It’s said that not all who wander are lost—that goes double for those traveling to China. While the singular skyline and energy of Shanghai, the remarkable culture and history of Beijing, or the legendary terracotta warriors of Xi’an are well known to Asian and global wanderers alike, countless other Chinese destinations are ripe for exploration.
Expand your itinerary with this China travel guide, including four emerging destinations that have leisure and business travelers visiting in increasing numbers to explore their unique charms, from centuries-old temples to modern avenues teeming with coffee shops and teas houses.
The largest city in northeastern China, Shenyang is the birthplace of the Qing dynasty, making it rich in cultural treasures. Nowhere is that more evident than at the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which sits just a 10-minute drive from the elegant Conrad Shenyang.
Built between 1625 and 1637, the vast, breathtaking complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and includes 114 ancient buildings, making it one of only two complete ancient palaces in China, the other being Beijing’s famed Forbidden City. Once you’ve marveled at the remarkable and intricate architecture, don’t miss the precious artworks that include some of the nation’s finest ceramics, carvings and calligraphy.
From Conrad Shenyang, the city’s tallest building, you can spot another not-to-miss gem, the former residence of Manchurian warlords Zhang Zuolin and his son Zhang Xueliang. Known as Marshal Zhang’s Mansion, the palace is easily visible because it covers a cool 36,000 square meters, and is made up of 74 rooms connected by courtyards.
Xueliang, who lived to 100 and eventually died in Honolulu, had 200,000 troops under his command and a reputation for being something of a socialite. His love of antique furniture, paintings and sculptures is also evident in the beautiful collection appointing his former home. These items tell the story of his life playing a key role in the development of China.
For a breath of fresh air, take a stroll through Shenyang Botanical Garden, featuring almost 500 acres of plants, flowers, pine trees, rippling lake water, waterfalls and pavilions. You’ll discover some of the 1,700 plants native to northern China and Inner Mongolia, as well as decidedly fragrant gardens for roses, azaleas, lilacs and much more.
Book your stay at Conrad Shenyang to discover the birthplace of the Qing dynasty.
HEAVEN ON EARTH
From poets and emperors to modern-day visitors, everyone ends up enchanted by the city of Hangzhou, popularly known as “Heaven on Earth.” It’s not hard to see why, as the pristine lake and rolling hills give the city a peaceful feel like few others, even if today the population nears 10 million.
Conrad Hangzhou sits in the emerging Qianjiang CBD, and at more than 50 stories high provides stunning vantage points for a 360-degree view of the city.
Jan Jansen is the hotel’s general manager, and he has a clear favorite when it comes to what to visit first: “West Lake is an iconic, symbolic sight in Hangzhou and is regarded as one of the most beautiful sights in China. Its beauty is the subject of many poems and paintings, and legends originating in West Lake add to it an aura of romance.”
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, its stunning collection of temples, pagodas and gardens is best viewed from a traditional wooden boat as you gently cruise the waters.
Jansen also recommends a visit to Lingyin Temple, one of Buddhism’s holiest sites in China that dates back almost 1,700 years. Located in a dense ancient forest not far from the lake, the temple is remarkably atmospheric thanks to the rock carvings, pagodas, grottos and misty mountains surrounding it.
Finally, don’t miss Hefang Street, where you can spend all day wandering the stalls and eating local snacks and delicacies. From artists hawking their wares, to teahouses and storytellers, to shops selling figurines made from dough or snacks like blown sugar candy, there’s something for visitors of all ages.
Experience heaven on earth when you book your stay at Conrad Hangzhou.
Conrad Hangzhou Tonglu is a verdant escape nestled in the scenic hills surrounding Tianxi Lake, about a one-and-a-half-hour drive southwest from the city of Hangzhou. The property is the area’s first and only international luxury hotel, offering 79 rooms with spectacular views over the peaceful waters below.
In keeping with its back-to-nature concept, one enticing option offered by the concierge is simply basking in the sunshine and fresh air afforded by one of China’s most scenic and peaceful settings. The hotel’s gardens and 270-degree terrace are big draws, while the outdoor infinity swimming pool, one of two pools on the property, is perfect for a refreshing dip.
A short drive from Conrad Hangzhou Tonglu sits Wusheng Ancient Street in Fenshui town, a kilometer that crams in more than 1,000 years of history and rich culture. Seriously Instagram-friendly thanks to its colorful wooden shopfronts and temples, the tree-lined street dates to the earliest days of the Tang dynasty in A.D. 621.
Underneath the restored 11-meter-high archway, you’ll find art installations and sculptures, workshops, tailors, fabric merchants, bakers, and dozens of other shops and businesses, all creating an overall impression that seems to take visitors back in time.
For a truly sweet and interactive experience, proceed to the 16-acre Eden Dragon Fruit Garden that lives up to its name. That’s because you can wander at leisure and pick your own local fruit, such as sweet, plump red or yellow cherries or juicy dragon fruit, before heading back to relax by the lake at Conrad Hangzhou Tonglu.
Book your stay at Conrad Hangzhou Tonglu for a tranquil retreat on Tianxi Lake.
Finally to Tianjin, a city that sits southeast of Beijing on the coast. A smart, stylish retreat, Conrad Tianjin is perfectly located to allow easy access to key sites. Topping many visitors’ lists is a two-hour drive to the Great Wall at Huangya Pass. It’s much less crowded than other parts of the legendary structure and is also considered a microcosm of the Great Wall because it features so many distinct elements.
This section of the wall includes a museum that provides the perfect introduction to the rich history and context of Huangya Pass, given that parts of it date from the sixth century all the way through to the 17th century. Overall, the beauty of this area is that every visit feels unique, as the landscape and mood change depending on the season. Still, the photos are always breathtaking, and you can’t help but wonder at the achievement of building the Great Wall.
Perhaps the most recent attraction to put Tianjin on the world stage is the public library in the Binhai Cultural Center, the city’s new recreational district. Time magazine listed the library as one of the “World’s Greatest Places” in 2018. Its sci-fidesign by Dutch firm MVRDV combined with its capacity to hold more than 1 million books has attracted more than 2 million visitors since it opened in October 2017.
Back in Tianjin proper, Guwenhua Jie, or “Ancient Culture Street,” offers an array of attractions, including Qing dynasty–style architecture and gems such as Niangniang Palace, or the “Queen of Heaven” palace, first built in 1326. Although much of the street has been rebuilt or restored, there are fun and quirky old-style Chinese shops and boutiques that offer the perfect chance to hone your bargaining skills by picking up local crafts.
Another hot spot, Wudadao, or “Five Great Avenues,” is famed for early 20th-century European architecture that reflects the city’s long history as a trading port. Its elegant houses used to belong to the most affluent residents, but today you’ll discover dozens of coffee shops and tea houses, bars and restaurants. After an evening of gentle strolling and a nice dinner, plan to listen to some of the area’s jazz musicians to end your journey on a smooth note.
Book your stay at Conrad Tianjin to experience the historic palaces of Ancient Culture Street.
Allow Conrad Hotels & Resorts to be your ultimate China travel guide to these and other destinations in countries worldwide.