The Complete China Bucket List: 50 Incredible Things to do in China

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After living in China for almost five years, I’ve had some pretty incredible adventures. In fact, I’ve done so many things in China, that I could only come up with 10 items on my 50 item China bucket list that I HAVEN’T done.

China Bucket List

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Whether you’re planning a trip to China, or you’re moving here for a few years, I hope this list gives you some great ideas and travel inspiration.

From the well-trodden (but amazing) tourist attractions to the off the beaten path adventures, here are 50 incredible items you NEED to add to your bucket list.

PS- Be sure to keep an eye out for BONUS items. These bonus additions are ways to make your bucket list item a little more unique and exciting!

Here it is: 50 Incredible Things You Need to Do in China!

Wild Great Wall

1. Hike China’s Great Wall

Completed: Spring 2012

Well, this one is a bit obvious, isn’t it? But did you know that China has many different sections of the Great Wall you can visit? Be sure to skip Badaling (and all the crowds) and head to the uncrowded sections like Huanghuacheng, Gubeikou, Jinshanling, and Mutianyu. I’ve visited the Great Wall 5 times so far, and I’ve hiked a different section each time I go!

wild great wall

This part DEFINITELY wasn’t open to tourists

Bonus #1: Sneak onto the Great Wall!

Completed: October 2016

Want to do something different? Try hiking a section of the Great Wall that’s not officially open to tourists! Just pay a villager the equivalent of $1 USD to climb a ladder or sneak past a gate. I’ve done this three times already!

If you want to do this, be sure to download my FREE Ultimate China Survival Guide, which includes directions and a map to a secret section.

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Sneaking onto the wall not your cup of tea? Try Gubeikou! This is an official section that’s completely unrestored. I highly recommend it!

Bonus #2: Camp on the Great Wall!

I have yet to camp on the Great Wall, but it’s definitely on my bucket list. Bring a tent and camp on a secret section of the Great Wall not officially open to tourists. Don’t have a tent? Great Wall Fresh homestay will rent one to you for cheap, or consider going on a hiking adventure with Great Wall Hiking!

Xi'an city wall

Rent a bike and explore!

2. Bike the Xi’an City Wall

Completed: Summer 2012

One of the last remaining city walls in all of China, Xi’an’s city wall is perfectly preserved. Built in the Ming Dynasty (1300-1700 BC), the fact that the wall is still standing and functional is pretty impressive!

The wall surrounds all of downtown Xi’an, offering spectacular views of the city. You can also rent a bike on top of the wall (they offer single and tandem), which is the perfect way to explore. It should take you 1-2 hours to bike the whole wall depending on how much you stop, which is perfect since rental prices are based on a 2-hour window.

Bonus: Ride a Tandem Bike

Because… why not?

Want more info? Here are 10 Things You HAVE to do in Xi’an

xiaolongbao

Yummy xiaolongbao!

3. Eat Xiaolongbao in a Crowded Shanghai Restaurant

Completed: November 2013

Shanghai’s most famous local delicacy, xiaolongbao are tasty soup dumplings found in small restaurants all over the city. These little bites are filled with a soupy broth and may also contain meat, vegetables, and shrimp. To eat them, you can take a bite out of the top, suck the soup out and then eat the rest of the dumpling. It’s the only way to eat these things without getting soup all over yourself!

The most famous soup dumplings in all of Shanghai can be found right outside the Yu Gardens. The place is pretty easy to find because there’s always a line a mile long. However, I recommend finding a place packed with Shanghai locals for a more authentic meal.

Here’s a list of Foods You Need to Try in Shanghai

Hangzhou West Lake

The beautiful West Lake!

4. Wander Around Hangzhou’s West Lake

Completed: Spring 2015

Marco Polo once called Hangzhou the most beautiful city in the world, and West Lake is by far the most stunning area. Scattered around the lake are plenty of scenic spots to enjoy. Feed the fish at the Flower Pond (filled with lotus flowers), catch the bell ringing on Nanping Mountain, watch the sun set over the Leifeng Pagoda, and listen to the birds sing in the willow trees.

Seriously, if you’re in Shanghai, make a quick trip to Hangzhou just for West Lake. Take a boat out on the lake, ride a bike around the perimeter, or even catch the Impression West Lake Show.

Unfortunately for me, I only had an hour to explore West Lake on the way back from a “Foreigner Talent Show Competition” (don’t ask), but I’d love to go back!

Harbin Ice Festival

The Harbin Ice Festival!

5. Explore Harbin’s Snow and Ice Festival

Completed: Winter 2014

Harbin is most famous for its Ice Festival that lasts all winter until the snow melts. The Ice Festival is a winter wonderland of buildings, statues, and interactive exhibits all made of ice. The ice is even lit up with colored lights placed inside the ice blocks, so it is best viewed at night. During the day, visitors can walk across the frozen lake to Sun Island where giant snow carvings await. Both the ice and snow exhibits are works of art that are worth braving the cold to see.

I visited Harbin’s Ice Festival in 2014 and I loved it! Even though the weather was so cold the water in my eyes would FREEZE, I still had a great time wandering around both the Snow and Ice Festival. Dress warm, and literally wear all of your clothes every time you leave your hotel.

Chengdu panda reserve

Sichuan’s cute pandas!

