China is a vast country with a history dating back over 3,000 years. As such it’s no wonder that there are so many world-famous China landmarks. From the Great Wall to the Forbidden City, Potala Palace and more, discover some of the most important historical places in China.
I lived in the country for over six years and have personally visited almost all of these landmarks in China, most of them many times over
Take a journey with me through the Middle Kingdom, and be sure to add some of these famous Chinese landmarks to your bucket list!
Want to learn more about Chinese culture? Check out this Chinese Culture Guide by Helpful Panda.
Map of the China Landmarks
Chinese Landmarks on Banknotes
Let’s start with the big hitters. These China landmarks are recognized as some of the country’s top attractions and can be seen on the six Chinese banknotes from ¥1 to ¥100.
1. Great Hall of the People, Tiananmen Square, Beijing
The Great Hall of the People is the landmark on the back of the ¥100 Yuan banknote. It is located on Tiananmen Square in Beijing and serves as the ceremonial headquarters of the Chinese government.
Tiananmen Square is located in the geographical centre of Beijing and is the perfect starting point for exploring the nearby Forbidden Palace (see below) and many of Beijing’s other top attractions such as the Bell and Drum Towers and nearby hutongs.
2. The Potala Palace, Lhasa
The Potala Palace is one of Tibet’s most famous monuments in China and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This beautiful Buddhist temple sits at an elevation of 3,700 metres (12,100ft) high in the Himalayas.
Taking a tour of Tibet is one of the most rewarding experiences on any trip to China and I was lucky enough to visit in 2020.
After exploring the temples and monasteries of Lhasa, you can visit another famous Chinese landmark, Mount Everest!
More info: Guide to Tibet
3. Li River and Karst Mountains, Xingping
China’s Guangxi Province is home to the famous Li River and the limestone karst mountains, two distinctive landmarks of China.
Guilin and Yangshuo are the usual stops for travellers, however the small village of Xingping is one of the best places to witness the incredible landscape around the Li River. I visited in 2019 with my father and we were both blown away by the place.
Here you can witness the ancient tradition of the cormorant fisherman who use the birds to help them make a catch. You can also take a river cruise and explore nearby Yangshuo which is only 22 kilometres away.
4. Three Gorges of the Yangtze River
The Yangtze River is one of the top landmarks of China. The river stretches from Chongqing in the west to Shanghai in the east.
It’s possible to take a river cruise for all or part of the length of the river, stopping at more famous landmarks in China such as the Three Gorges Dam.
The most popular route is from Chongqing to Yichang which takes three to four days.
5. Taishan Mountain, Tai’an
Taishan is one of China’s five holy mountains and has been one of the top Chinese historical sites since the time of the emperors.
Climbing Taishan is a rewarding experience for the incredible views, though you will need a moderate level of fitness to tackle the thousands of stone steps to the top. It’s also possible to take a cable car up and down.
I climbed Taishan in October 2020 and it was a tough but rewarding hike (and very cold at the top). You can see some drone footage I took here.
6. Three Pools Mirroring the Moon, Hangzhou
Hangzhou is one of my favourite cities in the world and its beautiful West Lake is one of the most famous landmarks China.
The scene from the 1 Yuan note is the “three pools mirroring the moon” which is located on a small “island within a lake, and lake within an island”.
Pleasure boats cruise West Lake day-long making it one of the best ways to see this stunning Chinese landscape. Behind the lake lies the famous Longjin Tea plantation, another of China’s top landmarks.
Cultural China Landmarks – Historical Places in China
7. The Great Wall of China
This famous landmark in China needs no introduction! The Great Wall of China is a series of fortifications stretching across the northern part of the country. Different sections were built at different times with the earliest thought to be constructed around the seventh century BC.
The most popular sections of the great wall such as Badaling and Mutianyu are easily reachable from Beijing in one to two hours. Although these sections have been rebuilt, they are still an impressive sight and make for a great day trip from the capital.
If you want to see parts of the wall that haven’t been reconstructed, there are plenty of options from Dandong on the border with North Korea to the Jiayu pass in far-western Gansu Province. People even camp on some of these sections, although it is forbidden.
8. The Forbidden City, Beijing
The Forbidden City, also known as the Forbidden Palace, is a complex of hundreds of buildings that were the seat of imperial China from the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644) to the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1912).
The Forbidden City is one of the most famous landmarks in China alongside the Great Wall.
The palace was completed in 1420 and thankfully survived the Cultural Revolution relatively unscathed. Today the complex sees upwards of 80,000 visitors per day, and is a must-see landmark for anyone visiting Beijing.
