China is a marvelous country to explore. This once-mysterious country gave us not only gunpowder but some pretty spectacular scenery and there are many ancient landmarks in China, from the Great Wall in the northeast to the world’s largest Buddha in the southwest. It also well known for its great cuisines, but do note fortune cookies were invented in San Francisco, not the Middle Kingdom. China is modernizing rapidly, a fact which makes its ancient treasures all the more precious.
1. Potala Palace
The Potala Place in Lhasa was home to centuries of Dalai Lamas until the current Dalai Lama fled Tibet during the 1959 uprising. Today, the Potala Palace is a museum. Construction started on this holy residence in 1645 and finished in 1694. It is thought to sit on the site of a seventh century fortress. With exterior walls more than nine feet thick, the Potala Palace is an impressive structure. Sitting on a hill, it has 13 stories and holds more than 1,000 rooms. Inside you’ll find 10,000 shrines and 200,000 statues.
2. Leshan Great Buddha
China is known for big Buddhas, but none are bigger than the Leshan Great Buddha, which is the biggest in the world. Carved into a cliff, the Buddha stands 213 feet high. This eighth century marvel, which took 90 years to carve, can be found at the confluence of the Dadu, Min and Qingyi rivers in Sichuan Province. To get the full effect of seeing this massive statue, which faces Mount Emei, you may want to see it from a boat. Trivia fans take note: There are 1,021 buns in the statue’s coiled hair.
3. Summer Palace
Constructed by the Qing emperors, the Summer Palace is considered the most beautiful garden in China. There is much more to see than carefully tended gardens, however. The man-made Kunming Lake is used for boating in summer and ice skating in winter; if you have time, take a walk around it. Looking directly over the lake is Longevity Hill with stunning views from the top. You can also see the ornate Marble Boat that Dowager Empress Cixi paid for with funds intended for the royal navy. Be sure to look up when you walk down the Long Corridor with its hundreds of ceiling and side paintings.
4. Reed Flute Cave
Reed Flute Cave is one of the oldest landmarks in China, clocking in at 180 million years old. It’s also been a popular Guilin tourist attraction for at least 1,200 years. This natural limestone cave gets its name from reeds that grow outside; the reeds can be made into flutes. Reed Flute Cave has its fair share of stalagmites and stalactites. But what sets it apart from other caves are the inscriptions painted inside. Some of these ink inscriptions date to the late eighth century and believed to be Tang Dynasty poems. The caves today are lit up like Christmas trees, with bountiful colored lights marking the path.
5. Terracotta Army
The Terracotta Army is both old and new. It’s old in the sense that it was constructed in 210 BC as a mausoleum for Qin Shi Huang, the emperor who unified a warring China. It’s new because it is one of China’s more recent landmarks. The clay army was only discovered in 1974 by farmers digging outside of Xi’an. Thousands of clay soldiers and hundreds of chariots and horses make up the army that guards Qin Shi Huang in the afterlife. Excavation continues even today, so who knows how many more riches will turn up.
6. Forbidden City
The Forbidden City, officially known as the Palace Museum, got its name because, centuries ago, commoners were forbidden to enter its gates. The number of people visiting this Beijing landmark now more than makes up for that. Today people crowd the complex to see its treasures. Though the imperial palace has nearly a thousand rooms, most are not open to the public. Most visitors walk straight up the middle where the great halls are, but do take time to explore the rooms along the walls to see more priceless treasures in China’s history.
7. Tianmen Mountain Glass Skywalk
If you’re afraid of heights, you’d best skip Tianmen Mountain Glass Skywalk. But if you’re not, wow! You’re in for a totally awesome experience. The clear glass walkway is only 318 feet long, but it provides spectacular views from the 4,600 foot level of Mount Tianmen, said to be one of the world’s most beautiful mountains. Not only can you see to the bottom of the cliff, but you’ll also see the 99 turns you made getting to the mountain. One side of the skywalk hugs the cliff. The skywalk opened in 2016 and quickly took China’s tourism scene by storm.
8. Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China is a must-see when you visit the Middle Kingdom. This symbol of China stretches from Jiayuguan in West China, where it is mainly tamped earth, to Shanhaiguan where the stone structure juts into the Bohai Sea. If you’re like most people, however, you’ll probably walk on man’s greatest engineering feat somewhere in the Beijing area where it’s at its most awesome, crawling over mountain peaks. The wall was a failure at its original purpose, which was to defend China from northern invaders; since it wasn’t continuous, all invaders had to do was find a gap in the wall and walk through.