6. Visit the Pandas in Chengdu

Completed: Summer 2012

Chengdu is home to the Panda Reserve, a wonderland reserve of both giant and red pandas. Here, the pandas have plenty of room to wander around, and there are lovely paths that snake through the park so you can get a great view of all the big fluffy pandas. You’ll see pandas sleeping, pandas in trees, baby pandas, and giant fat pandas voraciously stuffing bamboo in their faces.

This Panda Reserve also has a very successful panda breeding program, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to see little rolly polly pandas year round.

I’ve been to the Panda Reserve twice myself. The first time I had horrible food poisoning, which was a bit of a bummer, but the second time was great! Be sure to go in the morning so you can see the pandas when they’re at their most active.

Guilin terrace farm

Hiking the rice terraces is Guilin

7. Hike the Longsheng Rice Terrace Fields

Completed: October 2013

Guilin’s Longsheng Rice Terrace Fields are a sight to behold. Try a day hike between scenic villages and spend the night in a guest house. Visit from April – June to see the terrace farms glittering with water. Or head over in September – October to see the fields tipped in a beautiful golden color.

Guilin’s terrace farms are also famous for their Zhuang and Yao minority inhabitants, who dress in colored garb with silver accented jewelry and hair pieces. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see a Zhuang minority woman with her hair unwrapped. Zhuang women go their entire lives without cutting their hair, so it is really a sight to be seen!

I had the opportunity to visit the Longsheng Rice Terraces in October 2013. I stayed in Ping’an village and hiked around the town. Thankfully I was able to visit just before the National Week holiday began, allowing me to miss the crazy crowds by one day!

8. See the Caucasian Mummies in Urumqi

Completed: Summer 2012

In the distant past, Xinjiang was populated by a group of people known as Proto-Indo-Europeans. These people had blonde and red hair and wore Celtic patterned wool cloth. While these mummies are technically “petrified corpses”, the Proto-Indo-Europeans purposely buried their dead to preserve the bodies.

If you go visit these mummies, be aware that the Chinese government intentionally designs the museum to make it seem like ethnic Chinese and Proto-Indo-Europeans inhabited Xinjiang at the same time.

I’m lucky that I was able to visit with my Anthropology of the Silk Road teacher, who was able to point out that all of the items are grouped by theme, not by year, making it especially confusing when you have perfectly preserved Celtic cloth right next to Chinese items from hundreds of years later.

roujiamo

Roujiamo is amazing!

9. Eat Roujiamo in Xi’an

Completed: Summer 2012

Xi’an is famous throughout China for having incredible food! My absolute favorite is roujiamo, which is the Chinese version of a pulled pork sandwich. A good place will give you plenty of vegetable topping options, and chop up some spicy peppers if you like it hot.

I used to visit a little hole-in-the-wall shop weekly to grab a roujiamo or two, for about $1 USD each! Seriously, do not leave Xi’an without trying one of these.

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Secret Superpower

Hello Temple of Heaven!

10. Visit Beijing’s Big 3: Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace

Completed: Spring 2012 

You can’t come to China and NOT see at least one of these historic temples. Personally, I prefer the Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace to the Forbidden City, but that’s just me. Be sure to read up on the history before you go, or rent an audio guide. You may also find an English-speaking tour guide at the gate. Feel free to hire one on as long as you think the price seems fair.

China train

Taking the train to Tibet!

11. Take a Sleeper Train into China’s West

Completed: Spring 2012 

With just $70 USD and 24 hours, you can get just about anywhere in China on an old sleeper train. I absolutely love sleeper trains, and I took them many times when I was traveling on a budget throughout China. Stare out the window and catch the scenery, read a book or magazine, relax, sleep, and enjoy the ride. Just bring some earplugs for the 6 am racket when all of the older locals start chatting, sipping on their glass mugs of green tea.

Personally, I recommend grabbing a “hard-sleeper”, which is a 6-bunk open compartment. While you can ride in a nicer “soft-sleeper”, those tickets are harder to come by, and you may as well buy a plane ticket at the price they’re listed.

Bonus: Ride the Train from Xining to Lhasa

Completed: Summer 2013

One of the most beautiful train rides in the entire world, this trip is definitely bucket-list worthy. I had my face glued to the window for almost the entire ride. This train ride is also one of the best ways to combat altitude sickness on your way to Tibet.

Just be aware that you may have to get these tickets on the black market

12. Visit Xi’an’s Famous Terracotta Warriors

Completed: Spring 2012

Located about an hour outside of Xi’an, this army is made of a type of pottery or clay called “terra cotta”. These soldiers stand in perfect lines, protecting the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, in the afterlife.

The Terracotta Warriors are an open archaeological site, which means you’ll see archaeologists actively reassembling the broken pieces of clay. In the largest pit, you’ll see a series of reconstructed soldiers, followed by remnants of smashed terracotta that people are slowly piecing together.

I’ve been to the Terracotta Warriors twice, which, at the time was enough for me. However, I can’t wait to go back with my parents this fall so I can show them around!

TEFL training Shanghai

Enjoying China’s Bund Crowd-Free

13. Wander the Shanghai Bund

Completed: Summer 2012

You can’t go to Shanghai without visiting the Bund. The Bund is a stunning area where you can catch a glimpse of Shanghai’s most famous buildings from across the water. Personally, I love to go during the day when it’s less crowded, but I do suggest catching a glimpse of the Bund at night.

If you do decide to go at night, just be aggressive when it comes to squeezing through the crowds for a picture. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

What to do in xian

Learning Chinese Calligraphy!

