Is Shanghai a tourist-friendly city

The 10 most beautiful cities in China

Think China and you will likely conjure up images of huge, sprawling cities. But the country is also home to some charming little towns. We explore some of the most picturesque areas.

Zhouzhuang

Zhouzhuang - often referred to as the "Venice of the East" - is located between Shanghai and Suzhou in the Chinese province of Jiangsu - is one of the most beautiful water cities in the country. The town's pretty streets and the lovely stone bridges that cross its rivers and waterways are a treat in themselves. But the 900-year-old city is also home to many attractions that history buffs will enjoy. These attractions include Zhang Ting - a sprawling Ming Dynasty residence with six courtyards and more than 70 rooms - and the Quanfu Temple, a beautiful Buddhist temple on the edge of Lake Baixian.

Zhouzhuang, China

Zhouzhuang, China | © Caitriana Nicholson / Flickr


Fenghuang

Located at the foot of the green mountains on the edge of the Tuojiang River, Fenghuang has been hailed as the most beautiful city in China by New Zealand-born writer and political activist Rewi Alley. The ancient city of Hunan is home to many Miao people, whose customs and culture can be seen everywhere. There are traditional wooden stilt houses, or "diaojiaolou", along the river and batik-printed cloths for sale in the shops, along with local culinary delights such as savory pickled red peppers and ginger jars. Local historical attractions include Huang Si Qiao Castle - built in 687 and China's best-preserved stone castle. It's a couple of miles west of the city.

Fenghuang, China

Fenghuang, China | © melenama / Flickr


Heshun

Over in western Yunnan, not far from the Burmese border, lies the small, remote town of Heshun with only 6,000 inhabitants. An earlier stop on the Southern Silk Road, also known as Tea Horse Road, was used by many of Heshun's former residents to take advantage of their location and travel abroad. They built magnificent houses that mixed both Chinese and foreign architectural styles on their return. You can still see that in the city today. In the pretty cobblestone streets, visitors discover landmarks like the Heshun Library, one of the largest rural libraries in the country. There is also a monument to the Chinese philosopher Ai Siqi.

Heshun, China

Heshun, China | Courtesy of China Highlights


Shiwei

Nearby is Shiwei - a small border town in northeast Inner Mongolia on the border with Russia. As a cultural enclave for the country's Sino-Russian minority, the mix of cultures is visible everywhere. It can be seen from its architecture - beautiful Russian log houses known as "mukeleng" - to its local food that combines Chinese Shao Kao barbecue recipes and Russian lie ba bread. The city is surrounded by wide green meadows. One of the best ways to see the area is on horseback.

Shiwei, Inner Mongolia, China


Yangshuo

Famed for the dramatic karst mountains that surround it, Yangshuo is a bustling, tourist-friendly city on the banks of the Li River in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Although the city has seen a boom in visitors in recent years, Yangshuo has managed to retain its historical character. The modern restaurants and shops are centered on West Street, the city's main attraction, and its oldest is more than 1,400 years old. Among them, visitors will find a lot of traditional architecture and charm. Indulge in slow trips and take a boat across the Li River from neighboring Guilin. It is without a doubt the nicest way to arrive in Yangshuo.

Yangshuo, China

Yangshuo, China | © David Boté Estrada / Flickr


Tongli

Another quaint Jiangsu water town, Tongli is a quaint little town just a short drive west of Zhouzhuang. Surrounded by five lakes and criss-crossed by canals, Tongli consists of seven islands with a total of 49 bridges (most of which are a century or more old) that connect the city. Rent a gondola and see the pretty city from the water. But be sure to make a stop at Tuisi Yuan (Retreat and Reflection Garden) - part of the Suzhou Classical Gardens. These were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000 and are a lovely place well worth the detour.

Tongli, China

Tongli, China | © Ginny / Flickr


Dunhuang

The small north-western town of Dunhuang is an oasis in the barren expanse of the Gobi Desert. Formerly one of the most important stops along the Silk Road, this place is a paradise for history buffs. There are no fewer than 241 historical attractions in and around the city. Just outside of town, visitors will find the White Horse Pagoda. It was believed to have been built in 382 to commemorate the horse used by Buddhist monks who carried Buddhist scriptures from Kucha to Dunhuang. Nearby are the Mogao Caves - a UNESCO World Heritage Site that houses a treasure trove of Buddhist art.

Dunhuang, China

Mogao Caves, Dunhuang, China | © Laika ac / Flickr


Gulangyu Island

A small island is a short boat ride from Xiamen City. Gulangyu Island takes its name from two Chinese words - "gu" means drum and "long" means waves - and is named for the drum-like sounds that the tides make when they hit the reef that surrounds the island. Gulangyu is a quiet retreat from the bustling city nearby and is listed as an AAAAA Scenic Area by the China National Tourism Administration. It used to be an international settlement and is known for its beautiful colonial, Victorian architecture. Other attractions the city has to offer include the beautiful Shuzhuang Garden. Meanwhile, a drive up Sunlight Rock - the highest point of Gulangyu - offers breathtaking views of the island and coast.

Gulangyu Island, China

Gulangyu Island, China | © SaraYeomans / Flickr


Hongcun

Movie fans might want to visit Hongcun, an ancient Anhui village in the mist-shrouded foothills of Huangshan Mountain, from Ang Lees Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, recognized by China's finest Ming and Qing dynasty architecture, the village provided a suitably historical and mystical setting for several scenes from the Oscar-winning film. Much of the village, which, along with neighboring Xidi, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, is located around its crescent-shaped pond. Attractions in the area include Chengzi Hall, a magnificent residence from 1855. This place is decorated with ornate carvings in wood and stone and now serves as a museum that is open to visitors. Hongcun, China

Hongcun China | © Thomas Fischler / Flickr

dali


Dali is a beautiful old town on the edge of Erhai Lake, which is known for its natural beauty and the impressive marble from the region. The large city gates greet visitors to the city and give way to the cobblestone streets that are home to a multitude of beautifully preserved traditional Bai folk houses. The three pagodas of Chongsheng Temple - from which he and

er years - are an unforgettable sight. Lots of authentic handicrafts, from local marble artwork to embroidered bai scarves, can be purchased on the street. Another Dali must-do is the three-course tea - a Bai tradition that welcomes guests with bitter, sweet and aftertaste teas. Dali, China Dali, China | © tak.wing / Flickr


Author: Arturo Clark

Arturo Clark is a 36 year old journalist. Extreme web lover. Prone to apathetic seizures. Lovers of alcohol. Twitter geek. Bacon Evangelist. Incurable beer dealer. Food expert. Professional student.