The Ultimate Chengdu Travel Guide
Chengdu is a must-visit city and one of the most-traveled destinations in China, with so many highlights in this beautiful city: the most renowned hometown of cute pandas and the awarded "Gourmet City" offering local numb spicy food to authentic Western food. Not even to mention the many world heritages near the city, such as Dujiangyan, Mt Qingcheng, Leshan Giant Buddha, Mt Emei, etc.
As a laid-back, optimistic, peaceful, prosperous, free, and relaxed city, Chengdu is located in the western Sichuan Basin and the hinterland of Chengdu Plain. It has been a fertile land since ancient times. As its slogan says: "Chengdu is a city you don't want to leave when you come", it has all the elements that people love.
Best time to visit Chengdu
Generally, it is fine to travel in Chengdu all year round, however, Spring and Autumn, particularly March to June and September to November, is the best time to travel in Chengdu, with moderate temperatures and adorable climate. Besides, in spring, you can appreciate the beautiful flowers blooming everywhere in Chengdu, maybe you even can meet the "spectacle" playing mahjong and eating hot pot in the sea of flowers. While in Autumn, it is a lovely time with bright colors, which is the best time to appreciate the beauty of colorful ginkgo leaves. A kind reminder is that you should avoid traveling to Chengdu and its surroundings during public holidays such as Labor's Day (usually May 1-3), Chinese National Day public holiday (October 1-7), and the Spring Festival (a week’s holiday normally in late January or February), etc.
Chengdu has a subtropical monsoon climate with the characteristics of early warm spring, sultry summer, cool autumn, cold winter. The annual average temperature is 16°C and the annual rainfall is about 1000 mm. A distinctive feature of Chengdu's climate is cloudy and foggy and short sunshine hours. Another distinguishing feature of Chengdu’s climate is the humid air, hence, although the temperature in summer is not high (the highest temperature generally does not exceed 35°C), it appears sultry; the average temperature in winter is above 5°C, but due to many cloudy days and humid air, it looks very cold. The rain in Chengdu is concentrated in July and August, and the winter and spring are dry and rainless, with very little snow and ice.
To things to do in Chengdu
1. Visit the world’s cutest pandas and to be a panda keeper
As the hometown of pandas, Chengdu is the best place to get close to the world’s cutest pandas. About 10KM away from Chengdu downtown, Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is the most popular place in Sichuan to see pandas. If you are sufficient in time, you can make a day excursion to its surrounding breeding or releasing centers within a 2.5 hours’ single-way drive to join the panda volunteer program, which offers a unique experience by interacting with the cuddly pandas and getting close to their daily life.
2. Enjoy the magical face-changing show
Sichuan opera is one of the traditional Chinese operas formed in the late Ming Dynasty and early Qing Dynasty, and the Sichuan opera today is a relatively recent synthesis of 5 historic melodic styles. The highlights of Sichuan opera is the face changing. Face-changing is a special skill used in the art of Sichuan opera to shape characters, which is a romantic technique to reveal the inner thoughts and feelings of the characters in the play, the face-changing will definitely be a shock for you while watching. There are many places to perform face-changing performances of Sichuan Opera in Chengdu, Shu Feng Ya Yun and Jinjiang Theater are the best places to enjoy the magic face-changing show in Chengdu.
3. Enjoy the tasteful Sichuan cuisines and hotpot
Just as an old Chinese saying goes that when eating in China, the flavor is in Sichuan, while Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, is the best place to experience the unique flavors of Sichuan cuisines. Sichuan cuisine is one of the eight major cuisines in China known for its good use of spicy and spicy seasoning, having a wide range of materials, varied seasonings, diverse dishes, fresh taste, and strong mellowness. Besides, it has 24 flavors such as fish fragrance, homemade, spicy, red oil, garlic paste, ginger juice, tangerine peel, mustard, pure sweet, and strange flavor. Hot pot, snacks, and other Sichuan cuisines can be found everywhere in the streets and alleys. Jinli Street, Wide and Narrow Alleys, Jianshe Road Snacks Street, Yulin Road, etc. are the most popular places for tourists to enjoy the gastronomies of Chengdu, such as Long Chao Shou, Zhong Shui Jiao, Dan Dan Noodles, as well as Lai Tang Yuan, etc.
