8 Best Hidden Gems of China

Mike Santiago
Career China Digital Marketing Manager
Apr 23, 2020

Harboring unimaginable feats that transcend the atypical sites the world has come to know; China is host to an abundantly diverse amount of locations and cities worth diving into. Beyond the brevity of the scope of the Great Wall, the halls that house the Terracotta Warriors, or even the majesty of Zhangjiajie’s floating mountains, a vast variety of locations arrests the senses.

This list is designed to assist the would-be traveler on his journey across the land of tea, kung fu, and mysticism. Let us embark on an adventure together as we dive into what makes China a true wonderment to the world.

1. Suzhou – The Venice of China

This second-tier city is known for its intricate system of winding canals. A must see for anyone seeking a different glimpse outside the standard fare of temples and lakeside pavilions. Its staggering canal system intersects much of the city and offers gondola rides for a small price. One does not have to look far to see that Suzhou is more than just canals. A myriad of gardens can be traced around the larger city. These gardens are vast in scope with ornate architecture that transports you to a time long ago. And if you have felt like you have seen it all too soon, do not fret, the city provides lavish museums, temples, and parks.

As the lure of Suzhou fades, reinvigorate yourself with the local town of Tongli, a small town on lying on the city’s outskirts. In fact, it is even be dubbed “Venice of the East” by wayward travelers due to its engrossing system of canals.

Read more: The Top 10 Interesting Facts About Suzhou You Didn't Know

2. Hangzhou – Teatime in Paris

Capital of the Zhejiang province, Hangzhou offers a unique experience outside of other large metropolitans within China. Oddly enough, one of the first destinations worth checking out is a replica of Paris, which even includes the Eiffel Tower. Tianducheng is a somewhat failed real estate development that did not quite take off as intended. It’s now become a hub for the curious traveler to claim they were in China and Paris at the same time. An odd pairing, but a real testament to China’s replica cities.

Next up, the tea fields that surround the area of West Lake (the most popular attraction in the city), are truly breathtaking to take in and you can even try some of the local tea for yourself. You get a real insight into what goes into that little cup that typically accompanies breakfast. Lastly, we have one of the best places in the city to catch the sunset, West Lake. It is a massive lake marked by many temples, gardens, and even some manmade islands.

3. Harbin – A Kingdom of Ice

This is as close as you will get to Siberia without being there. Frigid temperatures plague the city during winter; however, it is made up for with the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival that begins every year on January 5th. High rise sculptures of famous landmarks, castles, and standard Chinese architecture are abundant in the massive park. After getting lost in the larger than life structures, you are welcome to enjoy the various attractions the park offers. Ice slides, Russian circus performances, and skiing on a frozen pond help you get the most out of this festival.

If time permits, be sure to visit St. Sophia Cathedral, which happens to be the largest Orthodox Church in Asia.

4. Chengdu – That’s One Big Buddha

In the heart of the Sichuan province lies the famed city of Chengdu – a city known for its traditional Sichuan hotpot, panda research and breeding grounds, and the largest stone Buddha in the world. A promising adventure that is off the beaten path for the typical traveler, but its guaranteed to offer amazement at every turn. In a few short days, you can virtually see the bulk of what the city has to offer. The panda facilities are worth checking out as they provide an invaluable glimpse at these once endangered species.

As mentioned, Chengdu is home to the largest stone carved Buddha in the world! Starting from the head of the Buddha, you will make your way down the long stairwell to the base. This site is an absolute must for anyone spending extended time in China.

Read more: How to Get to Leshan Giant Buddha from Chengdu

5. Inner Mongolia – Am I Still in China?

Yes, do not be alarmed, you are still in the mainland. Welcome to the province that borders the very country that bore its name. Inner Mongolia is not talked about too often due to less exposure to the mainstream, yet it happens to be one of the most fruitful provinces of China. Ordos and Hohhot are the two main city hubs to experiences when embarking to the north of the mainland. These cities offer an opportunity to get a vastly different feel due to its amalgamation of Mongolian and Chinese culture.

The real draw are the grasslands and the Kubuqi desert that await just beyond the city centers. You can spend a night in a traditional Mongolian style encampment and sleep in a yurt. This can be experienced in both the grasslands and desert, and it is a great way to detach and return to nature. Welcome to yurt life.

6. Huangshan – The Yellow Mountains

Huangshan is not a very well-known location outside of China but is home to the most serene and mystical mountain range in the far east. The Yellow Mountains, a mythic, awe-inspiring site to behold. Photographs cannot accurately depict the majesty of its natural beauty. You have the options of either taking the five hours hike up, or you can take a 20-minute cable car to the top. Once you have reached the peak, it can take hours upon hours to fully explore every crevice and viewing point.

After a long journey through the Yellow Mountains, consider visiting the other sites sprinkled across the city. A myriad of grottoes, temples and parks can also leave a lasting impact.

7. Chongqing – A City of Layers

Not only is Chongqing the largest city in the world; it has the largest concentrated population of people across any province. In fact, Chongqing is not only the city, it is the actual province, which appreciates some degree of autonomy from the mainland. So much can be gleaned from a trip to this mega metropolis. A single week alone would not be enough. From the old town of Ciqikou to Fengdu Ghost City to Wulong. So many surprises await within.

Ciqikou is a must if you are keen on exploring the antiquities of China. It is a large old town with winding and twisting roads leading to a series of markets. Food, souvenirs, self-portraits, and everything in between can be purchased in the vast market complex.

Wulong County is around one hour by train, and it offers one of the most splendid sites to be found in Chongqing. The massive Wulong National Geology Park conceals natural wonders and an ornate, ancient complex at the bottom. Moreover, Transformers 4 was filmed here, so naturally a large Dinobot is on display at the park.

Check out the Top 10 Things to Do in Chongqing

8. Fenghuang – China’s Time Machine

The ancient town of Fenghuang (Phoenix), is in the Hunan province and is engulfed with natural beauty. Before the onset of China’s rapid modernization, villages like Fenghuang could be found through the country. The town itself is like stepping back into a bygone era that hardly exists in China anymore. It has become an increasingly popular location with expats who have done their research in advance.

Between Tuo Jiang River and Miao Village, you will have plenty to see and do. Shops litter the village now, so be sure to buy all the trinkets to make your trip extra special. Two days at most would be plenty of time for a traveler to take full advantage of the village’s entirety. Get ready to step back through time.

Notable Mentions

China is massive, and with that, it should be stated that the country has many cities and sites that have not been mentioned. These include but not limited to Dalian, Shangri-La City, Lijiang, Guilin, and Datong. All are amazing locations.

Whether you already live in China or are planning to visit, this list will whet your appetite and keep you fully engaged in this wonderous country. So, pack your bags and get ready to take an in-depth tour through one of most amazing places on earth.

About the Author:

Mike Santiago is a former First Leap teacher in Nanjing, China. He worked for First Leap for almost 2 years. He's originally from New York. He loves writing, traveling, and film making. You can follow many of his travels on Instagram: @michael.santiago87

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