Are you planning a trip to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in China? Find out some of the things you can do and see in this beautiful city.
Chengdu it’s the capital of the Sichuan province, one of the most beautiful provinces in China. I visited Sichuan last year on a trip to photograph the snow leopard but I didn’t have the chance to explore Chengdu. So when I was invited by the tourism bureau to explore this city I was more than happy to accept.
Chengdu is one of the most livable cities in China and supposedly it’s also the fashion capital of the country. In recent years the city has become a massive techno hub and today there is a total population of about 14 million people. Despite the more recent developments, Chengudu it’s a city with a very old history dating back thousands of years, unlike some modern cities like Shenzhen. It’s also famous for its unique cuisine and, last but not least, Chengdu it’s the city of panda! So there are several reasons to spend a few days in this nice place.
Here’s an interesting fact about Chengdu: it was the first place where paper money was popularly used over some 1,000 years ago for the first time
When is the best time to visit Chengdu
Like most other places in China, the best months to visit Chengdu are around spring and autumn. Winters in Chengdu are not extremely cold, unlike in northern China, but the weather is often gray and foggy (Chengdu gets about 250–300 foggy, cloudy or rainy days each year). During summer it rains a lot and it’s quite hot. So, if you can choose, avoid winter and summer.
What to do in Chengdu: Kuanzhai Alley
Kuanzhai Alley (宽窄巷子) consists of Kuan Alley (Wide Alley), Zhai Alley (Narrow Alley), and Jing Alley and are hundreds of years old. Most of the buildings have preserved the old architecture but inside you’ll find all sorts of modern bars and restaurants. So this place is a combination of traditional Chinese culture and modern life. The whole area it’s not too big and it will probably take a couple of hours to explore it all. Kuanzhai Alley, it’s located in the city center.
Take a walk in People’s Park
Pretty much every Chinese city has a public park where you can relax and see old people singing and dancing and Chengdu it’s no exception. If you have never been to China, People’s Park is a good place to learn more about Chinese culture. The park was built in 1911 and covers a total area of 112,639 square meters. Inside the park, you can find several gardens, a small lake, and a century-old Teahouse (鹤鸣茶馆). The park it’s located in the city center so it should be quite easy to get there.
If you are feeling particularly brave you can try the ear wax removal
Shopping in the biggest mall in China: New Century Global Center
Someone said that everything it’s bigger in Texas, but man, whoever said that probably never visited China or at least modern China! On a regular basis, China beats some sort of world record when a new infrastructure it’s built.
The New Century Global Center it’s no exception. Completed in 2013 it’s currently the world’s largest building in terms of floor area (until another Chinese city beats the record obviously). It’s probably more correct to call this monster a multi-purpose building and not simply a mall because it was designed to be a self-contained town. It includes its own hotels with 2,000 rooms, an indoor beach area that is more than a kilometer long, countless offices, conference rooms, a university complex, two commercial centers, hotels, an IMAX cinema, a “Mediterranean village”, a pirate ship(!?) and an Olympic-size skating rink! It’s twice the size of the previous mall record holder in Dubai. You can get to the mall using the subway: Line 1 to Jincheng Square Station.
Enjoying the spicy food
China is a foodie’s paradise, but be aware that Sichuan food it’s famously known for the insane amount of chili peppers used almost in every dish. One of the most popular it’s obviously the spicy hot pot. Hot-pots are actually common all over China and basically, every major city has its own version. But the Sichuan hot-pot it’s definitely one of the best (if you like spicy food).
If you don’t like spicy food (or you have some food allergies) it can be quite challenging to eat in a restaurant in this part of China (and in Yunnan as well). You can try to say that you can’t eat chili peppers (我不可以吃辣椒), but in my experience most of the time the waiter will simply reply: 不好吃啊！which basically means: it’s not tasty! and they will go ahead and add a bit of chili anyway. It can be frustrating but it’s also an interesting part of the culture. Just be aware of it.
The spicy hot-pot it’s not enough? Take it to the next level with the pig’s brain!
If you like ancient history the Jinsha museum it’s a very interesting place to visit. This site was accidentally discovered in 2001 and some of the artifacts discovered date back to the year 1000 b.c.
There are several exhibition halls and it takes about 2 hours to visit the whole complex. Ivory (elephant tusks), jade artifacts, bronze objects, gold objects, and carved stone objects were found at the site.
Jinsha Ruins are China’s major archaeological discovery in the 21st century. The whole site covers an area of about 5 square Km. To get there you can take the subway line No.2 and get off at Yipintianxia Station then get out from Exit B. Then go north around 1 km to the east gate.
