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Have you heard of Chengdu? Not as well-known as bigger cities like Shanghai, Chengdu is nonetheless a popular travel destination for good reason. It has amazing spicy food, beautiful natural surroundings, a high quality of life, and lots of pandas.
Located in Sichuan province, the greater Chengdu area is home to a staggering 14 million residents.
It’s surrounded by rich farmlands that have led to the city’s impressive agricultural wealth. Often called the ‘Land of Milk and Honey’, the Chengdu metropolis is one of the most liveable cities in China.
As well as being known for its panda tourism and spicy food, Chengdu has a great atmosphere. The city is famously laid-back and relaxed despite its size and busyness. This more relaxed way of life may be one of the most attractive things about Chengdu.
Chengdu is most famous for its panda population and almost everything in the city reflects that natural connection.
All around the city you’ll find panda shoes, purses, hats, and giant panda buses that transport people around the city.
Chengdu is home to several panda breeding and research facilities, which probably explains its close connection with this lovable animal.
So, while you’re in the city, make sure you head out to one of them to see the panda places and maybe even sign up to be a zookeeper for the day.
Chengdu is open and welcoming to tourists.
This is part of the city’s laid-back culture, but it doesn’t mean that travel around the city is always easy. There isn’t a lot of English in Chengdu, so you should never expect the locals to speak it. The signs and menus are also usually in Chinese.
This lack of English isn’t as difficult to navigate as you might think. Just make sure you always have your destination in Chinese characters on your phone. Also have your hotel name handy, in case you get lost.
With the help of a Chinese map app, you can use your phone to work out where you are and the best way to get where you’re going.
One of the best things about traveling to Chengdu is its proximity to other amazing places that you can explore.
For example, if you’ve ever wanted to visit Tibet, then Chengdu is the perfect place to start. The city is located on the eastern side of the Tibetan Plateau and offers a relatively easy trip into the ancient kingdom by plane or bullet train.
You can also use Chengdu as a base to explore West Sichuan, one of the most naturally and dramatically beautiful places in all of China.
The area is home to two national parks, Jiuzhaigou National Park and Huanglong National Park, which are both known for their pristine and dramatic natural landscapes.
And, only an hour or so from Chengdu is the spectacular Mount Emei. Click on the ‘Around Chengdu’ tab for more information.
Chengdu is a city of steel and skyscrapers, without a lot of historic or beautiful buildings.
But it makes up for that with a lot of natural attractions that are more amazing than anything man-made could be.
You can’t visit Chengdu without seeing the giant pandas. Fortunately, there are lots of places where you can see pandas and their cubs. You can even volunteer to get up close and personal with them through a zookeeper or volunteer program.
Some of the best places to see pandas are:
Chengdu is famously laid-back, and its teahouse culture is a big part of that. Teahouses are where the locals congregate, play mah-jong, and drink cup after cup of hot tea.
If you want to be part of the local culture, then escape the busy city the same way the locals do. Head to one of the local teahouses and try some brews.
Every part of China has different food and food traditions, and Sichuan province is no different. It’s known for its spicy food, so be prepared to have your tolerance for hot food increased during your trip.
While you’re in Chengdu, here are some dishes that you should try:
In Chengdu, the best restaurants aren’t usually on the tourist trail. You’ll need to find the places where the locals eat and there usually won’t be menus or signs in English to help.
Take a tour if you need to or ask any local who speaks English where they eat and don’t be afraid to take some chances.
One of the oldest temples in Chengdu, this shrine dates back to 302 AD and is a vast temple structure with a lot to see and admire.
It’s located about 20 minutes out of the city and is a great side trip if you’re interested in history or architecture.
A world heritage site, the spectacular Leshan Giant Buddha is 71 meters high and carved into rock. Just under two hours outside of Chengdu, this sculpture was started by a Buddhist monk in AD 713 and completed in 803 by fellow monks after his death.
Crowds can be pretty intense, so if you’re not fussed climbing the famous staircase in front of the Buddha, just pay a few dollars for a boat ride. It stops right out the front so you can take some amazing photos.
From Chengdu, catch a bullet train to Leshan and then a connecting tourist bus from the station. If that’s too much for you to handle, take a tour out there with a guide – many hotels and even hostels arrange them with accommodation pick-up and drop-off included.
