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5 Amazing Places in China to visit for Summer Vacation

JINNA WANG | MAY 25, 2017

Seemingly within the blink of an eye, the harsh winter winds have disappeared and made way for sunshine and 80 degree weather.

Is summer vacation right around the corner already?  

Maybe this is the summer you finally do it: you finally take that trip to China. 

Spending your vacation in China will give you an incredible immersive learning environment, and supercharge your Mandarin skills as you get the chance to listen and practice with native speakers every day. It’s essentially a Chinese language bootcamp!

The fact that you and speak and understand some Mandarin will give you (and your lucky travel companions) much richer experience when you are traveling in China. Knowing a little bit of the language goes a long way in making it realistic and comfortable for you to go to such a far away (and culturally different) place.

In this post, we collected five diverse Chinese cities (besides old standbys Beijing and Shanghai) that are perfect for a summer getaway - all sun, fun, and outdoor adventures. With the high speed rail connecting just about every place in China with every other place in China, as long as you know how to buy a train ticket, it's super easy to get to all of these destinations.  

1. For Outdoor Enthusiasts: 桂林 (Guì lín) - Guilin

Why it’s awesome:

There’s an ancient Chinese saying: “桂林山水甲天下 (guì lín shān shuǐ jiǎ tiān xià)” - meaning “Guilin’s mountains and water scenery is the best under heaven.”

Indeed, Guilin is a sight to behold. Picture lush fields of green, statuesque mountains ensconced by wisps of smoky fog, and jaw-droppingly complex cave systems that will have you marveling at the work of Mother Nature.

What to do:

  • Hike along the 漓江 (lí jiāng) - Li River.  While most tourists opt for the Li River cruise, hiking along the Li River lets you see the gorgeous mountain scenery and wildlife up close, and is a great way to check out the lives of the farmers who live close to the river. Fun fact: the imagery on the 20 Yuan note is the scenery taking from the mountains along the Li River.

  • Go Cave Exploring.  Guilin features incredibly beautiful and extensive cave systems. A few of the best caves to check out are the Reed Flute Cave, Silver Cave, Crown Cave, and Seven Star Cave. Be sure to bring your camera to capture the stunning stalagmites, and learn this phrase if you don’t own a selfie stick: “能帮我照一张相吗? (néng bāng wǒ zhào yī zhāng xiàng ma?)"  -- “Can you help me take a photo?”

  • Find the Cormorant Fishermen.  Cormorant fishing is a dying traditional trade. In ancient times, fishermen along the Li River trained cormorant birds to catch fish, tying a snare around the base of the bird’s neck to prevent them from swallowing the larger fish, which are later spit up for the fishermen. Today, these fishermen (and their birds) mostly pose for photos... for tips, of course.

2. For Booze Hounds: 青岛(qīng dǎo) - Qingdao

Why it’s awesome:

A picturesque port city with a penchant for beer brewing, Qingdao is a hotspot for summer travel for Chinese natives and foreign visitors alike. Qingdao’s legacy of beer brewing dates back to 1898, when the Germans who occupied the city established the Tsingtao Brewery and left behind the know-how for making light, crisp, German-style lagers. 

Aside from beer, Qingdao is also an ideal place to eat super fresh seafood, due to its booming fishing industry. In 2009, Qingdao was voted the most livable city in China.  The summers are mild and the drinks are plentiful!

What to do:

  • Visit beer street and the 青岛啤酒厂 (qīng dǎo pí jiǔ chǎng) -Tsingdao Brewery. The Qingdao International Beer Festival takes place every summer, and beer street is the place to be. You can eat freshly grilled seafood at one of many 大排档 (dà pái dàng) - large open air food shacks with makeshift grills, and wash it down with a signature draft beer.  Make sure to learn “干杯(gān bēi)” - "cheers" - before you go!

  • Join a vineyard tasting.  Situated on a similar latitude as Bordeaux, Qingdao has recently become one of China’s fastest growing wine regions. Could Qingdao become the Napa of China? Go see for yourself by visiting the Wine Museum, or take a quick 20-minute drive outside the city for some tastings where the grapes are grown.
  • Check out the German architecture.  If you love architecture, you’ll love Qingdao’s old town. The exotic buildings are beautifully-preserved from Qingdao’s Germanic past. If you didn’t pay attention, you might just think you got lost and time traveled back to a quaint European town.

3. To Beat the Heat: 哈尔滨(Hā'ěr bīn) - Harbin

Why it’s awesome:

Some people just don’t like the heat. If you are one of those people, Harbin is the perfect summer vacation destination in China for you. This capital of China’s northernmost province, Heilongjiang (黑龙江 - hēi lóng jiāng  - literally: "Black Dragon River") offers lower temperatures and plenty to see, eat, and do. 

