Chengdu is a vibrant city that has risen up as one of the must-see destinations in China. Its long history can be traced back 2,400 years when the emperor built it as his capital.
Those who have visited cities such as Beijing and Shanghai will immediately notice the difference in vibe here, it’s far more laid back and relaxed, and the locals are particularly friendly. There’s also a lively expat scene here, Chengdu is generally favoured by expats who are looking for more of an art scene which is great for visitors as there’s always a diverse range of shows going on in the evenings.
Like most parts of China, the old architecture has mostly been replaced in favour of concrete towers, but there are still some beautiful old parts of town, many temples, gardens, and pavilions to enjoy. The nature nearby is outstanding and not something easily accessible to those visiting the East of China.
This is also one of the only places you’ll get to visit pandas in an ethical environment and it’s definitely something you shouldn’t miss.
How to Get To Chengdu, China
Thankfully, it’s very easy to reach Chengdu from most parts of China. It’s the transport hub in the Southwest of China and it’s often referred to as the ‘gateway to Western China’ due to its proximity to the high plains of Tibet.
However, you can get the bullet train from Beijing and Shanghai but be prepared for a 14-hour journey. The bullet trains in China are very comfortable but this probably isn’t the most cost or time-effective way to reach Chengdu.
The nearest big city to Chengdu is Chongqing and a bullet train between them is under two hours.
Where To Stay In Chengdu, China
If you’re looking for a perfect location on a budget, then Flipflop hostel is for you. It’s a five-minute walk from the Chunxi Road Station (Exit 1) and is close to all the major attractions within Chengdu and near transport links (it’s just a 10-minute walk to Xin Naan Men Bus Station) to head off on daytrips. The hostel is only ten minutes’ walk from the lively Jiuyanqiao Bar Street. You can also reach Wuhou Temple in 10 minutes and Du Fu’s thatched cottage in 20 minutes by car. Taxis are so cheap in China that you’ll be able to take a cab to attractions without making a dent in your budget.
The hostel also offers traditional Chinese experiences for guests, including paper making. Let them know at the desk if you’re interested.
Book here: Flipflop Hostel Poshpacker
If you’re looking for more of a boutique experience, then look no further in the Zen Urban Resort. With a peaceful Zen theme and beautiful well-designed modern rooms with wooden flooring, this a perfect place to escape the bustle of the city.
This is also in the city centre so you’re near the attractions and transport hubs including Xin Naan Men bus station and the North Train Station which is a 20-minute taxi ride away.
The service here is excellent and the rooms also come with a desk, private bathroom, and seating area so this is also a great choice if you need to do some work.
Book here: Hotel Zen Urban Resort
If you’re looking for a more traditional stay in the city, then the gorgeous Chuan Jia Courtyard Hotel will be perfect for you. Featuring gorgeous architecture, traditional décor, and surroundings, this is a perfect space for taking pictures. Although it’s in the city centre and within walking distance of the major attractions, there’s a real peace and tranquilly to this location. You’ll be 30 minutes’ drive from the train station and 40 minutes’ drive from the airport.
They’ve got an amazing on-site restaurant which offers all of the local Sichuan cuisine, including: Zhong dumplings, the must-try hot pot, and Long Chao Shou. They also offer all day room service so you’ll never be short of drinks and snacks.
Book here: Hotel Zen Urban Resort
The Best Things To Do In Chengdu, China
Visit the Pandas
I’m sure this will be high on your to-do list when you visit Chengdu. Yes, pandas are native to Sichuan province and visiting the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is one of the best things you can do while here. It’s the most famous and most adorable attraction in China and it’s just a short journey from the city centre.
It’s worth noting that this isn’t tourist attraction like others, it’s a research facility so the animals are treated with a lot of respect and everyone will have different experiences when visiting. Either way, you’ll get to see these gorgeous creatures and watch the facility ensure the survival of pandas.
Access: From the city centre and from North Train Station: Take a bus (no.9 is popular) downtown to Zoo Bus Stop and then transfer to bus 87 or 198 to Panda Base Bus Stop. The journey is around 1.5 hours from the centre and 1 hour from the train station. You can check their website for specific details.
Can you Handle the Spice? Try Sichuan Food
Chengdu was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2011 and it’s easy to see why with the sheer amount of snacks and dishes unique to the area. Food is notoriously spicy here but since the cuisine is so diverse, there’s something for everyone.
If you are a curious foodie, you can book a food tour and try the local dishes with unlimited beer!
Some must-try restaurants are Biao Biao – a chain favoured by young locals, it’s cheap, delicious and a great way to try hot pot. The broths here are notoriously spicy though so make sure you choose one of the lighter broths if you’re not in to hot food.
