Beyond Beijing: six Chinese cities you have to know | Travel

Most guests to China are inevitably drawn to the headline-stealing trinity of Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, all huge, vibrant cities which might be, justifiably, on the prime of the listing of must-sees. However, China has greater than 100 cities of over 1 million residents, lots of which stay little recognized to international travellers however boast sights price extra consideration.


In the southern half of China’s fertile Jiangsu province, Suzhou has earned the nickname the Venice of the East because of its community of historic, picturesque canals. Suzhou has lengthy been prosperous and it supported a well-known arts and cultural scene throughout the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties; it maintains a popularity as a centre for intellectuals to this present day. While the town is now home to greater than 6 million, nearly all of whom dwell within the fashionable new components of city, Suzhou’s previous city options tiny canal-side alleyways, elegantly arched stone bridges and conventional whitewashed buildings overlooking stunning gardens.

Houses with crimson lanterns by the canal in Suzhou. Photograph: Getty Images

While many come to Suzhou for its refined heritage, the massive draw is the town’s historic gardens, 9 of that are Unesco world heritage websites. Built over 1000’s of years by students and retired government officers, the gardens are beautiful examples of the classical Chinese fashion. The largest and most well-known is the Humble Administrator’s Garden, which, whereas gorgeous, can get extraordinarily busy. Visiting smaller gardens such because the Garden of Cultivation offers a greater sense of the peaceable havens the gardens had been initially designed to be. The metropolis can be famend for its silk manufacturing and has a wonderful museum devoted to the commodity.

Where to remain
In the midst of Pingjiang Road, Suzhou’s most well-known historic canal road, Dongfang Hostel (doubles from £45 room-only) affords seven fashionable rooms with conventional Chinese design touches and is inside strolling distance of lots of Suzhou’s finest sights.

Getting there
Suzhou doesn’t have its personal airport. High-speed trains run frequently from Shanghai, taking as little as half an hour, and from Beijing, in round 5 hours.


A view over Lanzhou from Baitashan park.

A view over Lanzhou from Baitashan park. Photograph: Alamy

While sprawling, industrial Lanzhou itself shouldn’t be a fairly city, its place on the head of the Hexi Corridor means it’s the gateway to western China and a gathering level for distinct ethnic cultures. Its inhabitants of just about four million is made up of central Chinese Han, Hui Muslims and Zang Tibetans, influencing the town’s structure, tradition and meals. A journey westwards by way of China is prone to move by way of Lanzhou, which for hundreds of years has been a transport hub, a significant stronghold alongside the Silk Road and the principal crossing level of the Yellow River, the town’s biggest sight.

Crossing the Yellow River, which in recent times has been cleaned up and gentrified, is the Zhongshan Bridge, the primary everlasting bridge constructed throughout the river and now a significant vacationer attraction. From right here, it’s a straightforward stroll up the steep hillside of White Pagoda mountain park for good views over the town. Lanzhou’s white-tiled Xiguan mosque is the town’s largest and has Ming Dynasty heritage. Lanzhou is a superb place for meals lovers; its namesake dish, Lanzhou beef noodles, are served spicy for breakfast, whereas Hezheng Road evening market is the place to pattern flavours of north-west China, together with seasoned barbecued meats.

Where to remain
Being a big industrial metropolis, Lanzhou lacks charming local-style resorts. Ibis Lanzhou Zhangye Road (doubles from £32 room-only) affords primary however clear rooms a brief stroll from Zhongshan Bridge. Zhangye Road is a hub for eating places and retailers.

Getting there
Two high-speed prepare companies a day join Beijing and Lanzhou in round 8½ hours. Regular every day flights to Lanzhou’s well-connected airport take 2½ hours.


Old Town, Lijiang, China

Lijiang’s previous city streets. Photograph: Mendowong Photography/Getty Images

Modern Lijiang is on a plateau, 2,400 metres above sea stage and encompasses a small Unesco world heritage previous city, which is a picturesque maze of cobbled lanes, divided by a community of canals and swimming pools that when offered the town’s ingesting water. Lijiang is in China’s Yunnan province, which borders Vietnam to the south, and has lengthy been home to Naxi, Yi and Bai ethnic teams, whose traditions will be skilled on the Impression Lijiang present, a efficiency that makes use of the town’s surrounding mountains as a spectacular backdrop.

Since being broken by an earthquake in 1996, the realm’s conventional wooden and stone buildings have been fastidiously restored, together with the sleek waterwheels which might be among the many oldest irrigation instruments in China. Lijiang’s magnificence has led to it changing into certainly one of China’s largest vacationer attracts and, in some ways, a sufferer of its personal success. It is feasible, nevertheless, to nip off the principle vacationer drags and wander backstreets free from crowds. With the peaks of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain rising behind, the elegant Deyue Pavilion is extraordinarily stunning and one of many metropolis’s must-sees.

