DON’T MISS: Pingyao and Datong. Two ancient Chinese cities that have preserved their thousand-year old histories.
MUST SEE: The Great Wall (Beijing) and Terracotta Army (Xi’an), obviously you didn’t come to Northern China to miss these two sights.
MUST TASTE: Peking Duck in Beijing. Order it with the skin on the side and enjoy.
TRIP PLANNING: Two to three weeks should be enough to sample the rich history and culture of Northern China (Beijing, Datong, Pingyao, and Xi’an). Add another week or two to see Qingdao or hike Tai’shan.
GETTING AROUND: Trains. By Chinese standards the distances are small and the trains are great. Within a few years high-speed trains will connect Beijing and Xi’an, making the trip quick and comfortable. Click here to learn more about buying train tickets in China.
YOU NEED TO KNOW: Summer welcomes massive crowds, but winter brings frigid temperature. Pick your poison, but spring and fall are the best time to balance the weather and crowds. If you do decide to go in summer plan ahead as trains and hotels fill up.
IF WE KNEW WHAT WE KNOW NOW: We would schedule less time in Xi’an and Beijing. To keep your sanity make these tactical strikes to visit, see what you want, and move on to quieter, less touristy, places.
HELPFUL LINKS TO LEARN MORE: See the main China Travel Guide for tips and links to visiting China.
OUR HIGHLIGHT: The caves of Datong and Luoyang. These spectacular caves are filled with 1500 year old Buddhist carvings.
WHERE WE WENT: Beijing, Xi’an, Tai’an, Datong, Pingyao, Luoyang, Qingdao, Xi’an
WE REGRET MISSING: Harbin Ice Festival, one of the largest winter festivals that includes ice sculptures, winter sports and beer.
Interested in reading about North China?
- Explore the hidden hutongs of Beijing
- Wander the Great Wall of China
- Learn about dealing with crowded China
- The best sights of Xi’an: Terracotta Warriors and Hanyangling Museum
- A guide to the art districts of China: Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen
- Pingyao: Preserved China
- Taking Qingdao Brewery Tour
- Caving into ancient Buddhist art in Datong and Luoyang
- Search for articles on our Interactive Map
- Click here for the China article index
Founded in 200 BC, Datong is famous for the Yungang Grottoes filled with over 50,000 carved images and statues of Buddhas and bodhisattvas, ranging from 4 centimeters to 7 meters tall. Most of these carvings exceed 1000 years old and retain their original pigment. This was one of the most impressive historical sights we visited in China. Datong is a short trip from Beijing and worth spending a night in to see the Yungang Grottoes.
Pingyao is renowned for retaining many of it\'s Ming and Qing dynasty buildings and city walls dating to 1370 AD. While many of the traditional cities in China have been rebuilt, the effort to retain the original buildings earned the city a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. It is located 715 KM from Beijing and is an easy night-train escape from the bustling city to the quiet streets of Pingyao.
One of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China, Luoyang is one of the cradles of Chinese civilization. It has been settled since 2070 BC and has one of the greatest repositories of ancient Buddhist art in the Longmen Grottoes. A UNESCO World Heritage Site with over 1,400 caves filled with carved Buddhas, inscriptions and paintings dating to 493 AD.
Qingdao, or Tsingtao, is best known for its namesake beer. The city and brewery were built when it was a German colony and still has the charm of an European seaside city. It is considered on of China\'s most beautiful cities and a beach vacation destination during the summer. This was the first city we visited in China and was a great place to start our Chinese adventure.
Tai\'an is home to Mount Tai is one of the \"Five Sacred Mountains\". It is associated with sunrise, birth, and renewal, and is often regarded the foremost of the five. Mount Tai has been a place of worship for at least 3,000 years and served as one of the most important ceremonial centers of China during large portions of this period (source Wikipedia). All the great leaders of China from Confucius to Chairman Mao have climbed the 7,000 steps to the Jade Emperor Peak, and so did we...in one long day.
Xi\'an is one of China\'s Four Ancient Capitals, with more than 3,100 years of history. It is home to more than seven million people, but it\'s most famous residents are the Terracotta Army of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. There are many other royal tombs near the city including pyramids.
Beijing is the capital of the People\'s Republic of China and one of the largest cities in the world with almost 20 million residents. It is the center of Chinese government and industry, along with the home to many historical sights. We stayed in the city twice as a base for trips to North Korea and Tibet, otherwise the city quickly loses its appeal due to massive crowds.