Another great option is the The Way of the Dragon restaurant, situated in the city’s Kuanzhai Xiangzi alleys, you can watch the waiters hand-pull your noodles before serving them in broth.
You can also try Pan Sun Shi, they have English picture menus and serve all of the classic dishes with ingredients fresh that day. This spot is really popular with the locals.
Some must-try dishes while here are hot-pot – one of the most famous dishes in China and originating from Sichuan province, Chengdu pancakes – usually a street food fare so watch out for the carts, they serve a variety of sweet and sour ingredients wrapped up in an egg batter.
- Biao Biao: No. 55 Tongsheng Road, Qingyang District, Chengdu
- Pan Sun Shi (盘飧市): 62-64 Huaxing Jie, Chengdu
- The Way of the Dragon: No.28 Zhai Alley, Qingyang District, Chengdu
If you’re interested in trying Tibetan food or products, you can also explore ‘Little Tibet’ which has plenty of shops and restaurants to explore.
Explore Some Historic Sites In Chengdu, China
There is no shortage of history in Chengdu but some of the key sites you need to see are nestled in their own parks and make for a lovely walk. The key areas are Wuhou Chi which is the burial site of Emperor Liu Bei, Wenshu Monastery which has many beautiful halls and pavilions to wander through, all dedicated to the Buddhist gods, and finally there’s a recreation of the famous Tang dynasty poet Dufu. These areas are in close proximity so you could visit them all in a day.
See the World’s Tallest Buddah
Situated in Leshan and carved directly in to the red limestone cliff face, this incredible figure is best seen from the river below but you can hike right up to his head where you’ll find a park. The statue is an incredible size at 71 metres or 233 feet tall. This is a truly impressive sight that’s not to be missed.
The city of Leshan is a mere hour’s high-speed train ride away to the south; the Buddha is then a 15-minute taxi or bus ride from the station. You need around half a day to cover this trip. You can also see the Buddah from one of the small passenger boats that go up and down the river.
Find Ancient City Remains in Jinsha Museum
Located within Jinsha museum, you can find the sprawling remains of an ancient city dated to 2700BC. It’s an incredible sight as you wander the ruins of ancient houses, burial pits, and ritual areas. After the remains, you can head to the second building and look at the artefacts dug up during the archaeological excavations. The artefacts included are mostly items made of gold, bronze, jade and lacquered wood and hordes of ivory and boar tusks, all found during the accidental discovery in 2011.
A fascinating place!
Access: You can get to the museum using the subway and taking line No.2 to Yipintianxia Station (Exit B). Then go north around 1 km to the east gate.
The Sacred Mountain Emei Shan
One of the four sacred mountains of Buddhism, this is a beautiful hike with thick forest views that offers many rewards, you’ll find a six tusked elephant at the top and Hong Zhu Shan spa at the bottom where you can enjoy hot springs with gorgeous views, restaurants, bars, and spa services for after your hike.
One of the most popular daytrips from Chengdu. You can either hike the lower part and enjoy the beautiful natural scenery and the Qingyin temple or hike all the way to the top where you have the option of staying with monks. The hike is upstairs the whole way. You need three hours to hike to the temple.
Walking up to the top can take anything up to 16 hours but luckily there is a cable car up and down for the less hiking inclines.
Watch a Ban Lian Performance In Chengdu, China
This is such a unique experience to have while in Chengdu. If you go to any of the tea houses in the old alleys, then you’ll not only be able to try delicious traditional tea but they also will likely show a Chinese Opera show.
A great one to try is Yuelai Tea House, located on Huaxingzheng Street which has free performances every Tuesday and Saturday.
Bian Lian means ‘changing faces’ and you’ll witness a beautiful performance of costumed and masked performers in the most traditional of settings. You’ll also witness a tea centred acrobatic act (has to be seen to be believed) and experience a tea ceremony. It’s a great way to experience a condensed form of Chinese culture if you’re short on time.
Teahouses are a great place to people watch in Chengdu – you might even get to watch a Mahjong game.
Go Shopping on Chunxi Road
Not to be missed, this is where you come to do your shopping in Chengdu and there’s options on this road for every kind of traveller (not to mention the mouth-watering street food). You can even see Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s memorial statue in the centre.
There’s no shortage of things to do in Chengdu and it’ll satisfy travellers who are there for both long and short trips. Full of history, nature, and delicious food – this is a city that truly has something for everyone.
If you have two or more days to spare, then you have some fantastic options to carry on from Chengdu. For example, the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture are easily accessible from Chengdu. Just take a 45-minute domestic flight to Jiuzhai Huanglong airport.
PS: Find out more travel tips about China here: China Travel Blog.