4. Experience the leisure life of the locals
As a slow-paced city, Chengdu is famous for its leisure life-style of the locals. Here, you can see people drinking tea, chatting, and playing mahjong on the side of the road at will, unhurried, leisurely, and at ease. When you are in Chengdu, you can walk around People’s Park and have a drink at the inside Heming Tea House, where you can experience the most authentic life of the folks of Chengdu including tea drinking, chatting, cards or mahjong playing, as well as the unique ear cleaning.
Top sights to visit in Chengdu
1. Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
Also known as Chengdu Panda Base for short and located about 10KM northeast of Chengdu downtown, it is a non-profit research and breeding facility for giant pandas and other endangered animals. With a number of 206 pandas (as of 2019), it is the best place to see the cute pandas. Generally, 08:00 am - 11:00 am and 14:30 pm - 17:00 pm are the best periods to see the pandas as they are the feeding time, especially the morning between 08:00 am - 11:00 am.
2. Wenshu Monastery
Located in Qingyang District, Chengdu, it is one of the important Buddhist monasteries in China. Founded in 605-617 in the Sui Dynasty, it is the first of the four major Buddha Zen monasteries on the upper and lower reaches of the Yangtze River which is built in traditional wooden architecture style in the Western Sichuan Plain. It is also a peaceful corner in the busy city center of Chengdu.
3. Wide and Narrow Alley
Composed of the wide alley, narrow alley, and well alley arranged in parallel, as well as antique courtyards with cyan bricks and tiles, it is a relatively large-scale Qing Dynasty ancient street leftover from Chengdu. There are both buildings from the late Qing Dynasty and the early Republic of China, as well as early western-style buildings. Here you can taste Western food, drink bowls of tea, and enjoy authentic Sichuan cuisine. Besides, it is a great place to experience the folk customs of old Chengdu.
4. Wuhou Temple
Located in the southwest of Chengdu downtown and as the most influential museum of the Three Kingdoms in China, Wuhou Temple is the best place to learn about the history and culture of the Three Kingdom period. It was originally a special temple to commemorate Zhuge Liang who was an eminent minister and military strategist for Emperor Liu Bei (161-223) of the Shu Kingdom during the Three Kingdoms period in China. Now, it is also dedicated to Emperor Liu Bei as well.
5. Jinli Street
An ancient street built in traditional Sichuan residence style in the late Ming and early Qing Dynasties at a total length of 550 meters in Chengdu. It is a part of Wuhou Temple and a place to appreciate the Three Kingdoms culture and Chengdu folk customs. There are many inns, bars, snack stores, and souvenir shops here for you to stay overnight, eat, go shopping, and photographs.
6. Dufu Cottage
The former residence of the famous poet Du Fu of the Tang Dynasty when he lived in Chengdu, for nearly four years and composed over 240 poems. Therefore, it is regarded as the "Holy Land" in the history of Chinese literature. There are many pavilions and towering ancient trees in the thatched cottage. More than 30,000 volumes of various materials are collected in the cottage, which is great to learn about Chinese literature.
7. Dujiangyan Irrigation System and Qingcheng Mountain Scenic Area
Listed as the world natural and cultural heritage site, they are 2 of the must-see attractions when you are in Chengdu. The Dujiangyan Irrigation System was built by Li Bing and his son in the 3rd century B.C. to control the waters of the Minjiang River and distribute it to the fertile farmland of the Chengdu plains, it still functions well today. Qingcheng Mountain is considered to be one of the birthplaces of Taoism and one of the most important Taoist centers in China.
8. Dujiangyan Panda Base
Also known as the China Conservation and Research Center for Giant Panda Dujiangyan Base, it is considered to be the "Panda Paradise" which focuses on panda disease prevention and control and field rescue. It has a beautiful environment and fewer tourists. Besides, it is also the place where you can not only watch the naive giant pandas but also be a panda keeper to interact with the pandas.