14. Take a Calligraphy Class

Completed: September 2016

Even if you’re not an artist, I highly recommend taking a calligraphy class while in China. You’ll get to learn how to write a few Chinese characters while playing with ink and various brushes. Calligraphy classes also usually come with a bit of culture and history, giving you insight into ancient China.

While I’ve done a bit of calligraphy in the past, my first real calligraphy class was at the TangBo Art Museum in Xi’an. I can’t recommend it enough!

Bonus: Learn how to draw the hardest character

Ask your calligraphy teacher to teach you the hardest Chinese character:Biang (简体).svg biang which is actually a character for local Xi’an noodles. Yeah, I can barely even read that, let alone write it!

Guilin River Cruise

Rafting down the Li River!

15. Raft Down the Li River in Guilin

Completed: October 2013

Guilin and Yangshuo are famous for their picturesque location along the Li River. Rent a bamboo raft and sail down the Li in style, admiring the beautiful limestone cliffs and sleepy farms. While you can easily rent a bamboo raft ride in both Guilin and Yangshuo, I recommend taking the raft from Guilin to Yangshuo with all your luggage! You’ll kill two birds with one stone, and you’ll get a nice, long, one-way trip.

When I visited Yangshuo in 2013, I actually biked along the river and took the raft back. It was a perfect plan to save money on a round-trip ride, however, my friend and I ended up getting hopelessly lost among a few large farms. Thankfully we got to the pier in time for the last sunset raft!

Potala Palace

Posing for photos with Tibetan pilgrims in Lhasa

16. Visit the Potala Palace in Lhasa

Completed: Summer 2013

You can’t visit Tibet without taking a trip to the famous Potala Palace. Built by the 5th Dalai Lama in 1649, the palace is beautiful, with ornately decorated rooms dedicated to individual Buddhas as well as large golden stupas honoring late Dalai Lamas.

It’s a bit crazy to think that not too long ago, this Palace was the location of the head of government in Tibet! Now you’ll see Tibetan pilgrims (and Han Chinese tourists) all hiking up the steep steps for a glimpse of Tibetan history.

I had the incredible opportunity to visit Lhasa in 2013, where I toured Potala with my Tibetan guide, Denzin. Unfortunately, no pictures are allowed inside, so you’ll just have to believe me when I say it was beautiful!

Chinese wedding

Chinese people take their wedding photos before the wedding, so we got to see them all!

17. Attend a Chinese Wedding

Completed: October 2014

You can’t live in China without attending at least one Chinese wedding. I was invited to my first Chinese wedding in 2014 as a date to my Nigerian friend who went to college with the bride and groom. Let’s just say the wedding involved way too much food, bright spotlights, music, outfit changes for the bride, and cutting a cake that we never got to eat.

My second Chinese wedding invite came recently in June 2017. My co-worker invited me to her wedding in Fushun, a trip that took us an entire day to complete by train from Beijing. Her wedding had close to a thousand people, more outfit changes, even more food, a tea ceremony, and a spy movie starring the bridal party.

Let’s just say Chinese weddings are a production.

Beijing hutongs

Gotta love Beijing’s hutongs!

18. Get Lost in Beijing’s Hutongs

Completed: Winter 2012

I think we all know I’m a little OBSESSED with Beijing’s hutongs, and I always say you can’t come to Beijing without giving them a visit. Get lost in the hidden alleyways, try out a hutong cafe or bar, eat at a hole-in-the wall joint, and take a million photos while you’re there.

What’s a hutong you ask? “Hutong” means “alleyway street” in Chinese, and Beijing used to be completely covered in a maze of them. Unfortunately, Mao had most of them knocked down, but you can still see plenty of these little alleys in Gulou, Lama Temple, and Andingmen, between the Forbidden City and Second Ring Road.

I lived in Beijing’s hutongs for over a year and I still can’t get enough of them.

Bonus: Take a Tour!

Completed: Fall 2016

If you’re going to get lost in Beijing’s hutongs, why not learn something while you’re at it? I’m a huge fan of Context’s Hip Hutong Walks tour, that teaches you all about the history, culture, and politics of Beijing’s hutongs. Also, be sure to check out UnTour’s walking food tour, and Lost Plate’s tuk tuk food tour!

Finally, I just started giving Brewery Tours with Lost Plate a few weeks ago. If you’re a fan of craft beer, come join me on my tour!

Hua Shan

Excuse me while I pee my pants

19. Brave the Huashan Plank Walk

Completed: September 2016

Hua Shan is one of the most incredible places I’ve ever visited. Commonly referred to as the “Most Dangerous Hike in the World“, this mountain is a must-see on your trip to Xi’an. The most famous portion of the hike involves a wooden plank nailed into the side of a cliff. To get to the other side you’re given a flimsy harness, to keep you protected while people push past you on the tiny plank both ways.

It was simultaneously one of the most exciting and terrifying things I’ve ever done in my life.

If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, I still recommend heading to the mountain for some incredible views. Take a hair-raising cable car up the side of the mountain, and look down over the edge of a cliff that drops thousands of feet to the mountain floor. Just be sure to watch where you’re walking on all of those stairs so you don’t accidentally slip off the mountain.

Leshan Buddha

Check out this big boy!

20. See the Giant Leshan Buddha

Completed: Summer 2012

At 233ft (71 meters) tall, the Leshan Buddha is the largest carved stone Buddha in the world. Located just outside of Chengdu, the Leshan Buddha makes a perfect day trip and is well-worth visiting. If I had to estimate, I would say that the average person is about the size of this giant’s pinkie toe!

