Which Chinese city impresses you the most

Travel special: 14 times China

A huge country full of art and culture - it's easy to lose track of things. Here we present the most interesting destinations to you - regardless of whether you are traveling in an organized manner or on your own

From Confucius to the Imperial Temple

1. Detour to the Ming period

Pingyao. A mighty wall still surrounds the wonderfully preserved city, which we report on on pages 34–41. The bulwark is 6.4 kilometers long and up to twelve meters high, reinforced with 3000 battlements, which symbolize the 3000 pupils of Confucius; City troops looked for attackers from 72 watchtowers. The old town, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997, spreads out behind the defensive structure - it is China's largest and best-preserved urban ensemble from the Ming and Qing times, with filigree wooden architecture, courtyards designed according to Fengshui laws, and perfectly preserved temples as well as - also remarkably well preserved - China's first banking house. The city charges a flat entry fee, the ticket for 120 yuan (approx. 11 euros) is available at the information kiosk in front of the wall. Good information in English: www.pingyao.cc

Get there: All trips in and through Shanxi Province (not to be confused with Shaanxi, capital: Xi'an, approx. 600 kilometers southwest) have Pingyao in their program. Two days should be estimated for the city. De Ju Yuan Inn: www.pydjy.net

2. Places for the ages

Qing tombs. China's most impressive imperial tombs are by no means the famous and much-visited Ming tombs 50 kilometers from Beijing. More grandiose is the necropolis of the Qing rulers in Malanyu, around 125 kilometers from the capital. Five emperors of this dynasty, who came from Manchuria, ruled from 1644 to 1911 and made China a superpower, were buried here with pomp and expense. The graves of the Qianlong Emperor (1711–1799) and the Dowager Empress Cixi (1835–1908) are open to the public. The rich grave goods were looted in the turmoil of war in the twenties, but the mausoleums are still worth seeing. The skilful stone carvings, the architectural splendor and the harmonious location in the middle of a magnificent landscape are particularly impressive. The complex is around 48 square kilometers, so you need a vehicle to get from one system to the next - and it is comparatively little visited, so it is often quiet and atmospheric. Daily 8.40 a.m. - 5.30 p.m.

Get there: Seldom included in standard round trips. The China Travel Service offers excursions from Beijing, starting at 150 euros.

3. Imperial summer retreat

Chengde. The rulers of the Manchurian Qing dynasty conquered all of China from the 17th century and subjugated the warring peoples in the border areas. The defeated tribal princes from Mongolia and Tibet were regularly summoned to the "mountain castle, in which one escapes the summer heat" (Bishu Shanzhuang), built in 1703, to perform their kowtowing before the emperor; after that they were kept happy with luxurious hunting parties. The emperors also spent the summers in the 560 hectare summer residence in Chengde, the former Jehol around 250 kilometers northeast of Beijing. For several months the entire court, around 1000 people, moved from hot Beijing to the wooded and cooler mountains. The "Eight Outer Temples" were built in a semicircle around the palace, symbolizing the emperor's sovereignty over subjugated regions and neighboring peoples. Summer residence and temple daily from 8.10 a.m. to 5.30 p.m.

Get there: Chengde is a stop on cultural and study tours, for example at Studiosus and Dr. Tigges. Bookable as a travel module from Beijing at Caissa (2 days, train journey, 165 euros) or Marco Polo (3 days, private car, companion, Chengde and Great Wall near Jinshanling, from 315 euros).

4. The seat of Manjushri

Wutai Shan. In the middle of the mountains of Shanxi Province rise the five peaks of Wutai Shan, the "Five-Terrace Mountains", which Buddhists venerate as sacred. Each of its peaks, up to 3000 meters high, is considered to be the residence of one of the embodiments of Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of wisdom. Tibetans and Mongols also regard Manjushri as the guardian of their Buddhist schools, and so Wutai Shan, located at the gateway to Mongolia, also advanced to become the most important holy mountain for Mongolian Buddhists. The highest point is the northern summit (Beitai Ping), the "roof of North China", with a height of 3058 meters. Almost 60 magnificent temples, many in Mongolian and Tibetan styles, are spread over the slopes, including the huge Xiantong Temple, one of the oldest in China, founded in 68.

Get there: Station in the historic Shanxi Province: see information on Pingyao (1). Available as a travel module from Marco Polo: from Beijing, by train and private car, visits also to the Yungang Grottoes and Pingyao. Six days, Beijing to Xi'an, from 460 euros.

5. Buddha's grottoes

Longmen Grottoes. In the sixth century, Luoyang was not only the capital of China, but also the glamorous center of East Asian Buddhism. Along with sculpture, the caravans brought an extraordinary architectural technique and construction method from Iran and India to China via the Silk Road: the creation of rock grottos. Numerous Buddhist cave complexes arose along the Silk Road - most of them carved out of the rock by hand over decades. Longmen, however, about 14 kilometers south of Luoyang on the Yi River, surpasses all other grottoes in China in size, splendor and artistic mastery. Over the course of 400 years, monks and artists created around 2,100 grottos and niches with almost 100,000 statues and portraits. Good descriptions and information in English are available at: www.longmen.com

Get there: Marco Polo offers the grottoes as part of a private trip from Beijing to Shanghai. 17 days, from 2099 euros. Many China tours also stop at the Longmen Grottoes.