9. Jinsha Site Museum
An archaeological site of the Shang and Zhou dynasty, which unearthed the most densely packed ivory, the most abundant gold and jade artifacts among the sites of the same period in the world. The most prestigious one is the "Sun Bird" gold leaf located in the fourth exhibition hall, which has been identified as the main logo of the Chinese cultural heritage and the image of Chengdu. It is one of the best places to appreciate the Jinsha culture and ancient Shu civilization.
10. People’s Park
The first park in Chengdu, now it is a leisure place for locals to drink tea, chat, and rub mahjong. You can come here to feel the happy "slow life" of the people of Chengdu. It is best to be like the locals, asking for a cup of tea, reading a book, and sunbathing in a daze in the teahouse of the park.
11. Chunxi Road
Located in Jinjiang District, Chengdu, it covers the east of Beixin Street, the south of Zongfu Road, the west of Hongxing Road, the north of Dongdajie, Nanxin Street, Zhongxin Street, and the street area, occupying an area of approximately 20 hectares. It is a must-see destination of Chengdu with everything available for eating, drinking and having fun. It is also an ideal place for shopping.
How to reach and travel within Chengdu
As one of the important transportation hubs in the southwest of China, Chengdu can be easily reached by flight, train, or bus. Currently, there is an international airport, 4 train stations, and 13 tourist and long-distance bus terminals in use, and another Chengdu Tianfu International Airport is under construction and scheduled to be in use in July 2021. When you are in Chengdu, you can easily travel around by public transportation including taxi, metro, public bus, etc. Generally, tourists will use Chengdu as the starting base for their Sichuan tour.
Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport is one of the main hub airports in southwest China and the fourth largest aviation hub in mainland China. As of May 31, 2020, 363 routes have been opened, connecting Chengdu with most provinces and cities of China, capital airports in most Asian countries, Amsterdam, London, Frankfurt, Moscow, and Paris in Europe, Vancouver, San Francisco, Los Angeles in the Americas, Melbourne and Saipan in Oceania, and Mauritius in Africa, etc.
Besides, Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport has implemented 144-hour transit visa-free for foreign passengers from 53 countries/regions since December 1st, 2019. Travelers can enjoy a 144-hour visa-free stay in the administrative regions of the 11 cities including Chengdu, Leshan, Deyang, Suining, Meishan, Ya’an, Ziyang, Neijiang, Zigong, Luzhou, and Yibin.
As the largest railway hub in the southwest region of China, more than 20 large and medium cities across China have direct high-speed or normal trains to Chengdu. Currently, there are 4 railway stations in Chengdu: Chengdu Station (commonly known as North Railway Station), Chengdu East Station, Chengdu South Station, and Chengdu West Station. The high-speed railway Sichuan-Tibet is under construction now.
Chengdu is the largest highway hub in Southwest China, where 6 national highways and 13 national expressways meet. There are 13 passenger transport centers distributed in the main city of Chengdu sending buses to famous destinations within the province such as Dujiangyan, Leshan, Jiuzhaigou, Mount Siguniang, Daocheng, etc. The Xinnanmen and Chadianzi Bus Terminals are the most commonly used bus terminals for tourists.
Travel within Chengdu
For international travelers, taking metros should be the most convenient and easiest way to travel around Chengdu as the ticket-vending machines and voice announcers in each metro line are in English and Chinese. The ticket fare of operating subway lines in Chengdu is charged by traveling distance ranging from CN¥ 2-9.
The public buses in Chengdu are convenient because various scenic spots in Chengdu are accessible by public buses. In addition, there are many shuttle buses to connect the famous scenic spots.
Making a Chengdu tour by taxi is another easy way as the taxis in Chengdu are reliable with good service, but you should pay attention to the rush hours. Taxis are usually charged by meter, with a starting price of CN¥ 8-9.
Another popular way to travel around Chengdu is by riding a bicycle. In Chengdu, shared bicycles of various colors are everywhere and available for locals and tourists to ride. The bicycle renting fare is charged by time with the price of CN¥ 1.5 per 30 minutes.
