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Top things to do in Chengdu (other than seeing Pandas): the Travel Guide

Are you planning a trip to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in China? Find out what you can do and see in this beautiful city.

anshun bridge

Chengdu is 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 didn’t have the chance to explore Chengdu. So when the tourism bureau invited me 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 country’s fashion capital. In recent years, the city has become a massive techno hub, and today, there is a total population of about 14 million. Despite the recent developments, Chengdu has 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 is the city of pandas! 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?

temple chengdu

Like most other places in China, spring and autumn are the best months to visit Chengdu. Winters in Chengdu are not extremely cold, unlike in northern China, but the weather is often grey 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

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 buildings have preserved the old architecture, but you’ll find many modern bars and restaurants inside.

This place is a combination of traditional Chinese culture and modern life. The whole area is not too big, and exploring it all will probably take a couple of hours. Kuanzhai Alley is located in the city centre.

Take a walk in People’s Park

Every Chinese city has a public park where you can relax and see old people singing and dancing, and Chengdu is 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 is in the city centre, so getting there should be quite easy.

Shopping in the biggest mall in China: New Century Global Center

new century global mall chengdu

Completed in 2013, the New Century Global Center is supposedly the world’s largest building regarding floor area. It’s a multi-purpose building because it was designed to be a self-contained town.

It includes hotels with over 2,000 rooms available, an indoor beach area that is more than a kilometre long, countless offices, conference rooms, a university complex, two commercial centres, 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 reach the mall via subway: Line 1 to Jincheng Square Station.

Enjoying the spicy food

China is a foodie’s paradise, but Sichuan food is famously known for the insane amount of chilli peppers used in almost every dish. One of the most popular is the spicy hot pot. Hot pots are common all over China, and every major city has its own version. But the Sichuan hot pot is 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 chilli peppers, but in my experience, the waiter will usually reply: “It’s not tasty!” and add a bit of chilli anyway. It can be frustrating, but it is also an interesting part of the culture. Just be aware of it.

pig brain

The spicy hot-pot it’s not enough? Take it to the next level with the pig’s brain!

Jinsha Museum

jinsha museum
jinsha museum chengdu

If you like ancient history, the Jinsha Museum is a very interesting place to visit. This site was accidentally discovered in 2001, and some of the artefacts date back to 1000 B.C.

There are several exhibition halls, and it takes about 2 hours to visit the whole complex. Ivory (elephant tusks), jade artefacts, 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 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

sichuan opera

Along with hot pot and pandas, the Sichuan opera is an important part of the culture in this province. Shu Feng Ya Yun Opera House is 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 performances include singing, marionettes, Chinese shadows, and acting. It is worth your money (150 RMB or more, depending on the day).

A day trip to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding

panda base chengdu

This post is about some things to do in Chengdu besides pandas, but you can’t visit this city without a trip to the panda breeding center. Around Chengdu there are other research centres and about 40 other Pandas centers in China. The Panda Center in Chengdu is very convenient to visit, and you can get there by subway. I want to add 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 there aren’t other challenges, but it’s good news. I covered the topic of wildlife protection in China in a previous post. One very important note: some of the pandas are moved indoors in summer and will be very crowded. The best time to see the pandas is before or after summer.

Chengdu Wuhou Shrine

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’s mausoleum, 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. It might be a good idea to book a tour guide to better understand and appreciate the history.

Day trip from Chengdu: Dujiangyan and Qingcheng Mountain

Dujiangyan and Qingcheng Mountain

You can arrange a day trip outside Chengdu if you have some extra time. 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.
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. The mountain is called ‘the most peaceful and secluded mountain under heaven’ in Chinese poetry. While this is quite an exaggeration, the place is peaceful. To get to the top of the mountain, you can hike and then take a cable car. The hike, though, is not difficult and consists of steps like most similar attractions in China. 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.

Day Trip to the Giant Buddha in Leshan

giant buddha leshan sichuan

Chengdu is the ideal place to arrange a short day trip to the Giant Buddha in Leishan. The easiest and best way to get there is by train (you can book it here).

Once you arrive in Leshan, you can take a taxi to the Unesco World Heritage site. The area is quite big and can take half a day to visit. Then you can head back to Chengdu or continue towards Emei Mountain.

Useful info before organizing your trip

street food sichuan
  • As I mentioned, consider the weather before deciding when to visit Chengdu. This city probably won’t be your only destination, but spring and autumn are generally the best seasons to visit most places in China.
  • Remember that most Western social media and websites are censored in China. To use them, you need a VPN.
  • info about chengdu visaA Visa is required for most nationalities. Remember that getting it can take a while, and you might need to do some paperwork. If you only plan to visit Chengdu, there is a new 144-hour visa-free transit policy. Remember that you won’t be allowed to leave the city if you get this temporary visa.
  • The language barrier can be a big problem when travelling in China. Fortunately, more and more people can now speak some English, especially in bigger cities like Chengdu.
  • If you are lost and need directions, ask at least 3 different people. That’s a basic rule I use, which has proved quite good.
  • There are plenty of accommodation options in Chengdu, and is a good resource for finding good deals, although the best option when travelling in China is Breakfast is the main difference between international and Chinese hotels (4 or 5 stars). Chinese hotels are cheaper if you don’t mind noodles and fried rice for breakfast. If breakfast is important, then go for the International hotels

If you plan a trip to China, don’t miss my travel guide.

2 thoughts on “Top things to do in Chengdu (other than seeing Pandas): the Travel Guide”

  1. Larry Miyamura

    I just found this website. I am also a traveler and photographer. I will be in Vietnam next month and looking for interesting places to visit afterwards. I considered the Yuanyang rice terraces but its not easy to get to and some photog friends tell me it’s Combat Photography. Chengdu looks intesteting.

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