I was able to visit Leshan in the summer of 2012, and I have to say, I was very impressed! While you’re in the area, be sure to also stop by the Oriental Buddhist Park, which is attached to the Leshan Buddha area. You’ll find tons of caves and gardens to explore, all filled with stunning Buddha statues and carvings.

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Such an amazing show!

21. Watch the Minority Culture Show at Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Completed: Spring 2012

I’ve seen many performances in China, but the Minority Culture Show at the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain just outside of Lijiang, Yunnan takes the cake. With the mountain as a backdrop, Yunnan’s minority groups put on a spectacular show involving massive group dances, costumes, and horses!

I wasn’t originally that excited for the show when I went with my study abroad group in 2012, but I was completely amazed! I’ll be taking my parents to see it this September, and I highly recommend it to anyone traveling through Yunnan.

Tiannanmen square

Just everyone and their mother trying to get a picture of Mao

22. Pose for a Photo with Mao in Tiananmen Square

Completed: Winter 2012

What trip to Beijing is complete without a quick stop at Tiananmen. Wander around the square and contemplate the massacre that definitely did not ever happen (what massacre?!), and snap a selfie with the giant portrait of Mao placed over the entrance to the Forbidden City. Just remember to bring your passport, since a few of my friends have recently been turned away without one.

When I first came to China in 2012, snapping a photo in front of Mao with my study abroad group was what really made the fact that I was living in Beijing sink in. Whatever your feelings about Mao and the Chinese government, I highly recommend a trip, even just to see the hordes of Chinese tourists clamoring for a picture.

Zhangjiajie

The Zhangjiajie “Avatar” Mountains

23. Hike the Zhangjiajie Avatar Mountains

Completed: June 2014

Zhangjiajie, otherwise known as the “Hallelujah Mountains”, is the inspiration for the floating mountains in the movie Avatar. Visitors can purchase a three-day pass where they can hike through these beautiful mountain peaks. One look at these mountains on a cloudy day and you’ll know where the inspiration came from.

Back in 2014, I spent three days hiking Zhangjiajie with one of my best friends from college. We took the glass elevator up to the “Avatar” area and hiked up some lesser-known spots for a crowd-free experience. It was such an awesome trip! I definitely recommend you give yourself a few days to explore the park.

Bonus: Climb the Stairway to the Heavenly Gate

Zhangjiajie also hosts the Tianmen mountains where one can take a hair-raising 30-minute cable car through the mountains to witness shockingly vertical cliffs and wander out onto a glass platform floor! Visitors can also hike up hundreds of stairs to the “Heavenly Gate”, a hole in the side of the mountain with stunning views.

Malatang

Malatang is the love of my life.

24. Get Diarrhea From Too Much Spicy Food in Sichuan

Completed: Summer 2012

What’s a trip to China without a little diarrhea, am I right?

But seriously, I love spicy food and every time I come to Sichuan I literally stuff my face with it. But after a few days of spice and oil for every meal, my stomach is NOT happy. It’s not just me either! All of my foreign friends who travel to Sichuan have this problem. I guess there’s just something about the Sichuan spice that really gets your bowels moving.

Just be sure you’re somewhere near a toilet after a big hot pot meal, so you don’t end up almost pooping your pants outside a random bank behind a bush in downtown Chengdu.

Bonus: Take Chinese Medicine to Fix It!

I definitely recommend taking Immodium with you on any trip to China, however, Immodium can be a bit harsh on your stomach. If you really want to fix that diarrhea, go to a Chinese pharmacy and treat your upset tummy with some traditional Chinese medicine. You’ll know you got it right if you have to take 15+ pills a day, and they all taste like dirt.

travel is ruining my love life

Hanging prayer flags in Tibet

25. Hang Prayer Flags Above Yamdrok Tso

Completed: Summer 2013

One of my favorite memories from my trip to Tibet was hanging prayer flags above Yamdrok Tso, or Turquoise Lake. This lake is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and the surrounding mountains are completely covered in prayer flags.

If you do decide to buy a set, be sure to write someone’s name on them in marker, which will act as a prayer for their health and well being.

While at Yamdrok Tso I had the opportunity to leave a set of prayer flags for a woman with terminal cancer, which was one of the most conflicting and moving experiences I’ve ever had in my entire life. If you have a special someone you want to commemorate, I highly recommend leaving a set of prayer flags for them at Yamdrok Tso.

Check out GRRRLTRAVELER’S awesome Qinghai video!

26. Take a Boat on Qinghai Lake

Completed: Summer 2013

Qinghai lake just outside of Xining, Qinghai is definitely worth a visit on your trip to Western China. Not only is Qinghai beautiful, it’s a perfect place to relax for a few days as your body gets used to the high altitude before the long train ride to Tibet.

Qinghai Lake is China’s largest lake with a surface area of 1,667 square miles (4,217 square kilometers). It’s also extremely high in altitude, resting at a casual 10,482 feet (3,195 meters). Aside from the impressive statistics of this massive salt lake, there is another big reason you should visit: It’s stunningly beautiful!

Surrounded by fields of little yellow rape flowers (seriously, can we just call them canola??!), Qinghai Lake also contains a few stunning islands you can explore. Take a boat out on the crystal blue water, and spend a few hours enjoying the sun.

27. Visit the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Museum

Completed: January 2014

While many countries were scarred during World War II, we often forget of the atrocities China suffered in comparison to what happened to Europe. However, the Chinese have never forgotten the Nanjing Massacre (sometimes called the “Rape of Nanjing”).

