When it comes to exploring China, the choices of cities to visit are overwhelming. Whether you’re looking for the best shopping, most interesting historical sites, or an up-close experience with a panda, these are the top cities in China that you shouldn’t miss.


                                           Image via Flickr by gcD600

Hong Kong was once a crucial port for Eastern trade. Today, it’s one of the most important cities in the world for finance and commerce. Here, you can find remnants of ancient Chinese culture and colonial British history mixed with the unmistakably modern neon lights and skyscrapers. If you’ve come to China to shop, Hong Kong is the place to go. Head to the shopping districts in Causeway Bay or Sheung Wan for every store you can imagine.


While you can see giant pandas in zoos around China, the best place to see them is in the 2,000-year-old city of Chengdu. Visit the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding and Research Center to watch adults and babies play and eat, or for an even more up-close experience, volunteer at Dujiangyan Panda Valley. Along with the pandas, Chengdu also has historical sites like Qingyang Palace and Sanxingdui Ruins Museum.


For an unforgettable experience learning about the ancient history of China, you shouldn’t miss Xi’an. Not only was this city the first capital of China when it united under the Qin Dynasty, but it was also the starting point of the Silk Road trading route. Today, visitors come from all over the world to see the Terracotta Army, Ancient City Wall, Small Wild Goose Pagoda, and Big Wild Goose Pagoda.


As the capital of China for over 700 years, Beijing is a can’t-miss city because of its assortment of ancient and modern attractions. The biggest showcase of the city’s past is the Great Wall of China. However, you can also explore Tian’anmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. For a modern taste of Beijing, check out the Olympic Village from the 2008 Summer Olympics and the popular shopping malls along Wangfujing Street.


In the 13th century, when Marco Polo first arrived in Hangzhou, he declared it the most beautiful city in the world. Today, the lakes, gardens, reflecting pools, teahouses, and temples still attract hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. Other popular attractions in the city include the China National Tea Museum and China National Silk Museum.


Shanghai is China’s biggest city and, in terms of city proper, the second largest city in the world. The city has a unique mixture of modern skyscrapers mixed in with colonial architecture. While there are plenty of shopping experiences in this world-leading business and economic city, there’s also an abundance of history and culture to explore. From your downtown Shanghai hotel, you can walk to Dongtai Road and browse the 100 stalls of the antique market, or travel to the Shanghai Museum, which is home to over 120,000 rare relics from Chinese history.

On your next visit to China, make sure you plan time for these top cities so you can see all this amazing country has to offer.