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The Ultimate Bucket-list Guide

All Things Ancient China

Ever-changing, ferociously fast and overwhelmingly busy – there’s no doubt that China is a modern force to be reckoned with. But beneath all that development, the ghosts of its imperial past are still standing strong. And far from being dated, or dusty, China’s ancient sites are a thing of beauty. They may have been standing for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, but you’ll struggle not to be bowled over by these landmarks. Breathtaking would be an understatement. Now that’s pretty powerful stuff. 

Home to one of the world’s earliest known civilisations as well as one of its most diverse histories, this really is a country that bucket-lists were made for. So things aren’t just about to get old, they’re going to get ancient. Say hello to all that you need to tick off on this trip of a lifetime.

Beijing: Where the Icons Reside 

1. Great Wall of China

This may be an obvious one, but it’s one of China’s, if not the world’s, biggest names and with good reason too. We mean, it dates back around 2,700 years and is still wiggling its way across the country for a staggering 21,196 km today. We know it’s top priority for just about every single sane person on the planet, so if you’re going to Beijing, you’ll definitely be taking in this World Wonder. Top tip: when in China there’s no need to refer to this one in full. Just the ‘Great Wall’ will do. Now, you’re practically a local. 

2. Forbidden City

The Forbidden City is imperial rule incarnate. Made up of a whopping 980 buildings and unafraid to flaunt its red facade, this landmark will teach you all that there is to know about how China was ruled up until the early 20th century. And one thing that will really hit home, is just how much power an emperor had, these figures were not to be messed with, that’s for sure. As the official residence for those that ruled the roost from the early 15th century onwards, this ancient site is nothing short of fascinating. 

3. Summer Palace

Fancy vay-caying like an emperor? Say hello to the Summer Palace. This vast park, full to the brim with only the most beautiful of temples, pavilions, gardens and a ruddy great big lake, was in fact the ultimate imperial retreat. Built in 1750, this was the hotspot for anyone who was anyone when it got too hot for a summer stuck within the sweltering walls of the Forbidden City. Now very much open to the public, it still hasn’t lost its charm. This one is guaranteed to rake in the likes on the gram. 

4. Temple of Heaven

A temple complex that epitomises everything that you’ve ever seen or heard about China, the Temple of Heaven has been dazzling its visitors since its construction in 1420. Visit early and you’ll catch locals practising tai chi, playing games of competitive chess or even singing a song or two. And they aren’t even the attraction here. What you’ve actually come to see is the Hall of Prayer – a limelight stealer if there ever was one. It’s blue and purple tiled roof is the cherry on top of this classical Chinese cake.

Xian: The Ancient Imperial Capital

5. Terracotta Army

When it comes to Chinese landmarks, the Terracotta Army is pretty special. The collection of warriors may not have been discovered until the mid 70s, but this is one of the greatest and most well-preserved insights into ancient China that we have today. And what a collection. Not one to mess around, it looks like Emprorer Qin, who came up with the vision during his rule between 246 and 210 BC, really did build an after-life army to last. There are thousands upon thousands of war-ready figures to be found guarding his mausoleum, and those are just the ones that have been unearthed thus far. 

6. Giant Wild Goose Pagoda

It’s nearly 1,500 years old and is as influential a Buddhist site today as it was when first built – the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda really is Xian’s beating heart. You’ll find ancient relics galore in this tiered tower, so don’t get too caught taking pictures outside because there’s plenty more to see inside too.

7. City walls of Xian

City walls may not seem like a big deal, but in Xian they really are. This is the ancient imperial capital, so the whole city is sat upon one big ancient site and it’s the city walls that help preserve this. Built during the Ming dynasty, they date back to 1370 and can still be climbed today – hello views. 

Shanghai: Before the Skyscrapers

8. Old city of Shanghai

Yes, it really does exist. Behind the shiny skyscrapers and glitzy shopping scene, Shanghai’s Old Town – or Nanshi as it’s more commonly known – sits quietly, waiting to be discovered. Enclosed within the walls of Shanghai Old Town, you’ll find the famous Yuyuan Garden as well as a maze of narrow streets and alleyways, a handful of classic Chinese temples, plenty of busy food vendors and an ever-crowded bazaar. Old Street itself with its swaying lanterns and traditional Chinese architecture is a must-see. 

Lijiang: Mountain Musings

9. Old Town

When it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you know that it’s going to be good and Lijiang’s Old Town doesn’t disappoint. Comprising of three key parts, Dayan Old Town, Baisha and Shuhe housing clusters, you’re guaranteed to get your fill of all things ancient here. Unlike the classical architecture of the cities, you’ll find a far greater use of wood in the mountain dwellings. Beautifully detailed and lovingly carved, the buildings really are quite a treat. 

Chengdu: More than Pandas

10. Dujiangyan

Although just half an hour away from central Chengdu’s busy streets, Dujiangyan feels like a million miles away. Home to the 2000 year old irrigation system that has led to Chengdu being known as the “Land of Abundance” and is an ancient site in itself, a trip here is all about waterside walks and an appreciation for the practical as well as the pretty of China’s still-standing history. 

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