Travelling in China is a thrilling ride. It’s so big that each region has its own cuisine, and it’s developing so fast you can almost see it changing in front of your eyes. The cultural and administrative centres of Shanghai and Beijing are home to some of the world’s most amazing historic sights. While the smaller cities (with populations larger than that of many European countries) are what push forward China’s steamroller economy. You’ll find people eager to meet you, food that will blow your mind, and a mix of the ancient and the modern that’s incredibly compelling.
A visit to Beijing means diving straight into China’s history. Beijing is a bureaucrat’s town that also happens to be packed with beautiful, powerful sights like the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. The food in Beijing is particularly good – head to Ghost Street (Guijie) to sample treats from a huge range of stalls. From Beijing, a visit to the Great Wall of China is easy. Standing atop it and watching it stretch into the distance is a thrill unequal to any other.
Shanghai is Beijing’s noisier, cooler little sister, a city with a more cosmopolitan feel and a diverse range of nightlife venues and restaurants that go from cheap and cheerful street food to some of the world’s most expensive cocktails. Walk down The Bund and check out the juxtaposition of architecturally daring modern skyscrapers and colonial-era buildings.
Guangzhou, close to Hong Kong, is an up-and-coming Chinese destination, with its own handful of incredibly ancient relics, a booming design hotel scene, and a sub-tropical climate that in the winter makes a welcome change from the frigid north.
Because of China’s size, distances are enormous; make sure to take that into account when planning your trip. High-speed train connections exist between some cities, but in other parts of the country you may find yourself on long, leisurely bus rides instead.