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North China
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Xi'an

The capital of Shaanxi Province and often times considered the true historic capital of China, Xi’an was once one of the most magnificent cities in the world. During 11 dynasties, starting from the 11th century BC, the city was also the capital of China. It was the starting location of the ancient trade route with the West known as the Silk Road (see Silk Road section) and is presently, after Beijing, the most popular tourist destination in China. The city is most well known for the Tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, who first united China under the Qin Dynasty in 200 BC, also its terracotta figures, more than 6000 life size Terracotta Warriors and horses buried along with the emperor.

Numerous other tombs from the Han and Tang Dynasties have yet to be excavated. Despite damage suffered during the Cultural Revolution, there are still many tombs, museums, pavilions, and pagodas to be visited, such as the Big Wild Goose Pagoda with its spiral staircase and the Small Wild Goose Pagoda.

Beyond Xi'an

Luoyang, located east of Xi’an and its historical twin capital, has a great museum of treasures. The 5th-century Longmen Buddhist Caves are some of China’s best, lined with carved monuments and effigies. Kaifeng, to the east of Luoyang and a Northern Song Dynasty capital, has a Jewish quarter previously home to indigenous Chinese Jews, the Xiangguo Monastery, the Iron Pagoda from AD 1049, Fan Bo Pagoda (c. AD 977), and many relics of ancient courts and poets.

Jinam

The capital of Shandong Province, Jinan is known as the ‘City of Springs’; which provide the main tourist attraction. The city also has Buddhist relics, lakes and parks. Of specific interest is the Square Four Gate Pagoda, the oldest stone pagoda in China. Outside the city, Mount Taishan’s 72 peaks make up a mountain park with ancient pine and cypress trees, stunning waterfalls, 1,800 stone sculptures and a kilometre long mountain stairway famous as the ‘Ladder to Heaven’.

Beyond Jinan

Qingdao was once a Treaty Port annexed by Germany. similar to elsewhere in Asia, the Germans came with breweries, creating China’s ubiquitous Tsingtao Lager in 1902, but also erected the fine German Concession buildings; there are also appealing traditional areas. Laoshan, east of Qingdao, is a fine mountain region with a well known monastery, the Taiqing Palace. In Qufu, near Qingdao, the Mansion of Confucius housed sage’s descendants, and the huge Temple of Confucius, with its many pavilions, was a hub for his worshippers. Presently the buildings display and store important historical documents, art and cultural artifacts. Confucius’s tomb is located in a cemetery just north of Qufu.

Far Northeastern Regions

Shenyang was formerly an imperial capital. Remains from this period include the Imperial Palace and a pair of intersecting tombs. The North Imperial Tomb, around 20 kilometres (13 miles) from the city, is the burial site of the founding father of the Qing (Ch’ing) Dynasty.

Dalian is China’s 3rd port. Previously occupied by the Soviets, it is an airy and intriguing bi-cultural city containing some Russian architecture.

Hohhot (translates to‘green city’ in Mongolian) is the capital of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, and among the most colourful cities in China, contains unique local architecture including the Five-Pagoda Temple. Tours of the grasslands can also be organized.Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang Province, is a industrial Russian-style city. Harbin hosts the annual Harbin Summer Music Festival and a winter Ice Festival with ice sculptures.

Far Northwestern Regions

Lanzhou is an oasis situated on the Silk Road (see Silk Road section) and capital of Gansu Province, but the unattractive city is mainly noteworthy as a centre to visit the 34 early Buddhist caves at Bingling. The White Pagoda Mountain Park is also an attractive option.

Dunhuang, a 2000-year-old town situated on the edge of the desert, formerly an important Silk Road caravan stop, is well known for the Mogao Caves, many of the oldest Buddhist shrines in China and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These ancient murals and hand-carved shrines are national treasures and depict a thousand years of devotion to Buddha through the 4th and 14th centuries. About 500 remain today, and huge areas of frescoes are still seen. Also well worth visiting when in Dunhuang are the Crescent Lake, the Yang Guan Pass and the Mingsha Hill.

Turpan and Urumqi are located in the far northwest on the edge of the sprawling deserts of Xinjiang Province. These Muslim cities, on the Silk Road, are famous for the distinctive Islamic culture of the inhabitants.

Turpan enjoys a unique and well-preserved architectural style, and is surrounded by amazing scenery and interesting sites, including 2 destroyed cities. Turpan is also the hottest place in China, sitting in the Turpan Depression, the 2nd-lowest point on earth next only to the Dead Sea. Close by are the Flaming Mountains, which can be seen glowing brightly at sunset.

Urumqi
is the capital of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region with a population of 13 different nationalities, including Kazakh, Mongolian, Trattar, Russian, and Uzbek. Most of the inhabitants are Muslim Uygurs who speak a Turkish language which is completely unrelated to Chinese. Northwest of Urumqi, only a few hours’ ride by bus, sits the beautiful Lake of Heaven, a lake of clear turquoise-colour lying in the midst of the Tian Shan range of mountains. Museums in both cities display their amazing histories.
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