If you’re able to take a trip to Nanjing, I highly recommend spending an afternoon at this museum. Learn about Japan and China’s involvement in WWII, and understand why China and Japan’s relations are so complicated today.

While I didn’t have to deal with a big crowd when I visited in January, be aware that this museum can be crazy during weekends, the summer, and Chinese holidays. I recommend going on a week day at an off-season time for a solemn, contemplative experience. It’s hard to think about the gravity of the Nanjing Massacre when you’re being bumped and pushed by hundreds of local tourists.

Gotta love Peking Duck!

28. Eat Peking Duck in Beijing

Completed: Winter 2012

You can’t come all the way to Beijing without trying a little Peking Duck! Once in the capital, be sure to find yourself a Peking Duck restaurant, and pick an appropriately sized duck for your party (seriously, 2 ducks for 8 people is too much!).

Peking Duck definitely isn’t your average meal. Firstly, the duck is cooked so that the skin is nice and crispy, and then it will be artfully sliced in front of the table. Next, you’ll take your meaty slice and place it on a thin tortilla-like wrap. Inside you can also add spring onion, cucumber, and sweet bean sauce.

If you go to a good Peking Duck place, you may also be given pop rocks and blueberry sauce to dip the crispy skin in. It’s amazing!

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge

29. Hike Tiger Leaping Gorge

Completed: Spring 2012

Far to the north of Yunnan province is Tiger Leaping Gorge, an awe-inspiring canyon surrounded by terraced farms, guest houses, and villages. It’s possible to hike the best parts in a full day, but many enjoy hiking along the gorge for a few days, staying at guest houses along the way.

Tiger Leaping Gorge is definitely one of the most incredible hikes I have ever done. My friends and I trekked along the edge of one of the most beautiful gorges in the world, watching the rushing river below. At night we slept in a guest house right along the edge of the gorge and spent the evening watching shooting stars and marveling at the lack of light pollution.

Seriously, if you head to Yunnan, don’t miss this.

Bonus: Do the 3-Day Hike

If you really want to have an incredible experience, try spending three days hiking along the entire Tiger Leaping Gorge. I have yet to do this, but it’s definitely on my bucket list!

Forbidden City

The Forbidden City!

30. Catch the View of the Forbidden City at Jingshan Park

Completed: Summer 2013

While a visit to the Forbidden City is always a nice experience (unless it’s really crowded, then maybe not), my favorite way to see this ancient site is from above! Once you’ve taken your photo with Mao in Tiananmen Square, either walk through or around the Forbidden City and climb the giant hill in Jingshan Park.

For the price of 2RMB ($.30), you can have an incredible view of the Forbidden City. Be sure to go on a clear day and bring your camera!

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Huiminjie

I love this market!

31. Stuff Your Face in Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter

Completed: Spring 2012

Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter (Huiminjie) is one of my favorite places in the entire city. With stall upon stall of fresh food, spices, snacks, drinks, and more, it’s best to come with an empty stomach. You’ll see men hoisting lamb carcasses up on poles, and vendors pounding a sweet nut mixture with giant cartoonishly-large mallets.

The best time of day to visit Huiminjie is in the evening when the trees light up with beautiful, sparkling blue lights. Come a little before sunset for great photos, and then stay for dinner!

Want more info? Here are 10 Things You HAVE to do in Xi’an

eat scorpion

Trying my first scorpion in Wangfujing

32. Try a Fried Scorpion in Wangfujing

Completed: Winter 2012

While I’m not a huge fan of Wangfujing (it’s literally just a large shopping street), or the crowded “just asking for food poisoning” food street nearby, I do think that trying a fried scorpion is a must for every traveler in China. Head over to Wangfujing’s snack food street (preferably during a non-peak time), and grab yourself a fried scorpion.

The pictures alone make the experience worth it!

Mogao Caves

Posing out front of Mogao

33. Explore the Mogao Caves

Completed: Summer 2012

A trip to Gansu province is not complete without exploring Dunhuang’s Mogao Caves. Dunhuang, a small oasis city in Western China’s Gansu province, is home to the historic Mogao cave complex. Row upon row of cave rooms carved into the side of a cliff, the Mogao caves are an incredible testament to the Silk Road.

A Buddhist complex, each cave is decorated with unique religious references and symbols. By looking at the Buddhas inside the cave, you can get a rough idea of when each room was created. If the Buddha looks Indian, this means the room was created in the earlier stages of Silk Road trade and travel. Over time, the Buddha became more and more Chinese-looking, until it resembled the fat, happy Chinese Buddha you see today.

See, I learned something from that anthropology class I took while I was studying abroad!

China too long

Dressing up in Dali’s Old Town

34. Wander the Dali Old Town

Completed: Spring 2012

One of my absolute favorite places in all of China is the Old Town in Dali, Yunnan. Wander the cobble stone streets, peer in artist’s shops, and take photos with the beautiful mountain background. Seriously, Dali looks like a beautiful Chinese Switzerland.

Take photos with the City Gate and Wuhua Tower, peer in an ancient temple or the old Catholic church, and shop for jewelry and art in one of the many hidden shops. Bonus points if you dress up and have a photoshoot like my friends and I did when we visited Dali in 2012.

If you come in March, you may even have a chance to see the Bai minority’s March Fair festival!

