Study abroad is a time for exploration, a time to learn about other cultures, and often enough to simply have a good time. One of the best things to do in a foreign land is to travel. Only by seeing the most of a country can you make your experience full! In homage to that sentiment, here are my top 5 cities to explore in China.

1. Beijing 北京

Beijing Tiananmen

 If you have read even one of my blogs before you know I studied abroad here, so Beijing is a special place for me. But disregarding my bias, Beijing has a long history and is the home of such iconic architecture as the Great Wall, Forbidden City, and the Bird’s Nest (Beijing National Stadium). If you want to see some of the best parts of imperial China, this is the city to visit. Beijing Opera is of course a specialty here, and in addition to an abundance of history and culture, nightlife in places like Wudaokou (五道口) and Sanlitun (三里屯) guarantee you can always have fun!

Beijing Great Wall

2. Xi’an 西安

Xian Terra-Cotta Army

If you are interested in Buddhism or the older dynasties in China, such as the Qin and Tang Dynasties, then this city is a must visit. Xi’an is home to the Terra-Cotta Warriors, one of the most famous examples of ancient China’s glory, as well as the lovely Huaqing Hot Springs and the famous Big Wild Goose Pagoda. Like Beijing, you cannot turn a corner without finding something ancient and mysterious. Do yourself a favor and go visit Xi’an, because it will definitely leave a lasting impression.

Xian Huaqing Hotspring

3. Chengdu 成都

Chengdu Panda

The capital of Sichuan province, Chengdu is famous for extremely spicy cuisine and being the home of the giant panda. If you love pandas (and you know you do) then Chengdu is the place for you. This is the first city on my list that has never been the capital of China before, but it was the capital of the Shu Kingdom before Qin Shihuang annexed it, so there is still plenty of history. It is a lovely city with a far warmer climate than Xi’an or Beijing. Nearby you can also climb Mount Emei, an important Buddhist pilgrimage site, and see the Leshan Giant Buddha, the world’s largest stone Buddha at 233 feet tall – and he is sitting down!

Chengdu Leshan Buddha

4. Shanghai 上海

Shanghai Skyline

The interesting thing about Shanghai is that compared to these other cities it is relatively young. However, Shanghai is the embodiment of modern China. It is the financial capital of China and is thus also the most developed city. The Bund is a long esplanade with a panoramic view of China’s best skyline – a must see. The Shanghai Tower will be finished in about a year, making it the tallest building in China and the second tallest in the world. Nanjing East is a shopper’s paradise with every luxury brand you can imagine, and the Bund itself is a row of several European styled buildings. Shanghai is best for its variety of dining, the inarguable best night life in China, as well as the best shopping in China.

Shanghai Nanjing East Rd

5. Hangzhou 杭州

Hangzhou Three Stone Pagodas

Hangzhou is quite near Shanghai, so if you visit one it is not hard to visit the other. The main attraction of this city is the West Lake. When I went, I literally took two days going all around the lake, going into every temple, museum, and taking every small path just to see where it went. The lake is tranquil and is the center of so much history that your interest will be held until you hear out each and every legend. Among the attractions are Yue Fei’s Tomb, Baochu Pagoda, and King Qian’s Temple.

Hangzhou King Qian Temple

There are plenty more great cities to visit in China, like Nanjing and Chongqing, and I hope you are lucky enough to get to see them all!

Aaron Records  is a student at Colby-Sawyer College and a TEAN Featured Blogger. Aaron recently completed his semester abroad with TEAN in Beijing, China.