Highlights of China
China is truly a land of wonders, from the awe-inspiring Great Wall and the remarkable Terracotta Warriors to the spectacular natural beauty of the Yangtze River Gorge, and from age-old temples and lush mountain landscapes to vibrant modern cities buzzing with life.
The Great Wall
Named as one of the ‘New Seven Wonders of the World’ and designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, the Great Wall of China is the country’s most recognisable symbol, attracting 10 million visitors from across China and overseas every year. Construction of the Great Wall began in the third century BC, designed to protect China from the barbarians beyond. Most of the work, though, was completed several hundred years later, and as it stands, this architectural marvel stretches for an incredible 8,100km across the country from Dandong in the east to Lop Nur in the west. Most visitors head to the section of the wall nearest to Beijing, known as Badaling. This is the best-preserved part of the wall, which was built in 1505, although it has been renovated over the years. Badaling offers some of the most famous views of the Wall and its towers, and there is a cable car to take you to the highest point if you don’t fancy the walk.
The Terracotta Army, Xi’an
Discovered by chance by local farmers in 1974, the Terracotta Army of Xi’an is one of the world’s most extraordinary archaeological treasures. It is an entire model army, consisting of more than 8,000 incredibly detailed and life-size soldiers, no two of which are alike, along with hundreds of horses and chariots, and even acrobats and musicians, placed here to protect the tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, who died in 210 BC. Originally, the figures were brightly painted but the rows of armoured figures standing sentinel here, as they have done for more than 2,000 years, still present a truly awe-inspiring spectacle, and there are, no doubt, even more wonders waiting to be uncovered on this vast site, most of which is yet to be excavated, including the emperor’s mausoleum.
Forbidden City, Beijing
If there’s one sight in China’s capital that’s on every visitor’s checklist, it’s the Forbidden City. Once the exclusive preserve of the emperor and his entourage, this palace complex was the official imperial residence and centre of government from the 15th century until the end of the Qing dynasty in 1912 and was regarded as, quite literally, the centre of the universe. Surrounded by a 52m-wide moat, the complex contains some 980 buildings, and at its heart are the Three Great Halls: the Hall of Supreme Harmony, where emperors were once crowned, and which houses the elaborate Dragon Throne, the Hall of Preserving Harmony, which was a venue for imperial banquets, and the Hall of Central Harmony, where the emperor would receive officials. Today the complex serves as a huge museum, displaying the emperors’ collections of porcelain, paintings, jade and timepieces.
Shanghai is the essence of modern China, presenting the country’s past, present and future in one incredible metropolis. Constantly growing and evolving, Shanghai has also retained some of its best European-style architecture from the days of the International Settlement, when it became known as the ‘Paris of the East’. The French Concession neighbourhood, with its plane tree-lined boulevards, elegant early 20th-century buildings and wide variety of cafes and restaurants, is one of the most attractive and interesting areas of Shanghai, while the modern city is dominated by its futuristic towering skyscrapers including the 632m-high Shanghai Tower, the tallest in China. The Observation Deck on the 119th floor offers breathtaking views over the city. Shanghai’s waterfront promenade, known as the Bund, is a popular place for a stroll, while other attractions worth pausing over when you’re in the city include the lovely Yuyuan Garden, laid out with ponds, rockeries and pavilions, and the Shanghai Museum, which houses a fascinating collection of Chinese bronzes, ceramics and furniture.
Cassie loves to experience different cultures and get ‘off the beaten track’. Her favourite travel experience to date was seeing orang-utans and pygmy elephants up close and personal in Malaysian Borneo. Having visited 6 out of the 7 continents worldwide, a trip to Antarctica will be next on the list!
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