9. Temple of Heaven, Beijing
The Temple of Heaven is one of the most famous ancient Chinese monuments and dates back to the Ming Dynasty.
It was completed in 1420 to commemorate the eighteenth year of the reign of Emperor Yongle. The temple was a place of worship as well as a sacrifice to ensure favourable harvests for the year ahead.
This is one of my favourite famous Chinese landmarks and it’s set within acres of green parkland in central Beijing.
10. The Summer Palace, Beijing
The Forbidden City was the winter residence of the imperial court, however when the city started to heat up, the emperors moved to the Summer Palace 23km to the north.
This is one of the most famous monuments of China and sits perched atop a large lake with mist-covered mountains rising in the distance. I’ve walked around the lake a couple of times and it’s somewhere I always go back to when in Beijing.
The 500-acre site is home to palace buildings, temples, pavilions, islands, streams and parkland, making it one of the top Chinese historical sites.
11. Lama Temple, Beijing
Our final Beijing landmark for now, the Yonghe Lama Temple is a haven of tranquillity within the city. It represents one of the biggest lamaseries outside of Tibet and an excellent example of Buddhist architecture.
Escape the rush of Beijing and surround yourself with ancient trees as incense carries on the wind. Lose yourself in the cool shadows of the wooden temples as worshippers pay homage to the Buddha.
If I’m looking for a little bit of tranquillity in busy Beijing, then the Lama Temple is one of the first places I head to.
12. The Bund, Shanghai
Once a British settlement on the banks of the Huangpu River in Shanghai, the historic buildings of “the Bund” represent the old banks, trading houses and embassies of colonial countries in China at the end of the nineteenth century.
The Bund sits across the river from Shanghai’s dazzling skyscrapers of Pudong District and is a pleasant place to stroll and take in the view. There are many fine restaurants and cafe’s centred around the area which is one of the top tourist sites in Shanghai.
13. The Terracotta Warriors, Xi’an
In 1974 a farmer and his brothers discovered what was to become one of the most famous China landmarks, the mausoleum of Qinshuhuang, China’s first Emperor.
What was uncovered at the site just outside of the city of Xi’an included over 8,000 lifesize terracotta soldiers, 670 terracotta horses 130 chariots plus weaponry, burial objects and more.
Today the Terracotta Warriors Museum is one of the most historical places in China and a must-see for anyone visiting Xi’an.
14. Xi’an City Walls
The northwestern city of Xi’an is a mixture of east meets west and it was once the start of the legendary Silk Road. The old city is surrounded by stone wall fortifications that measure over 13km in length.
One of the best ways to see the fortification with great views of Xi’an’s rooftops is to hire a bicycle and cycle the entire length of the wall which I’ve done a couple of times as I lived very close to Xi’an.
This takes around two hours and offers some of the best views in the city, making it one of the most impressive landmarks of China.
15. Giant Wild Goose Pagoda
Xi’an’s Giant Wild Goose Pagoda is a Buddhist monument built to house artefacts gathered from India. It was originally built in 648AD and rebuilt in 704AD under the empress Wu Zetian who ruled from Xi’an.
The pagoda is located within the grounds of Da Ci’en Temple in southern Xi’an. Entrance is included with a ticket to the temple, and for an additional small fee, you can climb the pagoda for great views of the city.
16. Longmen Grottoes, Luoyang
The Longmen Grottoes are one of the most important cultural and historical landmarks in China. The site contains thousands of statues of the Buddha carved into the rock face above the Yi River in Luoyang.
The statues range in size from a couple of centimetres to over 17 metres (57 feet) tall and date back to 493AD.
I lived in Luoyang for five years and visited what is one of the most famous landmarks of China on many occasions. I even used to take my students here at the end of term.
17. White Horse Temple, Luoyang
Tranquil White Horse Temple is the birthplace of Buddhism in China. Legend has it that Emperor Ming of the Eastern Han Dynasty sent emissaries to India to learn about Buddhism. They returned after three years bearing a white horse carrying scriptures.
This China landmark is home not only to the White Horse Temple but also to Thai, Burmese and Indian Temples erected over the last thirty years. The tranquil setting also includes pools, pagodas and shaded courtyards.
This is one of my favourite places in Luoyang and equally as impressive as the Longmen Grottoes.
18. The Shaolin Temple, Dengfeng
This Chinese landmark is set within the Song Mountain National Park and also includes the Pagoda Forest and Dharma Cave, two other famous Chinese landmarks.
The Shaolin Temple holds daily displays of Kung-Fu every thirty minutes and these performances have to be seen to be believed! I’ve visited Shaolin three times and am always blown away by the performances and stunning scenery.