Freshly made sausage and bread

35. Eat Russian Food in Harbin

Completed: Winter 2014

There’s more to Harbin than just the Ice Festival. If you come way up north to this chilly city, be sure to try out some fantastic Russian food. While I was in Harbin I had some of the best beef stroganoff I’ve ever eaten in my entire life, and I rinsed it down with some vodka, because… When in Harbin?

You’ll also need to try some Russian bread at any of the bakeries around town, and well as borscht, and sarma (minced meat wrapped in baked cabbage leaves).

Bonus: Try the Fabulous Sausages!

When in Harbin you HAVE to get some Harbin Sausage, which is made in the Russian style. My friends and I found a fantastic sausage and bread shop and made our own meal of the two for one of our lunches.

Before I headed out on the train, I bought a few sausages to take home with me. However, none of them actually survived the trip back (because I ate them all, obviously).

Jiuzhaigou

Photo by iheartpandas

36. Hike Jiuzhaigou

Completed: Summer 2012

A world-famous UNESCO heritage site, Jiuzhaigou is the most beautiful place I have ever seen in my entire life. Mountain snow melts down into a valley of rivers and pools, where the turquoise water is crystal-clear all the way down to the bottom. Since the pools act as mirrors, the mountains and clouds are perfectly reflected in the water.

While you may google Jiuzhaigou and think the images are photoshopped, just know from a fellow traveler that it really is THAT beautiful.

My old digital camera photos don’t do it justice. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to go back!

Huanglong

Photo by iheartpandas

Bonus: Hike Huanglong too!

Just down the road from Jiuzhaigou Park is beautiful Huanglong. Unfortunately, I didn’t know it existed back when I visited in 2012, but fortunately, now you do!

The Huanglong Scenic and Historic Interest Area is famed for its outstanding travertine (calcium carbonate) formations. Seriously, I need to get myself back to Northern Sichuan to see this place in person!

This video was shot in Xi’an, but for the real thing, be sure to head to Beijing!

37. Eat Jianbing from a Street Vendor in Beijing

Completed: Winter 2012

If you’re going to try one street food in Beijing, it needs to be a Jianbing. The Jianbing pancake is similar to a crepe, but with a fresh egg mixed in during the cooking process. Then the whole thing is wrapped up with shredded lettuce, crunchy fried wonton, scallions, cilantro, and a tangy sauce. I love mine with a bit of spicy pepper in there too!

You can catch vendors making Jianbing all over Beijing. Just look for someone cooking a big round crepe on a flat grill, and you know you’ve found the right place. At only $1 USD for a giant crepe, these things are perfect for lunch on a budget! There’s a reason why Jianbing is so popular!

camels gobi desert

I loved my camel!

38. Ride a Camel in the Gobi Desert

Completed: Summer 2012

No trip to the Gobi Desert is complete without a camel ride! Personally, I rode camels just outside of Dunhuang in Gansu province, but there are many other places you can ride them. While you’re out on your camel, be sure to learn a bit about Chinese desert history and culture!

Bonus: Hike a Sand Dune!

If your camel ride takes you out to the sand dunes, be sure to hike up one for the view. Just a heads up, this is actually really difficult because the sand slides down as you’re trying to climb up. Once you’re at the top, be sure to slide down on your butt. It’s so much fun!

Just don’t get sand in your digital camera and kill it like I did….

Chongqing Hot Pot

Hot pot with both spicy and non-spicy broth

39. Eat Hot Pot in Chongqing

Completed: Summer 2012

Do you love spicy food? Then you HAVE to try hot pot. While you can experience this wonderful meal all across China, I recommend having it in its birthplace: Chongqing. What is hot pot? Take a boiling, spicy broth, and throw in anything imaginable. Thin slices of meat, veggies, tofu, noodles… you name it! Then dip it in a tasty sauce and eat! Personally, I love peanut sauce with a little bit of garlic.

Not a fan of spicy food? Most hot pot restaurants will let you order a pot with two broth flavors. Get one spicy side, and one non-spicy side so you won’t burn a hole in your stomach (or underwear…)

For you spicy food lovers out there, just be aware that hot pot in Chongqing and Sichuan is MUCH spicier than what you may be used to. I usually get “zhong la” (medium spicy) in Beijing, but in Chongqing, I order it “wei la” (a bit spicy).

chicken market China

mmm chicken feet

Bonus: Put Something Weird in There

Completed: Summer 2014

Chinese people love to put “weird” and “scary” foods in hot pot. If it’s up to me, I usually don’t order stomach, intestines, or blood tofu, but my Chinese friends always do.

Well, I’ve had some weird hot pot meals in my day, but the weirdest ingredient in my Chongqing hot pot has most definitely been bull penis. Yes, I literally ate a penis.

Songpan horse trek

My Tibetan guide!

40. Ride Horses on the Tibetan Plateau

Completed: Summer 2012

Heading to Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong? Stop at Songpan along the way and do a horse trek! Personally, I was supposed to do a 3-day trek, but due to my friend’s stomach issues (see number 24), I had to push it back to one day.

The Tibetan Plateau is incredibly beautiful, and seeing it from horseback makes it all the more amazing. Ride by fluffy yaks, mountain temples, and small farms, while catching incredible views. All of the trips are led by real Tibetans, and they’ll bring Tibetan snacks and meals for the ride. Honestly, I can’t wait to go back and do the 3-day trek to Ice Mountain!

Just be sure to dress warmly because the Tibetan Plateau can be freezing, even in the summer!

China Nepal Friendship Bridge

The view of Nepal from Tibet!

