of these cities is also a must.

Completed: January 2016 (Chengdu), October 2021 (Chongqing)

hot pot huo guo

Must Do Things in China

When you’re planning a trip to China, these are some things you definitely need to add to your China Bucket List! While they are some of my favorites, it’s not a comprehensive list at all – there are so many other things I’ve left out. (Fun fact: I actually started this post 3 years ago – the world has changed a lot since then, but my passion and love for traveling in China has not. While it is more limited now, it is not impossible for those in China.)

But it all depends on the kinds of activities and experiences you’re looking for, and also how much time you have to travel. If you are planning a trip around China, check out Where To Travel In China: China Travel Quiz and Best Destinations To See.

Happy China travels!

ultimate china bucket list

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