After a lengthy hiatus, mainland China has returned to the global travel arena and is raring to captivate visitors all over again.
Welcome back to China: where to go now that the borders have reopened
It took three long years, but in January the world’s most populous country finally parted ways with its pandemic control measures. International travel is primed to reignite this season, which means that the great monuments, landscapes and cultural treasures of the Middle Kingdom are once again within reach. From Beijing’s boundary-breaking arts scene to panoramic vistas from 632m Shanghai Tower, here are some of the best ways to let China inspire you.
Art fans should seek out the revamped Longfusi area and M Woods Hutong, a new not-for-profit gallery that opened with an exhibition by British artist David Hockney. After your visit, enjoy meticulously produced craft beer at Jing-A next door, one of the city’s modern breeds of artisan craft breweries, or seek out Nuoyan Wine Bar for tasting flights of Chinese glutinous rice wine.
Of course, you can’t visit Beijing without experiencing the Forbidden City. The secretive home of 24 emperors marked its 600th birthday in 2020, but Covid curtailed celebrations at the time. Now you can finally discover sections of the vast palace that were restored to mark the milestone, such as the Hall of Mental Cultivation. In the 1800s, this is where the Empress Dowager Cixi governed from behind a screen, pulling the imperial strings while boy emperors perched on the throne.
Nearby, the minimalist Museum of Art Pudong, opened in 2021. Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, throughout 2023 it celebrates the work of Xu Bing, one of China’s most important contemporary artists, who is known for exploring themes of cultural identity, politics and power.
For fine dining with a difference, Fu He Hui, named one of Asia’s top 50 restaurants, celebrates China’s incredible larder of vegetables and rare fungi with seasonal vegan tasting menus. Or for a refined taste of Shanghai in superior surrounds, choose Mandarin Oriental, Shanghai’s own Yong Yi Ting, which received a Michelin Star for its seventh consecutive year in 2023.
One of the city’s best unsung sights is the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King, which invites visitors to descend into a 2,000-year old Han dynasty tomb where Zhao Mo, second king of the ancient Nanyue Kingdom, is laid to rest. Grave treasures abound, including the priceless jade burial suit of Zhao Mo himself.
For a well-earned drink, Hope and Sesame is one of Asia’s hottest cocktail bars right now. Fun fact: its mixologists helped craft the drinks at MO Bar in Mandarin Oriental Wangfujing, Beijing, when it opened in 2019.
A subway ride from the downtown glitz, Dafen Oil Painting Village first gained fame as the world’s art factory, churning out endless imitation Picassos and Van Goghs. But, like Shenzhen itself, this former ‘urban village’ has risen through the value chain, evolving into a hub of genuine artistic creativity, packed with independent galleries and stylish tea houses. For a different take on the city’s creative scene, Shenzhen Sea World Culture and Arts Centre is China’s first dedicated museum of design, established in partnership with London’s V&A Museum.
After a few days in China’s fastest-moving metropolis, the Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Shenzhen has devised the perfect way to de-stress: ‘Sprit of Shenzhen’ is a treatment that embraces calmness using warm quartz sand and singing bowl therapies and other ancient Chinese therapeutic techniques.