The 17 Most Scenic AAAAA Tourist Attractions in China
Updated: Nov 14
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If you've lived in China for some time or have been scouring the web in search of hard to find updated info on the country's tourist hot spots, you've probably come across the phrase "AAAAA-rated." China boasts a rich tapestry of history, culture, and breathtaking landscapes, but what on earth are A, AA, AAA, AAAA, and AAAAA attractions? No, no one is shouting at you. China's ministry of culture uses a special rating system which divides the country's scenic spots into 5 levels with 5A being the highest level of honor that scenic areas can receive. From the ancient wonders of the Great Wall to the serene beauty of Yellow Mountains, this guide will walk you through the most magnificent and captivating AAAAA tourist attractions of China.
Beijing - The Imperial Heart of China
Beijing, the vibrant heart of China, seamlessly blends ancient wonders with modern marvels, offering a perfect mix of tradition and innovation. With its rich history, trendy neighborhoods, and mouthwatering street food, Beijing guarantees an unforgettable experience and endless opportunities for cultural exploration and exciting adventures. There are tons of 5A-rated attractions located here.
This remarkable palace complex was once home to emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties. As you stroll through its grand courtyards and ornate halls, it's impossible not to be in awe of the intricate architecture and cultural significance of this site. Entrance to the Forbidden Palace costs 40-60cny/$5.56-$8.34usd.
Pro tip: The Forbidden city and most sites in Beijing need to be booked in advance, but unless you have a Chinese bank account, you can't book using the official platform. The best option for booking in advance is the trip.com app which is in English and allows you to use international payment options inn addition to WeChat and Alipay.
Bonus Pro tip: During Chinese national holidays and peak season (summer) tickets get booked out weeks in advance and the crowds are hectic. I recommend checking out the Working People's Cultural Palace which is directly next to the Forbidden City and made up of buildings from the same time period featuring the same architectural style. Almost no one goes here and entrance is practically free (really it's 2cny/$0.28usd).
Temple of Heaven
Just a stone's throw away from the Forbidden Palace lies the Temple of Heaven, a sacred space where emperors performed rituals to ensure a good harvest. The striking blue-roofed buildings set against a backdrop of lush parkland offer a serene escape from the bustling city. It's no wonder this site is one of China's AAAAA attractions.
The next 5A-rated scenic area is the Summer Palace, an oasis of tranquility. Here you can explore the beautiful gardens, wander along the picturesque Kunming Lake, and admire the Longevity Hill. The Summer Palace is not just a place to marvel at architecture; it's a chance to connect with nature.
Mutianyu & Badaling Great Wall
Just outside of Beijing, you will find one of the most iconic landmarks in the world - the Great Wall of China. Indeed it's one of the 7 wonders of the modern world. The two most popular sections of the wall in the highest rating category are the Badaling and Mutianyu sections, with their well-preserved walls and breathtaking vistas. Hiking along the wall's steep mountains will provide you with a sense of awe and accomplishment (after walking up all those stairs, trust me accomplished is an understatement).
Pro tip: I would avoid Badaling and Mutianyu like the plague, especially during peak season. As an alternative, I recommend going to the Huanghuacheng section (pictured above) as it is the only lakeside portion of the Great Wall of China so you'll get both stunning mountain and waterside views! Also, much fewer people go to this section, so you won't have to deal with crowds. As an added bonus, at the end of it you get to slide down the wall to exit!
The Natural Beauty of Zhejiang and Anhui Provinces
Zhejiang and Anhui, two captivating provinces in eastern China, offer an enchanting blend of natural beauty and cultural treasures. The natural landscapes in Zhejiang are among some of the most beautiful in the country. While Anhui is steeped in history with its ancient villages waiting to be discovered (don't worry there's plenty of stunning scenery here as well).
Mount Putuo Scenic Area
Zhejiang Province is home to the mystical Mount Putuo, a AAAAA-rated tourist attraction which boasts pristine beaches, lush forests, and Buddhist temples. It's an ideal place for both spiritual reflection and communing with nature.
Mount Yandang Scenic Area of Wenzhou
Venturing to the south of Zhejiang Province, you'll reach the mystical Mount Yandang. This place, with its dramatic cliffs, deep gorges, and natural springs, is often called "The Oriental Switzerland." It is an ideal destination for adventure seekers and nature enthusiasts. Honestly all of Wenzhou, not just Mount Yandang, feels like walking around in a fairytale - it's such a picturesque city.
West Lake Scenic Area of Hangzhou
Just a quick day trip away from Shanghai lies Hangzhou, where you'll find the West Lake Scenic Area. This massive lake is truly a site to behold and is also one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in addition to being awarded the highest rating category for tourist sites by Chinese authorities. The West Lake is a dreamlike landscape of picturesque bridges, pavilions, and temples. As you take a boat ride on the lake, it's impossible not to be enchanted by the scenery.
Yellow Mountains (Huangshan)
Anhui Province is a short journey away from Hangzhou and it's where the ethereal Yellow Mountains await. Renowned for its granite peaks, twisted pine trees, and hot springs, this natural landscape is a favorite among hikers and photographers alike.
