Beijing and Shanghai are still the most popular stops for visitors to China, but off the beaten path, there’s more to explore.
The United States sends the most tourists to China—and almost all of them go to Beijing—but 2020 could be the year when visitors branch out to other destinations, especially those in rural areas.
The verdant mountains of Yunnan Province in the southwest; the historic city of Datong in Shanxi Province; and Huangshan in Anhui Province, whose dramatic mountains inspired the fictional planet in James Cameron’s Avatar, were popular travel destinations in 2019, according to an annual travel report by The China Guide, a Beijing-based travel agency.
The mountains of Yunnan Province offer a pleasant respite from the hustle and bustle of the city and are favored among hikers.
The region is also known for its dark pu’er tea and ethnic diversity, making it an ideal place for people who want to explore the cultures and lifestyles of China’s ethnic minorities.
Over to the west, in the city of Datong, well-preserved architecture and historic landmarks, including several Buddhist grottoes, are a big tourist draw.
Mount Heng, famous for its hanging temple built on a cliff 250 feet above the ground, is also located in Datong.
Two other places also stand out as emerging destinations.
“In recent years, Zhangjiajie is getting more inquiries, partially because of its transparent glass bridge over its grand canyon,” says Denny Tian, author of The China Guide report.
The glass bridge, which opened in 2016, is the world’s highest glass-bottomed bridge and, since 2018, is home to the world’s highest bungee jump, with an 890-foot drop.
Chengdu, with its giant panda reserve, is also becoming popular among foreign travelers thanks to an increase in international flights to the city, says Tian.
Beijing, though, continues to dominate, appearing on 90% of all visitors’ itineraries.
“Home to two of the best-known attractions that China has to offer—the Great Wall and the Forbidden City—Beijing is just so well known that almost all first-time travelers to the country include it on their trips,” Tian says.
Shanghai is the second-most popular, though far behind Beijing, appearing on just 25% of travelers’ itineraries.
Not surprisingly, Xi’an—home to the world-famous terracotta warriors of China’s first emperor—attracts 23% of travelers.
But off the beaten path, the five destinations of Yunnan, Zhangjiajie, Datong, Huangshan, and Chengdu promise to be hot in 2020.
Adapted from an article first published in the South China Morning Post.