6. Cradle of Confucianism

Qufu. Only the Imperial Palace in Beijing is more significant than the extensive memorial to Confucius (551–479 BC, called Master Kong in China) in the small town of Qufu in Shandong Province. Just two years after the death of the philosopher, who was later worshiped as God, his students erected his first memorial. The more Confucianism became the official state doctrine, the more extensive and complex was built in Qufu until the complex had reached its present size of 21 hectares. The path through the Confucius Temple (Kong Miao) is inspired by the orthodox spirit of Confucius: The visitor passes through 54 gates with such subtle names as "Gate of the original ether and the highest harmony" or "Gate of the timelessness of the holy" and gets one Presentation of the importance of Confucianism in China. Right next door is the 16 hectare residence of the Kong family (Kong Fu), where the descendants of the great thinker lived - 77 generations over a period of around 2500 years.

Get there: "China Overland", a bus tour by Ikarus-Tours from / to Beijing, also stops in Qufu. 22 days, from 2450 euros. Gebeco combines the home of Confucius with the small terracotta army of Xushou and the garden landscape of Suzhou. From 1645 euros.

7. The splendor of the empire

Xi'an. No other metropolis in China has been the capital of the country longer. For more than 1000 years, the Sons of Heaven ruled their vast empire from Chang'an ("Long Peace"), as Xi'an was called at that time. In the Tang period (618–907), Chang'an was the largest city on earth with a million inhabitants and an area of ​​80 square kilometers. But with the end of the Tang rulers in 907, Chang'an's star also declined. To this day, an abundance of breathtaking archaeological and historical relics has been preserved. The city wall once measured 13.7 kilometers and has only fallen into disrepair; today it encloses the settlement area of ​​almost four million people. In the Tang period, Chang'an was one of the centers of Chinese Buddhism, so no city has more Buddhist temples than Xi'an. An important Muslim community also developed at the end of the Silk Road - its wooden mosque, facing east-west towards Mecca, goes back to earlier buildings, and its current form dates from the Ming and Qing periods. Xi'an's world-famous attraction is outside the city: the tomb of the first emperor Qin Shi Huangdi (259–210 BC) with the terracotta army, which was discovered in the 1970s. It is not the only imperial tomb, but the center of an entire grave landscape that is unique in the world. The emperors from 13 dynasties as well as hundreds of women, officials and princes rest in the necropolis. Han Yangling, the grave of Han emperor Jingdi (188–141 BC), with a new, unique museum that was built underground directly in front of the burial mound, is spectacular and still not very crowded.

Get there: No tour of China can do without Xi'an and the Terracotta Army - all tour operators have the city and its surroundings in their catalog.

From Dao to Terracotta Armies

8. The classic gardens of the Lower Yangtze

Suzhou. The Daoist seeks eternal and happy life, the Confucian sage finds his inner peace by the water at the foot of a mountain. Both ideas merged into the guiding principle of classic garden architecture. The private gardens of wealthy officials were designed as total works of art that reflected simplicity, formlessness and desirelessness. Some of the most beautiful gardens in China can be admired in Suzhou, also known as the "Venice of the East" and located 85 kilometers west of Shanghai: the Garden of the Master of Fishing Nets (Wang-shi Yuan), the Garden of the Modest Official (Zhuozheng Yuan) , the Lion Forest Garden (Shizi Lin) and the Garden of Lingering (Liu Yuan). Daily 7.30 a.m. - 5 p.m. Collective ticket for the four gardens 7 euros. Information: www.suzhou.gov.cn

Get there: At Caissa-Touristik, travelers to China can book an excursion by train from / to Shanghai; one person pays 125 euros, two people together 160 euros. With China Tours, the trip "China with Yangtze" also leads to Shuzhou; 15 days, from 1895 euros.

9. Excursions to the water country

Xinchang. The megacity of Shanghai reaches out in all directions like an octopus, but in the west and south of the megalopolis you can still find the vast and very picturesque "water country" - with villages that are crossed by canals and which in the past could only be reached by boat . In places like Luzhi, Tongli, Zhouzhuang, Zhujiajiao or Wuzhen, visitors can still feel a deep serenity that has long since given way to the hustle and bustle of the economic boom elsewhere. Although these villages have already been developed for tourism, they are still worth a visit. Xinchang, on the other hand, seems to be in a deep slumber, a village in Shanghai's Pudong economic zone that exudes the charm of bygone times. However, Xinchang is no longer completely undiscovered: in 2006, Oscar-winning director Ang Lee ("Tiger & Dragon") shot parts of his new film "Se Jie" ("Danger and Desire") in the dreamy little water village.