19. Mogao Caves, Dunhuang
Similar to the Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang, the Mogao Caves in China’s far-western Gansu Province is home to over 1,000 years of Buddhist art.
Dunhuang is located on the edge of the Gobi Desert and was an important stop on the ancient Silk Road. Here you can also find the westernmost section of the Great Wall.
I visited Dunhuang on my way across China to nearby Kazakhstan.
20. Leshan Giant Buddha, Chengdu
There are many giant Buddhas across China, however, the Leshan Giant Buddha is one of the most impressive. Located just outside Chengdu, this 71-metre (233ft) carving dates back to 803AD!
Leshan is one of the most famous China landmarks and attracts many tourists thanks to its close proximity to Chengdu. Having lived in Luoyang, I have to say I prefer the Buddha at Longmen though.
21. Saint Sophia Cathedral, Harbin
Harbin is a city in China’s far northeastern Heilongjiang Province which borders Russia. The city was originally built to house Russian workers helping to construct a railway through Manchuria and as such they have left their mark on the city.
St Sophia is typical of the Russian Orthodox style complete with towering onion domes. Although no longer a working church, the building now contains a small gallery and photo exhibition charting Harbin’s history.
22. Harbin Ice and Snow World
Beautiful Harbin Ice and Snow World is one of China’s more modern attractions but is no less famous for it. Each year from December to March sculptors recreate famous landmarks from around China and the world made entirely of ice.
The ice festival has been running for over 30 years and attracts millions of visitors. If you plan on visiting make sure to wrap up warm as temperatures can drop below minus 30 degrees Celcius!
I have visited the Ice Festival twice, first in 2015 when I lived in Harbin and again in 2021 when I returned to visit friends. One of my favourite landmarks China for sure.
23. Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
China’s most famous residents have to be the lovable pandas that call Chengdu home. The research base has successfully pulled the panda from the brink of extinction with its dedicated breeding program.
Unlike zoos in China which should be avoided, the Chengdu Panda Base is a haven of bamboo forest, lakes and parkland covering 92 acres. The breeding centre in Chengdu is one of the most famous landmarks in China!
Natural China Famous Landmarks
24. Mount Everest, Tibet
The highest mountain on earth tops our list of natural China landmarks for obvious reasons. The 8,800 metre (29,032 foot) peak straddles both Nepal and China and can be summited from either side.
For those without the inclination to climb Everest, it is possible to visit Everest Base Camp (EBC) in Tibet. To visit Tibet, non-Chinese nationals must book a tour.
I visited Everest Base Camp in 2021 and it was one of the most memorable trips of my life. The Himalayan scenery was truly out of this world.
25. Qinghai Express (World’s Highest Railway)
The Xining to Lhasa railway line, known as the Qinghai Express, is the highest railway in the world. At its highest, it reaches 5,069 metres (16,640 feet) above sea level.
The views from the train are incredible, as the landscape changes from the steppe to the high Tibetan Plateau. You can see eagles flying above the train and yaks grazing in the snow.
The railway station at Tanggula is in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the highest station in the world. The train stops here before descending down towards Lhasa at 3,600 metres (11,995 feet).
26. Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Hunan
Otherworldy Zhangjiajie is China’s oldest national park and one of the most famous of China’s landmarks. The otherwordly mountainscape of Zhangjiajie was used as inspiration for the hit sci-fi adventure film Avatar and is now sometimes known as the “Avatar Mountains”.
Zhangjiajie is a must for nature lovers and those fond of the great outdoors. There are miles of trail through the forest and mountains where monkeys jump above your head and rare birds and insects can be seen.
I have been to Zhangjiajie in 2016 and 2019 and love hiking this strange and beautiful landscape.
27. Qinghai Lake
Majestic Qinghai is the largest lake in China, and also one of the highest as it sits at 3,205 metres (10,515ft) on the Tibetan Plateau.
The area around the lake is perfect for hiking, camping and birdwatching when the temperature warms up in summer.
28. Rainbow Mountains, Zhangye
The Zhangye Danxia Rainbow Mountains belong to the Qilian Range that rise up from the Tibetan Plateau. These colourful peaks were formed over millennia with each colour representing a layer of sedimentary rock.
The colours range from red, yellow, orange and grey and the mountains are best viewed at sunrise or sunset. There are a series of viewing platforms across the park with shuttle buses running between. One of the best natural famous landmarks in China!
29. Bingguo Danxia Landform, Zhangye
The Binnguo Danxia Geopark in western Gansu Province is a large national park containing unique landforms and rock formations.