In the winter, Harbin hosts the International Ice and Snow Festival, where entire cities are constructed out of colorful ice blocks and strings of lights. But if you want to dodge Harbin’s winter temperatures of around -30 degrees (Celsius or Fahrenheit), then summer is the perfect time to check out this gorgeous northern city.

What to do:

  • Experience the Russian influence at 中央大街 (zhōng yāng dà jiē) - Central Street.  Partially occupied by Russia during the 20th century, Harbin still maintains Russian influence in much of its architecture, food, and culture. Take a stroll along the Central Street, also known as the Zhongyang Pedestrian Street, and you’ll see evidence of much of the influence that earned Harbin the moniker “Eastern Moscow.”

  • Visit the Saint Sophia Cathedral.  Less than a mile away from Central Street is the historical Saint Sophia Cathedral, a green-domed Russian Orthodox church that has since been converted to a museum. The museum showcases Harbin’s development past and present in a series of photographs.

  • Tour the Siberian Tiger Park.  The largest park that houses protected Siberian tigers, this tiger refuge keeps over 500 big cats, most of which roam free. Tourists are able to tour the park grounds on buses, or feed the tigers their next meal for an additional fee. Not for the faint of heart! If you are scared, you can express it by saying: "好害怕 (hǎo hài pà)!" - "I’m very scared!" or "吓死我了(xià sǐ wǒ le)!" - “Scared me to death!”

4. For Beach Lovers: 海南(hǎi nán) - Hainan

Why it’s awesome:

Located off China’s southern coast, Hainan has been heralded as “the Hawaii of China.” The southern city of Sanya offers pristine beaches and luscious tropical scenery. From budget hostels to luxury hotels right on the beach, there is a welcoming place to stay no matter your budget. 

Looking to spend summer vacation sipping coconuts on the beach? Look no further than Hainan.

What to do:

  • Soak up the rays in 亚龙湾 (yà lóng wān) - Yalong Bay.  Yalong Bay is a well-maintained beach resort in Sanya. Visitors flock here to relax on the beach and play in the pristine waters. Just make sure to bring sunscreen!

  • Relax in the Nantian hot springs.  Just a thirty minute drive north of downtown Sanya, the Nantian hot springs offers a variety of mineral-laden hot springs perfect for a relaxing soak. The “fish therapy” pool features real fish that nibble away at dead skin.

  • Try the namesake dish of Hainan.  Hainan Chicken is a poached, white-meat chicken dish usually served with rice and a side dish of cucumbers in ginger chili oil - the perfect refreshing meal for Hainan’s hot weather. You can show the chef your appreciation by saying: "很好吃(hěn hǎo chī)!" - very delicious!"

5. For Adrenaline Seekers: 西安(xī' ān) - Xi’an

Why it’s awesome:

If you are looking for a heart-thumping adventure for your summer vacation, you should have Xi’an at the top of your list. This ancient city in central China was once the home of emperors and merchants on the silk road and is one of the many great destinations for Chinese history buffs.  Today, Xi’an is a bustling city that offers more than the world-famous terracotta warriors.

What to do:

  • Bike the city wall.  The ancient city wall is one of the most well-preserved fortification systems in the China, and surrounds the old city in a large rectangle. The city wall itself is 12 meters high and 15 meters wide. You can rent a bike and take a ride on a piece of history, going around the entire wall.

  • Climb the most dangerous hiking trail in the world.  华山(huá shān) - Mt. Hua is one of the five famous mountains of China, and is known by many to have the most dangerous hiking trail in the world. A rickety wooden trail is suspended 1,000 meters above ground on a vertical cliff, held up by some sparse chains and nails. Thrill seekers around the world flock here to experience the infamous “plank walk.”

  • Explore the 回民街 (huí mín jiē) Muslim Market.  Xi'an is the hub of a major muslim community in China, and the muslim market serves up an extensive variety of local dishes with Islamic influence. Lamb is the meat of choice here, and the 羊肉泡馍(yáng ròu pào mó) - bread soaked in lamb broth cannot be missed. Other highlights include 肉夹馍 (ròu jiā mó) - meat stuffed flat breads and 凉皮(liáng pí) - a cold starch noodle served with chili sauce. After you finish your meal, just call our the words, “老板,结帐!(lǎo bǎn, jié zhàng)" - "Boss, the check please!" and someone will be right over to drop off your bill.

There you have it, five amazing places in China to visit for summer vacation. Which one of these cities are you most excited to see? Have you visited any of them before? Let us know in the comments below!  And if you're interested in more off-the-beaten-path places to visit in China, check out these other adventurous destinations.