Top 12 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in China

Category: China, Best Things to Do, Travel Tips & Guides

By July 06, 2019, China already has 55 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, gained since it acceded to the world heritage convention in 1985, now ranking top in the world tied with Italy, including 37 cultural heritage sites, 14 natural heritage sites and 4 cultural and natural heritage sites. Here is my list of 12 jaw-dropping heritage sites you must visit, and I hope you can get some inspiration to explore more of China.


Cultural Heritage Sites

The Great Wall: Built during the spring and autumn period and the warring states period (around 7th century BC), the Great Wall is considered the greatest construction project in the history of human civilization. It is the collective name of a series of fortifications stretching through 15 provinces and can be called a miracle on account of its vast engineering and majestic momentum. Now when you climb up the ruins of the Great Wall wriggling over the mountains, you can not only see the impressive watchtowers and spectacular natural scenery, but also appreciate the great wisdom and courage of the Chinese nation in creating history.

The most familiar parts for travelers are the Badaling Great Wall, Mutianyu Great Wall, Simatai Great Wall, Jinshanling Great Wall, etc. Having a walk on the wall is a must for one's China trip. If you want to try something special, you can hike the off-the-beaten-path parts or have a night tour to enjoy its splendid night view. Whenever you come here and whichever part you choose, you can have different but unforgettable experiences.

8-Day Wonders of China Beijing - Xi'an - Shanghai
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Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Beijing and Shenyang refer to the Forbidden City in Beijing and Mukden Palace in Shenyang, both serving as the center of State power in late feudal China. Founded in 1406, the Forbidden City has a nearly 600-year history. As the Palace of the Ming and Qing dynasties, 24 emperors lived here. Now it has turned into the "Palace Museum" with 1,862,690 historical relics and works of art. Known as one of the world's five palaces (Beijing Palace Museum, the Palace of Versailles, Buckingham Palace, the White House and Moscow's Kremlin), it's also a prime example of ancient Chinese architecture due to its solemn but gorgeous buildings. The Imperial Palace of the Qing Dynasty in Shenyang consists of 114 buildings which retain typical features of traditional folk residences of the Manchu people, and integrates the architectural arts of the Han, Manchu and Mongolian ethnic cultures. This palace then became auxiliary to the Forbidden City after the capital was moved to Beijing.

The Tecc-Cotta Warriors, the Great Wall, the Potala Palace, the Forbidden City, the Magao GrottoesCultural heritage sites: The Terra-Cotta Warriors, the Great Wall, the Potala Palace, the Forbidden City and the Magao Grottoes

The Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor is the oldest and largest imperial tomb in Chinese history. Since 1974, three pits have been found around 1.5 km / 1 mile east of the cemetery, and 8,000 terracotta warriors and horses, 100 chariots and tens of thousands of weapons have been unearthed. The costumes, expressions, hairstyles and gestures of each terracotta warrior are different, revealing the personality and strong characteristics of the Qin people. You can hand make mini terracotta warrior there and take them home for your family.

The Potala Palace is the highest ancient building in the world and also the largest and most complete ancient palace complex in Tibet, consisting of a magnificent collection of palaces, castles and monasteries. The Potala Palace was originally built by Songtsan Gambo of the Tubo to marry Princess Chizun and Wencheng, then it became the palace of the Dalai Lamas and the site for holding major religious and political ceremonies. Nowadays it is the holy land of Tibetan Buddhism and countless pilgrims and tourists visit here every year. Read more: Tibet Travel Tips: A First-Timer's Guide.

The Mogao Grottoes (Thousand Buddha Caves), the largest and best-preserved treasure house of Buddhist art in the world, are located on the eastern cliff of Mingsha Mountain, 25 km from Dunhuang city. First built in 366 AD, it formed a huge scale after the dynastic transition. With 735 caves, 45,000 square meters of murals and 2,415 mud-colored sculptures, the Mogao Grottoes site is a broad and profound comprehensive palace in art.

16-Day Colorful China Beijing - Xi'an - Guilin - Hangzhou - Huangshan - Shanghai
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Natural Heritage Sites

Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries consist of seven nature reserves and nine scenic spots in Sichuan province, including Baoxing county where the world's first giant panda was discovered, Wolong Nature Reserve and Qingcheng Mountain - Dujiangyan Scenic Area. More than 30% of the world's wild giant pandas live here, making it the largest and most complete giant panda habitat in the world. It is also home to endangered species such as red pandas, snow leopards and clouded leopards. If you travel to China, it's worth making a detour to Chengdu to see these cuties up close after your visit to major cities. Read more: 5 Reasons Why You Should Visit Chengdu.