Du Fu is one of China’s best-known poets and you can see a recreation of his home that honors his memory in Chengdu. Du Fu lived between AD 759 and 763 and the recreation is a sprawling complex of beautiful gardens, bridges and serene waterways.
This attraction is a peaceful sanctuary in the middle of the city, and you can also learn more about Du Fu’s life at the Gong Bu Memorial Hall.
The Shufeng Sichuan Opera House puts on regular performances of traditional Chinese music and theater. This is a not-to-be-missed experience while you’re in Chengdu!
You’ll get the chance to see ‘Bian Lian’, where the performers wear brightly colored masks and seem to swap faces with the flick of a fan. It’s really amazing.
While you’re there, make sure you spend some time in the surrounding Chengdu Cultural Park. The park is most famous for its Taoist Qingyang Temple, a remarkable example of traditional Chinese architecture.
If you just like to wander and explore when you travel, then why not do it in the most historic alleyways in Chengdu?
Located in the city’s old quarters, the Kuan, Zhai, and Jing Xiangzi alleys are narrow and heavy with the weight of the past. The alleys date back to the 17th century but have been recently renovated to reflect their former glory.
As you explore, you’ll find restaurants, beautiful public courtyards, traditional tea houses and stores. Also, don’t forget to check out the religious sites along the way like the Daci Temple and Wenshu Monastery.
Wherever you go in China you’ll find tasty, unusual food that will test your tastebuds. And Chengdu is no different.
This probably isn’t the best destination for you if you don’t like spicy food. But if you can handle a bit of heat, then you’ll have your pick of tasty treats.
Chengdu is all about the hotpot and this famous restaurant serves the most authentic hot pot experience around. Just make sure that you ask what’s in your hot pot, because there are some unusual meat choices like pig brain. Many of the hot pot dishes at this restaurant are very spicy, but there are some milder choices if you struggle with the heat.
Address: Lao Ma Tou, 27 Yulin N Road, Chengdu
This restaurant is a popular choice among locals for twice-cooked pork noodles. It’s only open until 2pm, so make sure you get there early to try out this famous dish.
Address: QingYang District Shang Chi Zheng Street, Chengdu
If you’ve been getting a little hot while traveling in Chengdu, why not try some cold noodles? Designed specifically to help people cope with Chengdu’s hot summers, this restaurant serves a variety of delicious cold noodles to delight every palate. Try the tian shui mian (sweet and spicy noodles) for a delightful balance of heat and sweet.
Address: Zhang Liang Fen, 39 Wenshuyuan Street, Chengdu
A popular local restaurant, there’s often an hour wait for a table here and yet the locals queue happily for their meals. That tells you that the food must be really good! It’s famous for its maocai dish, a stew of meat and vegetables in stock.
Address: Qingyang Qu Xierdao jie 19 hao
Being a vegetarian in China can be difficult, where the people love everything meat. But this restaurant will help you stick to your diet. Known for its meatless versions of Chinese favorites like Peking duck, it’s centrally located and priced to suit almost every budget.
Address: 27 Qinglong Street, Qingyang District, 4th Floor, Platinum Age City, Chengdu
Markets are usually amazing places to eat in China, and the ones in Chengdu are no different. The food is fresh and tasty, and the atmosphere is always interesting, adding a touch of fun to your meal.
Jinli Food Street, also known as Pedestrian Street, has the best local food and snacks in the city. You can wander up and down through this street buying snacks from different stalls and the food will be cheap and delicious. There’s also some great entertainment in the street in the form of plays, music, and traditional events.
This is the most popular food street in Chengdu. If you’re a vegan, then you might have trouble finding an appropriate snack, but if you’re a meat eater then you’ll be in heaven. The food here is Muslim, reasonably priced, and absolutely delicious.
The best places to eat in China are usually the local places, and that’s exactly what this street is. It’s where the locals congregate to eat, drink, and have fun at night. This street is full of bars, restaurants, and snack carts, and it has a great energy too it that’s contagious.
Chengdu has a range of modern and more traditional accommodation options. Just make sure that you choose which is right for you, as more traditional accommodations can be a shock to Western travelers.