The landscape of towering red sandstone pillars was formed over 80 million years ago and feels like another world. Bingguo is located near the Zhangye Rainbow Mountains and is arguably even more impressive.
30. The Gobi Desert
The Gobi Desert is the sixth-largest in the world and covers much of northern China and southern Mongolia. This vast, empty expanse stretches for 1,600 kilometres (994 miles) across parts of Inner Mongolia and Gansu Province.
There are many activities in the Gobi from camel trekking to off-roading as well as exploring ancient Silk Road towns. Two great places to see the desert up close are Jiayuguan and Dunhuang in Gansu Province.
The Gobi is one of the most famous natural landmarks in China and should be on the list of every traveller to the country!
31. Crescent Moon Lake, Dunhuang
The Crescent Moon Lake at Dunhuang exists due to a unique phenomenon. Although the sands of the desert are constantly shifting, the lake has remained since at least 220AD.
This beautiful lake is located just outside the city of Dunhuang and close to another natural phenomenon; the singing sand dunes.
32. The Yellow River
The Yellow River is the second-longest in China after the Yangtze, but culturally it is more important thanks to the Yellow River basin being the cradle of ancient Chinese civilisation.
This iconic Chinese landmark stretches 1,900 kilometres (1,180 miles) from Qinghai on the Tibetan Plateau to the Yellow Sea near Shandong Province.
33. Victoria Peak, Hong Kong
At 552 metres (1,811 feet), Victoria Peak is the largest hill on Hong Kong Island. Known locally as “The Peak”, it attracts many visitors for its excellent views of the city and Victoria Harbour, as well as its many hiking trails.
The most fun way to get to the peak is by funicular railway on the Peak Tram, which has been running since 1888! One of the best times for a trip to the peak is just before sunset, so you can watch the skyscrapers light up!
Don’t pay the extra to go to the viewing platform as the views are just as good, if not better from the trail around the peak.
I lived in Hong Kong in 2021 and loved hiking around the peak in the evenings. It’s one of the best places to see the sunset in the city.
34. Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery, Hong Kong
The 34-metre tall “giant” Tian Tan Buddha is located on Lantau Island close to Po Lin Monastery. As well as being an important centre of Buddhism in Hong Kong, it is also a major tourist attraction.
The easiest and most scenic way to get to the Buddha and monastery is by the cable car that runs from Tung Chung (where you can take the MTR back to Kowloon/Hong Kong Island).
35. Victoria Harbour and the Star Ferry
One of Hong Kong’s most iconic landmarks is Victoria Harbour and the Star Ferry that crosses from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island every eight minutes.
There are two ferries that go between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. One goes to Central and the other to Wan Chai.
I used to take the Star Ferry almost daily as it’s a great way to get about and only costs a couple of HK dollars (less than $1.00 US).
36. Karakoram Highway
The Karakoram Highway stretches from Gilgit in Pakistan to Kashgar in China and includes the world’s highest border crossing, the Khunjerab Pass. The highway passes through the Himalayas and yields some of the most stunning scenery in the world.
Chinese Landmarks – The Five Holy Mountains
Our final Chinese landmarks are the five holy mountains. These famous landmarks in China have been an important part of Chinese culture for centuries.
Mount Hua (Huashan) is best known for its fear-inducing “plank walk”. At 2,154 metres (7,067 feet) it is the tallest of the five holy mountains in China.
Huashan is located between Luoyang and Xi’an so not far from my former home. I visited the mountain but wasn’t brave enough to take the plank walk.
The mountain is also famed for it’s five peaks and many pavilions clinging to the steep cliffs.
Song Mountain is located within the grounds of the Shaolin Temple in Henan Province. It is 1,512 metres (4,961 feet) tall.
There is a fantastic hiking trail that goes up into the mountains around Songshan and even a village clinging to the rocks.
39. Hengshan North
The northern Heng Mountain is in Shanxi Province and is 2,017 metres (6,617 feet) high.
40. Hengshan South
The southern Heng Mountain is in Hunan Province and is 1,300 metres (4,266 feet) high.
See entry number 5 above for Taishan (Chinese banknotes).
Now you know about these China famous monuments and landmarks, which one would you like to visit first (or which ones have you visited)? Let me know in the comments!
Check out our guide to 27 of the most famous landmarks in Asia for more incredible attractions! How many of these Chinese landmarks have you visited? Comment below!
About the author:
Steve Rohan is a writer from Essex, England. He has travelled to over 60 countries, lived in China and Hong Kong, and is now living the digital nomad life on the road.
Steve prefers “slow travel” and has covered much of Europe and Asia by train, bus and boat.
Where I am now: Armenia 🇦🇲