Set amongst lush plains of the Red Basin in Sichuan Province, in the western part of China, Chengdu has been inhabited for over 4,500 years.
Although this city is home to 14 million people, it’s still relatively laid back, maybe even the most laidback city in all of China, with citizens making the most of the abundant green spaces within.
You’ll quickly become aware that giant pandas are revered here, as Chengdu is home to the Panda Breeding Research Centre, plus there are Tang and Song dynasty temples and monasteries to explore and Sichuan cuisine to try!
Chengdu is also normally the starting end ending point for travellers going off the beaten path around Sichuan to explore some of the most authentic culture and most beautiful nature in all of China.
Top Things To Do In Chengdu
Chengdu Panda Base is a place for animal lovers.
When it started out in 1987, it was home to just 6 giant pandas – today it’s a sanctuary for around 150 of them!
The base imitates the panda’s natural habitat with 96% bamboo forests and varied plantations dotted around.
These cute black and white pandas climb the trees, feast on bamboo shoots and play together roaming freely throughout the reserve.
In March 2020, twin male pandas were born here – the first twins to be born in the base.
There are museums and many scientific displays to explore too, so you can learn all about these fascinating bears!
See Wenshu Yuan Monastery
This tranquil, Sichuan monastery is tucked away inside in a peaceful complex in Chengdu.
The wooden monastery dates back 1400 years and is filled with precious relics of Buddha and exhibitions relating to calligraphy and ancient cultures.
As you walk around, you’ll see locals lighting incense and worshipping, plus you can learn all about the Buddhist culture or spend time meditating in a quiet corner.
Charming teahouses and vegetarian restaurants are located nearby too, so you can stop for a tasty lunch after your exploration, including the local speciality, spicy rabbit head.
Walk Along The Oldest Street In Chengdu
Jinli Old Street can be traced back 1800 years. The street is short, just 350 metres long, yet you gain a real sense of being in old-world China as you walk along with it.
Residences are typical of Sichuan province – teahouses, inns and handicraft stores line the street, and dozens of red Chinese lanterns dangle from the rooftops.
Authentic food is served here so you’ll get the opportunity to sample delicious Sichuan delicacies.
In addition, plays, festivals and folk performances occur regularly, and if you want to take a souvenir home with you, there are talented craftspeople who can write your name on a single grain of rice!
Visit The Sichuan Museum
Situated near Huanhuaxi Park and Du Fu Thatched Museum, this place showcases over hundreds of thousands of cultural artefacts.
On the first floor, you can explore the Gallery of Pottery Art with over 200 cultural relics and sculptures from the Han Dynasty.
The second floor is dedicated to Zhang Diqian’s artworks, calligraphy, bronze chimes and relics.
However, the third floor is perhaps most fascinating, with Buddha Statues from Wanfo Temple, Gallery of Tibetan Buddhism, Sichuan crafts, history and ethnic culture.
You’ll learn about events which shaped the region and see ancient artefacts which have characterised this area of China for thousands of years.
Take A VIP Cooking Class At Chuancais Museum
Chuancais Museum also called the Sichuan Cuisine Museum, is a unique place in Chengdu.
This museum focuses on teaching visitors all about Sichuan cuisine by utilising all the five senses.
You can explore exhibits relating to typical food, sample Sichuan wine and tea and learn about opera and architecture.
However, the highlight is cooking under the guidance of a professional chef.
You’ll learn about Sichuan culinary methods; the way locals prepare ingredients for cooking and the history behind each cuisine – then comes the best part, you get to taste all the food!
You can sample Sichuan stuffed pancakes, noodles, pickles, Tofu pudding and even mouth-watering Zhong dumplings!
NB: Most hostels in Chengdu, also offer dumpling course for only a few RMB.
Try A Spicy HotPot
Chengdu and Sichuan are famous for it´s spicy and oily food which is often full of numbing Sichuan pepper, with nothing being spicier than a Chengdu Hotpot, which foreign tourist either love or hate.
But what is Hotpot? A big pot filled with hot spicy oil and surrounded by plates of raw meats and vegetables that you will have to put into the hotpot yourself. The pieces of meat and vegetables are sliced very small, so they will cook very quickly.
You will have to watch the ingredients you put into the hotpot yourself and decide how well you want it to be cooked.
When done, pull them out of the hotpot and enjoy the freshly cooked meat/vegetables.
For most foreigners, the spicy hotpot is a bit too spicy, so lucky you also got an option of othering a half/half, with half side spicy and the other half without spices.
Visit The New Century Global Center The Largest Building In The World
Who would expect the world´s largest building in terms of floor area to be located in Chengdu?
The New Century Global Center in the southern part of Chengdu is the largest building in the world.
Building is100-meter (330 ft)-tall structure is 500 by 400 meters (1,600 by 1,300 ft) in size with 1,700,000 square meters (18,000,000 sq ft) of floor space.
The New Century Glocal Center houses offices, tons conference rooms, a university complex, two commercial shopping centres, hotels, an IMAX cinema, a “Mediterranean village”, a pirate ship and an Olympic-size skating rink.