South China Karst is home to the most prominent types of karst landforms (such as spires and cones), as well as magnificent and peculiar landscapes such as natural bridges and giant sinkholes, making it be one of the most spectacular tropical - subtropical Karst landforms in the world. The best examples of South China Karst are Guilin Area in Guangxi, Stone-Forest Scenic Spot in Yunnan, Maolan National Karst Forest Nature Reserve in Guizhou and Wulong Area in Chongqing, which not only present the aesthetic value of nature to the world, but also witness the evolution of the earth. Read more: Incredible Natural Arches and Bridges in China.

Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Interest Area, including Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Suoxiyu Scenic Area, Tianzishan Scenic Area and Yangjiajie Scenic Area, is just like a natural maze, a geological museum, a forest kingdom, a garden of plants and a paradise for wild animals. You may feel like you're in a surreal world with thousands of towering pinnacles which was a major shooting location for the film Avatar. Read more: Hunting Hunan: Zhangjiajie with Avatar Mountains and Beyond.

Giant Panda Sanctuaries, Guilin, Wulingyuan, Jiuzhaigou and HuanglongNatural heritage sites: Giant Panda Sanctuaries, Guilin, Wulingyuan, Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong Scenic and Historic Interest Area

Jiuzhaigou Valley Scenic and Historic Interest Area, the first nature reserve in China whose main purpose is to protect the natural scenery, is named after the nine Tibetan villages scattered throughout the area. There are many kinds of rare plants and animals, as well as rich ancient fossils, glacial landforms, sputtering waterfalls, springs and 108 colorful pools.

Huang Long Scenic and Historic Interest Area features large-scale and colorful calcified landscapes, and is renowned for its colorful pools, snow mountain, canyon, forests, rivers, ancient temples and unique folk culture. It is the only well-protected plateau wetland in China, 100 kilometers away from Jiuzhaigou.

13-Day Majestic China with the Yangtze Beijing - Xi'an - Guilin - Chongqing - Yangtze River - Yichang - Shanghai
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Cultural and Natural Heritage Sites

Mount Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) was formed nearly 100 million years ago. Now it's well known by four breathtaking wonders: odd pines, weird rocks, sea of clouds (best in winter) and hot springs. Huangshan also has significance in Chinese art and literature. In history, it has attracted many poets and celebrities who left a wealth of calligraphy and painting, literature, legends, etc. It also gave birth to the Huangshan painting style which created a large number of excellent works.

Mount Huangshan, Mount Emei and Leshan Giant BuddhaCultural and natural heritage sites: Mount Huangshan, Mount Emei and Leshan Giant Buddha

Mount Emei and Leshan Giant Buddha are together listed as UNESCO Heritage Sites. Everything on Mt. Emei, such as architecture, sculpture, painting, ritural and so on, all of which are closely related to Buddhist culture. In addition to Buddhist culture, it also has outstanding natural scenery. Leshan Giant Buddha is the largest stone Buddha in the world, with a height of 71 meters / 233 feet. The most amazing thing is the drainage system of the Buddha, which is very cleverly constructed to prevent the Buddha from being eroded by the rain.

19-Day Culture and Nature of China Beijing - Xi'an - Guilin - Kunming - Jianshui - Yuanyang - Kunming - Dali - Lijiang - Shanghai
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List of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in China


Time in the List

Heritage Sites




The Great Wall 



 1987, 2004

Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (Forbidden City and Mukden Palace) 




Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor (Terra-Cotta Warrior) 

