Been to Beijing? Seen Shanghai? Or just thinking about exploring the less touristy areas of China? Below you’ll find my top 10 Chinese cities that you’ve probably never heard of. From mesmerising mountains and whimsical wildlife to picturesque pagodas and awe-inspiring statues, each of these cities has so much to offer. Perfect for fitting into a wider tour of China or singling out as your ideal holiday destination, this guide should help you on your way to discovering China’s hidden beauty.

1. Hangzhou

Pronounced: Hang-jo

hangzhou west lake
Image courtesy of Without A Tour

Hangzhou is one of the most beautiful cities in the entirety of China, and one you probably didn’t know existed. So beautiful in fact that the Chinese have saying: ‘In heaven; paradise. On Earth; Hangzhou and Suzhou’.

Famous for its stunning lakes, tall pagodas and the National Tea Museum of China, Hangzhou has a lot to offer. Easily accessible by train from most surrounding cities, it’s the perfect place to stop for a few days whilst travelling across China.

2. Xi’an

Pronounced: She-an

Terracotta warriors of China
Image courtesy of Without A Tour

If you’ve heard of any of the cities on this list, it’s probably Xi’an. Alongside being the final stop on The Silk Road, Xi’an is home to the infamous Terracotta Warriors, the BEST food in China and two very beautiful bell towers. Perfect for those wishing to avoid the humidity of the Eastern and Southern regions of China, Xi’an’s heat is dry and very hot.

3. Suzhou

Pronounced: Sue-jo

Image courtesy of Without A Tour

Suzhou, the Venice of the East. A city of canals and lakes, Suzhou sits alongside Hangzhou as one of the most beautiful cities in China. Great for those seeking a break from the hustle and bustle of China’s larger cities, Suzhou offers scenery, pagodas, museums and tasty food without the hassle. Accessible by train and bus from most major cities, Suzhou is a must-see!

4. Wuxi

Pronounced: Woo-she

big buddha at lingshan in wuxi
Image courtesy of Without A Tour

Like temples, pagodas and giant statues? Then you’ll love Wuxi. Close to Shanghai and even closer to Suzhou, Wuxi is a great place to stop off for a day or two. Whether you head into the city centre to see the stunning traditional architecture or venture a little further afield to Lingshan, the home of the large buddha pictured, you’re guaranteed to fall in love with this small Chinese city.

5. Nanjing

Pronounced: Nan-jing

Nanjing in winter
Image courtesy of Kenneth Yang on Unsplash

Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province and once the capital of China. A very different city with a lot of attractions to see. For those interested in history and politics, Nanjing offers an insight into the 20th-century conflict with Japan at the Memorial Hall of the victims of the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders (short name, right?). For those looking for more scenic atraction, Nanjing also offers the Purple Mountains and the mausoleum of Zhou Enlai.

6. Zhangjiajie

Pronounced: Jang-jee-ah-jee

avatar mountains in zhangjiajie
Image courtesy of Without A Tour

Love the film Avatar? You’ll want to visit Zhangjiajie!

Think sky-scraper type mountains, cable cars and a glass elevator and you’re halfway to imagining Zhangjiajie. Almost impossible to describe in words, Zhangjiajie is a truly unique experience and one not to be missed whilst visiting in China. Slightly trickier to visit than other cities and regions in China, this one takes a bit more planning. You’re best flying into Zhangjiajie and organising a taxi to the scenic area.

7. Chengdu

Pronounced: Chung-do

young pandas resting on bamboo
Image courtesy of Pascal Müller on Unsplash

If there’s one thing you can’t avoid in China, it’s the nation’s love for Pandas – and Chengdu is the place to see them.

Renowned for its Panda Breeding Centre and spicy hot-pot, Chengdu is a must visit for China. Whether you’re visiting for a few days as part of trip around China or are just dying to see the pandas, Chengdu is easily accessible by air, bus and train.

8. Leshan

Pronounced: Le-shan

giant stone buddha
Image courtesy of Without A Tour

A photographer’s paradise lies in the city of Leshan. Close to neighbouring Chengdu, Leshan was one of the best places I visited in China. Home to the Leshan Giant Buddha and Mount Emei, Leshan is a great place to visit for a day or as part of a broader trip to the Sichuan province.

9. Huangshan

Pronounced: Whoang-shan

huangshan mountain with clouds
Image courtesy of Without A Tour

Huangshan, which literally translates to Yellow Mountain, is a scenic spot and city. Great for those looking to explore China’s greener areas, Huangshan comprises of several sharp mountains and luscious vegetation. The mountain is accessible by both cable car and on foot and the city itself is connected via air and train.

10. Putuo Island

Pronounced: Pwo-towe Island

large gold buddha from putuo island
Image courtesy of Without A Tour

Putuo Island, or Putuo Shan as it is sometimes called, is last on my list of Chinese cities you’ve probably never heard of but should definitely visit. Unknown to most outside China, and rarely visited by expats within the country, Putuo Island offers a unique insight into the Buddhist faith in the communist nation. It is, in fact, one of the four holy Buddhist mountains in the country and a destination hundreds of thousands of Chinese Buddhists flock to each year. A little out the way when it comes to visiting, Putuo island can only be reached by boat from mainland Zhoushan.

I hope you found this article interesting and you’re now excited to visit China. Let me know in the comments where you’ve been and where you plan to visit next!

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2 Comments

  1. Nice list! China is the place I feel I could forever explore, so much to do see and eat! When we return, some of these places are already on my list and you’ve just added a couple more. 😊

    • Ellen Reply

      Thank you, I’m glad you found it useful! And I completely agree, I lived there for 9 months and there’s still A LOT I need to see 🙂

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