China

China doesn't do things in a small way. It has the world's largest population, the only man-made structure visible from space (The Great Wall), the world's largest public square (Tiananmen, which can hold an estimated 500,000 people), and borders on the earth's tallest peak (Mount Everest). It has produced great religions, great political movements, great art, and great food. It is an epic nation that has reinvented itself time and time again, and now, at the dawn of a new millennium, it is again transforming as it emerges from decades of complete isolation from the outside world.

Middle House Hotel in Shanghai

China is changing and as it does, it is becoming an easier, more welcoming place to visit. These days China offers stylish hotels, international cuisine, air-conditioned minibuses, and an improved domestic airline system. And, of course, the sweep of 5,000 years of recorded history and a terrain that encompasses 6 million square miles. China is bound to the north by the deserts of Mongolia and to the southwest by the Himalayas; in between sit everything from exquisite monuments to stunning gorges to soaring skyscrapers. Delights awaiting visitors include grand palace complexes and artful temples. Dynastic tombs and ancient fortresses. Colonial-era mansions and modern-day silk mills.

As more and more travelers are now realizing, China has become one of the most enticing, most engaging destinations of our time.

The Forbidden City in Beijing

BEIJING has been China’s center of political power for centuries and history is everywhere you turn in the city: emperor after emperor has risen and fallen in Beijing and numerous invaders have swept through its streets. No surprise, then, that it is a captivating place to visit. Today in Beijing, imperial architecture mingles with magnificent structures built for and since the 2010 Olympic Games.  Tour the geographic center of Beijing, the imposing, infamous 98-acre Tiananmen Square, which has hosted some of China’s most visible modern moments: pro Mao rallies and pre-democracy demonstrations. From the square, it’s a short walk to the Forbidden City, former home to emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The massive complex, with some 9,000 rooms, is the best-preserved collection of ancient buildings in China today. You’ll also tour the Summer Palace, where you can stroll through the Long Corridor, a 2,300-foot hallway with mythical scenes.

China’s most famous architectural creation, the Great Wall is a behemoth 4,000 mile construction built over 2,000 years ago to keep out invaders from the north.

The Ming Tombs are the resting place of 13 emperors. Here is the Dingling tomb, which is famous for its magnificent underground palace.

Tiger Hill Pagoda, Shanghai

SHANGHAI is China’s economic powerhouse, the country’s largest and fastest growing city. Set in the middle of the east China coast, the city has evolved into a modern metropolis famed to finance and trade. Shanghai’s gigantic, bustling port is now the world’s third largest and ultra-modern glass-and-steel high rises have filled the city’s landscape. The Bund, once known as the Wall Street of the Far East is a beautiful waterfront area filled with colonial-era banks and trading houses. The Jade Buddha Temple, which houses two important white jade statues of the Buddha, both brought from Myanmar is worth a visit.

Suzhou, known as the Venice of the East for its great network of canals and bridges is also famed for its many classical gardens; visit the Lingering Garden and Tiger Hill, home of Suzhou’s Leaning Pagoda, which is set at an even more precarious angle than the Leaning Tower of Pisa. End by touring one of Suzhou’s finest silk mills.

XI’AN

China’s northwestern city of Xi’an was one of the world’s great ancient cities. Over 2,000 years ago it provided the silk that, thousands of miles away, clothed Caesar and sparked a fashion rage in Rome; by the seventh century A.D., it was securely linked to central Asia and Europe by the Silk Road and home to thousands of foreign traders. Xi’an served as the capital for eleven successive Chinese Dynasties, and touring this once dynamic, thriving metropolis is like going back in time.

Visit Xi’an’s most famous attraction: the tomb of China’s first emperor, which houses a massive battalion of terracotta warriors. The underground army exists on a grand scale. Some 6,000 life-size pottery warriors are lined up in battle formations, some standing, some on horseback. Each is an independent work of art and has a distinct expression and pose; the combined effect of the superb workmanship is stunning.

Visit also the Wild Goose pagoda. Built in the mid-7th century to store Buddhist scriptures, it is today one of the most famous Buddhist pagodas in China. in olden days candidates who passed imperial examinations would climb the Wild Goose Pagoda and write poems and inscriptions at its top, a ritual to symbolize a soaring career; today the poems and inscriptions are still visible. You’ll also visit the ancient City Wall, the most complete city wall to have survived through China’s long history. Xi’an’s wall is almost 10 miles long and stands 40 feet tall and 60 feet thick at its base. The massive structure formed a complex and well-organized system of defense and played a crucial role in the city’s history.