Bonus: Walk the Friendship Bridge from Tibet to Nepal

Completed: Summer 2013

I wanted to make this list an even 50 items but there’s just one more adventure I can’t leave out. Here’s your extra bonus item, #40.5! 

Heading to Tibet? End your trip at the border of Nepal and walk over the friendship bridge. Trust me, the experience in itself is bucket list worthy.

Chinese soldiers dig through your bags looking for Lonely Planet Tibet books, as you stand quietly and orderly in a security line. However, once you cross the border, the scene descends into chaos. Drivers shout for your attention, bargaining for a seat in a van on the two-hour trip to Kathmandu. Chickens and children run wild. The visa office is pure pandemonium as you fill out your forms and bribe the visa officer because you forgot to bring a photo of yourself… Yeah, it’s an adventure.

Yeah, it’s an adventure.

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Green tea ice cream

Eat a green tea ice cream!

My Incomplete Bucket List Items!

While I have managed to do all 41 of the above bucket list items (minus a few bonus adventures), there are a few places I have yet to visit, and things I just haven’t been able to try. Life’s no fun if you can actually complete your bucket list, right?

Here are the 10 incredible China bucket list items that have thus eluded me!

Longmen Grottoes

Photo by Rita Heine

40. Explore the Longmen Grottoes

I didn’t even know this place existed until a few weeks ago when someone asked me to help them design an itinerary. How did I not know about this place?!

The Longmen Grottoes are one of the finest examples of Buddhist art. Along with the Mogao Caves, it’s considered one of the top treasure houses of stone inscription in China.

There are as many as 100,000 statues within the 2,345 caves, ranging from an 1 inch to 57 feet (17 m) tall. Located in Luoyang, Henan province, this UNESCO heritage site is a must-see.

Huangshan

Photo by Chi King

41. Hike Yellow Mountain (Huangshan)

I’ve hiked SO MANY places in China, yet I’ve never made the trip to Yellow Mountain. One of the most famous and beautiful mountains in all of China, Huangshan was named after the legendary “Yellow Emperor” (Huang Di) in 747 AD.

Huangshan is absolutely beautiful with towering pine trees, incredible rock formations, and a rolling mist. For bonus points, watch the sunrise from the top of the mountain, or soak in one of the many mountain hotsprings!

42. Drive the Karakoram Highway

While I did head out into a small stretch of the Karakoram Highway during my trip to Xinjiang, I still haven’t seen enough of this beautiful road. This 1300 km road stretches all the way from Pakistan into Xinjiang, and is sometimes called the “China-Pakistan Friendship Highway”.

Why head to the Karakoram Highway? It’s SO BEAUTIFUL! From White Sands Lake to the Taheman Grasslands to the Subash Pass… there are so many things to see!

Tibet

Waiting for a glimpse of Everest

43. Vist Everest Base Camp

If there’s one thing I missed on my trip to Tibet, it’s the Tibetan Everest Base Camp. Watch the sunset from the China side of Mount Everest, and camp under the stars. Here you can even have a postcard sent from the highest point in the world!

Yangtze River boat

Photo by Mulligan Stu

44. Take a Cruise Along the Yangtze River

While I’ve visited the Yangtze River a few times in Chongqing and Nanjing, I never actually took a Yangtze River cruise. Personally, I’m going to wait until I have some coin saved up for a nicer Western cruise. I haven’t heard nice things about the Chinese multi-day budget cruises, and I’d rather wait for something a bit nicer.

I’d love to take a boat from Chongqing all the way to Nanjing and see some incredible parts of China off the beaten path!

Ming Tomb Nanjing

Here I am at the Nanjing Ming Tomb!

45. Visit the Ming Tombs in Beijing

I have had a chance to visit the first Ming Tomb in Nanjing, however, I STILL haven’t visited the Beijing Ming Tombs despite living in Beijing for over two years. Gotta check that one off of my bucket list before I leave!

Yurt Mongolia

Photo by James j8264

46. Camp in a Yurt in Inner Mongolia

Inner Mongolia is the one Chinese province I’m dying to visit. I want to ride horses, camp in a yurt, and experience Mongolian culture. However, I’ve been waiting to have some time off in the summer so that I can get some nice weather for the trip.

Qingdao Beer Festival

My boyfriend Chris at the Qingdao Beer Festival!

47. Drink Tsingtao in Qingdao

While I’m not a huge fan of watery Tsingtao beer, I’ve heard it tastes better in the city of Qingdao. I definitely need to head down for a weekend before I leave China and get myself a Tsingtao beer on the beach! Maybe I’ll even make it for the Qingdao Beer Festival!

Changbai Mountain

Wow! I need to get myself here!! (photo by wangyun1900)

49. Visit the Heavenly Lake in the Changbai Mountain

To be honest, I’d never even heard of the Chingbai Mountains until I read about them on my boyfriend Chris’ China Bucket List. Now we’re both obsessed and want to plan a trip.

Changbai boasts rare animals (Siberian Tigers!), amazing hot springs, and giant forests, but it’s especially famous for the Heavenly Lake, found in the mountain crater.

China ice games

Photo by Silvia of Heart My Backpack

50. Play Weird Games on a Frozen Chinese Lake

If you’ve been to China in the winter, you’ve probably seen it: Chinese people doing weird stuff on frozen lakes. Why ice skate when you can push yourself around with ski poles on a converted bench, or ride an ice bicycle?!

I constantly see this at Houhai Lake in Beijing, and even wandered around taking videos of it in Harbin (which I lost when my computer died), but I still have yet to ever rent one of these contraptions. I need to do this next winter in Beijing!