Get there: Gebeco offers the "China express" trip, which also goes to Wuzhen. 14 days, from 1390 euros.

10. Land of the Immortals

Huang Shan. There are many mysterious, bizarre and dramatic mountain regions in China, but the beauty of the Yellow Mountains (Huang Shan) is considered unique. The Huang Shan has inspired generations of Daoist landscape painters to create masterpieces. The mighty rock peaks tower up to 1,800 meters. Endless stairs with thousands of steps carved into the rock connect valleys and peaks, which are often veiled by wafts of mist and clouds and seem to be lost in infinity. Rugged, steep rock faces, gnarled pines and deep gorges form the fascinating backdrop on the way up. At the foot of the Huang Shan, the two Unesco World Heritage villages, Hong Cun and Xidi Cun, complete the picture of a classic Chinese cultural landscape. Both villages have been preserved in the style of the Ming period (1368–1644). Information - also about the weather - at: www.huangshantour.com

Get there: The hike through the Yellow Mountains is a highlight on Gebeco's journey "Picturesque China". 12 days, from / to Shanghai, from 1335 euros.

11. Small Terracotta Army

Xuzhou. It doesn't always have to be the large terracotta army of the Yellow Emperor near Xi'an. Almost as impressive is the terracotta army of Xuzhou, the birthplace of Liu Bang (247–195 BC), the founder of the Han dynasty. With more than 4800 figures, this tomb army is one of the "Three Wonders of the Han Dynasty" and is the only tomb of its kind that has so far been found outside the complex of Xi'an. Daily 8.30 a.m. - 4.30 p.m.

Get there: Included at Gebeco in the already presented Beijing-Shanghai trip.

12. Picturesque landscapes

Zhangjiajie National Park (a)

Karst Mountains near Yangshuo (b)

For Chinese landscape painters, a perfect scenery must have three characteristics: mountains that rise abruptly from flat land, rivers and streams that meander between the mountains, and a hilly landscape that extends in gently undulating lines that underlines the grandeur of nature. The Chinese word for it is shan shui - and nowhere is the ideal more perfectly realized than in the lovely karst landscape near Yangshuo in Guangxi and in a more untamed form in the Zhangjiajie National Park in Hunan. The park is a 13,000 hectare nature reserve with bizarre rock formations, karst caves, waterfalls, extensive mixed forests and rugged gorges. The villages of the Bai, Tujia and Miao minorities are also worth seeing. Yangshuo has developed into a starting point for hiking, mountain and climbing tours.

Get there: Trips on the Li River, hikes in the Karst mountains, excursions and trekking tours in the national park can be found at a number of China tour operators (for example at Lernidee, Marco Polo, Gebeco). With TSA you can book a trip from Guilin to Yangshuo, two days on the river, an overnight stay in Yangshuo, from 131 euros.

13. Island of the Goddess

Meizhou. Mazu, Tin Hau, Tian Hou, A Ma - the goddess of the seafarers has many names. Her real name was Lin Mo and she spent the years prior to her becoming god on Meizhou Island off the coast of Fujian. At the age of 16 she was initiated into all Buddhist and Daoist secrets and dedicated her life to people in need. At the age of 27, she disappeared forever in the clouds - and ever since, seafarers who have survived a shipwreck have sworn stone and bone that Lin Mo has come to their aid. As a thank you, a first temple was dedicated to her on Meizhou. The veneration of Lin Mo quickly spread along the coast and the great rivers, and from the 12th century even the imperial court promoted the cult of Mazu, the "ancestral mother" as she was now called. Today the sprawling, kitschy playful Mazu Temple (Meizhou Zumiao) is a place of pilgrimage for the goddess, who is revered throughout China.

Get there: From Fuzhou or the historic city of Quanzhou, travelers should take the express bus to Putian. From there, shuttle buses run regularly to the ferry port in Wenjia, from where you can transfer to Meizhou. Total travel time from both cities approx. 3–4 hours.

14. The Great Wall

Jinshanling / Simatai. The most frequent place on the wall from Beijing is Badaling: It is overcrowded, hectic, expensive, and unrestrainedly commercial. If you like it quieter and more authentic, you should go to Simatai, around 120 kilometers northeast. The landscape here looks like a film set, with hills and mountain ranges stretching to the horizon, the sections of the wall are well preserved or have been superbly restored. On some towers you can still see the traces of the fighting against the Japanese invaders. There is a cable car that takes visitors to the foot of the wall, but a hike from the visitor center (steep, approx. 2 hours ascent) to tower number twelve is more attractive. Those who want to experience the wall even longer and more intensely can hike from Simatai to Jinshanling and be picked up there (approx. 3–4 hours, also possible in the opposite direction). In Simatai there is a small, very simple hotel right by the parking lot.

Get there: Most hotels in the capital usually want to market their standard tours to Badaling, but they also offer tours to Simatai and / or Jinhanling. In backpacker hostels, prices start at around 7.50 euros. A privately chartered taxi from Beijing to Simatai costs a maximum of 28 euros for travel and waiting times.