Where to remain
Featuring design components from native Naxi ethnic tradition, Lost Horizon Resort (doubles from £66 room-only) is a couple of minutes’ stroll from Black Dragon pond park, home of Deyue Pavilion. Some rooms have personal terraces, others have backyard views.

Getting there
There are a few flights a day from Beijing to Lijiang’s small airport, taking round 3½ hours. Alternatively fly to Kunming and switch.


Tsingtao Brewery Museum, Qingdao, Shandong, China.

Tsingtao Brewery Museum. Photograph: Alamy

While many will, maybe unwittingly, recognise this seaside metropolis’s identify from sampling a bottle of China’s best-known beer, Tsingtao, few might know that Qingdao’s well-known brewery is the results of the town’s German previous. Annexed by Germany in 1897, after the homicide of two German missionaries, it was ceded to the nation for 99 years. Qingdao made a perfect deep-water port for the German navy and, whereas there, they established a brewery that produced the now-famous beer. The metropolis was ultimately taken over by the Japanese in 1914, earlier than being returned to China in 1922.

German Protestant Church at 15 Jiangsu Lu, Qingdao, Shandong, China, North-East Asia, Asia

German Protestant Church at 15 Jiangsu Lu. Photograph: Martin Moos/Getty Images

A high-rise fashionable metropolis of just about 6 million individuals, Qingdao maintains touches of its Germanic heritage. The splendid Governor’s House Museum affords an fascinating glimpse into the town’s previous, whereas the red-roofed protestant church is on a road of different German-style buildings. Beer followers can tour the Tsingtao Brewery and each August there’s a global beer pageant, whereas year-round the adventurous could make just like the locals and pattern Tsingtao Draft on the road in a plastic bag.

Where to remain
With rooms opening onto central courtyards embellished with nautical ornaments and photographs from the proprietor’s travels, the Wheat Youth Hostel (doubles from £22 an evening, room solely) has a pleasant, communal really feel, whereas providing easy personal rooms with en suite bogs.

Getting there
Regular high-speed trains from Beijing to Qingdao take round 5 hours, whereas flying takes 1½ hours.


Xiamen, fujian province, China

Xiamen seafront. Photograph: Getty Images

The previous port city of Xiamen is maybe higher recognized to outsiders as Amoy, the identify utilized by international merchants when the town was certainly one of China’s Treaty Ports, opened after the primary opium battle led to 1842. The metropolis, nevertheless, first got here to prominence throughout the Song Dynasty (960–1279), when its naturally deep harbour turned a hideout for pirates and a centre for unlawful imports. During international occupation within the 19th century, Xiamen was well-known for exporting teas from south-eastern Fujian province, earlier than this commerce moved to Taiwan. With gentle and nice climate all 12 months spherical, Xiamen is home to a few of China’s nicest metropolis seashores. Its comparatively relaxed, holiday-resort really feel belies the town’s large measurement – virtually four million individuals dwell right here. There’s an atmospheric previous city, with bustling slim streets main right down to the busy seafront. Gulangyu Island, a 10-minute ferry experience off the town’s coast, was Xiamen’s international concession till the second world battle and options the crumbling previous colonial mansions of Europeans and Japanese settlers. Out into the countryside surrounding Xiamen, the otherworldly earthen Hakka roundhouses are worthy of a go to.

Where to remain
On Gulangyu Island, simply minutes from the ferry pier, Gulangyu Luyisi Villa Hotel (doubles from £35 room-only) affords uniquely embellished rooms in an previous red-brick mansion. At evening, Gulangyu is atmospheric, although additionally exceptionally quiet.

Getting there
Regular flights from Beijing take round three hours, whereas the quickest trains from Shanghai attain Xiamen in about 6½ hours.


Haikou Old Town.

Haikou Old Town. Photograph: Getty Images

Haikou, capital of Hainan Island, China’s southernmost province, has all of the character of a typical south-east Asian metropolis: a damp local weather, pleasantly decaying colonial structure, a laid-back vibe and palm tree-lined streets. With a inhabitants of round 2 million, Haikou is the driving power behind Hainan’s financial improvement and has lengthy been an essential port; the town was opened to international commerce beneath the Treaty of Tianjin in 1858. Hot year-round, Haikou makes for an fascinating cease en path to exploring the remainder of the island. Be certain to hit the previous city’s unrestored backstreets for a glimpse of Haikou every day life, full with washing strung up alongside phone wires. Arcade buildings are the norm on this space, giving the Qi Lou (Arcade) Snack Street – one of the best place to pattern the town’s road meals – its identify. Down the coast, the four-mile-long Holiday Beach hosts water actions akin to windsurfing and kayaking on its golden sands.

Where to remain
Qilou Huanke 1921 Boutique Homestay (doubles from £41 an evening, room solely) is on pedestrianised Zhongshan Road, in Haikou’s previous city. Simply embellished, combining minimalism with conventional Chinese components, the lodge encompasses a terrace overlooking the bustling streets.

Getting there
Regular flights from Beijing take round 4 hours; three hours from Shanghai.

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