Xi'an, Shaanxi 



 Mount Taishan

Tai'an, Shandong 

Cultural and Natural 


 Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian




Mogao Grottoes 

Dunhuang, Gansu 



 Mount Huangshan

Huangshan, Anhui 

Cultural and Natural 


Jiuzhaigou Valley Scenic and Historic Interest Area 

Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan 



Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Interest Area 

Zhangjiajie, Hunan 



 Huanglong Scenic and Historic Interest Area

Huanglong, Sichuan 

 1994, 2000, 2001 Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace, Lhasa (Jokhang Temple, Norbulingka) Lhasa, TibetCultural 
 1994 Temple and Cemetery of Confucius and the Kong Family Mansion Qufu, Shandong Cultural
 1994 Ancient Building Complex in the Wudang Mountains Shiyan, Hubei Cultural
 1994 Chengde Mountain Resort and its Outlying Temples in Chengde Chengde, Hebei Cultural
 1996 Mount Emei Scenic Area and Leshan Giant Buddha Scenic Area Leshan, Sichuan Cultural and Natural
 1996 Lushan National Park Jiujiang, Jiangxi Cultural
 1997 Old Town of Lijiang Lijiang, Yunan Cultural
 1997 Ancient City of Pingyao Jinzhong, Shanxi Cultural
 1997, 2000 Classic Gardens of Suzhou: Lion Grove, Humble Administrator Garden, Lingering Garden, Garden of Master of the Nets Suzhou, Jiangsu Cultural
 1998 Summer Palace Beijing Cultural
 1998 Temple of Heaven Beijing Cultural
 1999 Dazu Rock Carvings Chongqing Cultural
 1999 Mount Wuyi Wuyishan, Fujian Cultural and Natural
 2000, 2003, 2004 Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties: Xiaoling Tomb (Nanjing, Jiangsu), 13 Ming Tombs (Beijing), Jingtailing Tomb (Beijing), Three Imperial Tombs of the Qing Dynasty (Shenyang, Liaoning), Xianling Tomb (Hubei), the Eastern and Western Qing Tombs (Hebei)Jiangsu, Beijing, Liaoning, Hubei, Hebei Cultural
 2000 Ancient Villages in Southern Anhui – Xidi and Hongcun Yi County, Anhui Cultural
 2000 Mount Qingcheng and Dujiangyan Irrigation Project Dujiangyan, Sichuan Cultural
 2000 Longmen Grottoes Luoyang, Henan Cultural
 2001 Yungang Grottoes Datong, Shanxi Cultural
 2003 Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas Yunnan Natural
 2004 Capital Cities and Tombs of the Ancient Koguryo KingdomHuanren County, Liaoning Province and Ji'an, Jilin Province Cultural
 2005 Historic Center of Macau Macau Cultural
 2006 Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries Sichuan Natural
 2006 Yin Xu Anyang, Henan Cultural
 2007, 2014 South China Karst Guizhou, Guangxi, Yunnan, Chongqing Natural
 2007 Kaiping Diaolou and Villages Jiangmen, Guangdong Cultural
 2008 Mount Sanqingshan National Park Shangrao, Jiangxi Natural
 2008 Fujian Tulou Fujian Cultural
 2009 Wutai Mountain Xinzhou, Shanxi Cultural
 2010 China Danxia Guizhou, Fujian, Hunan, Guangdong, Jiangxi, Zhejiang Natural
 2010 Historic Monuments of Dengfeng in "The Centre of Heaven and Earth" (Shaolin Temple) Dengfeng, Henan Cultural
 2011 West Lake Hangzhou, Zhejiang Cultural
 2012 The Site of Xanadu Xilingol, Inner Mongolia Cultural
 2012 Chengjiang Fossil Site Yunnan Natural
 2013 Cultural Landscape of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces Yunnan Cultural
 2013 Xinjiang Tianshan Xinjiang Natural
 2014 Silk Roads: the Routes Network of Chang'an-Tianshan Corridor Gansu, Shaanxi, Ningxia, Qinghai, Xinjiang Cultural
 2014 The Grand Canal Beijing, Hangzhou Cultural
 2015 Tusi Sites Hubei Cultural
 2016 Zuojiang Huashan Rock Art Cultural Landscape Guangxi Cultural
 2016 Hubei Shennongjia Hubei Cultural
 2017 Kulangsu: a Historic International Settlement Xiamen, Fujian Cultural
 2017 Qinghai Hoh Xil Qinghai Cultural
 2018 Fanjingshan Tongren, Guizhou Natural
 2019 Archaeological Ruins of Liangzhu City Hangzhou and Deqing CountyCultural
 2019 Migratory Bird Sanctuaries along the Coast of Yellow Sea-Bohai Gulf of China (Phase I) Yancheng, Jiangsu Natural

If you are interested in any heritage sites mentioned above or other scenic spots in China, you can contact our travel specialists to get some inspiration and professional advice or let us tailor-make a special China tour for you to appreciate these world heritage sites.

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