The Ancient Marvels of Luoyang and Xi'an
Luoyang, with its rich history and cultural significance, is a captivating city that offers young travelers a unique blend of ancient marvels and modern charm.
Xi'an, the ancient capital of China, is similarly filled with so much ancient Chinese history as well as some of China's most iconic foods. Both cities are the perfect mix of history and contemporary culture, and will take you on an unforgettable journey through China's diverse heritage.
Longmen Grottoes Scenic Area of Luoyang
Luoyang, in Henan Province, is home to the awe-inspiring Longmen Grottoes. Carved into limestone cliffs, these thousands of Buddhist statues and inscriptions date back to the Northern Wei Dynasty. Witnessing these ancient marvels is like stepping into a bygone era.
Terracotta Warriors of Xi'an
You can't go to Xi'an and not see the legendary Terracotta Warriors (please ignore the fact that I went to Xi'an twice and did not see them...). The Terracotta Army guards the tomb of China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. The sheer scale and artistry of this archaeological wonder are beyond description (from what I've been told...). It's a must-visit for history buffs and curious travelers alike (do as I say, not as I do).
Natural Wonders of Yunnan and Guizhou Provinces
Dragon Palace Tourism Area
A journey south to Guizhou Province will take you to the Dragon Palace Cave scenic area. Here, stunning karst formations and underground caves create an otherworldly landscape. The highlight? A boat ride through the intricate waterways beneath the earth.
Stone Forest Scenic Area
Further southwest, in Yunnan Province, lies the Stone Forest Scenic Area. Located in Kunming city, the stone forest is filled with thousands of limestone pillars, resembling petrified trees, that create an eerie yet captivating landscape. It's like stepping into a scene from a fantasy novel.
Lijiang Old Town
Lijiang Old Town, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site nestled in the heart of Yunnan Province, is a living masterpiece of ancient architecture and cultural richness. Wander through its cobblestone streets, where traditional Naxi architecture, stunning canals, and charming tea houses create a fairytale-like atmosphere. Lijiang is stunning beyond words. I personally find it to be in the top 3 most beautiful places I've been to on the Chinese mainland. You really have to see this place in person to believe it exists.
Yulong Snow Mountain Scenic Area
Yulong Snow Mountain (or Jade Dragon Snow Mountain) stands tall. Like really tall. This majestic range offers stunning views year-round. Whether you're hiking its slopes or simply gazing at its beauty, it's an unforgettable experience.
Pro tip: If you aren't used to high altitude, make sure you buy a couple of the oxygen cans being sold at the base of the mountain. I only bought one and ran out while climbing up the mountain - it felt like my heart was going to burst out of my chest. Not pleasant.
The Enchanted World of Sichuan
Sichuan Province, located in southwestern China, is home to the giant panda and a haven for adventurous tourists seeking a diverse and thrilling experience. Known as the "Land of Abundance," Sichuan offers a tantalizing journey through its fiery cuisine, including the famous Sichuan hotpot and spicy Mapo Tofu. Beyond food, however, the province also boasts stunning natural wonders suitable for all types of travelers.
Jiuzhaigou Tourism Area
Jiuzhaigou, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Sichuan Province, is a paradise for nature lovers. Crystal-clear lakes, cascading waterfalls, and vibrant forests make this area a living painting. The Jiuzhaigou Valley's natural beauty is unparalleled.
Pro Tip: Due to overtourism, Jiuzhaigou has a limited number of visits per day and is incredibly difficult to book if you are not a Chinese local (and even if you are, tickets sell out QUICK). I highly suggest that if you can find a local to help you book, do it. Jiuzhaigou is stunning. Sadly despite many attempts, I was unable to book a ticket as they kept selling out.
Mount Emei Scenic Area
Mount Emei, also in Sichuan Province, is one of China's four sacred Buddhist mountains. Its lush slopes are adorned with ancient temples, serene monasteries, and diverse flora and fauna. Don't miss the chance to take the cable cars for panoramic views of the natural scenery.
Shanghai - A Glimpse into Modern China
Our final destination is the bustling metropolis of Shanghai. While Shanghai doesn't have too many AAAAA-rated tourist attractions, it will forever be one of my favorite cities in China. Shanghai is a dazzling blend of old-world charm and futuristic innovation. Skyscrapers punctuate the skyline, while the historic Bund waterfront offers a glimpse into Shanghai's colonial past.
Oriental Pearl TV Tower
The Oriental Pearl TV Tower, with its futuristic design, is a reminder that China seamlessly blends its rich history with modernity. The Pearl Tower offers a stunning view of the incredible Shanghai skyline, but it is also filled with unique and interesting things to do. Inside you'll find two restaurants (including one that is Coca-Cola themed), two museums, and VR games! It's definitely worth a visit.
China's AAAAA-rated tourist attractions are a testament to the nation's rich history, natural beauty, and cultural diversity. From the imperial grandeur of Beijing to the awe-inspiring landscapes of Yunnan, this journey has been a remarkable adventure. I hope this virtual guide has ignited your wanderlust and inspired you to explore the wonders of mainland China. Pack your bags, book your flights, and embark on your own adventure to discover what's waiting for you in the good old People's Republic!