See also: Where to Stay in Chengdu
Located in Sichuan province of southwest China, Chengdu is a city that has played a significant role in China’s growth through the years. It is easily one of the breeding grounds for trade, commerce, industry and tourism. As of late, Chengdu is undergoing an intensive sightseeing blitz and is fast metamorphosing into a dynamic city with myriad jumping-off stops for you to explore. Here is our curated list of the best things to do in Chengdu.
Shop around and explore Kuan Zhai Alley
There would not be a better place for shopping than at Kuan Zhai Alley. If you share a love for local Chengdu culture, you will certainly enjoy Wide and Narrow Alley. A majority of the shops here are either long-standing remnants of Qing dynasty or newly renovated stalls that sell an array of good from snacks to antiques. The alleys are lined with almost everything you would need- houses, shopping arcades, eateries and bars. It does not matter if you are there to splurge or experience the antiqueness of the place, be assured that you will return fulfilled. If you are an art lover, you can stay just long enough to witness Sichuan opera performances.
Be aww-ed by pandas at Chengdu Research Base of Giant Pandas
The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Pandas is a spot that lures thousands of tourists from all over the world. This non-profit research centre was founded in 1987 and has over 100 captive pandas as of now. The base also serves as a breeding facility for these giant pandas and they stand to render top-notch exploration facility along with the conservation of these animals and over two-thousand species of plants. They are constantly looking to expand into a world-class educational tourism destination.
If you are planning to visit, we highly recommend arriving early as this spot is quite popular and tickets sell off like hotdogs. Once you are inside you can see the pandas engaging in fun activities such as tree climbing, playing with each other, nursing and a lot more.
Witness the keepsakes at Jinsha Site Museum
Now, this is for the true culture vultures. Jinsha Site Museum offers a telling of ancient history like none other. The discovery of Jinsha site has indeed an interesting story up its sleeve. The story has it that it unearthing was rather accidental and was encountered during a real estate construction. A few years down the line, the Jinsha Site Museum was constructed to feature the definite dig site.
The museum is now lined with the objet d'art discovered and symbolic recreations of life reimagined. Quite a number of exhibition halls feature interesting antiquities such as elephant tusks which were primarily offered as penances to their divine power. In addition, you will also get to see several jade artefacts, striking bronze figurines, gaudy ornaments and carved stone objects.
As a matter of fact, the museum in itself is quite huge and you will need to do a lot of walking. The expected time to have a full tour of the museum is about 2 hours. So make it a point to wear comfortable footwear so that you can have a good stroll of the site at your leisure.
Wander around the Dujiangyan Irrigation System
Now before you think we have gone bonkers, we assure you that this is going to be worth it. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was built around thousands of years ago to prevent swamping. This distinctive irrigation system has been standing in all its dotage and prosperity. This no-damn system has completely prevented inundating around the Chengdu Plain. But its antiquity is not the sole reason why you should visit Dujiangyan irrigation system- the scenery here is to die for. The luscious mountains with their verdant vegetation will soothe your senses like nothing ever will. The turquoise water is strikingly quaint you might just want to have your camera ready.
Pay your respects at Erwang Temple
Formerly the Erwang Temple was erected to honour the primaeval Shu King. Later, when the temple had to be relocated, it was renamed to grace the contributions of Li Bing and his son who were monumental in the construction of the dam that served as a barrier to prevent yearly flooding of the plain. It is now known popularly called as the Two Kings Temple to honour the legacy of these noble men.
The temple itself is a part of the irrigation system; so if you are visiting Dujiangyan, make it a point to tour the temple. The best time to visit the temple would be early morning since you can your respects peacefully.
Erwang Temple is marvellous for its beautifully exquisite embellishments and overall design. The spectacular Chinese architecture will leave you absolutely spellbound.
Hike Qingcheng Mountains
Have you ever been awed by the concept of yin and yan? If yes, you would not want to miss out on the opportunity to visit Mount Qingcheng which is famously recognized as the origin of Taoism- the religion of unity of opposites. While you are here, be prepared to be met with a whole lot of grace, history, beauty and astuteness. Standing at a distance of 68 kilometres from Chengdu, Mount Qingcheng is replete in attractions.
The mountain has a handful of famous Taoist temples. In addition, you can indulge in the beauty of waterfalls and shop in the many shopping stalls. For a unique hiking experience, consider paying a visit to the backside of the mountain. If you are an amateur who wants to save time and cut some corners, it would be advisable to take a table car up till the halfway marker. Once you reach atop, you will reach the Chaaoyang temple. For a fun activity, you can try to tie a red ribbon to the courtyard. Legends have it that the wishes you write on them would be fulfilled.
Go back in time at Chuancais Museum
If you thought that the hyper around Chengdu was all about giant pandas, you couldn’t have been further from the truth. It has been designated the status of City of Gastronomy by UNESCO. Now that we have put it out there, it would come as no surprise that there is a whole museum dedicated to Chengdu's Sichuan cuisine. The museum really stands out for being one of its kind to exhibit and demonstrate the original authentic cooking culture to its visitors. The travellers are provided with an opportunity to experience the technique, procedures, and skills that it takes in the preparation of these traditional dishes- all under the supervision of a qualified chef.
Join your hands in prayer at Wuhou Temple
Wuhous Shrine Temple of Marquise is renowned for its rich history and legendary architecture. It is, without doubt, an important shrine that highpoints Sichuan’s bygone Shu heritage and honour those men that were instrumental in the formation of the celebrated Shu kingdom. Spanning over a massive 37,000 square meters, this temple is dedicated to Zhuge Liang, a diplomat during the Three Kingdoms Period.