Recommended tours and itineraries for Chengdu
Chengdu is a national historic and cultural city full of natural and cultural wonders, travelers usually spend 2-3 days within the city to cover the highlights listed above. In addition, there are many beautiful and famous sites located in its surrounding area, such as Leshan Giant Buddha and Mount Emei, Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong Parks, Mount Siguniang, Danba, Daocheng Yading Nature Reserve, etc., which should not be missed during your Sichuan tours.
- For those who are panda lovers and only want to see the pandas, the Half-day Panda Base tour should be an ideal option. For those looking for a close interaction with the pandas as a panda keeper, the 1 day Chengdu Panda Tour - Volunteering at Dujiangyan (Wolong) Panda Base is highly recommended.
- For those transiting through Chengdu with 144-hour transit visa-free policy, you can easily take 1-2 tours of the below tours: 1 day Chengdu City tour, 2 days Leshan Giant Buddha and Mount Emei tour, 3 days Mount Emei in-depth tour, 5 days Chengdu Panda Base and Mt. Emei tour.
- For those planning to explore the top fantastic natural sceneries and precious cultural heritage in Sichuan, the 9 days World heritage Sichuan tour should be the best option.
- Travelers who want to escape from the hustle and bustle city life, you may choose to take a 7 days Daocheng Yading Nature Reserve & Danba tour or a 7 days Hailuogou Glacier & Yading Nature Reserve tour, to appreciate the breathtaking landscape, admire the unique Tibetan culture and experience the distinct folk customs and lifestyle of western Sichuan Tibetan area.
If the tours above aren’t fit for you, please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts with us immediately, we would be more than happy to customize the tour according to your interests.
What to eat in Chengdu
As an international city which has been awarded the honorary title of "City of Gastronomy" by UNESCO, Chengdu offers the time-honored traditional Sichuan cuisines to top gastronomies from all over the world, in particular, its spicy-numbing Sichuan cuisines and local snacks make tourists from home and aboard crazy and unable to stop. Representative dishes include fish-flavored pork shreds, kung pao chicken, boiled pork slices, husband and wife lung slices, mapo tofu, twice-cooked pork, pickled pepper chicken feet, Dengying beef, saliva chicken, spicy shrimp, spicy fried beef, hot pot, Chestnut roast chicken, spicy chicken, etc.
Restaurants from not eye-catching “fly restaurants (or called greasy spoon)“ to “fine dining restaurants” are scattered throughout every corner of Chengdu. While traveling, it is a wonderful experience to enjoy gastronomies like the locals. Compared with the fine dining restaurants, the “fly restaurants” attract more of the locals’ affection, as the “fly restaurants” serve both delicious staples and local snacks at a budget-friendly price, which is normally at a cost of CN¥ 30-100 per person depending on your group size and what you eat.
No trip to Chengdu will be completed without an evening spent around a hot pot table. To enjoy the hot pot, a bite at Bashu Dazhaimen Hot Pot (巴蜀大宅门) is highly recommended, which is loved and cherished by the locals as of its warm service, enjoyable numbing-spicy meal, and traditional Chinese-style decoration. If you want to try the local snacks and dishes, Shunxing Ancient Teahouse (顺兴老茶馆) should be the best option, which is a country-yard-like restaurant where you can watch the famous Sichuan Opera while enjoying snacks, desserts, Sichuan dishes, and drinking tea.
Where to stay in Chengdu
As a megacity of China, it offers a large variety of accommodations from local guesthouses to international 5-star hotels to meet all the budgets. And it is supremely easy to book them online, Booking.com and agoda.com are the websites popularly used by international travelers to book accommodation in Chengdu. Jinjiang District or Qingyang District can be selected as the location to book a hotel in Chengdu to stay. Particularly, it is highly recommended to stay at hotels near Chunxi Road and the city center, which is more convenient to travel to Wide and Narrow Alleys, Taikoo Li, Jinli Street, People’s Park, etc. If you are tired of spending lots of time and doing so much hard work to find a hotel in Chengdu, you could share your preference and interests with a local China travel agency, and ask them to help you to book your accommodation in Chengdu.