Beijing's famous Tiananmen Square is big enough to hold one million people, while the historic Forbidden City is home to thousands of imperial rooms – and Beijing is still growing. The capital has witnessed the emergence ever-higher rising towers, new restaurants and see-and-be-seen nightclubs. But at the same time, the city has managed to retain its very individual charm. The small tea houses in the backyards, the traditional fabric shops, the old temples and the noisy street restaurants make this city special.
Welcome to Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan, where giant pandas delight tourists at the Chengdu Breeding Research Base and artisans create porcelains at the People's Garden. Though a modern city, life in Chengdu takes place on the back streets where crowds are waiting outside hot-pot restaurants and tea houses are abuzz with mahjong players and their noisy tile-shuffling game. This is a city that once inspired the great Tang dynasty poet Dufu, whose residence still stands and today it continues to celebrate one of its greatest military strategist Zhugeliang, at the famous Wuhou Shrine.
Chongqing is China's fourth municipality after Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin. It is a cultural and historical city with many unique traits. Apart from being blessed with water on three sides, buildings here have also been constructed against the mountains. Therefore, different layers are built to the city's appearance that has become a hallmark of Chongqing, giving it the nickname “Mountain city”.
Known formerly as Canton, Guangzhou is the third biggest city in China because of its position, on the Pearl River. It has long been one of China's main commercial and trading centers. Today this giant metropolis is a famous cultural city with history of more than 2,200 years and is home to old temples and gleaming steel towers. As one of the fastest growing cities in Asia, Guangzhou has also seen a quick growth on tourism, attracting visitors with its cosmopolitan atmosphere, Cantonese cuisine and with its vibrant nightlife. The vast array of shopping options and the close proximity to other major Asian cities are also the reasons why visitors are attracted to this dynamic city.
Like Yin and Yang, Hangzhou, the capital city of the Zhejiang Province, has two sides that complete each other. This historic city is a showcase for traditional medicine, religion and art as well as a shining example of China’s rapid economic development. Combining idyllic natural beauty, a grand heritage through the ages and an air of affluence, Hangzhou is one of the country’s most liveable and pleasant cities to linger in.
The provincial capital of Jiangsu, Nanjing, has served as the country’s capital for six dynasties and has long occupied a prominent place in Chinese history and culture. The overwhelming neon lights along Qinhuai River, the abundance of greenery in Zhongshan Mountain Tourist Resort and the remnant architecture from the time of the fledgling republic are all facets of the richness of various stages in Nanjing’s development.
If it was a picture, Qingdao would be painted with blue sea and azure sky, red-roofed residences and green trees. Qingdao means “Green Island” in Chinese, and the name is a perfect match. This is possibly the most beautiful coastal city of China, famous for the comfortable weather, the large number of beaches and the delicious seafood. Being a former German concession has also provided it with attractive European style buildings and one of the best brews in Asia, the famous Qingdao Beer. It has long been a favourite escape for Chinese holidaymakers and after having its profile raised when hosting of the 29th Sailing Regatta during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, it will undoubtedly come under the radar of foreign visitors as well.
Shanghai is the shiniest gem in modern China’s jewel box. It’s a hip, contemporary city that’s charging into the future with all the energy of its famous Maglev train. Yet if you veer away from the sleek highways and glitzy shopping streets you can still stumble upon a more traditional Shanghai, with all its character and flavour. In the tiny back streets, wet-market vendors peddle their wares - buckets of bright green vegetables, fish flapping in shallow plastic bowls and heaps of crayfish crawling over each other. In the parks at dawn, hordes of locals practice tai chi, sword movements and ballroom dancing.
Dynamic Shenzhen is an apt symbol of China’s impressive if sometimes uneven rush to embrace wealth. From humble village to bold metropolis in under 30 years, the city’s journey has been brash, dramatic and magnificent. With its natural blend of Chinese frontier spirit and frenetic entrepreneurialism, it has also become home to some of the most diverse and succulent cuisine you’ll find anywhere in China. And for the cash-strapped, the short hop across the border from Hong Kong at the Luohu crossing provides a gateway to China that is easily accessible and offers saving of at least 30% of international air taxes.