But the most popular thing inside the New Century Global Center is the huge indoor waterpark the”Paradise Island Water Park” which is very popular among locals.
Watch A Live Sichuan Opera Show
One highlight of visiting Chengdu is seeing a Sichuan live opera show and located on Qintai Road in the centre of the city; you’ll find Shufeng Yayun Opera House.
These opera performances are not about singing; there’s a fire breathing, gongs and chimes, colourful mask changes and puppetry at play.
You’ll learn about this historic folk art as you immerse yourself in the stories and creativity of each show.
The operas take place every evening at around 8 pm and last for around 1.5 hours, so there’s plenty of time to dine and sample Chengdu nightlife afterwards!
Visit Wuhou Temple
Wuhou Temple is one of China’s most popular attractions.
This large museum dates to the Three Kingdom’s and was built to commemorate Zhuge Liang, Marquis Wu of the Kingdom of Shu for his accomplishments as a minister.
The temple area covers around 37,000 square metres surrounded by a tall red wall and pine trees with the main building located in the north of the complex.
Inside the temple, you can admire 41 statues of historical figures from the Shu era and view a famous Tang stone tablet from the year 809 named the ‘Three Successes’.
When you’ve explored this magnificent temple complex, walk to Jinli Old Street on the outer edges and sample famous Sichuan snack food.
Enjoy a City Escape at People’s Park
During the day, People’s Park is popular with locals, with many playing live music, enjoying games of chess, mahjong or dancing.
Tai Chi classes take place here, and there are artists around who will happily show you their paintings or Chinese calligraphy.
You can stroll along willow tree-lined pathways, enjoy a boat ride or break for a drink in the famous teahouse.
Scenic highlights of the park include Goldfish Island – named for the hundreds of goldfish in the lake, visit Rockery Square – an artificial hill with a cascading waterfall and Orchid Garden, a place where over 900 pots of orchids and 28 species are displayed!
Things to do in Chengdu After Dark
Chengdu has a colourful nightlife with theatres and bars to traditional teahouses, restaurants and nightclubs sprinkled throughout the city.
You can browse stalls at popular night markets such as Jinli Old Street or Kuanzhai Alley, enjoy live music by the river, see an opera performance or go late evening shopping for souvenirs in Takoo Li with leading designer brand stores.
There are great bars and restaurants in Chengdu too; you can dine in bookstores, visit a noodle bar or enjoy an intimate rock concert at a live music venue!
Explore the Jinsha Site Museum
Just outside Chengdu, this magnificent archaeological site showcases China’s ancient heritage and artefacts. Jinsha Site Museum dates to the Shu Kingdom which was in existence here between 1200 to 650 BCE.
There are two major sections, consisting of the site itself and a museum which displays jade, bronze, stone-carved and gold artefacts.
Some of the most impressive items are the Gold Mask and Gold Band with Sun and Immortal Bird which has become a symbol of the city.
This thought-provoking archaeological site and museum are easily reached via subway or taxi from downtown Chengdu.
Less than 2 hours south of Chengdu, nestled at Lingyun Mountain’s Qifeng Peak is the famous Leshan Giant Buddha.
This 71 metre tall Buddha is carved into a red sandstone cliff near the meeting point of Min and Dadu rivers.
It is believed that construction on this, the largest stone Buddha in the world, began in 723 A.D. when a Chinese monk hoped the statue would make nearby river waters safe for fishing vessels.
Today, following years of repair and the installation of water drainage systems to protect the area, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most popular attractions in Sichuan province with over 1.5 million visitors each year.
Visit Huanglongxi Ancient Town
In a southern suburb of Chengdu, you’ll find Huanglongxi Ancient Townhome of Chinese Folk Art.
This town is famous for many things. It’s well-known as a national film and television photography base, the home of tea, water culture, agriculture and Buddhism culture in Sichuan province!
There are just 7 streets and 9 cobbled alleyways in the town; many flanked by old buildings on stilts with balconies.
Things to do in Huanglongxi during your day trip include a visit to Gulong Temple with its ancient banyan trees which are said to protect all who touch them.
There’s a Qing Dynasty watermill to visit; you can dress in traditional costume to have your picture taken or simply relax by the river with a drink and snack!
The town can be reached via Chengdu East Bus Station, or you can book onto a sightseeing tour with a knowledgeable guide!
How to Get to Chengdu
Currently, most visitors fly to Shuangliu International Airport 16 kilometres from Chengdu city centre, although from 2021 this may change, as the new Chengdu Tianfu International Airport will open, operating to and from more International destinations.
This new airport will be located 51 kilometres from the city and have superb transport links into Chengdu and beyond.
The city also has the largest railway hub in the region with Chengdu rail station and East and South railway stations all at your disposal.
Between all of the stations, you can travel by train to Chengdu from all major cities in China, like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Guilin, Chongqing, Xi’an, Nanjing and more destinations.
In the future, a further train station will open up in the west of the city, incorporating even more routes.
If you prefer to venture across China by bus, Chengdu has several coach stations operating services throughout the country.
Once you’re in the city, getting around Chengdu is really easy too, with metro lines, city buses, sightseeing tours and taxis all accessible.