In recent years, China has made an incredible leap onto the international tourism stage and is currently one of 2013's most popular destinations. While most attention is being directed at China's rapid modernization as symbolized by the glittering metropolis of Shanghai, China is still an ancient nation, replete with incredible historic treasures and stunning landscapes. Given China's vast size and historic legacy, it's no surprise that planning a trip there is a serious undertaking even for experienced travelers.
We've gone through thousands of recommendations from the community of real-life travelers and locals on minube and found the 10 most stunning places you can't miss during your trip to China. From world-famous palaces to tranquil national parks, here's a list of 10 must-see places when travelling to China.
1.) The Forbidden City - For over 500 years, Beijing's Forbidden City was the exclusive home of emperors and advisors, but since it first opened to the public, it has rapidly become one of the most-visited places on Earth. Given that there are over 980 interior buildings, trying to catalogue a list of highlights would be futile, but minube travelers suggest bringing lunch and planning on spending the whole day (it's an entire city, after all) or staying until closing time to enjoy the city as the crowds clear out. Click here to discover more about the Forbidden City. (Photo by David Esteban)
2.) Leshan Giant Buddha - Built in the eigth century in a bid to calm a raging river running by its feet, the Leshan Giant Buddha is one of China's great architectural marvels and, at 223 ft., the largest sitting Buddha on the planet. The statue is carved directly into the riverside cliffs, and travelers can climb the stairwell from the Buddha's feet to the cliff top and enjoy the massive statue from all angles. Click here to discover more about the Leshan Giant Buddha. (Photo by Juanjo Fontanet)
3.) Hanging Temple - Only 4 hours from Beijing, the Hanging Temple is one the most impressive temples in China, but also one of the least-visited by international travelers. Suspended over 100 feet above the valley floor, the buildings are connected by a series of wooden walkways offering spectacular views, and the temple is famous for its mix of Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian influences. Click here to discover more about the Hanging Temple. (Photo by Ainnur)
4.) Yuanyang Rice Terraces - For those looking for a break from China's bustling cities, there are few places better than the idyllic rice terraces of Yuanyang County in the southwestern province of Yunnan. The terraces carved into the mountainsides fill up with water, which reflects the sky, clouds, rice plants,and algae, resulting in an epic and colorful landscape described by one traveler as "immense, beautiful, and surreal." Click here to discover more about the Yuanyang Rice Terraces. (Photo by Olga Tebe)
5.) Potala Palace - Nowhere in the world is there a better display of Tibetan architecture than the Potala Palace, former home of the Dalai Lamas, and the political-religious seat of Tibet. The Palace, which is comprised of over 13 stories and two main palaces, is open to both visitors and pilgrims but only admits a limited number of visitors a day, so arrange to arrive at the ticket counter early, or reserve a trip with a local group. Click here to discover more about the Potala Palace. (Photo by Juanjo Fontanet)
6.) Jiuzhaigou Valley - Nestled in the mountains of the Sichuan province of southwest China, the Jiuzhaigou Valley is a wonderland of waterfalls, trails, villages, and crystal-clear glacial lakes in vivid hues of blue, green, and turquoise. While off-the-trail hiking and exploring is permitted to a limited extent, many travelers recommend taking the park's hop-on-hop-off bus which stops in the main scenic areas and lets travelers choose the sections they'd prefer to explore on foot. Click here to discover more about the Jiuzaigou Valley. (Photo by Oscar)
7.) Terracotta Army - Discovered in 1974, the Terracotta Army site features thousands of life-sized soldiers, officers, horses and chariots, each with individualized faces and uniforms. The most stunning part, however, is the sheer visual scale: travelers are confronted with an entire standing army (ceramic, of course) spread throughout four massive pits and is a delight for travel photographers now that the long-standing ban on photos has been partially lifted. Click here to discover more about the Terracotta Army. (Photo by Rodrigo Nieto)
8.) Yungang Grottoes - Located near the Hanging Temple, the Yungang Grottoes and their 50,000 Buddha statues are one of the highlights of northern China. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the grottoes are comprised of dozens of caves and thousands of sculptures carved directly into the cliffs, and is one of the most popular regional attractions among Chinese tourists. Click here to discover more about the Yungang Grottoes. (Photo by Wtfdani)
9.) Yangshuo - Since the mid-1980s, the town of Yangshuo has been drawing travelers from within China and around the world to explore the otherworldly landscape of angular green hills jutting up into the sky, waterfalls and rivers. Many travelers describe Yangshuo as their favorite part of China, and recommend renting bikes to explore the trails running through the peaceful landscape or hiring a boat to view the area from the Yi River. Click here to discover more about Yangshuo. (Photo by Charlie81)
10.) Great Wall of China - Of course, no list about China would be complete without China's most iconic monument, and one of the Seven Wonders of the World: The Great Wall. The Wall, which stretches over 13,000 miles, is easily accessible for travelers in Beijing, many of whom hire informal guides to take them out to nearby sections of the wall. It's a good idea to avoid visiting during winter months (temperatures at the wall can drop well below zero), and make sure to bring comfy shoes as the hike, while well worth it, can be tough. Click here to discover more about the Great Wall of China. (Photo by Juan Antonio Perez)