The trail leading up to the temple is breathtakingly gorgeous with bamboo laden woods. The alluring backdrop, remarkable history and time-honoured architecture have made this temple quite a catch among the tourists. If you want to have a brief stopover for shopping, the temple complex alley has everything you’d need-arts, crafts, food and more.
Stand in awe at Shu Feng Ya Yun Sichuan Opera
When you are in Chengdu, it would be quite a disservice if you returned home without witnessing the marvellous Sichuan Opera. These operas derive inspiration from Chinese classic novels and take after traditional folklore. They combine solo performances with the splendour of acrobatics and masquerade.
A majority of these shows make use of stick puppet shows and hand shadowing to capture the audience’s attention. There is a good chance that the performers would leave you spellbound by their “fire-spitting” performances (quite literally). As you watch the astounding displays, you will be provided with complimentary drinks. If you want to grab some light snacks, there are provisions for that as well.
Unwind at People's Park
Once you visit this park, you would understand the hype over People’s Park. It could easily become one of your much-loved places in all of Chengdu. Serene and overly tranquil, this slice of nature is found in the very heart and spirit of the city. If you are tired of all the buzz of the city, People’s Park would provide you with the much-needed breather you are longing for.
As soon as you set your foot in the park, you will be greeted by an amusing array of activities; people strolling around, stretching, engaging in animated conversation. If you are looking for a picnic spot, this would be a great option. Bring some cards and Frisbees along with you if you have little ones with you- they would have a gala time. By evening, if you are feeling to sip a hot cup of coffee or tea, the park houses Tenmen Tea House-a famed café that serves amazing beverages. After the tea break, consider taking a boat onto the lake.
Try the delectable Hot Pot
There is a good chance that from the moment you step into Chengdu, you will be whipped around by the mention of the famed “hot pot”. For those of you who have not heard the name, it is a dish that is filled with spicy, peppery oils paired with dipping ingredients. It is up to you to decide the latter; it can anything of your choice- vegetables/meat, rice cakes, or even dumplings.
If you are wondering how to eat it, we got you covered. Traditionally, you are required to dip the dipping ingredient into the broth and wait until it soaks up all the flavours. Once that is done, you dip it in the sauce and voila, you have it. If you want your sauce or broth to be a tad less spicy, you’re in luck. Most of the restaurants offer a non-spicy variant of those.
The best place to satisfy your hot pot craving is from Shu DaXia Hot Pot. Word has it that they serve the best hot pots in the city. They really stand out not only because of their flavourful servings but also because of their interesting and varied menu.
Shop till you drop at New Century Global Center
Now irrespective of whether or not you want to shell out your hard-earned money, the New Century Global Centre is worth stopping over. With an array of different shops, this centre proudly stands as the largest building in terms of floor area. But it’s not only the shopping that lures tourists here; it is also to witness the work culture. Atop the building, you will get to see a glimpse of office spaces, conference rooms and additionally, a university complex.
For further recreation, hop on to IMAX cinema or the Olympic-size skating rink. You can also try the indoor waterpark that even comes decked with an artificial beach.
Get a slice of Chengdu Nightlife
Over the years, a lot has changed and keeps changing in terms of Chengdu nightlife. You will see a massive shift in the way more and newer western-inspired bars and nightclubs. The scene is still largely dominated by theatres and open-air markets, more restaurants are springing up. If you are looking for some amazing places to visit, we have a few recommendations.
First and foremost, we think you would really enjoy the Beer Nest. This bar is hugely popular both among locals as well as tourists. It offers a wide range of wines, whiskeys, cocktails and a lot more. If you are someone who is into rock and roll, there is a good chance that you’d totally dig Little Rock. A key for Chinese rock, this is very well worth checking out for their souvenirs.
If you just take a turn to the corner, you will be able to enjoy some indie rock at New Little Bar. Another favourite among expats is Jellyfish. With blaring music and jampacked dance floors, you would not regret a visit. For good booze and live concerts, consider the New Machu Picchu Bar.
Tour the Leshan Giant Buddah
Although this is not exactly in Chengdu, you should definitely visit this UNESCO World Heritage site if you have the opportunity. It is easily one of the most toured scenic sites in the Leshan City. This enormous statue is that of Maitreya in seating posture, completely carved out of stone. Standing at a height of 71 metres, this charming statue has bagged laurels such as the largest Buddha in the world and the tallest pre-modern in the world. It is not only its height that gives it quite the edge. It is also its artistry- stairs have been provided for the visitors to climb to the head of the statue or down towards its base.
Hike Emei Mountain
At almost a three hour ride from Chengdu stands Emei Mountain- a cool, hazy haven from Sichuan’s temperature. What makes this really special is its stature as one of China’s four sacred Buddhist Mountains. Even though quite a number of temples were erected in the mountain, only a few of them have survived fires and looting over the centuries. Out of them, Wannian Temple is the oldest standing temple. Notwithstanding its culturally liberal heritage, the mountain has served as the home to a varied range of flora and fauna. All of this aided in placing it on Unesco’s World Heritage list.
In order to reach the mountain, you can either hike the all way to the top. But depending on your speed, it will take you about two days. If you want to stay overnight, you can find shelter in any of the monasteries or temples. However, if you want to reach faster, you can try boarding a bus to the halfway mark and hiking up from there.