Best things to do in Chengdu
Find out more about those top places in Chengdu
While Chengdu lacks the blockbuster historical attractions of many of China’s other major cities, this hidden gem more than makes up for this with the country’s most exciting regional cuisine and the chance to see giant pandas up close. Designated as UNESCO’s first ever City of Gastronomy, Chengdu, the capital of mountainous Sichuan, is home to one of the world’s fieriest cuisines. Renowned for its use of tongue-numbing pink peppercorns and generous helpings of ferocious dried chili peppers, Sichuanese regional cooking is an unforgettable experience. Just beyond Chengdu’s city center is the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base, which is home to 120 giant and 76 red pandas and specializes in the breeding and conservation of these bamboo-chomping giants.
Chengdu’s standout attraction is its world-famous Giant Panda Breeding Research Base where China’s iconic yet sadly endangered peaceful giants are given a helping hand at breeding. Mating season – known euphemistically as ‘falling in love season’ – lasts between March and May while during the winter months you may even get to see some giant panda cubs.
Designated as UNESCO’s only City of Gastronomy, Chengdu’s eye-wateringly fiery cuisine is enough reason to visit the city alone. For the best experience, guided tours are available that take you to off the beaten trail spots that serve up the city’s finest dishes, most of which are flavored with regional pink peppercorns that are known to numb the tongue.
Besides being the home of some of the world’s spiciest food, Chengdu, and more broadly Szechuan, is where one of the world’s most soothing drinks originates – tea. To experience the area’s rich tea culture make sure to head to the century-old Hé Mìng Tea House where you can sample an astounding array of tea strains and watch tea pouring performances (which are far more exciting than they sound) at various times throughout the day.
The best preserved Buddhist temple is Chengdu is Wénshu, which is dedicated to the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. The temple has been in use since the 7th century and is replete with historical artefacts dating from as far back as the Tang Dynasty. For those more interested in Chengdu’s culinary traditions, the in-temple vegetarian restaurant is one of the city’s finest.
In Chengdu’s sprawling western suburbs lies one of China’s most important ongoing archaeological excavations. Since 2001, the dig has produced thousands of artifacts and ruins dating to the era of the ancient Shu Kingdom, which existed in the 2nd millennia BC. While artifacts are being continually unearthed, many are also now displayed at the on-site museum.
There are few places in China better to get a grip on the country’s rapid transformation from communism to hyper-capitalism than Chengdu’s New Century Global Mall. By most measures it is the largest building in the world and houses such attractions as a mock-Mediterranean village, an indoor water park, two IMAX cinemas, artificial beaches (which have their own artificial sunrises and sunsets), a university and a jaw-dropping array of shops.
No trip to Sichuan would be complete without a trip to the opera, which is one of China’s most colorful experiences. You will get to witness a dazzling spectacle that includes traditional Chinese drum music, comedic dialogue and jaw-dropping costume and make-up design. Behind the scenes tours also reveal the symbolic role certain colors of clothing play, such as red denoting loyalty.