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Hua Shan

Making the descent to the Huashan Plank Walk!

Win $250 with Preferred Hotels & Resorts!

This month, I’m teaming up with Preferred Hotels & Resorts to share some incredible bucket-list destinations. Now we want to know, what awesome adventures have you checked off your bucket list?

I just shared some pretty cool adventures I’ve had in China, now it’s time to share yours! Have you seen Angkor Wat at sunrise? Stayed in an overwater bungalow in the Maldives? Stood on top of the Eiffel Tower?

Share your favorite bucket-list worthy adventure on Instagram with the hashtags #PreferredBucketList and #AdventuresAroundAsia for a chance to win $250 towards your next adventure! This reward can be used towards any participating Preferred hotel or resort across the globe for room nights, dining, or even spa services! The contest runs through the end of August so be sure to upload your image ASAP!

What do you have to lose? Show us your most incredible bucket list adventure!

China Bucket List

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Looking for more China Bucket list inspiration? Be sure to check out Aussie on the Road’s Ultimate China Bucket List for more incredible China adventure ideas!

Finally, if you’re planning a trip to China, be sure to download my FREE Ultimate China Survival Guide. You’ll find 6,000+ words jam-packed with travel tips, itineraries, and even a map to a secret section of the Great Wall!

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Now I want to know, which of these bucket list destinations have you been to? How many have you checked off this list?? Let me know in the comments! 

Thanks to Preferred Hotels & Resorts for inspiring me to write this post. As always, all adventures and stories are my own! 

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About Richelle

Expat, traveler, and spicy food lover, I’ve spent the last few years living in China and traveling around Asia. In my spare time I enjoy salsa dancing, exploring night markets and stuffing my face with street food.

22 comments on “The Complete China Bucket List: 50 Incredible Things to do in China

  1. Wow – awesome post! Reading that was a walk down memory lane for sure. I’ve crossed 30 off the list so far. Happy to say that #24 wasn’t one of them, even after eating hot pot and Mapo tofu. Thanks for the iron stomach, China! We gotta get back so we can start to cross off Western China and Tibet. Never been to any of those places! Hope you don’t mind I shared this post with the Transparent Chinese community on Facebook :)

    • Wow 30 is super impressive! I’m glad you managed to miss #24. After 5 years in China I’ve suffered #24 more times than I care to count. I really hope you can take another trip to China and visit Tibet and Xinjiang. I absolutely loved both of my trips there! Also, thanks so much for sharing my post with your community. Please feel free to share whatever you like!

  2. Awesome post! I’ve done 20 of them! I’m so going to use your bucket list to plan my next trips in a China…whenever I get this darn workers permit! I’m on my iPad so I can’t tell you all the ones I have been to, but I’ve camped in a yurt in Inner Mongolia! Epic :) you have to go!

  3. Love this Richelle!!! I hope Jiuzhaigou is still around to visit though. So bummed we never made it there, and now a big part of it has been destroyed by the earthquake. Also, we just went to Inner Mongolia a couple weeks ago, and I have to say, I was not impressed, by anything, food included! Maybe it was just the 2 places we went? Oh, and those yurts apparently cost like 800 rmb a night to stay in. Crazy! I hope when you go to Inner Mongolia you’ll have a better experience :)

    • Oh wow I heard about the earthquake but I didn’t realize it destroyed Jiuzhaigou! I’ll have to do some more research and see how it’s doing. I definitely want to go back, since my 2012 photos do not do it justice AT ALL. That’s also really sad and crazy to hear about Inner Mongolia. Personally, I really want to go to Mongolia and do a horse trek, which I think might actually be a better use of my time and money. I loved reading about the 2-week horse trek Young Adventuress did in Mongolia, and I really want to do something similar!

  4. Great list! But there’s a bunch of amazing things left off.. Riding around Lugu Hu, exploring Shangri La, visiting a minority people village in Guizhou, visiting Fenghuang ancient town, the rice paddies in yunnan, a proper KTV experience, nightclubbing at a fancy club with performers, seeing a Sichuan opera, exploring Kashgar, eating Lanzhou lamian in lanzhou etc ;) I guess the must do list for china is almost endless!

  5. Wow what a comprehensive list! It sounds silly but I am really looking forward to nr 11 (taking a sleeper train) when I will visit China next year :D

  6. This is incredibly comprehensive! Thank you so much for sharing this. We love the idea of China. We love Asia so much, so we are ready to now visit China as well. Saving this. So good and detailed!

  7. What a really cool list. ‘Nice one Richelle!

    I haven’t done anything on the list yet as I haven’t been to China as Hong Kong doesn’t count lol! However, the thing that I have always wanted to do, and still do, is to take the train from Berlin to Moscow, and then from Moscow to China, and then fly back!

    I haven’t been able to do so yet as it would mean using at least 6 weeks, which I don’t really have at the moment, as we’re using that time to go to India instead!

    • Oh wow that’s such a good one! I’ll need to up my list to 100. There’s just too many things to do in China! I really hope you can make it to China sometime soon. I’m sure you’ll love it!

    • It was actually taken at Shuicheng right next to Huanghuacheng, a section that we hiked by accident! It’s beautiful but you can’t actually get off the wall safely. There’s also a section where you have to jump into a window with a strong possibility you might fall and die. Whoopsies… But if you want to go, just be aware it’s not that safe. It is really beautiful though!

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