China is a massive, spell-binding country, from the deserts in the west to the ocean in the east. And its layers of mysterious mountains, picturesque rice terraces, Silk Roads and cutting-edge cities make for a thrilling travel experience.
Whether you're a first-time visitor or a Mandarin expert, Orbitz will help you plan your China vacation. We'll guide you with top 10 attractions and offer inside tips on scaling that famous wall.
Given China's size, the climate and seasons vary country-wide. Overall, the weather is best from late April to June, and September to October. Beijing is ideal from April to October, but humidity spikes between June and September. Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Hainan are pleasant in November and December, Shanghai in October and May.
If weather and large crowds aren't your concern, how about a Chinese New Year? Though the date changes every year, plan your trip around late January or early February. Tourist season peaks across China the first week in May and October for national holidays.
For a taste of authentic rural China -- rice terraces, other-worldly karst peaks, jungle-like landscapes -- head to Guangxi, which is perfect for hiking, cycling and river trips.
Drink with the posh crowd at this under-the-radar Shanghai hotspot, located down a Donghu Lu alley. Look for the anonymous black door with a tiny monkey print on it, and buzz to get in. Wet your whistle on swanky (read: pricey) libations such as prosecco mixed with lemon and lavender syrup.
Comprising one province and three regions, stay in the center or the south to soak up steamy bamboo forests and Ming-Dynasty villages. Head north to see lakes and mountain scenery and west for remote Tibetan-plateau grasslands.
History buffs are drawn to more than a dozen churches here, including the Ruins of St. Paul, the Chapel of St. Francis Xavier, and St. Joseph Seminary and Church atop Mato Mofino hill. Explore the scenery along Guia Hill, home to China's oldest lighthouse. A museum pays tribute to Japanese and Vietnamese Christian martyrs.
If you're going to Hong Kong, head to the Tourism Board to score discounts on unique tours. You can find anything from a free ride aboard the Duk Ling to a tea appreciation class.
What's China without seeing a Giant Panda? Head to the Bifengxia Panda Base, a few hours outside Chengdu, to see these black-and-white national treasures. (Arrive in the morning -- you'll see the most pandas before 9:30, including the babies.) This popular stopover offers photo ops galore, and if you've got a real soft spot, visitors can name and adopt their own with a donation.
With its glorious interiors, lavish halls and imperial art collection -- not to mention name -- this Chinese masterpiece draws quite a crowd. Centuries ago, a visit would have cost you your life. Today, this icon, located in the heart of Beijing, is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the world. Forbidden City (called Gugong in Chinese) is directly north of Tiananmen Square, where the famous portrait of Mao Zedong hangs on the palace's crimson wall. Beware: On major holidays, only a limited number of visitors are allowed in.
Hop aboard a steamship in Xiamen City to see to this Chinese beauty. Gulangyu Island, minutes from Xiamen City, is in China's southeast Fujian Province. Known for its ancient relics and architecture, the island ranks at the top of the list of China's most scenic spots. Sunlight Rock, Bright Moon Garden, Yu Park and Xiamen Museum are highlights.
According to legend, in the mid-1970s a group of peasants were digging a well -- only to find the terracotta army. Buried here 210 BC, near the burial site of the first Qin emperor, the thousands of life-size sculptures have unique faces and armor styles appropriate to their rank. The figures also include chariots, horses, acrobats, officials and more. This archaeologists' dreamland is a can't-miss in China, and it's just east of Emperior Qin Shi Huang's Mausoleum in Lintong, Xian, Shaanxi Province.
If you're going to Shanghai, you're going to see The Bund. A showcase of Shanghai's corporate elite, this gorgeous cluster of buildings forms a crescent-shaped stretch where the Huangpu and Suzhou River meet. The Bund is a fabulous place to see Shanghai's exotic (and luxurious) architectural history, and nighttime brings electrifying scenes -- especially along the newly restored Waibaidu Bridge, which cycles through an array of colored lights.
Plan ahead: walking shoes, bottled water, camera, foot massage. The Great Wall winds its way across China, spanning some 5,500 miles. The most popular section is Badaling (a few hours from Beijing) for its easier climbs and extensive modern renovations. Mutianya, a little further out, draws less of a tourist scene, but expect some steeper slopes -- and a cable car option. For a strenuous climb, head to Simatai, where the terrain is dramatic to boot. In a hurry? The Great Wall in Shixiaguan (near Beijing) is visible from the road.
With a 2,000 year history in its wake, it's no wonder this ancient trail is a draw for visitors. Camels, desert caravans and seekers journeyed from Chang'an (now Xian) in the far east to Rome, Italy in the west, bearing spices, silks and more. Mysterious cities and remote Asian deserts dot the way -- and a bike trip down the ancient route is definitely worth it.
Yellow Mountain, also known by its moniker Huangshan, is famous for its uniquely-shaped pines, fantastic rock peaks, clouds and hot springs. Located in Anhui Province (east China), the mercurial scenery is its most outstanding feature: Clouds drift in and out, changing the light from minute to minute, while dreamy mists swirl by.