The Mrs Panda Hostel is conveniently located near a Metro station and walking distance to the airport shuttle bus. It’s also a stone’s throw from the main shopping area and bar street.
This makes travel convenient and will make it easy for you to find fun things to do and see. The hostel is clean, affordable, and highly rated.
If you’re heading to beautiful Mt Emei, stay at Teddy Bear Hotel for the great location and teddy bear themed rooms!
Decorated in traditional Chinese style, the Wenjun Courtyard Hotel is simply stunning.
It’s also five minutes’ walk from the train station and close to popular tourist spots like Tianfu Square, Qingyang Temple, and the Kuanzhai Alleys.
The Hilton Chengdu is the best place to stay in the city if you have a little extra money to spend and like some luxury.
It’s reasonably priced for a 5-star hotel and offers a hot tub, sauna, fitness center, and spacious rooms. It’s also close to the train station as well as local restaurants.
Like most of China, Chengdu benefits from fast, cheap, and modern transport options. And you will enjoy their convenience when you’re traveling in Chengdu.
Chengdu’s Shuangliu International Airport (CTU) is one of the busiest airports in the county. It’s to the southwest of the city and offers flights to cities all around China and to a number of international cities as well. This makes Chengdu a good base for exploring the rest of the country.
Chengdu is the largest railway hub in southwest China, so the trains are fast, convenient, and go almost everywhere. Just remember that the people at the station may not speak English, so you will have to have your destination name in Chinese to buy your ticket. Remember to have your passport handy too – you can’t travel on bullet trains without it.
You can also use Chengdu’s long distance bus system to explore outside the city, though most buses stay inside Sichuan province. There are several coach stations throughout the city. You’re more likely to get help in English at the train station – long-distance buses in China are for the adventurous.
The metro is one of the best ways to get around inside of Chengdu as it goes almost everywhere and is very cost-effective. The security is a little stricter than you’re probably used to, and you may need to have your bags scanned before you get on the train.
Public buses are another good way to explore Chengdu and will take you to most of the big sights. Most routes run every half hour or more frequently, but they can be a little confusing, so make sure you know where you’re going. Have your Chinese map app handy.
Most buses in the urban area cost 1 CNY, though buses with air conditioning often cost 2 CNY. You will need to have exact change for the buses.
If you want to see the main sites, then hop on the sightseeing bus. The sightseeing bus runs between two appointed spots without stops and the tickets are sold with the entry ticket to the attraction. Makes life easier!
You can hail a taxi at any time in Chengdu. Just make sure that you have the name of your destination in Chinese on your phone as the driver probably won’t speak much English. Make sure that the driver uses the meter and if you’re heading outside of the city, look up how much it will cost beforehand and be ready to barter.
The day trips to beautiful nearby areas are one of the best things about visiting Chengdu. Whether you want to see natural scenery or historic attractions, you’ll be able to pick between some great options.
Tea is incredibly popular in China and has been for years, so you should find out what it’s all about while you’re in the country. Mengdingshan is one of the oldest tea-growing areas in China and is located just two hours away from Chengdu.
While you’re there, you’ll be treated to beautiful scenery and learn about the culture and traditions of tea. Take a tour if you want to learn even more about this ancient tradition.
Mount Emei is amazing in summer. A famous Buddhist mountain in China, it’s dedicated to the Bodhisattva Puxian and is a couple of hours from the city by bullet train.
The highest peak of the mountain is known as the Peak of the Ten Thousand Buddhas and is considered to be one of the four Holy Mountains in China.
This is a longer day trip but well worth the extra effort. Located around 186 miles from Chengdu, the pass is a popular spot for tours.
Known as the ‘Sword Gate Pass’ in English, the gate that once protected the road during the Ming Dynasty and beyond has recently been reconstructed. It’s a truly stunning sight against the steep slopes of the pass.
There are also several important historical sites nearby that are worth seeing.
It’s easy to forget a thing or two before you head to China.
So, here are a few reminders for you:
Have a wonderful time in Chengdu. And remember to get your VPN!
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Page last updated 24 September 2021. Main image credit: Sarah Lötscher from Pixabay. Commercial relationship disclosure: The Helpful Panda has commercial arrangements with organizations that may appear on this page, such as affiliate links. See our terms for more info.
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