Shu Feng Ya Yun Sichuan Opera
Along with hot-pot and pandas, the Sichuan opera it’s an important part of the culture in this province and it originates around 1700. Shu Feng Ya Yun Opera House it’s the best venue in Chengdu to watch the Sichuanese opera. There are numerous performances and even if you don’t understand Chinese you’ll still be able to enjoy it because there is an English introduction to each of the acts. Some of the performances include singing; marionette, Chinese shadows, and acting. Definitely worth your money (150 RMB or more depending on the day).
A day trip to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
This post is about some of the things to do in Chengdu besides pandas but honestly, you can’t visit this city without a trip to the panda breeding center. Around Chengdu, there are other research centers and in total, at the moment there are about 40 other Pandas centers in China. The center in Chengdu it’s very convenient to visit and you can get there by subway. I just want to say that the project to protect the pandas in China has been so successful that since 2016 they are no longer endangered.
This doesn’t mean that they aren’t other challenges but it’s definitely good news. I covered the topic of wildlife protection in China in a previous post. One very important note: in summer some of the pandas are moved indoors and it will be very crowded. The best time to see the pandas is before or after summer.
Chengdu Wuhou Shrine
Located in the southwestern part of downtown Chengdu, and in front of an amazing Tibetan restaurant, Wuhou Shrine is dedicated to Zhuge Liang, of the Kingdom of Shu in the Three Kingdoms Period (220 – 280). Zhuge Liang was a Chinese politician, military strategist, writer, engineer, and inventor. In addition, the Temple of Liu Bei, the emperor of Shuhan, and his mausoleum are well-known historical sites inside this big scenic spot. The park includes a lot of statues of several important rulers in ancient China. To better understand and appreciate the history it might be a good idea to book a tour guide.
Day trip from Chengdu: Dujiangyan and Qingcheng Mountain
If you have some extra time you can arrange for a day trip outside Chengdu. Two of the best attractions are Dujiangyan and Qingcheng Mountain.
Dujiangyan is an ancient irrigation system originally constructed around 256 BC by the State of Qin as an irrigation and flood control project, it is still in use today.
During the Warring States period, people who lived along the banks of the Min River were plagued by annual flooding. Qin governor, irrigation engineer, and hydrologist Li Bing investigated the problem and discovered that the river was swelled by fast flowing spring melt-water from the local mountains that burst the banks when it reached the slow moving and heavily silted stretch below.Wikipedia
One solution would have been to build a dam but Li Bing had also been charged with keeping the waterway open for military vessels to supply troops on the frontier, so instead he proposed to construct an artificial levee to redirect a portion of the river’s flow and then to cut a channel through Mount Yulei to discharge the excess water upon the dry Chengdu Plain beyond.
Besides the irrigation system, you can also find several temples
Qingcheng Mountain is one of the most famous Taoist mountains in China. In the usual Chinese poetry, the mountain is also called ‘the most peaceful and secluded mountain under heaven’. While this is quite an exaggeration the place is definitely peaceful. To get to the top of the mountain you can hike and then take a cable car. The hike though it’s not difficult and it consists, like most similar attractions in China, of a series of steps. On your way to the top, you’ll find several Taoist temples and pagodas.
The emphasis in Taoism is on relativity of truth and the good life being one that doesn’t care so much about truth, morality, and other ideas that most religions associate with today. Taoism also teaches not to rely too much on other people unlike Buddhism that emphasizes the suffering of life and how to alleviate it in oneself and in others.
Useful info before organizing your trip
- As I mentioned, before deciding when you want to visit Chengdu consider the weather. Most probably this city won’t be your only destination but generally speaking spring and autumn are the best seasons to visit most of the places in China.
- Remember that most western social media and websites are censored in China. To use them you need a VPN.
- A Visa is required for most nationalities. Keep in mind that it can take a while to get it and you might need to do some paperwork. If you are only planning to visit Chengdu there is a new 144-hour visa-free transit policy. Keep in mind that if you get this type of temporary visa you won’t be allowed to leave the city.
- The language barrier can be a big problem when traveling in China. Fortunately more and more people can now speak a bit of English, especially in bigger cities like Chengdu.
- If you are lost and you need to ask for some directions, ask at least to 3 different people. That’s a basic rule I use and so far has proved to be quite good.
- There are plenty of accommodation options in Chengdu and booking.com it’s a good resource to find good deals, although the best option when traveling in China is Trip.com. Keep in mind that the main difference between international hotels and Chinese hotels (4 or 5 stars) it’s the breakfast. If you don’t mind noodles and fried rice for breakfast Chinese hotels are a cheaper option. If breakfast it’s important then go for the International hotels
If you are planning a trip to China don’t miss my complete travel guide to the Middle Kingdom. Here you